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Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World

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A revised and updated edition of the manifesto that shows how simplicity is not merely having less stress and more leisure but an essential spiritual discipline for the health of our soul.

272 pages, Paperback

First published October 22, 1981

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About the author

Richard J. Foster

90 books447 followers
Richard J. Foster is the author of several bestselling books, including Celebration of Discipline, Streams of Living Water, and Prayer, which was Christianity Today's Book of the Year and the winner of the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. He is the founder of Renovaré, an intrachurch movement committed to the renewal of the Church in all her multifaceted expressions, and the editor of The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 197 reviews
Profile Image for Brice Karickhoff.
513 reviews32 followers
July 7, 2020
An awesome book about the spiritual practice of simplicity. Oh man we need this now!! My favorite aspect of this book, which was also my biggest takeaway, was Foster’s discussion of how broadly simplicity can impact our lives. It’s easy for me to see the spiritual value in limiting consumption to care for the poor - that is the obvious way I feel many are called to practice simplicity. However, I have so much to learn about simplicity of mind and simplicity of speech! Foster discusses these matters so well, and I was challenged to grow and will have conversations with friends as a result.

Ironically, the only part of this book that I appreciated less was related to Foster the amateur economist, not Foster the theologian or encourager. I appreciated Fosters passion for marginalized people, social justice, and poverty alleviation, but in my opinion, he missed the marks at times in trying to emphasize the importance of our call. For instance, he mistakenly states that global hunger is on the rise. Any hunger is bad, but it’s important for people to know that hunger, in the last 20 years, has been miraculously reduced. Another example is Foster’s notion of economics being a zero sum game, where some must lose for others to win. Certainly some sacrifice is necessary on the part of the western world, but I just see the nature of this sacrifice pretty differently than he does. As a result, I didn’t track with him in all his practical suggestions for how the church can practice simple care for the poor.

All that being said, this really was a remarkable book and I would suggest it to anyone! Foster is so organized, clear, and pragmatic as he discusses important matters. He’s willing to address hard questions, and his life is a testament to the application of the answers to those questions. I didn’t like this as much as Celebration of Discipline, but it was still great!
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,582 reviews266 followers
May 14, 2015
As far as spiritual disciplines books go, this is one of the better ones. Foster is (usually) wise enough to know that enforcing a lot of these disciplines and practices as a "law" is legalism. And he doesn't do that. His thesis is simple (no pun intended): simplicity allows us to live in freedom to God (Foster 3). Simplicity exposes our numerous "false selves."

How then should one live in simplicity? Here is where it gets tricky. Foster knows he cannot "make" any of his suggestions a law for the Christian life, otherwise he is going beyond the gospel. (Some of the earlier SoJo guys did just that, but to their credit they later retracted their Galatianism). But he does give practical suggestions and many of them are quite good.

1. Great section on prayer and fasting.
2. Great section on the False Self (80-81).
3. He is aware that a lot of, say, Ron Sider's earlier proposals probably won't pan out and so he recommends a more balanced approach.c

1. Like many connected with Sojourner's Magazine, he accidentally makes the mistake of using big
corporate government to fight big corporate government (181). He advocates multinational institutions to fight multinational institutions.

2. He praises the IMF as a possible rescue organization for the poor. This is ironic since many social justice people criticize the IMF's loan policy as crippling the developing world. So which is it?

3. There are problems with Adam Smith (174), but no one accused Marx and Engels of lifting 2 billion of the world's population out of poverty.

4. He makes the astute observation that spiritual principalities are behind many unjust social structures (164-165). Further, he is correct that these principalities can empower evil multinational corporations. The problem is he paints himself into a corner: he really has no way of fighting these multinational principality structures outside of appealing to something like the UN. This cure is worse than the disease. Further, he says exousiai in Romans 13 means spiritual principalities. That reading really strains the rest of the text, those his larger point holds.


I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. He is much more balanced than Sider et al. He writes with the wisdom of experience.
Profile Image for Sophia Kaiser.
55 reviews
May 18, 2022
“Although many times we do not pay attention to the holy Whisper, increasingly we do. We are less and less discouraged by our many wanderings in the wilderness because, having tasted the land of promise, we desire it more and more. As much as we may flirt with double-minded living, our real love is singleness of purpose, and increasingly it is capturing our heart.”

Would recommend!! And not just because I’m hngr alum. This book slaps!!

Foster understands how the spiritual disciplines function within a gospel of grace. He mentions a scary divorce between the inner and outer expressions of faith in modern teaching, but then goes on to achieve a holism in his writing that is really needed. As he presents it, we are to know true simplicity primarily in our heart postures. But, for it to be true, it must also be expressed and reflected in the likes of our pocket books and calendars (I still love you Dr. Yoder). He presents those outer expressions of simplicity as a freedom and a releasing, which they are, of course, in Christ.

Also- he manages to take seriously what Jesus says about wealth without that becoming the whole message of the book. The lack of simplicity “was the burden that bore down upon the rich young ruler. Not only did he have great possessions, but … the great possessions had him. Of all oppressions, his was the most spiritually debilitating.” A scary scary truth, but not one that obscures the message of freedom in Jesus.

Profile Image for John.
816 reviews129 followers
August 26, 2020
I picked this up after a couple friends recommended it. I really enjoyed most of the book--especially the winsome approach that Foster has through most of the book. "Freedom of Simplicity" is living in full obedience to Christ through all of life. "Christian simplicity lives in harmony with the ordered complexity of life." This simplicity is "both a grace and a discipline."

