This reading group guide forSpiritual Simplicity: Doing Less, Loving Moreincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Chip Ingram. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The promise that technology would simplify our lives is now a humorous thought. The demands on our time and energy seem relentless with the constant accessibility of cell phones, e-mail and Twitter. Busyness is the disease of our time. In his book, Spiritual Simplicity: Doing Less, Loving More, Chip Ingram prescribes a path that will lead us away from this wilderness of over-stimulation and stress toward flourishing lives of simplicity and peace. A “must-read” for anyone who feels stuck in the rat race but who longs for a different way to live.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘simplicity’? How would you define it? What feelings do you have when you think of moving toward simplicity in your life? What would you like to simplify?
2. According to the author, how does your definition of success help or hinder the simplicity of your life? What is your definition of success for your life (i.e. what is the goal for which you are striving)? Did reading this book cause you to ask any new questions about your definition of success? If so, what?
3. On p. 20, the author lists three ways we can define ourselves: by what we do, possess, or provide. Which of these three is your greatest temptation? How does this self-concept affect your day-to-day decision-making? In other words, does it make your life simpler or more complicated? In what ways?
4. In chapter 3, the author describes love as the answer to simplifying life. Do you agree? Why or why not? How would you describe love? Read Luke 15:11-32. Describe the Father’s love. How does the Father’s love toward both sons impact you? What do you imagine would happen to your self-concept (see question 3 above) if you embraced the reality that you are completely loved by God, regardless of what you do, possess or provide? Would this simplify your life? If so, how?
5. On p. 35, the author says: “Trying to express God’s love to others without first knowing his love for us is like trying to be a fountain without a water source.” Do you relate more to being connected to the water source of God’s love or trying to prime the pump yourself in order to love others? What would need to happen in order for you to be connected to the water source of God’s love?
6. On p. 32, the author says: “…offenses are a heavy burden to bear.” Do you relate to the feeling of carrying a weight of unresolved hurts? How does this weight impact your life? What is your response to the author’s description of the path of love in response to offenses and hurts? (p. 32-35)
7. What are the ways that comparing yourself with others (envy and pride) get in the way of simplicity? On p. 44, the author talks about re-directing our desires and resting in God’s sovereign love as the antidote for envy. What is your response to this guidance? Do you relate to the author’s personal story and process of applying this antidote on pp. 45-46?
8. On p. 49, the author describes the antidote to pride as vulnerability. What is the first feeling you have when you hear the word vulnerability? What are some common ways people try to avoid vulnerability? Why do you think vulnerability is often avoided? Do you think avoiding vulnerability simplifies or complicates life?
9. Do you watch reality television shows? If so, what do you find enjoyable about them? How do you respond to the author’s assessment of reality television in contrast with love on pp. 57-58?
10. How have you responded to failure–in your life or in the lives of others? What are some responses to failure that create increased stress and complexity? What are some responses that lead to greater freedom and simplicity?
11. Describe the author’s description of the contrast between a life of activity (doing “good” things) and a life of love? (pp. 77-80) Do you agree? Are there activities in your life that you would like to say “no” to in order to more fully say “yes” to the places God is inviting you to give your heart and life? Which of these is more difficult for you – to have your schedule packed with activity “for God” or to listen for His guidance and discern where to say “yes” and where to say “no”? Read Isaiah 30:15-22. What guidance does God give in this passage for listening for His voice?
12. On p. 85, the author says: “It’s our cloudy vision that leads to the complexity of our lives. We hear demands coming from several directions, and we feel pulled.” Where are you experiencing the “pull” of demands for your time and energy? How are you responding? What practices would help you slow down and quiet your heart so that you can listen and see more clearly what the Father is speaking to your heart?
13. Do you relate to “looking for love in all the wrong places”? What have been the results of your attempts to fill up your longing for love, connection, and belonging on your own, apart from God? Does trying to manage and control life apart from God lead toward or away from simplicity? What are the steps the author describes that lead toward deeper vulnerability and trust in relationship with God? Would you add anything to his list? If so, what?
14. Jesus summarized all of the Law and the Prophets with these two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40) What impact would it have on your life to wholeheartedly focus on observing these two commandments?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Get a copy of Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal book that includes the picture of Rembrandt’s painting by the same title. Spend some time contemplating the scene in the picture and reading the story in Luke 15:11-32. At your next book club, discuss the impact on your view of God and yourself after engaging with this story.
2. Listen to Brene’ Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability at: (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html) At your next book club, discuss how her talk impacted your attitudes and feelings about vulnerability.
3. Interview someone who is older than you about how they define simplicity and what they have learned about simplicity as they have aged. Discuss what you learned at your next book club.
4. If you aren’t familiar with the ancient practice of spiritual direction and silent retreats, do some research to learn about them. Schedule a silent directed retreat at a monastery or spiritual retreat center for the purpose of making space to be with God and more clearly communicate with him (listening and talking). At your next book club, share about your retreat time and discuss other practices that can help you “unplug” from the noise around you so that you are available to receive all that God longs to give to you.
