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Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life." He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Most of us have had enough of living in the midst of a self-made whirlwind. We desperately crave simplification and the balance and harmony it can bring to our lives.
Yet sustaining a simpler, saner life-style over time is very difficult to do. We clean out a closet and within the week it's cluttered again. We decline a request to serve on a committee one day, only to accept two more extra responsibilities the next.
How can we simplify our lives to be more serene, more focused, and more significant on a permanent basis? How can we calm the fear in our hearts that what we see of this world is all there is?
I believe that it is this fear, more than anything else, that fuels our busyness as we desperately try to control and hold on to everyone and everything we love.
I also believe that the only hope for the lasting, effective simplification of our lives is a relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ. Once He's in control we never have to fear losing control again. In Him we are found, not lost. In Him we are free, not enslaved to the demands of this world.
Mary and Martha were two sisters who lived in Bethany in the time of Jesus. When they lost their brother Lazarus their whole world was turned upside down. To be without a husband or a brother in those days meant that their very survival was at stake.
Martha rushed out to meet Jesus as He approached their home after Lazarus had died. Jesus loved His friends. When He saw the fear and panic in Martha's eyes, He quieted her spirit by saying, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
He asks the same question of each of us today, and nothing impacts our ability to live a simple, secure life of faith more than the answer we give Him. Yet often we're so busy trying to find reliable stepping stones on our own that we never take the leap of faith He asks us to take. This was certainly true of me.
Five months after I was officially divorced, on a hot day in June, 1982, I waved good-by to my sons in the driveway of my parents' home in Tennessee. The boys' dad met me there to pick them up for a six-week visit with him in New Jersey. I was headed back to Colorado to live all alone for the first time in my life.
Since there had been some talk about my older son staying with his dad for the next school year, I waved good-by not knowing if he would ever really be coming home again. I didn't even know what would be best for him. I just knew my whole life had fallen apart, and I still didn't understand why.
As soon as the boys were out of sight, I went in the house to change clothes. My mom asked if I was okay. "I'm fine," I lied. "I'm going for a jog."
Physical activity was one way I tried to regain control of my life that year, so within a few minutes of the boys' departure I was running around the track at my old high school in the hot summer sun. Soon uncontrollable tears mingled with the drops of sweat running down my face. I kept running, but I couldn't stop crying.
Finally, I dropped to my knees and said, "Lord, I can't do this anymore. I can't control what's happening, and even if I could, I don't know the right answers. I've made such a mess of things on my own. Please help me."
If there was one defining moment in my life when I surrendered completely to Him, that was it. From then on, I became more than a Sunday Christian. The letting go process took time, and I still find myself clinging to certain things too tightly; but since I asked for His help, I've had the assurance of the Holy Spirit reminding me that my life is in more capable hands than my own. The more I allow Jesus to be Lord of my life in every way, the better I know Him. The better I know Him, the more I desire His simple, yet gloriously satisfying, way of living.
It's too bad that it so often takes dire circumstances such as mine before we understand our need for a Savior. For many, believing in God comes more easily than accepting Jesus, and it's this belief to which they cling as they attempt to deal with life's struggles. I've even seen this tendency in women who are serious enough about their faith to be in Bible study groups. They believe in God, pray to Him, and wait patiently for His answers. Yet they are blocking His responses, perhaps even insulting Him, because they refuse to recognize His Son as Savior and Lord.
Not until we know the Son can we have full access to God's heart and find the peace that passes all understanding: the peace that comes from the assurance of eternal life.
In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." Unless, as C. S. Lewis so aptly states in Mere Christianity, you dismiss Jesus as a liar or a lunatic, then you have to accept what He said as God's truth.
Why don't more people accept God's free gift of salvation, and claim His power to simplify their lives? Maybe it's because the simplest gifts, those most generously given, are the hardest to accept. Or maybe it's because nothing else we experience in life is so uncomplicated and unconditional.
Stand in the checkout lane at the grocery store and read the magazine covers. Count how many times you read "Ten Ways to a Younger You" or "Fifty Steps to Quicker Weight Loss." If even the simplest approach to solving one of life's dilemmas involves so many steps, how can salvation be so simple? Because God designed it that way.
In the simplest terms, Jesus came to close the gap sin created between God and us. (My sins are painfully obvious to me, but if you doubt that you are a sinner, give yourself a reality check. Read one of the Gospels and compare your life to Jesus' life on earth.) Because God is just, someone had to pay the price for sin. That someone is God's own Son, Jesus. Fully God, He also became fully human to die in our place.