Rather than living according to the rules of the world, the Christian lives according to the way Christ calls us to--in radical obedience, repudiating the complexity that pulls us in so many directions. This all sounds a bit abstract at first, but as Foster writes, you begin to see a different way.

This different way is possible by seeing the way the world tugs upon us, and rather than conceding, you create alternative ways of living. The book is really good until the final chapter, when Foster falls prey to faddish leftist ideologies of the late seventies and early eighties. In this chapter he becomes didactic and a bit wacky. Rather than global warming, he's concerned about global cooling--funny how quickly that narrative turned! He's concerned about overpopulation and exhaustion of natural resources. These are all things that have more or less been exposed as leftist quackery.

Foster does seem heavily indebted, theologically, to Quakerism, which is a bit concerning, but he seems orthodox and this book is very profitable and challenging as Christians seek to learn how to live lives in full obedience to Jesus Christ.
Profile Image for Angela.
36 reviews3 followers
March 20, 2012
After being so inspired and challenged by Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, I searched for anything else written by Richard J. Foster & stumbled upon this book. He had so much more to say on the spiritual discipline of simplicity that what was originally one chapter in the Celebration of Disciplines book became a book itself. I read it because I believed Richard Foster had experienced a level of spiritual depth that I could only dream of before now...I discovered I was right. There was something about Foster's life & spirituality that was sorely lacking in my own. This book began a decade of searching for peace in a place that very few other Americans seem to look. It's so counter culture & even seems counter to my very nature, but the more courage I display in forging down this path of simplicity, the better I like it and more deeper sense I have that it's sadly one of the best kept secrets of modern living.
Profile Image for Marnie.
377 reviews2 followers
December 6, 2018
A thorough look at the Christian discipline of Simplicity. Got a lot out of this book: simplicity is complex. Will need to re-read again at some point.
Profile Image for Claxton.
97 reviews3 followers
December 30, 2018
Some favorite passages (for my records):

"Perhaps one more example of paradoxical tension will be sufficient to emphasize the fact that our journey into simplicity will be as intricate, varied, and rich as human personality itself. I refer to the attractive ability to be single-hearted and at the same time sensitive to the tough, complex issues of life. It is a strange combination and quite difficult to explain, though quite easy to recognize. It produces focus without dogmatism, obedience without oversimplification, profundity without self- consciousness. It means being cognizant of many issues while having only one issue at the center—holy obedience. Jesus spoke to the heart of the matter when he taught us that if the eye were single, the whole body would be full of light (Matt. 6:22). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, before he died at the hands of the Nazis, said, “To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside down.”⁴ Such focus makes one decisive, able to cut through the Gordian knots of life.

We gain insight into this cry for justice through the Hebrew word mishpat. This was a frequently used
word, rich in meaning—a legal term that also carried ethical and religious connotations. Mishpat involved a morality over and above strict legal justice; it included observance of good custom or established practice, especially the practice of an equitable distribution of the land. It was used so constantly in conjunction with the Hebrew word for righteousness that the biblical scholar Volkmar Herntrich believes the two concepts should be viewed as virtually synonymous.¹

The theme of compassion weaves its way throughout the Old Testament and can be vividly seen in the theologically rich word hesed. Hesed is so laden with meaning that the translators struggle to find an English equivalent, often rendering it “loving- kindness” or “mercy.” But hesed also carries with it the idea of endurance or faithfulness. It is most frequently used in reference to God’s unwavering compassion for his people. His wonderful hesed is from everlasting to everlasting (Ps. 103:17). It endures forever (Ps. 106:1). It was this quality of limitless mercy which God revealed to Moses when he asked to see God’s glory: “The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love [hesed] and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love [hesed] for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’” (Exod. 34:6–7). However (and here is the great challenge), this covenant love, this durable mercy, which is so central to the character of God, is to be reflected in our lives as well. God declares through Hosea the prophet, “I desire steadfast love [hesed] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). And the wisdom of Proverbs counsels, “He who pursues righteousness and kindness [hesed] will find life and honor” (Prov. 21:21).

But most amazing of all is the way in which the biblical writers bring together the justice of mishpat and the compassion of hesed. To give people what is due them is one thing; the quality of spirit through which we relate to those people is quite another. Zechariah received this mighty word of the LORD: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments [mishpat], show kindness and mercy [hesed] each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart” (Zech. 7:9–10). In his call to repentance, Hosea tenderly pleaded with the people, “So you, by the help of God, return, hold fast to love [hesed] and justice [mishpat], and wait continually for your God” (Hos. 12:6). And in what must be considered one of the most insightful summations of our task in all the Old Testament, we have again the outward demand of justice combined with the inward spirit of compassion:

He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice [mishpat], and to love kindness [hesed],
and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8)
Compassion and justice blended call us to simplicity of life.

