Disciplined Pursuit of Less

February 2, 2020

John Alexander

Maybe the answer isn’t more; maybe the solution is the Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Disciplined Pursuit of Less

February 2, 2020

John Alexander

Maybe the answer isn’t more; maybe the solution is the Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Hey everyone. Welcome to Renovation. Welcome to those joining us online. Good to see all of you here. My name is John Alexander. I’m not David. Clearly. But I’m so honored to be here speaking on his behalf. I’m actually a pastor at Eagle Brook Church here in Minnesota, and I’ve just heard such great things about Renovation. So it’s a privilege to be here with you. Today, we’re going to look at someone in the bible, Solomon, a man who had everything – armies, money, fame, knowledge, influence, leadership. God said to King David, Solomon’s father, that if your descendants follow me faithfully, one of them will always be the leader of Israel. However, by the time Solomon died, he had broken almost every one of God’s commandments about leading Israel. Because of that, the kingdom of Israel split in two. And Solomon fell. How could this happen? Because of something I want us to learn, specifically as we enter into a new year – we’ve got all these new goals, dreams, ideas, new workout plans, new gyms, new eating plans, more more more – Solomon fell because of the Undisciplined Pursuit of More. Solomon pursued so much of what didn’t matter that it got in the way of what did. Let me say that again: Solomon pursued so much of what didn’t matter that it got in the way of what did. I can relate because I’ve been programmed to believe that more is always better. If one is good, two is better. One dollar is good, two is better. One car is good, two cars are better. One donut is good, two are better. One kid is good, two kids are… tougher. Most of us would agree we’ve been taught to believe that more is always better. But at some point we’ve gotta stop and ask ourselves: Is that actually true?

My wife Emily loves to rearrange and update our home furniture. If I’m gone for 8 or more hours while Emily is at home, there’s a better than 50 percent chance that she has replaced, sold, or moved some of our furniture. All so she can bring in more. A few months ago, I came home from a work trip and said, “Emily, what happened to my favorite chair?” She said, “What favorite chair?” I said, “The chair I sit in every morning to read and drink coffee.” It was a nice Ikea sofa chair we had bought brand new two years ago. She said, “Oh I moved that chair upstairs. Now I got you a new favorite chair from Goodwill.” I said, “We didn’t need this chair. I want my old chair back.” She said, “You can sit in that chair upstairs.” I said, “I don’t want to sit in it upstairs; I want to sit in it downstairs. Right where I’ve always sat in it. In my favorite spot.” She said, “You’ll be fine.” In the three months we had that chair, I sat in this “new favorite chair” one time. Why? Because it’s the least comfortable chair in history. It’s a wicker chair with horrible support, but according to Emily, “fits our space better.” We didn’t need another chair, but now we have two more than we need, and both are terrible. It’s not just home furnishings Emily pursues more of; she loves the hunt for clothes. Emily is constantly “saving us money” by buying clothes on sale. She’ll come home and say, “John, I bought this shirt for $6. It was originally $20. I saved us $14.” And my first thought is: “No, you didn’t save us any money. You spent $6.” Which is why “savings” should be called “spendings.” Last spring, we got serious and talked about our need to cut back and get rid of stuff. The very next day, she came home with this Pink Owl Hanger for belts. Of course, I know it seems like I’m picking on Emily. That’s because I only buy extremely necessary things like the brand new golf shoes I bought last year to replace my perfectly good ones. Why does it seem like we’re always pursuing more?

The reality is, we’re probably not the only ones who pursue more stuff. For us, it’s used furniture and clothes, but for you, it might be more money, friends, or activities. One is good; two is better. Less is worse, more is better. Or at least, we’ve been programmed to believe. By the way, none of the things I’ve listed so far are inherently bad to pursue; in fact, money, friends, clothes, activities, even used furniture are essential to life. But it’s the Undisciplined Pursuit of More – when we pursue more of what doesn’t matter and lose focus on what does - that will cause anxiety, a lack of margin, and an inability to prioritize what’s most important. If you’ve ever felt like your life is out of control; that you have everything but still feel unfulfilled; that you’re always in motion but never getting anywhere. Maybe the answer isn’t more; maybe the solution is the Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Maybe less is more.