There is nothing left for us to do but pick up His gift and claim it as our own, but in the skeptical world in which we live, many people can't believe the gift is real so they leave it on the shelf unclaimed. This is heartbreaking when claiming it is so easy.
All we have to do is confess our sin and our need for a Savior, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and invite Jesus to be Lord of our lives—not just on Sunday, but every day of the week. When He becomes Lord of our whole lives, then He becomes Lord of our closets, our daily planners, our business proposals, our relationships, and our car pools. Then and only then can we tap into the power that will enable us to simplify our lives on a permanent basis.
Without Jesus standing guard over our hearts, any space we are able to create for ourselves through simplification is soon filled up with new activities and commitments. If we don't refill it ourselves, well-intentioned spouses, colleagues, or others will fill it up for us. Soon it's been reclaimed by possessions, careers, or other people's expectations of us, and we lose the balance and harmony we hoped to find.
Jesus sees the panic in our eyes. He is walking toward each one of us as He walked toward Martha on the road outside of her house. He's telling us who He is and what He was sent to do for us, and He's asking, "Do you believe this?" I'm convinced that until we can say, "I do believe," from the depths of our hearts, we will never have the power to let go of the fear, the need to be in control, that fuels so much meaningless activity.
The first step to simplifying our lives is to simply believe, and everything else will follow.CHAPTER 2
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Why is it that the same women who wouldn't think of leaving the house without their cell phones will forget about the one form of communication that connects them with the Lord of the Universe?
To pray is simply to have a personal conversation with your best friend. Like every conversation we have, praying is two way, and we must learn to simplify our lives so that we can pray effectively and clearly hear God's voice.
Even when He was still on earth, Jesus and the Father were one. In John 17:21 when Jesus prays for us, He asks, "That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you."
In spite of this complete unity with God, Jesus always stopped to pray. He prayed early in the morning and late at night. He prayed alone on the mountain and with His disciples by the seashore. He prayed in times of temptation and trial, of course, but He also prayed in times of joy and thanksgiving. In short, He prayed at all times, because He needed and wanted to talk with His Father.
Seeing Jesus' faithfulness to prayer, the disciples asked Him how they were to pray. In Matthew 6:6 when He tells them to go into their room and pray, He encourages them to put private conversation with God ahead of appearing pious in public. Certainly Jesus prayed in public, and there are times when we are called to do so too. But the simple prayers of our hearts, in the most private chambers of our lives, are the prayers that shape us. Our private prayers add depth to our public ones.
What keeps us from praying effectively? Clutter. Just as when we go into our rooms or closets our peaceful retreat can be ruined by the sight of physical clutter, our communication with God can be muddled by the spiritual clutter in our lives.
Simplifying our lives includes getting rid of both kinds of clutter, and attacking physical clutter may be a great way to prepare for attacking the more serious kind.
The best rule I know for getting rid of clutter is the one that dictates, "If you haven't needed it in the past year, get rid of it." Certainly there are exceptions to this rule. You may not have needed the needlepoint pillow your great aunt made for you, but you're not going to give it away. But what about those slacks that will be too tight even if you do lose five pounds? What about the three cans of ground cinnamon in your kitchen cupboard? Can they be consolidated into one can? Cupboard by cupboard, closet by closet, room by room, you can unclutter your life. It's so liberating!
Now, look at your prayer life with the same discerning eye. In John 15:7, Jesus says, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." Too often, Christians focus on the last part of this promise and overlook the initial requirement. What does Christ mean when He says we are to remain in Him? More than anything, He wants us to simply ask His will for us in every situation, and to be in intimate relationship with Him.
It's a difficult question, but sooner or later we all have to ask ourselves if the clutter keeping us from praying effectively, and keeping us from hearing God's answer to our prayers, is wrapped in a spirit of sin or unforgiveness. In James 5:16 we are promised, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." We know "righteousness" is ours when we confess our sins and believe in Jesus as Lord. To pray effectively then, we must get rid of the clutter of sin and come to God with an open heart.
We must also come with a contrite heart.
As a freelance writer, I had the privilege of working on a prayer journal for which I was asked to excerpt copy from the published works of author Evelyn Christenson. Then in her mid-seventies, Evelyn was busy touring the world holding prayer seminars and proclaiming to others the simple power of prayer. Two million copies of her best-selling book, What Happens When Women Pray, are in print.