This theme is wonderfully gathered up in the Hebrew word shalom, a full-bodied concept that resonates with wholeness, unity, balance.² Gathering in (but much broader than) peace, it means a harmonious, caring community with God at its center as the prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. This great vision of shalom begins and ends our Bible. In the creation narrative, God brought order and harmony out of chaos; in the Apocalypse of John, we have the glorious wholeness of a new heaven and a new earth. The messianic child to be born is to be the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Justice and righteousness and peace are to characterize his unending kingdom (Isa. 9:7). Central tothe dream of shalom is the wonderful vision of all nations streaming to the mountain of the temple of God to be taught his ways and to walk in his paths; to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isa. 2:2–5; Mic. 4:1–4). Shalom even carries the idea of a harmonious unity in the natural order: the cow and the bear become friends, the lion and the lamb lie down together, and a little child leads them (Isa. 11:1–9). We are in harmony with God—faithfulness and loyalty prevail. We are in harmony with our neighbor—justice and mercy abound. We are in harmony with nature—peace and unity reign. Economically and socially, the vision of shalom is captured in what Bishop John Taylor calls “the theology of enough.” The greed of the rich is tempered by the need of the poor. Justice, harmony, equilibrium prevail. Shalom’s theology means “a dancing kind of inter-relationship, seeking something more free than equality, more generous than equity, the ever-shifting equipoise of a life-system.”³ Excessive extravagance, vaunting ambition, ravaging greed—all are foreign to the complete, contented community of shalom. Under the reign of God’s shalom the poor are no longer oppressed, because covetousness no longer rules.

In an especially poignant passage, Scripture brings together
the three Hebrew concepts we have studied: justice, compas-
sion, and peace. The Psalmist points to the day when “steadfast
love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss
each other” (Ps. 85:10).

God is the only whole, satisfying, unifying reality in the universe. Only God is one, and he alone encompasses the good. To desire anything outside of God is to will not one thing but “a multiple of things, a dispersion, the toy of changeableness and the prey of corruption!” No desire can be fully satisfied when it is outside of God, and the individual becomes “not merely double-minded but thousand-minded, and at variance with himself.”⁴⁴ Purity of heart, then, is found in willing only the good, which is God. To do so unifies and simplifies everything.

I realized that a compliment, if given in honesty and not to impress, should be taken seriously. I had no right to affront people by rejecting their gift of love.

There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less. —G. K. Chesterton

When Albert Schweitzer visited America, newspaper reporters asked him why he traveled in the third-class section of the train. He answered, “Because there is no fourth class!”

To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power. —George MacDonald

Christian simplicity would have us move in a radically different direction. We are to focus on the one rather than the many, the clear rather than the distorted, the simple rather than the complex. We are to reorient ourselves to a new reality, one encountered as we learn to be more and more comfortable with ourselves and less and less comfortable with consumerism. And as we become more at peace internally, a world revolution will follow. As Blaise Pascal writes, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”³
26 reviews
May 7, 2007
"A pivotal paradox for us to understand is that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline...There is no way that we can build up our willpower, put ourselves into this contortion or that, and attain it...It is a discipline because we are called to do something."

"The connection between obedience and blessing is genuinely significant, and the significance is not primarily in the notion of being rewarded for doing what is right. That has its place, but it is a minor place, almost a childish place. The deeper reality in obedience is the kind of spirit it works into us. it is a spirit that crucifies greed and covetousness. It is a spirit of compassion and outreach. It is a spirit of sensitivity and trust. Once this inner disposition has taken over our personality, material blessings cannot hurt us, for they will be used for right purposes. We will recognize material goods to be not for us alone, but for the good of all"

The guy breaks down convenient theology that has infected much of the current church w/in america and challenged me to change my lifestyle because knowing God is more satisfying. This book should be pulled out every five years and read again.
Profile Image for Ashley.
Author 1 book16 followers
April 20, 2015
A Christian faith based guide to Simplicity as a Christian discipline. We are finishing up this study with my Sunday School class, and I have enjoyed it immensely. The only complaint from my class seems to be that Foster chooses for all of his examples the most extreme models of simplicity without enough models, other than some of his own choices, of people living in the modern world and struggling with this issue. Still, Foster begins with by outlining Simplicity as a vital Christian discipline firmly rooted in the Gospels and early church and then discusses how to approach simplicity in your personal life, the life of the church, your community, and in how you approach global crises. The title really says it all: there is a kind of liberation that comes from casting off excess and truly serving God and others from a place of joy. Less over-thinking and added complexity to your days. More choosing to do those things that will fulfill your God-given purpose and more praying and meditating in solitude to discern what that purpose is. Thanks to Polly Hollar Pauley for this recommendation :)
Profile Image for David.
258 reviews14 followers
November 26, 2011
Simplicity, says Foster, is far more than getting rid of household clutter. It starts with inner simplicity, a state of awareness of and communion with God. It means learning to have a single focus--hearing his voice and obeying. It entails simplicity and truthfulness of speech. It has as its goal the ability to serve others, to give more of one's money, time, and talents. Foster moves on from individual simplicity to simplicity in the church and then from there to its impact on the world. He recognizes the complexity (oddly enough) of applying simplicity to society and helpfully gives concrete examples to get one's creativity flowing. An excellent, extremely convicting book, and much-needed in a culture of affluence, waste, and unhappiness.
Profile Image for Matt De Kam.
20 reviews1 follower
September 2, 2007
Excellent book about living a simple life. Everyone living in western culture should consider these ideas.
Profile Image for Tony Villatoro.
71 reviews5 followers
January 13, 2016
This book challenged me. Divided in two parts, The Foundation and The Practice, it made me think deeper into what a life of simplicity looks like. The first part was full of examples from Scripture (OT and NT) and from church history on what simplicity is. The second part taught me about how Christians can apply this in their lives.

Towards the end, the author dealt with how "the world" could practice simplicity. This is where it got gray for me since this is beyond my scope and it would take a who book dealing with "Sustainable Directions" for the whole world (society).

