Archive for September, 2011

Do you sometimes find yourself bouncing off the walls?

“Simplicity is an act of the will to reduce the fracturedness of life by centering life around a singleness of purpose.” — Ann Hagman

Do you sometimes find yourself bouncing off the walls–unable to focus on anything? Do you wake up at 2 am with your mind racing, unable to fall back asleep? Do you find yourself sometimes only half-listening to people because you’re more interested in what you have to do next than what that person has to say? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, don’t fret. You’re not alone! Many people have a “to do” list hanging over their head like an executioner’s axe.

In today’s fast-paced world, you’re probably in the majority if you feel like there aren’t enough hours in your day. You need to wash the car, mow the lawn, trim the hedges, do the laundry, drive the kids somewhere, and if you’re really lucky you might catch a ball game on television—and this is just your Saturday schedule! On Sunday, grasping for a spiritual straw to cling to, you drag yourself from bed, drive to church and put on a happy face as you meet and greet. You allow your mind to meander as the sermon is preached and afterwards reluctantly agree to join yet another working group or committee.

With church checked off the list, you return home to finish those tasks you didn’t get to on Saturday. On Monday you go back to work, caring for the kids and house or suffering through the trials of a long commute because you can’t find a good job nearby. Throughout your day there are emails, voice mails, text messages, phone calls and a seemingly endless string of meetings or appointments. If you’re lucky, at the end of an arduous day you’ll find temporary refuge in the smiling face and gentle charm of a spouse or significant other and, for a time, you’ll be restored. But this fragile moment of peace will eventually be interrupted by unwanted phone calls, endless junk mail, stacks of business correspondence demanding your attention, and a depressing lack of time to get it all done before you collapse into bed. Then, after grabbing a few hours of restless sleep, you’ll have just enough energy to rise the next morning to begin a similar day.

Far too many Americans suffer through similar routines each day. I hear complaints from friends and colleagues all the time. Such routines propel us in directions God never intended humans to travel. The Maker’s grand design doesn’t include the chaos that confounds so many people today. His creation brought order out of chaos, light out of darkness. Man was designed to exist in harmony with God, as His child and companion. But we live in a fallen world where many people struggle to discover God’s purpose in their lives and far to many never stop to consider what God’s purpose for them might be. They simply muddle through each day without giving a thought to what it all means.

Evil thrives in chaos. Chaos breeds destruction. Years ago I witnessed this played out to its fullest in Somalia. After the Somali central government collapsed in the midst of a civil war, marauding groups of bandits raided the villages of neighboring clans, leaving a locust-like path of destruction and death. Entire clans were left isolated and struggling to survive. Although daily life is not usually played out so vividly in our society, chaos in American lives is also a breeding ground for evil.

What are the trademarks of social chaos? Just watch the evening news. Murder, violent crime, divorce, unchecked abortion, spousal abuse, child abuse, drug abuse, depression, suicide, a rash of children born out of wedlock, and constant fear are just a few. God has a better plan. He wants us to enjoy life to the fullest. But how can we hope to discover His purposes when so many of our lives are filled with chaos and distractions?

It might be impossible to reduce the “to do” list that’s making your daily routine chaotic, but there is a way to avoid the negative effects such a routine can have on your life. The solution is spelled out clearly in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Start by adding one additional task to your the top of your “to do” list. If you’re not doing so already, make a quiet time with God part of your daily routine. While you can’t always eliminate the temporal chaos of life, God has provided a way to eliminate spiritual chaos. Achieve this and life’s daily challenges will no longer seem so important.

Oswald Chambers said, “Even the very smallest thing that we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is completely sufficient to account for spiritual confusion, and spending all of our time thinking about it will still never make it clear. Spiritual confusion can only be conquered through obedience. As soon as we obey, we have discernment. … But when our natural power of sight is devoted and submitted in obedience to the Holy Spirit, it becomes the very power by which we perceive God’s will, and our entire life is kept in simplicity.” I encourage you to strive to begin each day spending quiet time with God. Study the scriptures, pray, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and most important of all, listen intently for His still, small voice.

Life is tough…there must be a simpler way!

“I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.”     –Albert Einstein

The rolling hills of Indiana County, in western Pennsylvania afford visitors scenic beauty and serenity rivaling anyplace in America.  From atop any of the high hills one can see large barns and farmhouses dotting the countryside.  Drive down a road and eventually you’ll come upon a horse-drawn buggy moving slowly, but steadily along.  This is Amish country, a different universe than the one I live in and probably different from yours.  Yet it lies only a few miles from my home.

Having rejected the modern world, these plain people, the descendents of German Anabaptists, struggle to maintain an 18th century existence in fast-paced, 21st century America. They till the soil.  They build their own houses and barns and heat them with stoves fired by wood and coal.  They have neither television, radio, cell phones, computers, cars nor tractors.  Stout work horses pull their plows through the fertile fields. They educate their children in one-room schoolhouses. They know their neighbors and help them when needed. They revere God!

When I consider their world, I can’t help but envy them. No, I’m not ready to give up my car, my television or most of the other conveniences of life, but I envy many aspects of the simple Amish lifestyle.  I long for simplicity in my own life.  Deep inside I yearn for a simpler existence, something that seems quite elusive.

Several years ago, just a few days before Christmas, my wife and I visited the tiny town of Smicksburg, which is situated in the heart of Indiana County’s Amish country. In a gift shop I found a small Christmas ornament.  It is a hand-painted, miniature wooden plaque bearing one word, “Simplify.” At that moment, awash in Amish culture, I experienced a sort of revelation.

I returned home determined to reduce the chaos in my daily routine. I’ve since enjoyed some success and some glaring failures.  The ornament now hangs in a prominent place in my home, providing a daily reminder to keep me focused on the road ahead.   Having thus set the stage, let the journey begin. I invite you to join me in exploring ways to cut through the chaos cluttering our lives, so we may more easily discern how to make daily living “simply divine,”  as God intended.

You’ll find that much, if not most of what I have to say is shaped by my Christian beliefs.  If you’re not a fellow believer, please don’t be put off by my religiosity.  If you visit now and then, I believe you’ll find something here to interest you and brighten your life.