A Simple Life

Feeling overwhelmed with stress is common.  Feeling overwhelmed with stuff usually is, well, less common.  We like stuff.  We like things.  We like having our TV shows, our sports teams, our books, our smartphones, our cars, our favorite websites, our interests and hobbies, and we fill our days with them.

But is our “stuff” really adding value to our life?  Does it make us better people, or more informed citizens?  Does it honor God?  Does it help us love Him more?

We complain that we don’t hear God speak, but are we actively listening, seeking His voice through His Word?  We struggle to have faith, but do we fan our faith into flame using the Scriptures?  We struggle to “love God as we know we should and want to,” but are we spending time with Him in order to do so?  Would it not be an insane thought to think I can grow in my love for someone without spending time with them?  Are we filling our days up with anything and everything, except God?  What are we really doing?  What’s our goal when we wake up every morning?  Is it to accomplish everything on our “to-do list?”  Is it to shine at work, or to make sure the house stays in order?  Is it to “have fun?”  Am I sharing my faith?  Am I praying for others?  Again, the question is asked–what are we really doing with our days, when we step back and look at them?  Are we really, truly busy (and if so, is it a good busy?), or are we wasting our days on entertainment and just pretending to be “busy?”

These questions have been on my mind for the last couple of weeks.  As is obvious in previous posts this month, the month of June has not exactly been a stellar month for me.  I have failed my Lord in numerous ways, I have failed others in numerous ways, and God is continuing to convict me in areas where I fall short.  How I spend my time is one of those ways.  A friend once told me, “Time is the one thing we can’t get back.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”  Amen.  Right now, it’s 2:43, Sunday, June 29, 2014.  In less than 60 seconds, 2:43 will pass, and that moment in time will NEVER come back.  Ever.  As silly as it sounds, what I need to ask is this: Did I spend that moment in a way that magnifies and exalts the glory of God?  As I type this sentence–it’s gone.  Was God glorified?

Why is this so important?  Because God is glorious.  And while, as Christians, we know we will exalt Him forever for all that He is, there are still people here on Earth who do not worship Him, who do not know Him, who are not submitted to Christ as Lord and trusting in Christ as Savior, and who, right now, are headed for eternal hell.  And time is short.

What fills up my day?  I’ll be honest–I wake up, I eat food, I catch SportsCenter, I (attempt) to do seminary work, and (attempt) to spend time with God, and (attempt) to spend time with loved ones.

I say attempt because here’s what really happens: I waste time on Twitter.  I waste time watching TV.  I waste time thinking about absolutely nothing in particular.  I make myself “busy” by checking email constantly, or searching journalism job board sites, even though I just checked an hour ago.  I waste time playing a video game, or watching a movie, and the list goes on and on.  And this is what we substitute for spending time with God and sharing our faith.

There’s something to be said for relaxing and taking a break, but there’s a fine line that’s not as gray as we think between relaxation and laziness.  And far too often I cross it.  Far, far too often.  And it’s not just a bad habit.  It’s sinful.  So why do I (and we) do it?

We long for entertainment.  I’m convinced that our fear of boredom far outweighs our fear of death.  Because, to us, boredom is death.  Just listen to a teenager who’s at home on the weekend–“I’m so boreeed—I might as well be DYING!!” or “So bored at this (insert “boring” family event)–just shoot me now.”  (At least, that’s how I imagine a 16 year old’s texts/tweets would read…)

The average American watches more than five hours of TV daily, according to a report by Nielsen released in March.  The report, summarized in the New York Daily News by reporter David Hinckley, goes on to say:

“The average American then spends another 32 minutes a day on time-shifted television, an hour using the Internet on a computer, an hour and seven minutes on a smartphone and two hours, 46 minutes listening to the radio.”

I managed to do the math there–that’s more than 10 hours of some form of entertainment a day.  If you sleep the recommended eight hours a night, that leaves you with six hours without entertainment, many of which are probably spent at work.  So how much time are we giving God, our family, and our friends?  Obviously this isn’t true for everybody, but the time that most of us spend with technology and entertainment is astounding.

We attach ourselves to numerous forms of entertainment and call it busyness.  We don’t have time to do fruitful, meaningful things because Alabama has a big road game this weekend.  No, I can’t go to that church event because my favorite TV show is on.  This even affects our dates!  How often have you gone to a restaurant and seen a couple who isn’t talking to each other because they’re on their phone?  While I may not do that in public, there are times in private where I’ve become so attached to my phone that I’m on it around people that I should be talking to and spending time with.

There are legitimate things that cause us stress and busyness–work, school, kids, bills, errands, health, etc.  I don’t doubt that we are seriously busy a lot of the time.  A separate post would talk about how to honor God while we’re busy doing important things like work, school and raising a family.  We certainly can idolize these things as well, and, as stated above, need to take time to rest, without becoming lazy.  This may be the other end of the spectrum that we run to when we realize that we’ve been lazy.  We overreact and think the answer to filling our lives up with entertainment and being “lazy busy” is to fill our lives up with work and be “crazy busy”–not to be confused with the book on the same topic of the same name recently written by Kevin DeYoung–a great read, from what I’ve heard.

Both workaholics and lazy busybodies are committing idolatry.  One wastes time and treats this God-given gift as worthless, while the other forgets that time was given by God, and is not God in and of itself.  So what’s the answer?

The easy answer is to say “balance between work and play.”  While there’s some truth there, I offer a different solution–simplicity.

