Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul

by Bill Hybels


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Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Overscheduled. Sound familiar? Today’s velocity of life can consume and control us . . . until our breakneck pace begins to feel normal and expected. That’s where the danger lies: When we spend our lives doing things that keep us busy but don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do.

What if your life could be different? What if you could be certain you were living the life God called you to live—and building a legacy for those you love? If you crave a simpler life anchored by the priorities that matter most, roll up your sleeves: Simplified living requires more than just cleaning out your closets or reorganizing your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul. By eradicating the stuff that leaves your spirit drained, you can stop doing what doesn’t matter—and start doing what does.

In Simplify, bestselling author Bill Hybels identifies the core issues that lure us into frenetic living—and offers searingly practical steps for sweeping the clutter from our souls. Tyndale House Publishers

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414391229
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the largest and most influential churches in North America. He is the bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Just Walk Across the Room, Too Busy Not to Pray, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Axiom, Holy Discontent, and The Power of a Whisper. Hybels is chair of the board for the Willow Creek Association, a not-for-profit organization that equips and empowers more than 15,000 Christian churches from 90 denominations. Each year, he convenes the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), a two-day, world-class leadership event that trains 190,000 leaders in 105 countries. With almost two million participants to date, the GLS is the largest leadership event in the world.

An exceptional communicator, Hybels speaks around the world on strategic issues related to leadership, personal growth, and building thriving churches. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and an honorary doctorate of divinity from Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. He and his wife, Lynne, have two grown children and two grandsons.

Read an Excerpt


Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul

By Bill Hybels

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Bill Hybels
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4143-9122-9


from exhausted to energized

Replenishing Your Energy Reserves

A good portion of my work these days involves coaching and mentoring leaders, both here in the United States and around the world. Increasingly, whether I'm speaking with leaders at home or abroad, at Willow Creek or in other circles of my life, I hear the same words repeated over and over: exhausted, overwhelmed, overscheduled, anxious, isolated, dissatisfied. It's a bipartisan issue—young and old, rich and poor, professionals and parents, women and men, Republicans and Democrats. And it's a global issue—I've heard these words in English and in countless foreign languages.

It was startling to hear these words so often. I began to realize that, as leaders and Christ followers, we needed to address this situation. So whenever I had a chance, I began openly discussing burnout, stress, and dissatisfaction. My gut told me the topics might strike a chord with people, because they certainly struck a chord with me.

I grossly underestimated the impact.

As I explored the concerns that leave people feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and exhausted, and as I sought to formulate a framework for how to tackle the diverse complexities of these issues, I began using the term simplify. How do we simplify our lives? The term stuck. The very word seemed to energize people.

Perhaps they hoped I would unveil a closely held secret, a key to the universe that would help them uncomplicate their frazzled lives. Perhaps they assumed I was well beyond these issues in my own experience and hoped I might whisk some crumbs of wisdom off the mahogany table of my life into their waiting and eagerly cupped hands.

Not so! Those who know me well can tell you I've spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with the same dark swarm of words I've lately been hearing from leaders across the globe. I am nowhere near immune. I know far too much about being overwhelmed and overscheduled and exhausted. I know all too well what it feels like to be anxious, dissatisfied, wounded, and spent. As I've talked about these issues, I have been both a student and a teacher, to be sure. You'll see in the pages you're about to read that I'm a serious fellow learner on the topic of simplifying our lives.

I am not naturally inclined to lead a simple life. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to the calling God has entrusted to me—not just at work, but also with my family, the relationships I invest in, the recreation I need for my mental health, and the travel my work requires. I don't foresee my life slowing to a lounge-by-the-pool pace anytime soon, if ever. Can you relate?

Simplified living is about more than doing less. It's being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It's walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we've been called and for which we've been created. It's a lifestyle that allows us, when our heads hit the pillow at night, to reflect with gratitude that our day was well invested and the varied responsibilities of our lives are in order.

If we don't change how we live, our overcomplicated world will begin to feel frighteningly normal. We will become accustomed to life at a frantic pace, no longer able to discriminate between the important and the unessential. And that's the danger: When we fritter away our one and only life doing things that don't really matter, we sacrifice the things that do matter. Through more misses than hits, I have experienced the high cost of allowing my life to get out of control. My desire is to spare you some of the pain of learning these lessons as I did—the hard way.

What if your life could be different? What if you could be certain you were living the life God called you to live and building a legacy for those you love? If you crave a simpler life anchored by the priorities that matter most, roll up your sleeves: Simplified living requires more than just organizing your closets or cleaning out your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul. By examining core issues that lure you into frenetic living, and by eradicating the barriers that leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, you can stop doing the stuff that doesn't matter and build your life on the stuff that does.

In my experience, a handful of key practices are vital to keeping my soul clutter-free. These practices help me overcome the barriers that keep me from living the life "to the full" that Jesus promises in John 10:10. In each chapter of this book, I invite you to examine one of these practices, assess what Scripture has to say about it, hold up a mirror to your own life, and then take action.

