“Franciscan spirituality asks us to let go and recognize
that there is enough to meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed.”
“We were never meant to live life accumulating stuff.
We were meant to live simply enjoying the experiences of life,
the people of life, and the journey of life – not the things of life.”
— Joshua Becker
One of the things that has influenced my worldview (and that I think everyone can benefit from) is the example of the Franciscan teaching of what’s called “evangelical poverty.” Now, in our cultural context today it definitely feels like those words might not go together. The idea of evangelicalism in our culture oftentimes seems to have been turned almost completely political and religious – and talk of poverty is more something that is often avoided. Prosperity Gospel has grown up within American Evangelicalism, even though Jesus talked quite a bit about the danger of excess and the love of money. While in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” in Luke 6 He says, “Blessed are the poor.” The point is not that this condition is a check-list with the goal of having nothing, but rather, I believe what Jesus is speaking about is that there is something in the condition of the heart of a person who has little (and is maybe scraping by) that makes the Kingdom of Heaven peculiarly accessible to them. Dallas Willard once said it this way, “God has an address, and it is: at the end of your rope.”
With that said, I believe that as followers of the way of Jesus, the invitation is to combat the cultural norms of excessive consumption. Not because ‘things’ are bad, but rather, they distract us and they numb us. There is psychology behind marketing, algorithms shape what we see online, and commercials sow discontentment. For many, this is the water we’ve been swimming in all our lives.
Seeking the Kingdom
So, maybe the thought to keep in mind is that perhaps it is as simple as this: if we’re seeking anything other than the rule and reign of God, we won’t experience the rule and reign of God. In other words, maybe we don’t experience the Kingdom of Heaven until we are hungry for it and look for it – until we are attentive to it. That doesn’t mean that it is not continually close to us, but rather we are the ones who are distant.
When we come to look at this through the teaching of Jesus, we find out that the Kingdom costs us everything. We see this in the parables that Jesus shared, it is like a treasure, and a pearl of great worth that you’d abandon all in order to attain, etc.. But what does that abandonment look like for us today? I’ve come to experience that reckless abandon has an equation of sorts. An equation that equals a different sum for each person. It goes: “1 + whatever your threshold is.” The threshold for each of us is the edge of what we are able to let go of – plus one. We are always challenged to go a little further. For the rich young ruler it was his belongings (Mark 10:17-27). For Martha, it was her busyness and franticness (Luke 10:38-42). For many followers of Jesus over the past thousands of years (as well as still today in some parts of the world), it has meant their very lives. All who follow Jesus are invited to catch a vision of the Kingdom of God through the way of Jesus, and to give themselves to that.
Pressing through the discomfort to let go more and more – we venture on this journey to let go of external treasures in exchange for inner freedom and experiencing a greater extent of the reign of God in our lives. The ‘evangelical poverty’ part of this is to proclaim this simple truth: that ‘stuff’ won’t satisfy – it won’t last – it will pass away. That there is freedom in letting go. There is freedom in not buying into the non-stop consumption of a consumerism machine. There is freedom in simplicity and contentment. And “if you will make Creator’s good road your first aim, representing his right ways, he will make sure you have all you need for each day” (Matthew 6:33, First Nations Version).
Clare of Assisi is attributed as saying:
“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.”
The simplicity of letting go and minimalism in walking in the way of Christ is worth it to experience the growing capacity of God’s compassionate love for others.
Here are a couple of questions to think about:
Do the things that you spend the most amount of money on accurately reflect your values and devotions?
What might reckless abandon look like for you today?