A Conversation with Chip Ingram
1. What prompted you to write this book? •
This book grew out of a teaching series that I did at our church in California. The church is located in the heart of the Silicon Valley with executives and employees in the largest technology companies in America, including Google, Facebook, and eBay. The teaching series was designed to help people create space for meaningful relationships, but continue to find the demands of work and other activities crowding out the things and the people that matter most. The response was powerful – God hit a raw nerve as people learned that no amount of trying to say “no” is as effective as a stronger “yes!”
2. You say in the book “Trying to express God’s love to others without first knowing His love for us is like trying to be a fountain without a water source.” What are some practices you have put into place in your life to sustain connection to the water source of God’s love? •
Some of the practices that I’ve used to sustain my connection with the water source of God’s love have included building in a number of very specific practices into my life and relationships. I can’t imagine starting a day without a great cup of coffee and a quiet conversation with my Lord about the day, the people I care about, the challenges that I will face, the things I’m worried about, and the dreams on my heart. I have a systematic schedule for my time in God’s Word, along with some books of people who I deeply respect in the things of God. Getting God’s perspective and being reminded that I’m precious to Him and He loves me is a critical way to start my day. It helps me remember what is really important and gives me the strength to say yes to people and important priorities over the stress and pressure of the urgent.
My wife is my best friend and the most Godly person that I know. We set aside time daily to really connect from the heart; we might take a walk or get a cup of coffee or simply sit around the table after dinner. As strange as it sounds, dinner was at the core of our family life even with the demands of leading a large church and having four children. At 5:30 pm I knew I needed to be home and our kids knew they needed to be around the table. No electronics, no TV, no distractions – just good homemade food and some great conversation. Looking back, I think dinner together regularly and tucking our kids into bed with stories from the Bible, or stories that I made up were the heart of experiencing God’s love and love for one another.
3. In the book, you shared that your wife’s cancer was catalytic for you in clarifying your priorities and saying “no” to things to which you might otherwise have said “yes.” As the leader of a ministry and church, you have staff that could fill in at least some of the gaps during your absence. What would you say to those who don’t have the same options available to them?
• When Theresa, my wife, battled cancer, I cancelled everything on my schedule except my regular weekend duties at the church. Speaking engagements, meetings, creating videos, travel and specials events, were all scrubbed the next 6 to 9 months. I continued with my regular job responsibilities to study and speak at the church as well as meeting with the Elders and staff. What I would say to those without a staff or help is that the real lesson had nothing to do with having a staff, it was learning to answer the question “What really matters, and what is it that only I can do to rearrange my priorities?” Interestingly enough, during that time the church as well as Living on the Edge (the teaching and discipleship ministry which I lead) both had their best years ever in spite of my absence! So much of what we do is born out of expectations of others, guilt we feel in letting people down, or the strokes we get from accomplishing work that may or may not need to be done by us. I learned that in a fresh way.
4. What was the most difficult chapter of this book to write and why?
• I think the most difficult chapter to write was the one that dealt with “How does love respond to its hurts.” The answer is “love is patient and kind.” The word picture is that love, when hurt or betrayed, “absorbs the blow and returns a hug.” For someone who has a very high view of justice and wants things to be right and fair–it was hard to write because it’s been hard for me to learn to do. By God’s grace, or I should say His unwarranted grace, He has taken me through some very difficult situations in the last decade to teach me how love responds to hurts. It doesn’t come naturally for me and I’m a bit hardheaded, so writing this chapter was hard, but learning the truth of that chapter in my life was far more difficult. I’d love to say I’ve arrived…but you know how that goes, I’m not even close–but a long way from where I was.
5. How did you pick the songs you used throughout the book to illustrate each chapter? Are you a country music fan?
• The songs for each chapter really developed almost by accident. I knew the first week I would be hitting “close to home” with people who live such fast-paced lives; and so in an effort to plant the seed of what was important, I had the band play “All You Need Is Love” instrumentally by the Beatles prior to the service. The response to this song took me by surprise as people taped their toes and mouthed the words that there’s nothing more important than love. With each week, a love song captured the content of the message and I played a snippet of each song as I started my message. Some were “oldies but goodies,” others were very current, and still others were classics. I’m a strong R&B fan personally with a great love for Motown, so the church got a kick out of my inability to not start dancing when I heard certain songs. It got to be a lot of fun and helped lighten the mood as we talked about some very serious subjects and went to work together on saying “yes” to love and “no” to overextended busy lives. As to being a country/western music fan – I would have to say I enjoy an occasional country song, but calling me a fan would be pushing the envelope.
6. It has been said that we teach the things we most need to learn. Who have been some of your teachers on the path of learning spiritual simplicity?
