During these past few weeks, we’ve had opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, and the things that are of real importance to us. One of the things many of us have pondered is the accumulation of material things and whether they can bring us any real measure of lasting happiness and security. Countless philosophers, social scientists, psychologists, and theologians have wrestled with this ancient question. Not too long ago, I read that in brain scans of people recalling times of feeling close to God through prayer and worship, neurologists have discovered that a certain part of the brain lights up. In brain scans of people recalling images of material possessions, the same researchers discovered that the exact same place in their brain lights up. We all know that material goods can bring us momentary happiness as the chemical dopamine is released in our brain. But study after study shows that material things do not provide long-term satisfaction or happiness.
In fact, the more people pursue happiness through the acquisition of material goods and possessions, the more likely they will become chronically discontent and unhappy. But as we pursue a simpler life and grow in our dependence on God, trusting that we are being cared for by him, a deeper and more enduring sense of well-being, peace, and joy is nurtured within us. The highest levels of happiness come from developing a genuine concern for the well-being of others and offering life-sustaining guidance to them as a reflection of the unconditional and infinite love of God.
Jesus’ life provides an ideal model of what joyful simplicity and dependence on God can deliver. Jesus is the only person in history who got to choose his life circumstances before he even was born. Interestingly, Jesus could have chosen a more lavish life-style than any other person in the history of the world, yet He chose to live very humbly among the people. So, what does it mean for us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus toward simplicity and a deeper dependence on God? One of the ways we can follow the path of Christ’s dependence on God is to cultivate daily rhythms, such as meditation on His holy word, and practicing gratitude, so that we can experience deep contentment, joy, and confidence in our everyday life with God.
Another way we can follow Christ on the path toward simplifying our lives and fostering greater dependence on God is by “decluttering”. People who are anxious about whether they will have enough for tomorrow, generally have a harder time getting rid of things, and their homes tend to be more cluttered. On the other hand, people who are confident about the future tend to have less cluttered living spaces. When we simplify our lives, we have more room, both literally and figuratively, to experience the rich life of the Spirit. From of this sense of abundance (Ephesians 3:14-19), we can freely choose a path of generosity.
As we grow in our dependence on God, choosing a path of humble simplicity and generosity, we remove the clutter that can accumulate in our lives, in our relationships with each other, and in our relationship with God. We become free to live more fully and to invest more deeply in the things that truly stir our hearts. Paradoxically, our most enduring happiness does not come from what we gain, but rather from what we give away, offering who we are and what we have to bless others through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.