Sometimes the author seemed to exaggerate simplicity, but I give him the benefit of the doubt since he was advocating for this very strongly. He writes, "Often dissenting men and women speak to us in hyperbole and exaggeration. We label them hopelessly utopian and idealistic. All the same, we ned there word to jar us loose. Our consciences need to be prickled by their sharp barbs. We need to understand the relevance of their impossible ideal." -162

Overall, this book is one I will revisit, or at least my favorite quotes I got from it. There were so many, but here are most of them. Here they are:

Part 1: The Foundation
Chapter 1. The Complexity of Simplicity
Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. -3

Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. -3

It [Christian simplicity] allows us to see material things for what they are - goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. -3

We must never confuse simplicity with simplism. -5

Christian simplicity lives in harmony with the ordered complexity of life. It repudiates easy, dogmatic answers to tough, intricate problems. -6

A pivotal paradox for us to understand is that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline. -7

Simplicity involves a consciously chosen course of action involving both group and individual life. -8

What we do does not give us simplicity, but it does put us in the place where we can receive it. It sets our lives before God in such a way that he can work into us the grace of simplicity. -8

The Gospel reality comes to us by pure grace, but it bears the mark of spiritual discipline. -9

To deny the goodness of the created order is to be an ascetic. To deny the limitation of the created order os to be a materialist. -11

Misery often arises from a simple lack of provision. Misery also arises when people try to make a life out of provision. -11

Quote: “To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside down.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) -12

Have you ever experienced this situation? One person speaks, and even though what he or she is saying may well be true, you draw back, sensing a lack of authenticity. Then someone else shares, perhaps even the same truth in the same words, but now you sense an inward resonance, the presence of integrity. What is the difference? One person is providing simplistic answers; the other is living in simplicity. -12

Prayer frees us from anxiety because it teaches trust. The result is peace. -14

At times simplicity seems as elusive as humility: the moment we think we have it, we have lost it. -15

The very sense of awe you feel at the immensity of the task is the first requirement for entering the grace of simplicity. Those who come bolting in discover not simplicity, but arrogance. -15

Our century thirsts for the authenticity of simplicity, the spirit of prayer, and the life of obedience. May we be the embodiment of that kind of authentic living. -16

Chapter 2. The Biblical Roots: The Old Covenant
Quote: “All plenty which is not my God is poverty to me.” (St. Augustine) - 17

The more clearly understand the nature of God, the more clearly we understand how we are to live. -17

We need to lift high the biblical doctrine of creation today, particularly our own creatureliness. We are not the captains of our souls nor the masters of our fates. We are part of the created order and hence totally dependent. Our posture is not one of arrogant acquisition, but of simple trust. What we have or ever will have comes from his gracious hand. -19

The terrible reality of the fall was nothing more than a repudiation of our dependence upon God. -19

Simplicity means a return to the posture of dependence. -19

The idolatry of affluence is rampant. Our greed for more dictates so many of our decisions. -20

There is no greater need today than the freedom to lay down the heavy burden of getting ahead. -20

At the heart of the sin of covetousness is the inner lust to have. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with having things: it is the inordinate desire, the inner compulsion, the undisciplined craving that is condemned. -20

Almost without exception the promised provision was for the community rather than the individual. The stress was upon the good of the nation, the tribe the clan. The idea that one coould cut off a piece of the consumer pie and go off and enjoy it in isolation was unthinkable. -23

Indeed, Abraham exhibited an unusual posture of relaxed nonchalance toward possessions. When the covetous spirit of Lot brought them into conflict, Abraham literally gave him the pick of the land (Genesis 13:5-12). Freely he received; freely he gave. -28

Compassion and justice blended call us to a simplicity of life. -33

This great vision of shalom begins and ends our Bible. In the creation narrative, God brought order and harmony out of chaos,; in the Apocalypse of John, we have the glorious wholeness of a new heaven and a new earth. -36

In an especially poignant passage, Scripture brings together three Hebrew concepts we have studied: justice, compassion, and peace. The Psalmist points to the day when “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10) -37

Chapter 3. The Biblical Roots: The New Covenant
The most radiant passage on Christian simplicity in all the Bible must be Matthew 6. It simply sparkles with joy and trust. -40

Three reasons why we should not mamas earthly treasure but should store up heavenly treasure...
The first reason is that this world is a very uncertain place (Matthew 6:19-20). -41

The second reason Jesus points to is the fact that whatever we fix as our treasure will take over our whole life (Matthew 6:21) -41

The third reason Jesus gives for not laying up treasure on earth is that provision has already been made. -42

For Christ, love of God and love of neighbor were two sides to the same door - we must do both to get through the door. -43

What we discover from the New Testament witness is the combination of a penetrating criticism of wealth with a carefree, almost lighthearted attitude toward possessions. It is a combination seldom found today. -50

It is important to understand the interwoven connections between the fellowship’s economic liberality and divine power. -52

But when a people are gathered who live under the cross and in holy obedience, the the incendiary power of the Holy Spirit can ignite everything, including all economic relationships. -53

Could it be that we need to follow the lead of the disciples, who through bitter experience were taught that their first priority was to seek hard after the kingdom of God, and who found that once baptized into its life and power they were liberated to care for one another in unprecedented ways? -54

Chapter 4. Simplicity Among the Saints
I recommend to you holy simplicity. (Francis De Sales) -61

Quote: The Didache admonished Christians: “Thou shalt not turn away from him, that is in want, but thou shalt share all things with thy brother and shalt not say they are thine own” -63

Quote: “…And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.” (Aristides, Christian philosopher, AD 125) -65

Detachment frees us from the control of others. No longer can we be manipulated by people who hold our livelihoods in their hands. Things do not entice our imaginations; people do not dominate our destinies. -67

Silence frees us from the need to control others. -68

When we become quiet enough to let go of people, we learn compassion for them. We can be with people in their hurt and need. We can speak a word out of our inner silence that will set them free. -68

Quote: “There is no labor so great as praying to God… With any other labor that a man undertakes in the life of religion, however instant and close he keeps to it, he hath some test: but prayer hath the travail of a mighty conflict to one’s last breath.” (Abbot Agatho) -68

To pray is to change. -68

To enter the gaze of the Holy is never to be the same. To bathe in the Light in quiet wonder and glad surrender is to be slowly, permanently transformed. -69

Nothing is more needed today than a simplicity distinguished by triumphant joy. -72

Quote: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” (Martin Luther) -73

Quote: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.” (Martin Lither) -74

Kierkegaard warns that to desire the good for the sake of the reward is not to will one thing; to desire the good out of fear of punishment is no to will one thing; to desire the good out of self-centered willfulness is not to will one thing; to desire the good with a half-hearted commitment is not to will one thing. Utter abandonment, absolute commitment to the good , to God, is the requirement for willing one thing, for purity of heart. -86

Part 2: The Practice
Chapter 5. Inward Simplicity: The Divine Center
We must have a time to still the churning, to quiet the restlessness, to meditate on the almighty God who dwells in our hearts. -107

I must be careful not to come a frantic bundle of hollow energy, busy among people but devoid of life. I must learn when to retreat, like Jesus, and experience the recreating power of God. -108

Still another step toward simplicity is to refuse to live beyond our means emotionally. In a culture where whirl is king, we must understand our emotional limits. -108

We are too busy only because we want to be too busy. -109

The real prophets of our day are those who can perceive what is happening in modern society, see where it will lead us, and give a value judgment upon it. -109

Another step that opens us to heart simplicity is the commitment to a preciously agreed rule [marriage, financial commitments, etc]. -110

Chapter 6. Inward Simplicity: Holy Obedience
Quote: “The fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the children of God.” (Thomas Kelly) -111

True self-fulfillment comes only through self-denial. There is no other way. The most certain way to miss self-fulfillment is to pursue it. (Matthew 10:39) -113

The first stage involves freeing ourselves from an “intoxication” to material or outward things and becoming sensitive to the things of the spirit, especially our own inward condition. -114

In the second stage we move away from total absorption in ourselves and our eternal destiny to being centered in the fear of God. -114

When the time is right, the spirit is nourished by the bread of careful introspection. There is a proper place for inner disturbance and rigorous examination. -115

In the the third stage... our attention becomes more and more drawn to the divine Center. -116

Do you know the wonderful new freedom simplicity brings? No longer is there the stifling preoccupation with ourselves. Now there are new liberating graces to care deeply for the needs of others. And most wonderful of all, we can lay down the crushing burden of the opinions of others. -116

We do not have to be liked. We do not have to succeed. We can enjoy obscurity as easily as fame. -116

The apostle Paul knew this freedmen o an amazing degree… (2 Corinthians 11:24-39)… He was so free and unpretentious that he could boldly urge believers, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:11). Here is language that most of us would not dare utter. On our lips it would seem like the height of arrogance, and probably that is exactly what it would be. But Paul was beyond such petty self-admiration. He had passed through all that long ago. The hidden preparation through which God had put this man had changed him… he was living in a greater Power. -117

And when we see ourselves desperately struggling for the “dung,” we can be fairly certain that we know little of this “power of the resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. (Philippians 3:10)” -118

Fenelon is, I think, far wiser when he says simply, “Self-love prefers injury to oblivion and silence.” -118

To be silent is probably the best way to deal with self-love. -118

There are things for us to do… but they are more like getting in step with the Leader than blazing the trail for ourselves. -118

Quote: “The more docile and yielding a soul is in letting itself be carried away without resistance or delay, the more it advances in simplicity.” (Fenelon) -118

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don’t push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully. -121

Quote: “Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God… Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.” (Blaise Pascal) -121

The God-possessed soul knows only one purpose, one goal, one desire. God is not some figure in our field of vision, sometimes blurred, sometimes focused; he is our vision. Our eye is single; our whole body is full of light. Selfishness cannot find a toehold. -123

The first step… We should not try to be less egocentric. The attempt would be self-defeating. The more we work at being unconcerned about ourselves, the more conscious of ourselves we become. -124

The second step… it is less a plan for action and more a call to focus our filed of vision, We are to discipline ourselves to “seek first the kingdom of God.” -118

We must never allow anything, whether deed or desire, to have that place of central importance. The redistribution of the world’s wealth cannot be central; the concern of ecology cannot be central; the desire to get out of the rat race cannot be central. The moment any of these becomes the focus of our concern, it has become idolatry. Only one thing is to be central: the kingdom of God. -124

That is our first task: to grip the hands of Jesus with such tenacity that we are obliged to follow his lead, to seek first his kingdom. -125

The third step… Begin now to obey him in every way you can. Start right where you are, in the midst of all tasks that press in upon you. Do not wait for some future time when you will have more time or be more perfect in knowledge. -125

A fourth advice is holy obedience is to get up quickly and keep going if you stumble and fall. -127

The issue in holy obedience is not whether we failed or succeeded yesterday or this morning, but whether we are obedient now. Does heaven’s light blind us to all other affections now? Is our eye single, are we living in simplicity now? -128

A fifth counsel in holy obedience is to still all vain talk about ourselves and others. -128

…A sixth word of counsel in this walk… the practice of keeping a spiritual journal… a personal Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12) -129