There are no shortcuts to simplified living. Untangling yourself from the overscheduled, overwhelming web of your current life is not for the faint of heart. It's honest, rigorous work. As I tell leaders whenever I speak on the subject, action is required. That's why each chapter of this book concludes with Action Steps—questions about what keeps you in bondage to such frenetic, cluttered patterns, as well as hands-on practices for eradicating clutter from your soul and moving toward a simplified life. I challenge you to go beyond reading each chapter merely for theory. Don't let an intellectual nod to the concept of simplified living inoculate you against making actual changes in your actual life. Rather, apply what you read with courage and grit.

I can tell you from my own experience that simplifying your life will produce immediate rewards. Each day will have a clear purpose, and each relationship will receive the investment it's due. And without the needless clutter clanging around in your soul, you'll be able to hear—and respond to—each whisper from God.

This is what I know: Change is possible. Whether you're teetering on the edge of a cluttered collapse or you're just starting to realize that some minor life adjustments are in order, you can simplify. You may well have to simplify to live the life God is inviting you to live. As you begin to implement these key practices, they will become habits that create simplified days, then months, then years, and eventually a lifetime that brings satisfaction and fulfillment. Making these course corrections will produce a life you'll be glad to have lived when you look in the rearview mirror.

You've been warned: This process is not for the faint of heart. Action on your part is required. Still game? Let's dive in.


Of all the people Jesus interacted with during His three-year teaching ministry, Scripture records only one person whom He redirected in the area of simplicity: a good friend of His, a woman named Martha.

Jesus had hundreds of followers during His ministry—not just the twelve disciples—but He chose only a handful to be in His inner friendship circle. Three were His disciples: Peter, James, and John. And there were three others: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, siblings who were faithful supporters of His ministry. They lived in a little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, which still exists today. Jesus stayed with them from time to time and deeply valued their hospitality.

The incident I'm about to describe took place as the demands on Jesus were growing. The more He taught, the more people wanted from Him—more healings, more miracles, more of everything He could offer. His days were increasingly packed. So occasionally, Jesus called a time-out and retreated to the serenity of the guest quarters in Bethany, where He could wind down for a day or two and refuel in the company of His closest friends. Here's how Luke describes one such visit:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

You can see the dynamics of this situation shaping up from a mile away. Mary and Martha have had no time to prepare for this drop-in visit by Jesus and twelve dusty disciples. But Jesus feels comfortable enough in His friendship with them that He stops by for some replenishing time.

Mary decides to go with the flow and pulls up a chair. Perhaps she says something to Jesus like, "I'm so glad You stopped by. How's it been going on the road? How big a pain have the Pharisees been lately? You can tell us; we're friends. What You share in Bethany stays in Bethany."

Meanwhile, Martha has busied herself in the kitchen getting a meal going. She is frantically trying to play the role of accommodating hostess, tending to the physical needs of Jesus and His disciples—appetizers, entrees, and drinks. It begins to grate on her that Mary is simply lounging in the other room with Jesus, catching up on the latest events.

After a while, Martha snaps. She loses it. She's clearly ticked. Perhaps she had already attempted some subtle cues to get her sister to give her a hand with the food. First she may have peeked around the corner and given Mary the stink-eye—the look that says, Get in here and help me! Then maybe she started dropping pans to get Mary's attention. My wife, Lynne, used to do that with me. When she thought I wasn't helping enough, she'd "accidentally" let a few pans crash to the kitchen floor. After about the fifth pan—I was a little slow on the draw—I would catch a clue: "That's the signal!" And Id head for the kitchen to pitch in.

We don't know whether Mary has missed, or has chosen to ignore, her sister's hints that she needs help, but at a certain point, Martha bursts into the room and interrupts the conversation Mary is having with Jesus. She doesn't address Mary; she addresses Jesus directly with an opening salvo: "Lord, don't You care?"

The irony here is thick. "Don't You care?" she asks the Lord of the universe, the one who left heaven's splendor to put on human flesh and descend into first-century Palestine; who has been out on the road, teaching and healing and serving others until He's absolutely exhausted; and who will soon bleed and die for the redemption of everyone in the world, including Martha.

"Don't You care?"

I picture Martha in this scene with a wooden spoon in her hand. She gets right up in Jesus' face: "You tell her to help me! Order that lazy sister of mine into the kitchen before I do something with this spoon!"

If I were Jesus, I would have had several ideas running through my mind about what Martha could do with that spoon. But Jesus doesn't escalate the conflict. He doesn't power up on Martha. He doesn't say, "How dare you speak to the Son of God this way ..." According to the text, He simply says her name twice: "Martha, Martha." In other words, "Easy does it, Martha. Take a chill pill."

Then, with genuine kindness, He makes an observation: "You are worried and upset about many things."

