Bible Verse: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:1-21
Can material things bring us happiness? Philosophers, social scientists, psychologists, and theologians continue to wrestle with this ancient question. In brain scans of people recalling times of feeling close to God in prayer, worship, or solitude, neurologists have discovered that a certain part of the brain, the caudate nucleus, lights up. In brain scans of people viewing pictures of material possessions, neurologists discovered that the exact same place in their brain lights up. Material goods can bring us momentary happiness as the chemical dopamine is released in our brain. But research also shows that material things cannot provide long-term satisfaction or happiness.
Ironically, if we pursue happiness through the acquisition of material possessions, we 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 will be nurtured within us. The highest levels of happiness come from generativity – offering life to others and surrendering to an unconditional, infinite love.
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 was born. Curiously, Jesus – who could have chosen a net worth greater than any person in the history of the world – chose to live very humbly.
But what does it mean for us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus toward simplicity and 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 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 decumulating. I find that people who are anxious about whether they will have enough for tomorrow 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.
As we simplify our lives, we have more space literally and figuratively to experience the rich life of the Spirit. Out of this sense of abundance (Ephesians 3:14-19), we can freely choose a path of generosity.
As we grow in dependence on God, choosing a path of humble simplicity and generosity, we remove the clutter that can accumulate in our relationships with God and others. We are thus 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.
— Ken Shigematsu in Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve. Copyright © 2018 by Ken Shigematsu
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