The story goes that Charles Spurgeon, on his deathbed, said to some of his final visitors, “As time has passed on, my theology has grown more and more simple. It is simply this, ‘Jesus loves me!”’
I love that. I love it not only because it’s true, but because it is so blissfully simple.
Thomas Kelly, the Quaker educator, once said that God “never guides us into an intolerable of panting feverishness.” Regardless of what we might think of the rest of his writing, I think he was onto something here. To reinterpret Kelly’s words, life with God and through Jesus is not meant to be complex. There is a blessed kind of simplicity for the Christian who is convinced of the providential love of God in Christ. And don’t you long for that? In an age of seemingly endless complexity, to live simply in mind and heart? To not wake up with a thousand different things running through your mind? To be able to sleep soundly knowing that your heavenly Father never does? To know that God is for you in Christ, and because He is, you do not make it your business to, as Kelly said, pant feverishly through life.
The pursuit of simplicity starts, and ends, with the gospel. Unless we truly know there is nothing left to prove before God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, then we will spend our lives in an endless pursuit of self-justification. Unless we know that God has fully loved us in Jesus, then we will spend our lives endlessly seeking to create our own opportunities for safety and advancement. Unless we know that God is reigning over the affairs of the universe, no matter what our senses might tell us, then we will wring our hands in anxiety and worry.
In the gospel, then, God guides us into simplicity. But we don’t only have the doorway to simplicity through the gospel; we have the example of true simplicity from Jesus Himself. Jesus, I think, made it His practice to simplify many things for His followers.
He simplified prayer for the disciples in Luke 11 when they observed His habit, again, of praying to the Father. So they asked Him to teach them. Perhaps they might have thought that Jesus would launch into a complex system of ritualistic rites, or at least that He would begin “session 1” of a 4-part lecture series on the mode and method of prayer. Instead, He gave them a very simple pattern to follow.
Or another moment when Jesus was confronted with the overly complex system of the law that had been added to and amended for hundreds of years. When asked about the greatest commandment of the multitude that ran through the minds of every devout Jew, He responded not only with the greatest command, but also simply summed up the entire law in a few sentences:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Or the time when Jesus summed up the many complexities that add anxiety to our days. We worry about our future, our money, our clothes, our retirement, and Jesus nut-shelled the issues together again:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt. 6:33).
Ironically, though, the simplicity of Jesus is precisely what might cause us to stumble over Him. That’s because when we come face to face with something so simple, so straight-forward, our natural tendency is to wait for the other shoe to drop. To think we must be missing something. To look for the fine print. Despite our longing for simplicity, we might stumble over the simplicity of Jesus.
Of course, the other reaction is take Jesus at His Word and treat His simplicity as part of the good news of Jesus’ kingdom. This simplicity means we don’t have to be crushed by the complexities of the day. Indeed, part of following Jesus is actually returning again and again to the simple. Thank the Lord for that. Thank the Lord that life does not actually have to be as complicated as we seem to make it. That in reality, there are only a few things that we must know. There are just a few things that guide everything else. There are only a few things that we should – and even that we can – return to over and over again, chief among them is this:
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them (1 Tim. 1:15).
If you are feeling pressed in on by the complexity of the world today, come back again to what you know is true.