He can tell she's overwhelmed, overscheduled, and exhausted— the very words that define our culture. And He invites her to put down her spoon and take a couple of deep breaths.

"So many things are occupying your mind right now," He says. "They're churning you up inside. You're making My visit much more complicated than I want it to be."

I picture Jesus clarifying the lines, taking advantage of a teachable moment for everyone in the room: "Martha, can I simplify something for you? Whenever I stop by, it's not for the food. If I wanted a five-star dinner, I could arrange for one—I just fed five thousand people a couple of weeks ago, you know. And I made some awesome chardonnay at a wedding reception once. I can arrange for food and drink anywhere, anytime. When I stop by to visit, it's for friendship, for connection, to be with you. I come here for the life-giving, life-exchanging engagement, for fellowship. That's all, really."

In Luke's text, Jesus tells Martha something that I, too, often need to be reminded of: "Few things are needed—indeed only one."

Martha was missing what mattered most; but not Mary. She got it.

"Mary has chosen the good part," Jesus says, "and I'm not going to take it away from her. I will not send her into the kitchen to do a dozen things that don't really matter in the big picture."

By affirming Mary's choice, Jesus invites Martha to set down her spoon and follow her sister's example.

Your heart and mine yearn for an antidote to all the drivenness and busyness in our lives. The antidote isn't getting it all done in the kitchen—or the office, or the mall. The antidote is leaving that stuff—sometimes undone—to sit down for an unrushed conversation with Jesus.

What a terrific story. In a few short words, Jesus teaches us about His values and priorities.

I also find it fascinating that the Gospel of Luke juxtaposes the Mary and Martha story with the parable of the Good Samaritan. On the heels of teaching His followers to be active and help those in need, Jesus strikes a different note in His response to Martha's activism. "In all your activity," He says, "don't lose sight of relationship."

Unrushed. Unhurried. Let's sit down and get caught up with each other.



Some years back, I had a "moment" that was far uglier than Martha's ugly moment. At the time, I had felt depleted not just for days, not just for weeks, but for months. Things had gotten so bad that, one by one, my wife and kids had subtly suggested that maybe I should spend some time at our family cottage in Michigan. Alone. Their unanimous, unspoken message was loud and clear: You're over the edge. You're no fun around here. Go inflict yourself on yourself for a few days. In another state!

It didn't take a genius to crack the code. So I packed my duffel bag.

As I walked down the long hallway to our garage, our little dog saw me coming—and he dove out of the way into the laundry room. Even the dog knew I was on edge. It seemed I was the last to notice.

On my drive over to the cottage that day, I had my wooden spoon out, just like Martha, and I was giving God an earful. I complained about the elders of our church: "They have unrealistic expectations!" I complained about the staff: "They always want stuff from me, and they rarely thank me." Then the spoon grew to the size of a canoe paddle, and I complained about our congregation: "They think I'm just a sermon machine, and they don't really care about me as a person."

For the entire three-hour drive, I was shaking the spoon. When I arrived at the cottage, I deposited my duffel bag in the bedroom and headed to the kitchen to make something to eat. When I opened the fridge and discovered there was no food, my complaints continued: "Whoever stayed here last hasn't given any thought to the one who would be coming over next—the one who pays the bills! They don't give a rip about me either!"

So I drove to the little grocery store in town to pick up a bag of groceries. And I was none too happy about it, believe me.

After I paid the cashier, I walked toward the screen-door exit. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a guy I'd seen around town before—a wounded Vietnam vet in his wheelchair. I noticed he was also moving toward the door. I calculated his speed and compared it to mine. I calculated his angle and compared it to mine. And I remember thinking, Are you kidding me? He and I are going to reach the door at exactly the same time. He's going to be moving slowly because he's in the wheelchair, and I suppose I should be courteous and help him....

And here was my next thought: What else could go wrong for me today, God? What else could go wrong?


Excerpted from Simplify. by Bill Hybels. Copyright © 2014 Bill Hybels. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 From Exhausted to Energized 1

Replenishing Your Energy Reserves

Chapter 2 From Overscheduled to Organized 29

Harnessing Your Calendar's Power

Chapter 3 From Overwhelmed to In Control 55

Mastering Your Finances

Chapter 4 From Restless to Fulfilled 83

Refining Your Working World

Chapter 5 From Wounded to Whole 109

Making Room for Forgiveness

Chapter 6 From Anxious to Peaceful 139

Conquering Your Fears

Chapter 7 From Isolated to Connected 169

Deepening Your Relational Circles

Chapter 8 From Drifting to Focused 205

Claiming God's Call on Your Life

Chapter 9 From Stuck to Moving On 225

Welcoming New Seasons in Your Life

Chapter 10 From Meaningless to Satisfied 255

The Legacy of a Simplified Life

Appendix A How to Choose Your Life Verse 285

Appendix B Life Verse Catalog 289

Notes 303

Acknowledgments 308

About the Author 309

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