There’s no better person to learn this truth from than King Solomon. Solomon was the son of King David and the third king in Israel’s history after Saul and David. Outside looking in, Solomon had and did it all. During his 40-year reign, Israel experienced abundance, unity and peace. Solomon asked God for wisdom, so God made him the wisest man to ever live. You think that’d be enough for someone, but not for Solomon. During the 40 years of his leadership, he accumulated vast amounts of riches, horses, land, armies, fame, and wives. He wrote, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure.” Ecclesiastes 2:10. One estimate suggests Solomon was worth $2.1 trillion in today’s economy – the richest of all-time. Second? John D. Rockefeller with $660 billion. Solomon wrote 1000 songs, composed 3000 proverbs, spoke with authority on nearly every subject, and oversaw the construction of the Temple. The writer of 1 Kings said, “Solomon completed everything he had planned to do.” Solomon lived the “more” we could only dream of. And yet, this is the same guy who later wrote: “As I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless – like chasing the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:11. How could one have everything and conclude that everything is meaningless? Because more is not always better. In fact, it was the pursuit of more that led to his fall. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of them from foreign lands, which God had specifically instructed Israel not to do. And these foreign women influenced him to worship other gods. Solomon’s story ends with this, “The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel. The Lord said to Solomon, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will tear the kingdom away from you.” 1 Kings 11:11. And that’s what happened. After his death, the kingdom of Israel split in two. The undisciplined pursuit of more caused him to lose sight of what’s most important, his relationship with and obedience to God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get to the end of this year let alone the end of my life and realize I’d pursued so much of the wrong things that it got in the way of the most important things. That’s why more is not always better. The good news is that we can learn from Solomon’s mistakes. We can live with a disciplined pursuit of less. Less of what doesn’t matter, so we have more time, margin, and energy to pursue more of what does. In the time we have left, let me show you three ways to live with a disciplined pursuit of less. The first is this: Decide what matters most.

If Solomon concludes that everything is meaningless, then what does matter? Solomon said, “There’s nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them.” Ecclesiastes 8:15. Before you start thinking Solomon thought life is one big party, let me ask you: Do you enjoy life when you are sprinting from one thing to the next? Do you enjoy life when you don’t have time to think about anyone other than yourself? Do you enjoy life when all you can muster is a grunt to your spouse when you get home at 9 pm after a day filled with work, happy hour, kids’ activities and PTA board meetings? Do you enjoy life when you’ve got two houses that need repairs and constant cleaning, four cars that require gas, oil, insurance, and mechanic bills, along with a boat, snow mobile, bike and other kinds of toys that require constant attention and upkeep? Some of you are like, “Well, I’d like to SEE FOR MYSELF if I’d enjoy those things.” And I get that, but what I’m asking is: Are you so full of less important stuff, social engagements, and activities that you’re missing out on enjoying what matters most - like loving God, having strong relationships with family and friends, and living out a greater purpose?

In the book called Essentialism written by Greg McKeown, a fantastic book I’ve read twice now, Mckeown writes, “When you don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus your energy and time, other people will choose for you. Before long you’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important to you.” In other words, if you don’t decide what matters most, someone else will.

McKeown recounts a story told to him by a woman named Cynthia. She talked about the time her father had made plans to take her on a night out in San Francisco. She was 12-years-old at the time. They’d been planning the “date” for months. They had the whole itinerary planned down to the minute. The father, who was a well-known speaker and author, told her as soon as his presentation was over, they would sneak out the back of the room and head out to catch a trolley car to Chinatown, eat Chinese food, see the sights and “catch a flick.” Then they’d head back for a late-night swim, order a hot fudge sundae, and watch TV until they fell asleep. All of that was going to plan until her father ran into an old business partner. It had been years since they’d seen each other. And the friend said, “My wife and I would love for you to come eat with us tonight. Cynthia can come too. We want to take you to the finest 5-star seafood restaurant in town.” Her father responded, “That sounds absolutely wonderful. I would love to do that.” As Cynthia heard this, her heart sank. The night she’d been looking forward to for months was going to be ruined. But the father continued, “However, not tonight. Cynthia and I have a special date planned, don’t we?” They ran out the door and continued with an unforgettable night in San Francisco. Cynthia recalled, “This decision bonded him to me forever because I knew what mattered most to my dad.”

Personally, my top five priorities are these: God, family, friends, health, purpose. If I’m asked to do something that falls outside of these five areas, my answer is usually no, unless these five areas are strong and prioritized. Since I can’t decide for you, ask yourself: What matters most to you? Is it the extra dinner with work colleagues? Or is it being home to tuck your kids in for bed? Is it the extra summer toy? Or is it the peace you’d feel with a little financial margin? