How to Declutter for Spiritual Growth

Getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, knickknacks that collect dust, extra sheets and towels, and coffee mugs that seem to reproduce in the dark of my kitchen cupboard, is relatively easy. All I have to do is put them in a bag and set them out for the local charity to pick up. But decluttering the spiritual takes more effort, probably because it’s less visible and harder to measure.

Many writers, preachers and speakers will try to tell you they have a key or some special insight about getting close to God (which is why you need to buy their book). Chasing after every new revelation about how to connect with him is fruitless and tiring. I know, I’ve done a bit of this. I’ve read a lot of devotionals and books that claim to be just what you need and will change your life. They usually don’t.

I’ve found the best path to spiritual transformation is the somewhat old-fashioned but tried and true method of practicing the spiritual disciplines. They’ve been around for centuries and are still the best strategy for growing in grace and knowledge of God. The basics are well known to most of us – Bible study, prayer and meditation.

Meditation is sometimes misunderstood – I suppose because it’s used by so many religions and secular groups and there are many ways to do it, including non-biblical ones. Wrong ideas about spiritual practices such as meditation could be some clutter you need to take out. I don’t have a special key, but I have learned something about it that has helped me, and next week, I will share it with you.

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Space and the Spirit

Space, which I mentioned in a previous post, is often thought of as a luxury. Only the wealthy seem to have space to display works of art (or even have them). But space is something we all can attain. In our homes, we make space by getting rid of clutter, which is defined as things that are in the way, not needed or not useful. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on eliminating the clutter in my home. The process has made me realize I have too much stuff, and the more I take out, the more I’m determined to stop bringing stuff in as well.

Space is also desirable in our spiritual lives. When I think of making space for God, I picture the same thing I want in my house – no clutter and lots of room for what’s important: just me and Jesus. Space means time to spend with him, exploring and deepening our relationship. It means not getting distracted by going down rabbit holes of questionable theology or chasing side issues that don’t contribute to knowing Jesus and becoming like him. I try to be discerning about the devotionals I read and the way I spend my quiet time. I want my focus to be laser sharp on Jesus, no room for anything else.

Next week: De-cluttering the Spiritual Spaces

The Way We Talk

My one word for last year was still. After coming across a little gem in Ephesians, I decided to revisit it. A lot of my focus last year was on being still before God, listening to him and being calm and serene in my soul. But just as importantly, I spent time thinking and praying about how to watch my mouth. I read a book titled Zip It by Karen Ehman, which was helpful in learning how to tame my sometimes-errant tongue.

Ephesians 4:29 in The Message Bible tells us to “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift” (emphasis mine). I don’t know about you, but sometimes my words are more like IEDs. Thinking of my words as gifts gives a whole new perspective on how I speak to others. If I can imagine each word wrapped in a pretty box and tied with a bow, I might be able to avoid lobbing verbal bombs at people.

The Beauty of Space

While visiting a museum last summer, I was intrigued by the displays of large sculptures. The statues were placed in huge rooms with at least 50 feet of space around each one. A person could walk all the way around, view them up close or from across the room. My first thought was what an extravagant use of space, perhaps even wasteful. After all, the building housing the statues was incredibly big and must have cost a fortune, and indeed, it did. But then I realized that while extravagant, the generous amount of space was the right way to respect the masterpieces and allowed the best viewing.

Space is an interesting concept (as well as the final frontier). In my house, as in most houses, space is at a premium and I’ve done my best to fill it. I certainly don’t have any empty tables or counter tops. When I do manage to clear a table, it seems to draw papers and other items like a magnet.

Space is beautiful but difficult to attain and maintain. I’ve been working hard to clear space in my home and my life. It’s a long process but I’m celebrating what I’ve accomplished so far because I’m experiencing breathing room on my calendar, in my closet, cupboards and yes, even a little on my counter tops. I’ve also found more space for spending time with God. Going to bed early and consequently getting up early, has allowed me to expand my quiet time in the mornings.

I love the simplicity of space – in my house, on my calendar and in my head. Less clutter in my head and heart makes more room for the Holy Spirit to live and breathe in me.

Journey to Simplicity

My one word for this year is simplicity. God seems to have been leading me to this word for quite some time. The clutter in my house has been bothering me for years, but I was too busy (or thought I was too busy) to tackle it until last year.