• Well, I certainly have read a number of the classic works over the years with regard to spiritual simplicity, spiritual formation, and disciplines of the Christian life; but when I really think about the teacher who has helped the most in these areas…it’s my wife, Theresa. Theresa came to Christ out of some very difficult circumstances and was discipled by a group of ladies who understood first and foremost how to pray. Because she didn’t come to Christ until she was a young adult and had experienced significant pain in her life, she really took God’s word at face value, and simply believed whatever it said. I came from a background where I had memorized hundreds of verses, studied books of the Bible and had a pretty structured approach to spirituality. I’ll never forget having a discussion with her in which we were disagreeing and her answer was simply–“oh that’s not going to happen, God is not like that…” It was an intimacy with God and a simplicity borne out of long hours of prayer that when she talked about Jesus, you would think He was in the kitchen getting a sandwich while we were talking in the living room. Over the last 34 years, I’ve watched her simplify her life, set very strong and clear boundaries, and rise in the wee hours of the morning even with four young children, just to be with Jesus. So…my greatest teacher has been my wife in this area of spiritual simplicity.
7. Sadly, Christians are often leading the way in terms of activity-filled lives that are lacking in love. What do you think are the main factors that have created this reality? Why aren’t Christians known as the people who love the best and most?
• That is a pretty big question and one that I answer specifically at length in the book; but I think our activity-filled lives are built around some lies that we’ve come to believe. For example, the lie that “I matter because of what I can do!” It’s the performance trap. Therefore, the more I do, the more value I hold. We take this into our work and into our family life and ultimately into our spiritual lives. So going to a lot of meetings, involvement in multiple religious activities, and doing, takes priorities over becoming. There is certainly a balance needed in doing and being, but we must change the question from “How did I do?” to “Who am I becoming?”
In similar fashion our materialistic society has inundated us with the lie that “we matter because of what we have or possess.” We spiritualized this as well and want our kids to possess the highest and best education, the best exposure to music and sports, live in the best neighborhood, possess the highest and best tutors and coaches, and posses the best preparation for success. When you read that last sentence, you can’t help but think they are all good things…yet, regardless of the good intentions behind them, the pursuit of them has come at the cost of families that rarely sit and eat together, conversations that rarely occur unhurried, relationships that are shallow, and pressure to perform and achieve that undermines the very environment in which love can grow.
Christians aren’t known for loving because whether we like it or not, it’s not our goal. We bought into success, upward mobility, and personal fulfillment as the goal of life. Jesus, far from being our King and Lord, has been transformed into a “self-help guru” to help us achieve our goals which we perceive will make us happy and fulfilled (the real purpose of life as we have redefined). Our activities and behaviors reflect that goal, not that of loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.
8. If you could give each person who reads this book one suggestion or spiritual practice that will help them encounter God’s love for them, what would it be?
• I would suggest that they make it their goal in 2013 to grasp and understand how much God loves them. Put another way, it’s coming to understand, biblically our identity in Christ and realizing that we are completely loved and accepted, wholly apart from our performance–because we are created in his image and we have been deemed so valuable that the blood of Christ has purchased us for Himself. I would encourage people to write Zephaniah 3:17 on a 3 x 5 card and read it slowly and meditatively every morning when they get up and every night when they go to bed. Ask God to let it soak into your heart and mind that God rejoices over us, and He will quiet us with His love that He is mighty to save or deliver us from whatever we are facing, and that the God of the universe, though exalted in power and might is not only eager to be our friend, but He actually rejoices over us with singing. Renewing our minds with those thoughts and allowing them to seep into our emotions and into our heart will transform the pace of your life and the quality of your relationships when we are no longer desperate to prove that we measure up, we are free to be who God made us to be and become conduits of His love, even as we are being loved.
9. Has being a grandfather shaped your thoughts about spiritual simplicity? If so, how?
• I think being a grandfather puts you around small children at a time in your life when you have gained wisdom and experience. When we are young parents, our tendency is to fear we are not giving our children all that they need to be successful. That fear, unfortunately, can drive us, with very good intentions, to attempt to “be it all, do it all, and have it all”. Taken to extreme, that creates complexity and schedules that almost eliminate the possibility of deep meaningful relationships.
As a grandfather, I’m far less concerned about whether my grandchildren are keeping up with the kids in their grade, what school they might get in to, whether they’re great at sports or music or not, but far more interested in who they are as a person and how they’re developing their relationship with God and others. So, yes, they’ve impacted my life in a significant way because they remind me (especially as I get older) that very few things in life are important–but you need to focus on the few things that are!
10. Is there a biblical character (other than Jesus) who has provided a vision/model for you of spiritual simplicity?
• Yes, I think without question the apostle Paul would be my hero when it comes to spiritual simplicity. He is the one that champions the supremecy of love in very tangible and practical ways. He’s the one who modeled, “this one thing I do” in the book of Philippians. He’s the one at the end of Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians who talks about a laser focus in life that requires him to “beat his body,” go into training, and discipline himself in order to fulfill his singular purpose.
Finally, I have a plaque that my wife gave me that sits on the center of my desk that I read every morning from Acts 20:24 which reads, “but my life is worth nothing unless I use it for accomplishing the purpose assigned me by the Lord Jesus Christ…” It’s that kind of focus and personal clarity of purpose and priorities that allows us to embrace spiritual simplicity.