Working with Evelyn was a joy and a privilege, but as happens to many of us when we over commit and over estimate the amount of discretionary time we have, I was dangerously close to missing the promised deadline on the project. Getting up before the sun one cold morning in December, 1996, I stumbled into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. Standing in the kitchen in my bathrobe and fuzzy slippers waiting for the coffee to brew, I leaned back against the kitchen sink, lowered my head, and prayed through my tears:
"Lord, I was so honored that You gave me this assignment, but I fear I have failed You. I wanted to thoroughly absorb every book and pray over every entry just as Evelyn would do, and I simply haven't done it. I'm sorry, Lord. This assignment is due! Please help me. Please show me what You want to include in this prayer journal. In Christ's name, amen."
Steaming cup of coffee in hand, I went back to my office and turned on the computer. I picked up the first book of Evelyn's, in which I had highlighted excerpts, and began copying her words into the new text. Then I moved on to the books I hadn't looked at carefully enough. It was as if God had taken a highlighter (I think He would use purple) to every book I picked up. As I scanned the pages, He seemed to be saying, "I want this ... and this ... and this paragraph, here." My work was almost done when I heard His answer to my prayer.
"Don't you see, My child," the Lord was saying to me. "I didn't give you this assignment so you could study what happens when women pray. I gave it to you so you could learn what happens when you pray, and come to Me for forgiveness and help."
Just as I sensed God's answer to my prayer, I became aware of a golden glow filling every corner of my home office. I turned to see one of His most magnificent sunrises spreading across the Colorado prairie. As if God didn't feel that was quite enough confirmation that He was with me, I then turned to look out the other window in my office and saw a full moon still shining over the mountain range. God does such awesome work.
I still have a lot to learn about prayer. I still need to remember to pray first instead of after I've exhausted all other possibilities. But tenderly, time after time, the Lord keeps saying, "I'm here. I'm listening. All you have to do is ask." Simply pray, and He will hear you.CHAPTER 3
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
—Matthew 6:28-29 KJV
Shortly after I gave up the job that kept me away from home from pre-dawn to dusk and began working at home instead, I became aware of birds as never before. Little sparrows were playing and chirping in the bushes outside my home office window. Hawks were soaring against the blue sky above the field next to our house, playfully sailing on the currents. Even the starlings in the trees at the grocery store parking lot captured my attention.
It was quite an awakening when I realized that the birds had been a part of my world all along. I had just been too busy and distracted to notice them. Now I keep the feeders in our yard full, and I've attached feeders to my office and kitchen windows so wild birds are my constant companions. My summer friends the hummingbirds are my favorites, and their antics have even appeared in my weekly newspaper column from time to time.
If I had missed something as obviously delightful as the bird population, I wondered, what other parts of God's creation had I busily ignored? Job 12:7 says, "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you." I had been missing all their gentle lessons.
Fortunately, I'm blessed to live in a part of the country where it's impossible to ignore the majesty of God's Creation completely. The front range of the Rocky Mountains runs all along the west side of Colorado Springs. In the mornings, the mountains seem to glow with a pink luminescence as they reflect the sunrise. When they are covered with snow in the winter, they look like giant dollops of pink cake icing or swirls of cotton candy.
Yet even beauty as commanding as this can be dismissed with a glance when the mind and soul are otherwise engaged. After my revelation about the birds, which left me feeling as if I had just emerged from a deep coma, I made it a priority to pay more attention to the simple beauty of the natural world.
As Christians who want to steer clear of the pantheistic worship of trees and rocks, we often stop short of applauding God for His most excellent work. We may proclaim His miraculous hand when we observe the birth of a baby, or marvel at the intricacy of a blossom, but there's so much more. All of creation is full of mysteries God wants us to discover in order to understand fully who He is and what He has given us. To do so reinforces the assurance He wants us to have that He truly will provide for our needs. To do so helps us simplify our lives as we trust Him to provide.
The best way I know to connect with God's Creation is to go on a nature walk with a small child—preferably a child short enough to notice an ant making its way down the crack in the sidewalk. If you don't have such a child in your life, borrow one! You won't regret it.
Excerpted from Simply the Savior by Nancy Parker Brummett, Julie Smith. Copyright © 1998 Nancy Parker Brummett. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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Posted March 30, 2001
I wrote Simply the Savior as a result of my own simplification journey. At the time, most of the materials on the market related to restoring a sense of balance in our lives seemed New Age in nature, urging readers to look within for the power to change. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I remembered that He taught much about setting priorities and focusing on what really matters in the eternal sense, so I turned to Scriptures for His truth. I hope that the Scriptures, personal stories and practical applications in Simply the Savior will help others make simplification, balance and harmony permanent lifestyle choices.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.