I admire my grandparents for many reasons–their Christlike character, their faith, their love for their children and grandchildren, their commitment to the church, and many, many more traits that could be a post in and of itself.  But if I could describe how they live their lives, I’d use the word, “simple.”  I find that admirable because they aren’t bogged down by all of life’s demands, including the ones we often put on ourselves.  Again, they’re 80 and 78, retired, so I imagine that has something to do with it, but from what I’ve observed and what I’ve been told, my grandparent’s goal has always been pretty simple.  They love God.  They love their family.  They love the church.  They spend time with all three, and they approach the “have-to’s” of life with a positive attitude and with faith in God.

Many would say they can do that because they’re retired.  I’d say they can do that because they understand that life isn’t about stuff.  Stuff dies.  Stuff gets old.  Stuff gets replaced.  I can confidently say that my grandfather has told me at least 200 times, “Buddy, you don’t need all that stuff.”  And I can shamefully say that every single time, I’ve laughed or shook my head, or said, “Yeah, I know,” while in my heart saying that most disrespectful of words–“Whatever.”

But he’s right.  I may need them for work or school, but I don’t need them for satisfaction.  I’m not naive enough to argue that college students don’t need laptops–they most likely do (though I know some people who made it work).  I’m not naive enough to believe that businesspeople in 2014 don’t need to be able to access email outside of an office computer.  But do you need to be as attached to those things at 7 p.m. when you should be spending time with your family?  Do you need them 24/7?  No.  What’s happened is we’ve taken good, God-given gifts that can be used to help us grow as a society and to advance the kingdom of God (see all the wonderful Christian resources found online) and we’ve made them idols.  That’s usually how idols start.  They begin as good things that become God-things.

It is good and healthy to stay in touch with people and to check email and job board sites a couple times a day if you, like me, are looking to start a career or find another job.  It is NOT healthy to be consumed, in word, mind and deed, with these things.

So what is it that my grandparents “figured out?”  They discovered what’s really important: God and people.  The focus in all of Scripture is God and His people, not God, His people and their “stuff.”

If I were to define simplicity through the lens of Scripture, I’d offer this: Simplicity is being driven and consumed with what is eternally important and not being driven and consumed with what will ultimately fade away.  That means my life revolves around walking in relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, knowing Him and His love, growing to be like Him, and loving others the way He loves me.  It means living for His kingdom that He has so graciously invited me into, doing all of the things I do in a way that shows His greatness, and making sure that when I die, people know His name more than they knew mine.

So what does this look like practically?  For me–less time on TV, Twitter, Facebook, video games, email, job board sites and more time in God’s Word, in God’s presence in prayer, more time with God’s people and more time sharing my faith.  It looks like leaving behind childish things and lesser things to know Christ as Lord, as Paul says in Philippians 3:7-8.  It is a joy, not a burden, to know Christ as Lord, for He does not give us an unsatisfying life, but calls us into a life of finding joy in God and being like Him.

God convicted me of this a week ago today.  I haven’t exactly done the best job of applying it yet.  I’ve started by cutting out several TV shows a week and striving to spend less time on social media.  So far, it’s gone alright, but certainly this fight is going to be for life, not just a week.  I’ve still struggled with laziness and getting started with work that must be done.  I’ve still found ways to NOT meet with God like I want to or should.  But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus died for my sins so that I can be forgiven and not be defined by my sin and guilt, not just once, but every day, over and over again.

I pray that we would take the sins of crazy-busyness and lazy-busyness as seriously as we do drug addiction and sexual immorality.  Maybe you’re reading and you’re convicted.  Don’t leave yet.  The gospel is good news for busybodies, porn addicts and Pharisees.

Because Jesus lived a perfect life, you can turn from trusting yourself to resting on His perfection.  Because He died for your sin and bought your forgiveness with His blood, you can repent, acknowledging that you’ve gone your own way and now want to turn and follow God, and trust Jesus to forgive you and give you a new heart.  Because He is alive, you can trust Him to be with you and help you follow Him as Lord in a new life.

In Christ, the past does not define you, whether it’s the past of 10 years ago, 6 months ago, or six minutes ago when you said that thing you shouldn’t have said.  The ridiculously good news of Christ means that I am defined by who God says I am, and God says I am His, and I am perfectly loved and accepted, not because I deserve it, but because Christ deserves it, and I am in Him.  When God looks at me, He does not see an idolater, a weak, divided man that struggles to love Him and others like he should.  He does not see an easily irritated, sinful man.  He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ.  He sees His Son and He calls me child.  He calls us to obey because in Christ, that’s who we are.  He calls us to be who we are before Him.  O Lord, help us see this and believe it today!
We are commanded to find everything we need in God (see: Eden, where Apple, the company, did not yet exist) not because God is a tyrant that wants to enslave us and destroy us, but because God is enough and He loves us.  This is what He invites us to in salvation, to be restored through Jesus Christ to right relationship with God so we can find our joy and our purpose and our life in Him.Friend, please turn from things that cannot satisfy, whether it be entertainment, porn or work, and look to Christ.  Trust Him.
Lord, may we have the God-given eyes to see what truly matters and the grace that only you can give to cling to it.  May we treasure you above all else, for all that you are for us.  May we spend less time with material things that fade and more time with you who stands forever.  May we be driven by the Great Commission to not waste time but to redeem it for your glory.  Forgive us where we fail.  Help us follow you. God bless,Neal E.Full article on Americans’ TV watching can be found here: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/average-american-watches-5-hours-tv-day-article-1.1711954If you have any ideas for the blog or any questions/comments/concerns, please feel free to contact me on here or via email at nembry@charter.net

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