Chapter 7. Outward Simplicity: Beginning Steps
Quote: “There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. There other is to desire less.” (GK Chesterton) -130

Our lifestyle is not our private affair. We dare not allow each person to do what is right in his or her own eyes. The Gospel demands more of us: it is obligatory upon us to help one another hammer out the shape of Chrsitna simplicity in the midst of modern affluence. We need to love each other enough to sense our mutual responsibility and accountability. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. -131

The first such overarching principle is the necessity of precision without legalism. -131

The second principle that will guide our journey into outward simplicity is practical accommodation without ethical compromise. -134

We can come to the place where right and necessary accommodation crosses over into wrong and unnecessary compromise. We are not to be OF the world. And the main problem in the Church today is our failure to see where proper accommodation leaves off and where compromise begins. -135

We understand the need for a certain adaptation or accommodation to be in the society in which we live, but we want to grow in our perception of when that turns into conformity or compromise. We seek to be in the world without being of the world. -137

Never forget that poverty is not simplicity. Poverty is a word of smaller scope. Poverty is a means of grace; simplicity is the grace itself. People can live out all their lives in poverty and never know the grace of simplicity. It is quite possible to get rid of things and still desire them in your heart. -139

We can go through our home, find one possession that we value, and consider, “Am I growing too attached to this object? Is it becoming a treasure to me?” Having examined our hearts before the Lord, let us give it away. -140

We cannot hope to deal seriously with exterior simplicity until we know what happened to it all. I am constantly amazed that people do not know where their money goes. -141

…So the first ingredient in planned spending is to know where your money goes. -141

The second step in planned spending is the development of a budget. -141

Chapter 8. Outward Simplicity: Longer Strides
Simplicity is the new necessity of the modern era. -151

The imperative of simplicity is further heightened when we couple the call for justice with a compassionate concern for evangelism. -152

Simplicity always calls us to a simple lifestyle, but it does not always call us to a reduction in income. God calls some of us to increase our income in order to use it for the good of all. -153

Wealth is not for spiritual neophytes; they will be destroyed by it. Only the person who has clean hands and a pure heart can ever hope to handle this “filthy lucre” without contamination.

There is a need today for what I call prophetic simplicity. We need voices of dissent that point to another way, creative models that take exception to the gives of society. -161

! Often dissenting men and women speak to us in hyperbole and exaggeration. We label them hopelessly utopian and idealistic. All the same, we ned there word to jar us loose. Our consciences need to be prickled by their sharp barbs. We need to understand the relevance of their impossible ideal. -162

! Prophetic simplicity is often expressed in ways that make many of us uncomfortable: models that are certainly not obligatory upon all Christians at all times. And yet they are not in opposition to the way of Christ either. -162

At the heart of prophetic simplicity is self-renunciation for the cause of Christ. -162
Profile Image for Jacob Yates.
84 reviews2 followers
December 17, 2020
There are also many areas of modern life that can be simplified but I think Foster sums it up well by continuously bringing each area of life back to having the kingdom of God as a priority, and when that is the case our thoughts, speech, spending and commitments will all be unified around one theme.

I’ve always believed a big reason for Christians to live below their means is to be able to give to people in need/missions/just be generous in general, but a thought I had while reading Foster was that even if we lived in a world that was free of poverty it would still be good to live a materially simple life in order for the singular eye of the heart to be focused on Jesus.
Another thought that hit me pretty hard was there is an obvious desire many people in the world have to appear affluent, but on the other side of the spectrum there is the desire for Christians to “look scant,” and feel good about spending less money and being less wasteful than the people around us. Both are easy to fall into if we are unsure of our identity and worried how we appear to others.

Throughout middle and high school I took tennis lessons twice a week with Mvogo. Mvogo always flipped back and forth saying two things about the sport depending on how I was playing. If he saw I wasn’t giving it my all and wanted to push me harder he would insist in a thick French accent that, “Tennis is so hard, you have to move your feet and get the racket back and snap the wrist...” and other times when I would be overthinking everything he’d calmly say, “Tennis is so eeeasy, all you have to do is get a little ball into a big court.” I think both quotes hold some truth in their own right and are similar to how Foster talked about simplicity. He initially wrote on the “complexity of simplicity” and how there’s no perfect formula or hard rule to follow without falling into legalism, yet there’s also a simplicity to simplicity and that having the divine Center as a priority will make all other priorities fall into place. I appreciated that foster broke down the aspects of simplicity being a grace (God gives Christians the ability to simplify our lives through knowing Jesus) and a discipline (there are practical steps and paths that can be taken in order to see God more clearly).

