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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Giving–The Joy of Simplicity: a Reflection on Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25, Mark 13:1-8, and 1 Samu

The writer of Hebrews is clear. Life is not in vain when we see it as spiritual and from the perspective of simplicity. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts tell the following story.

One Sunday I was visiting one of Africa’s largest slums, the massive Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. The conditions were simply inhumane. People lived in shacks constructed out of cardboard boxes. Foul smells gushed out of open ditches carrying human and animal excrement …. I thought to myself, This place is completely God-forsaken. Then to my amazement, right there among the dung, I heard the sound of a familiar hymn …. Every Sunday, thirty slum dwellers crammed into this ten-by-twenty foot “sanctuary” to worship [God]. The church was made out of cardboard boxes that had been opened up and stapled to studs. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a church made up of some of the poorest people on earth. I was immediately asked to preach the sermon. I quickly jotted down some notes and was looking forward to teaching this congregation [about the sovereignty of God]. But before the sermon began, I listened as some of the poorest people on the planet cried out to God: “Jehovah Jireh, please heal my son, as he is going blind.” “Merciful Lord, please protect me when I go home today, for my husband always beats me.” “Sovereign King, please provide my children with enough food today, as they are hungry.” As I listened to their heartfelt prayers, I thought about my ample salary, my life insurance policy, my health insurance policy, my two cars, my house, etc. I realized that I do not really trust in God’s sovereignty on a daily basis. I have buffers in place to shield me from most economic shocks. I realized that when these folks pray “Give us this day our daily bread” their minds don’t wander as mine so often does. I realized that these slum dwellers were trusting in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day, and they had a far deeper intimacy with God than I probably will ever have in my entire life.[1]

Oh, how confrontation with the basic necessities of life brings the point home that our simple need for the basics is enough to compel gratitude for what we do have and a rejection of the complexities of life that consume our lives.

In the Gospel of Mark, Mark provides a picture of the significance of our existence in the moment. Life as we know will not remain forever. The things, institutions, and people that we cherish will not last forever. The end times have always been and so has our preoccupation with knowing when. The end of the kingdom of this world is inevitable and the new kingdom will come. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”Things we think will last forever do not. I remember the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, September 11, 2001, and when the sky darkened, and a tornado devastated the community of Moore, Oklahoma in May 2013. 1 Samuel 1:4-20 addresses the joy of a life well lived with giving of oneself as the centerpiece. Each one of us carries the purpose and nature of God throughout life. Each encounter we have, every person we meet, gives us the opportunity, through our “giving,” to be or receive “…that mystical, hopeful, riveting, and terrifying catalyst that fuels the ongoing story of God.”[2]Hannah pursued understanding her barrenness. Her petition of God to give her a son never ceased. The circumstances of how our births and families of origin came about are as different and varied as each of our interests. Such is the case of Samuel. Hannah named her son, Samuel, from the root word “to ask.” God answered Hannah’s prayers.

Our life’s outcome is quite simple: to witness to the good news of the gospel, so people do not take hope in things that most certainly will be destroyed. Because of Jesus, all that we are and do in the home, retirement, office, school, neighborhood, church and leisure, can be done with a sense of urgency in that it matters. Interactions with employees, friends, and co-workers can model God’s work of redemption. Our lives, the way we live in God’s simple purpose of loving God and others, is how we participate as best neighbors in God’s mission.

Like Samuel the toil of daily living is not an end in itself, it is a means. Why? Our toil participates in God’s toil of the mission of redemption. Both God and human give of themselves for the sake of meaning to be experienced in life. We, as Christians, see our lives as existing for the sake of others to know God’s incredible love for them. Mike Slaughter in The Christian Wallet writes, “We form and grow relationships in the margins of our lives. It is also within those margins that we do acts of kindness or service toward others. Most critically, it is in the margins that we build our right relationship with God.”[3]Bearing one another’s burdens and each of us taking responsibility for the day’s toil and cares is the call to a life of simplicity.

Radical dependence of the entire creation upon God is what is needed to experience the joy of simplicity. Think about it. Life is a tangle of relationships. We all desire to receive comfort in our grief and to give comfort to the grieving. I concur with Richard J. Foster, the author of Freedom of Simplicity, “We have no independent existence, no self-sustaining ability. All we are and all we possess is derived.”[4]Simplicity is demanding as we re-think and re-gift years of being conditioned to live for ourselves. Enduring persistence in our dependence on God is a spiritual discipline at the foundation of simplicity. Therein lies great joy.

[1]Adapted from Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts (Moody Press, 2012), 64-65.

[2]G. Malcolm Sinclair in David L. Bartlett and Barbara BrownTaylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009),295.

[3]MikeSlaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 198.

[4]Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981), 16.

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