The Practice of Generous Simplicity

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on April 15, 2018, called “The Practice of Generous Simplicity.” The sermon is a reflection on Jesus’ teaching about generous and simple living in the Sermon on the Mount.

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

Generous simplicity, then, is something we practice. It’s something we choose to do, every day. It’s something we intentionally weave into our lives, not just in big ways every once in a while, but in small ways day by day.

Jesus’ teaching even suggests some specific things we can do to cultivate this practice of generous simplicity.

John Swanson, Loaves and Fishes

We can pray each day for our daily bread—and mean it. We talked about this last week, you’ll remember, how praying the Lord’s Prayer can shape our values, our perspectives, our minds and hearts. So take Jesus at his word, and try this out. Each day, consciously, deliberately, ask God for just what you need, no more, just when you need it, not before—and then trust God to give you exactly that.

Praying in this way can move us toward simplicity, because it pares our wants down to only what we truly need—our daily necessities. Praying in this way can also move us toward generosity, because we remember that it is our daily bread we pray for, not just mine—we’re all in this together, and when I have more than I need I can share with those who have less than they need.

Here’s another idea Jesus suggests for us: We can practice periodic fasting. Fasting is not something we often talk about, and, to be honest, it’s not something I’ve done a whole lot myself. It’s the idea of abstaining from something good, even something we need, for a set period of time.

Fasting like this can move us toward simplicity, because it helps us to discern whether we really need that thing we’re abstaining from, or whether we really need that much of it. Fasting like this can also move us toward generosity, because the experience of going without something by choice can generate sympathy for others who go without necessities because they don’t have a choice.

Here’s another idea based on Jesus’ teachings: Every day, look for one need that someone has, and meet it without drawing attention to yourself. Try it out, even just once each day. If you look, you’ll see it: that specific need that you can meet without blowing your own horn.

And then there’s this one, the master challenge of them all, based on Jesus’ teaching about doing good to our enemies: Give something that’s precious to you, to someone who’s not. Yikes! I’m not sure I can do that! But even just wrestling with this idea forces you to think carefully about what really matters, what’s really important, how much we value our material possessions and how much we value people and relationships and the reconciliation in Christ we say we believe in.

These ideas might seem small, even insignificant in the big scheme of things. But remember, that’s the way God’s kingdom comes: small seeds planted in the insignificant spaces of our lives, and nurtured day by day until they grow into something that changes the world.

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