This book is pretty well written, from the Old Testament thoughts of simplicity to the New Testament writings, to practical applications of how to simplify things both individually and corporately. There are a few ideas that are a little outdated, and that’s why it doesn’t quite get the 5 star review. good thing I have The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry to read next...
Profile Image for Bradley.
86 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2022
An excellent consideration of the Christian virtue and practice of simplicity. After recently reading a lot about minimalism from more of a Buddhist and Eastern perspective, I was interested to return to a viewpoint I’m familiar with. But unfortunately modern American evangelism is more entwined with a capitalistic way of (mis)reading scripture. Foster gives an excellent survey of simplicity from the Hebrew Scriptures and then the New Testament, followed by its important place through Christianity in the Early Church, and touching on several important historical figures and time periods from the Desert Fathers to St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and William Penn. This reflection on how Christians throughout history have answered Jesus’ radical call to simplicity was probably my favorite part of the book. From there he turns to more modern questions and sensibilities. I appreciated his wisdom in analyzing our contemporary predicaments and reiteration of the necessity and importance of simplicity for Christians today, even if some of these suggestions and anecdotes seemed more scattershot. Clearly Foster wants to refuse falling into some legalistic approach emphasizing that one size does not fit all, while yet reminding that the ability of Christians to fulfill the Great Commission hinges on their commitment to the simple, undivided life.
Profile Image for Sheryl M. Baker.
167 reviews
March 26, 2019
I liked Freedom of Simplicity because it made me think and reconsider the way I live. Richard Foster has a way of helping the reader focus not only on our personal lives and living simply, but also looking at churches, communities, businesses, and our world. He shows us what that would look like if everyone would choose to live in harmony with one another. One of the parts I like best was his study of the saints who lived simplistic lives and what their lifestyles looked like. I have come away with a much different perspective on material possessions, our society, and what it looks like when we walk with God.
Profile Image for Austin Spence.
157 reviews21 followers
July 17, 2020
Truly went above and beyond my expectations. Taking a discipline that is a bit broader than what may go into our mixing bowl of practices, and showing how each are effected by it was very precise and detailed. Foster provides a fantastic foundation for the theological aspects of simplicity before gravitating towards a very astute worldview of the practicality of simplicity. Foster proves that it isn’t a very coveted thing to live simply for Christ, our trendy minimalist culture would get rocked by this!
Profile Image for Selina.
52 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2020
The book takes us on a retreat to the world of Christian simplicity, where careful and considerate decisions are to be made about our lifestyle, habits and behaviour. The values of Christian simplicity as presented by Richard Foster seems to be in line with the current zero waste initiative as well as the sustainable development goals. Considering that it was first published in 1981, these ideas could have been a novelty back then. The concept of simplicity as put forth in the book does not undermine the complexity of the world, yet does not undervalue itself.
Profile Image for Tim.
662 reviews6 followers
March 25, 2021
This book was surprising. Not at all a guide to making your life easier - not therapeutic Christian self-help.
Foster proposes living by Biblical values for the sake of others - to create time, space, and resources to give generously.
He is also balanced, frequently acknowledging the need to own things, and not pushing any rigid rules for their own sake.
He is also realistic - while acknowledging the problems with the world system, he calls for us to make a difference where we are, releasing ripples of hope into the sea...
Profile Image for Phil.
157 reviews1 follower
April 18, 2020
Richard Foster's books are always refreshingly different due to the breadth of his knowledge of church history and his understanding of how biblical theology in all its forms dovetails with apologetics of engagement with the world around us. This book emphasises that true simplicity of heart and faith is not naive but effective in bringing about change at a personal, corporate and world level. It challenges head-on the attitude that you can revolutionise human behaviour by actions that are not guided by the compass of personal integrity of lifestyle.
August 17, 2021
An excellent follow-up to Foster's Celebration of Discipline, but also just a wonderful book on it's own. While I read this individually, it would be an excellent book to read in community, to enable accountability and broader discussion for application.
Profile Image for Chris.
30 reviews
December 30, 2019
(3.5) Overall a thought provoking read on the important topic. However, a few points were lost due to uninformed opinions on topics relating to geopolitics and national (aka global) security.
Profile Image for Brooks Lemmon.
106 reviews2 followers
July 29, 2021
This book was phenomenal! When I read the chapter on simplicity in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline I knew I wanted to hear more of what he had to say. This book is an expansion of that single chapter.

Foster gave a great old and new testament account of simplicity at the beginning of the book to give biblical foundation. Oftentimes simplicity is a discipline that can be taken out of the Christian context and warped into legalistic or idolic. He then gives in depth descriptions of how simplicity has been practiced since the close of scripture.

Once the foundations are laid he breaks down the inward reality of simplicity and the outward expression of it. Oftentimes when I think of simplicity I think of small things that make one’s life more simple. I rarely think of generosity, world hunger, or doing justice. This book opened my eyes to a part of simplicity that I rarely considered.

This is one of the best books i’ve read in a while! It’s a must read!
Profile Image for Luis.
16 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2012
I am currently reading this though I have probably already read it due tom my starting midway and then restarting at the beginning. few of my friends have criticized this book based on the Author's background and while I do not agree with everything Foster says and do wish he had a more academic argument for his position nevertheless I find the book challenging.
Profile Image for Diana Glyer.
Author 17 books169 followers
September 30, 2014
It's good when a book on the spiritual life helps you understand how to live; it's great when it helps you actually want to live better. That's Richard Foster. He illuminates my understanding, but he also stirs up my will. This is my go-to book for Lenten reflections: always crystal clear, always challenging, yet always filled with grace and hope.
7 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2008
classic foster. celebration of discipline changed my life and I suspect I will look back and say the same of this one.
Profile Image for Will Waller.
436 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2019
Simply put, this is a classic. It belongs on everyone’s shelf because it speaks to the feverishness by which we live our lives and the antidotes to that way of being. Simply put, simplicity.

I will show so areas that were especially helpful to me. But the most helpful thing for you to do is to put away your device right now and buy this dang book.

Chapter 3 - Jesus sought from the very beginning of his ministry to show that he came to be with and serve the poor. To “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18). He reminds us that we fix as our treasure what we value the most and far too many of us that is our wallet. We must recognize that Christ came to liberate us from that way of being. There is a reminder that Christ, alongside his mother Mary, show an affinity for throughout their ministries the poor. Identification with the poor is a part of the life of a believer because it was a part of the life of the one they believe in. We cannot overstate the criticism of those who are entangled by wealth. Foster shares that “the attractive ability to surrender our rights for the good of others is central to everything about simplicity. This reality burst forth repeatedly in the experience of the early Christian community. (46).” Do we dare to follow the lead of the woman who gave all that she had and be free with our money?

