Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Complexity of Simplicity

Strap yourselves in folks, this could be a long one.

So I had this problem in college. I think it is a pretty common problem. Let's call it Futureitis. It is a pretty serious sickness. You see once you catch the Futureitis bug, you become almost irrevocably and unwaveringly obsessed not Justin guessed it: the future. I had a Plan in college. I have written about "The Plan" before (here and here), so there is no need to rehash old ground, but as good as my plan was... it still had holes. I didn't know where I would go to Seminary, and the longer I was in college the more I questioned where I should teach, if I should work in a church, blah, blah blah.

So like a good little Christian boy, I prayed about it. Some. Mostly I thought about it on my own. And talked to other people about it. We would get together and have Futureitis pow wows. The deal was that I would listen to you obsess over the details of your future and how God was going to pretty much change the world through you (as long as you could figure out the details ahead of time), and then you would listen to me obsess over the future and wonder where God would put me so that I could down to the business of changing the world. It was a good deal, and it worked pretty well.

About halfway through my junior year at FCC I kind of realized I was an idiot. For two and a half years I was at FCC wondering where God was going to put me so that I could start having an impact. And in all that thinking about how God was going to use me later, I completely missed how he wanted to use me right where I was! So for my last year and a half I scrambled to do all the ministry at FCC that I could, jamming what should have been 4 years of conscious present-minded ministry into 18 months.

So I vowed "I will never make that mistake again! Forget the future, let God take care of it, I am going to simply steward the present."

Well it turns out there is more than one way to make the same mistake.

I have done really well about avoiding the Futureitis bug. It is an extremely contagious little spiritual virus, but with discipline and regular hand sanitizer I have stayed away from it. But the whole stewarding the present thing... well I have found a way to mess that up in a whole NEW way!

It's called busyness. Busyness is the death word to effective Christian living.

You see I kind of wrote a story for myself before I came to China. Consciously or unconsciously, I wrote a story for myself about what my time here would be like, who I would be around, how things would go, and the kind of things God would give me to steward. Turns out God had some different ideas. He has given me different things to steward and influence than I thought he would. But me, being the busy-hungry American Christian I am, wasn't quite satisfied with that.

My life here is incredibly simple. But it is a hugely complex task to keep it that way. God has basically given me four areas of relationship to steward, and it takes everything I have to do it well. And the stewardship of those relationships he has not made overly complicated on me. He has simply called me to be as Salty and as Light-bringing an influence as I can. Yet, there is this little voracious part of my soul that acts like the plant from little shop of horrors, and crying out for "More! More! More! Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!" I plague myself with questions, "Why aren't you doing this? Wouldn't this other thing be useful? Why hasn't God given me that to steward?"

Then the Holy Spirit reminds me that all that uneasiness I feel is from my busy hungry soul that is so keen to miss the present. The Holy Spirit reminds me that my busy hungry soul wants me to run myself into the ground chasing something other than the beautiful simple Present that God has actually given me. He says,"Wait. Be patient. Be Salt and Light. Be Simple."

When everything in my culturally conditioned self cries out for busyness, being Simple is an incredibly complex thing.

~J.L. Smith


  1. This was convicting. I needed to hear it.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Glad my screw ups can help someone else. :D