One thing I have asked of the Lord,
That will I seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to inquire in His temple
For a long time, this has been a favourite verse of mine. What a beautiful place to be, dwelling and resting in our Lord’s temple, with nothing else to do but enjoy His presence. As a mum of two small children, preparing to move into and now living in a South Asian slum, quite frankly, this rest is fairly inviting. This invitation continues to beckon me further and further into His presence, but more recently I have come to see that rest and peace come from not only seeking His presence, but the reality of actually only having ‘one thing’ to ask of the Lord. As I have reflected, it has become clear to me that although I desired to dwell in the house of the Lord, I am unable to say it is the ‘one thing I ask’. In fact, it is one of many competing things I ask. My actions, decisions and activities stem from many motivations, usually trying to please people or looking good in the eyes of others.
Try asking yourself, for a day or a week during every activity, ‘what am I really doing this for?’ The answers can be quite revealing. When our motivation is to impress multiple people, even with our simplicity (spouse, church family, coworkers, boss, and our under privileged neighbours), our lives become very complex. The peace that we so desire moves further and further away.
On the other hand, if we can ground our thoughts and motivation around this one desire – to move continually closer to the presence of God – simplicity and inner rest is within our reach. Richard Foster, in his book The Freeom of Simplicity, describes this concept as making decisions out of our ‘Divine Centre’. When our motivation flows out of a desire for an ever closer relationship with our Creator, complexities of purpose, time pressures, ego struggles, and other things disastrous to inner simplicity can no longer steal us away from the joy that has been promised to us (John 15:11). As far as I can see, God doesn’t promise that a life lived in harmony with Him means less decisions, external commitments, or busyness, although a commitment to move towards a single purpose in Him will likely produce this fruit. But it does make decisions easier when one path will lead me further away from His house and another leads me right to His arms. This decision to move continually towards the presence of God progresses naturally to a tangible simplicity of lifestyle. When I am no longer in pursuit of security, comfort, or an ability to keep up with the Joneses, the way is made clear for me to seek the heart of Christ in whichever manner He is inviting me to do so.
For me, this invitation has meant seeking Christ’s heart for the poor of this world, who have not only become my neighbours, but my teachers as well. Unbeknownst to them, my neighbours challenge me into stripping away things previously known to me as essentials. As a family of four, the children 3 and 2 years, even if we do this radical thing and move to a slum, we couldn’t possibly do it without running water, a flushing toilet, fridge. Or could we? As it turns out we can.
It is important to note the difference between my decision to live simply alongside them, which comes from a place of privilege and luxury, and my neighbours who have no choice but to live this way. My neighbours struggle with heavy loads of water across a railway track, illness from lack of sanitation, and other burdens because of injustice and lack of opportunity. But in choosing to surrender my “right to privilege” to live in solidarity with them, I get closer to knowing and loving the ones forgotten by society, yet not by God. If I can know the heart of Christ by knowing the ones He looks out for, and if I can do that by living more simply than I ever imagined possible, then I can honestly say my neighbours have blessed me more than I them. For it is in seeking to love and live like them that I am closer to dwelling in the house of the Lord. And for this lesson, I shall be forever in their debt.
[Janey Walters* and her husband Stu,* together with their two children, began their downward journey from Brisbane, Australia to a South Asian slum 9 months ago.]
*names have been changed for security reasons