One of the strongest chapters is that of chapter 4, Simplicity among the Saints. Foster gives copious examples of people who were not hindered by their wealth but saw it as an instrument of grace. Let us not forget these persons. Reading this chapter is a must.

In Part 2 he gets into the practice of living simply. His life changed when he read the words of Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion. These are the words that made the seismic shift in him: “We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living where the fretful calls of life are integrated where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.” He reminds us that there are inside of us a whole bunch of selves - people that are clamoring for our attention. Because of this, we have to battle daily to see who we will Iet or who force themselves to come out. This is a constant fight and it leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. If we can be ourselves then this battle won’t rage so violently. Then we can let “our yes be yes and our no be no.”

Some practices that have helped me are: Constantly seeking to be aware of God’s presence. It requires keeping your mind focusing on the Lord and thinking about the heavenly glimpses in the world today.

Seek contentment not happiness. Happiness is contingent on circumstance. Contenment is based upon the Lord. J.D. Rockefeller was asked how much money is enough money. He responded, “Just a little bit more.” This is about happiness, not contenment.

Determine if you are greedy: He writes, “If our restlessness has its root in anguish over the plight of those whose condition is clearly desperate, most likely it is of the Lord. Third, if the concern involves the well-being of our children, it is often right...Sixth, we need to learn to distinguish a genuine psychological need, such as cheerful surroundings, from an obsession.” (89).

Of all the virtues that matter, simplicity matters the most to him. He includes the quote by Francois Fenelon which says, “O how amiable this simplicity is! Who will give it to me? I leave all for this. It is the pearl of the Gospel.” (93)

We must wonder about the larger scale things that can be done about simplicity. He includes those too.

We must have our hearts breaking for the things that break the heart of God. He includes the vast number of people that are living in poverty. All of us are shocked by it - but are we will to personally sacrifice so that it can be eradicated?

Finally, we have to be hopeful because it is “astonishing how often impossible dreams become realizable when a group of people, even a very small group, genuinely believe God is directing them.” (157.) Foster points us to this great hope that we can care for people and do so under the direction of God. And so doing, in so caring, we will see God honored and people uplifted.

Profile Image for Carol.
Author 1 book1 follower
March 25, 2019
I've had this book since I was in college (circa 15 years ago), tried to read it three different times and never got past page 3, and finally this fourth time I had enough get-up-and-go to momentum the shit out of it.

Foster never specifically defines "simplicity." One can't really without putting rules on it, which he is very emphatic to say aren't necessarily rules to be followed like a checklist or a law. The things he discusses are important but take different forms for different people. Yet how he describes the state of the heart or mind within these topics reaches practically everyone who truly believes in Christ. He moves from the basics of how simplicity manifests itself now and draws parallels to Christian figureheads in history, then to personal implications, personal practical application, and then corporate responsibility (in the sense of social group, not the business entity).

Foster is an incredibly personal writer without being informal. I'd forgotten why I like him so much. We were grooving really well up until the last two chapters about social responsibility. Then he went into a vast array of social issues that obliterated nearly EVERYTHING else in the book that resonated with me.

So beware the last two chapters. Not that there aren't important things in them, just it might overwhelm you to the point of forgetting the prior 3/4 of the book.

I'm keeping this book because of chapters 1-8. I will want to read them again, not just to remember what they say, but to be a kind of litmus test to see if I'm the same or different in my application of simplicity compared to now.

Support your local library!
Profile Image for Will Norrid.
86 reviews3 followers
March 2, 2021
I think Foster and I simply don't gel well as an author/reader combo. I find his writing meandering and unfocused and it has a tendency to wander away from the central premise. I feel like there are some great ideas here, but none that were fully developed. I realize the fault may well be my own, but I do not follow him well in this one.
My central objection is he calls for a simplicity that is not simple but rather complex and that ultimately no individual is completely responsible for, yet he seems to overcorrect against any secure structures or systems for creating a more simple existence.
Can you have simplicity without some structure, both individually and in the community? I don't really think so.
Is discipleship about my personal actions, prayers, lifestyle changes or is it about using my very limited influence to seek to change the consumer culture and trust in international, nonreligious organizations to put the world right? Both might be partially true, but putting them together in this fashion seems like putting multiple books in one.
Many of the ideas are great and hold up well over the four decades, but the practice/application needs clarifying perhaps.
Ultimately, not a favorite.
Profile Image for Kristiana.
985 reviews25 followers
May 21, 2018
Foster's care for his reader and their growth is evident in the way he approaches his subject and his books. Freedom of Simplicity is an excellent example of his ability to explain a subject, its history and relevance, all the while taking the time and space to lay a groundwork for application in many areas of life. He does an excellent job at both. His application is built to stretch and guide his reader toward further understanding and a true living out of simplicity.

Dividing the book into The Foundation and The Practice is a perfect way to structure this book. The Foundation section was by far my favourite. Foster makes an excellent case for a living a life of simplicity and explains how faith and trust in God are inherently needed to accomplish the goal.

It is a testament to his writing that a book written in 1981 is still so easily applicable and timeless. The pastoral nature of his writing leaves the reader refreshed and challenged to continue the goal of walking with Christ.
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