A few years ago, one of my longtime and favorite pastimes, bowling, came to a halt when the whole league deserted me at the beginning of a new season. I still don’t know why that happened, but it freed me up from a weekly commitment and a lot of responsibility (I was league secretary). At the same time, I began volunteering at the local blood bank, which works out better, as I am in control of my schedule.

Last year, I resigned from a board position with the women’s organization I’ve been part of for many years. And then a journal I wrote for and edited ended its 26-year run. I continued to work on getting rid of things in my house I no longer wanted, needed or found useful. My husband has retired and he’s cleaning out a little too.

All this cleaning and clearing of physical things got me thinking about spiritual simplicity, which led me to believe this is my word from God for 2019. I’m being drawn to simplicity in all areas of my life, where I can enjoy peace, serenity and space.

Next time: The Beauty of Space

Supper for One meditations

I’ve made notes of verses and quotations to read and pray through when I have supper for one. I’m sharing them with you in the hope you will find them helpful. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few I’ve found meaningful.

1 Corinthians 10:16, NIV: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” When I take the bread and wine, I love to ponder my participation in Christ’s body and blood. He doesn’t use me; he doesn’t just need me to do a job for him. I participate in his life and he shares his life with me. One morning as I meditated on the blood of Jesus, I marveled that life is in the blood and when I drink the cup representing his blood, his blood—life—is now in me.

Faith That Matters, October 30, N.T. Wright: “The Eucharist is the arrival of God’s future in the present, not just the extension of God’s (or Jesus’) past into our present. We do not simply remember a long-since dead Jesus; we celebrate the presence of the living Lord!” My supper for one is really supper for two. Jesus is alive and present with me as I commune with him during our meal.

Making Room, Linda Rex: “The gift of God is the internal, eternal law of God, Jesus Christ, who joined himself with humanity and who stands in our place as both lawgiver and law keeper.” He has joined himself with us and this is especially real to me when I eat the bread and wine.

Also from Making Room: “Christ in us, the hope of glory. It is Christ who defines us, who lives his life in us and through us by his Holy Spirit.”

I forgot to note the source of this one—if I find it, I’ll let you know: “He is the character, heart, will and mind of God the Father, revealed to the world. He is the universal reason (logos) inherent in all things, the binding laws that explain all in existence.” This is from Colossians 1:15-17. Also read verses 18-20, a great passage to help focus on Jesus and who he is.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I do drink real wine (a thimbleful), even if I do this at 6 in the morning. We have no grape juice in the house, but we do have wine!

Wait for it…

The microwave is one of the greatest inventions for the kitchen. It allows us to quickly reheat or cook food, including popcorn (my favorite). But it might have been only the beginning of the trend to deliver instant gratification and a cause of the increasing lack of impatience rampant today. Everyone wants what they want right now!

Impatience isn’t the only consequence of our want-it-now, get-it-now society. We’ve stopped thinking long term. In an article by Paul Roberts he talked about how the growing problem of wanting and getting what we desire instantly is causing more problems than just a lot of impatience. “Under the escalating drive for quick, efficient ‘returns,’ our whole socioeconomic system is adopting an almost childlike impulsiveness, wholly obsessed with short-term gain and narrow self-interest and increasingly oblivious to long-term consequences” (“Instant Gratification,” The American Scholar, Autumn 2014).

We see evidence of this everywhere, from drivers cutting each other off in traffic because they’re in a hurry to students cheating on tests rather than patiently studying to really understand the material. Get-rich-quick schemes are always with us, but more and more we see corporations focusing on making profits over the long term good of society.

Instant gratification is having a negative effect on overall maturity, as Roberts says: “The notion of future consequences, so essential to our development as functional citizens, as adults, is relegated to the background, inviting us to remain in a state of permanent childhood.”

People as a whole used to be able to wait patiently: farmers waited for their crops; we waited for letters in the mail; travel took longer and news wasn’t instant. We didn’t have mobile banking, mobile shopping or overnight deliveries. Everything took time.

I think this has also affected the way we think of God’s plan and how we anticipate the Kingdom. With the focus on getting what we want immediately, have we forgotten this life isn’t all there is? We want everything to be perfect now, forgetting the perfection of heaven is far off and is what we wait for with great anticipation.

Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, said something that struck me as a profound truth, especially in our impatient times: “I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated—that, in a way, life is overrated. …Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness—if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing” (Forbes MagazineSeptember 14, 1992).

Life is not about getting everything we want right now. It’s about doing the best we can, “living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NLT) and looking forward, with patience to the time when God will make all things new. This life isn’t all there is: we have a future well worth waiting for.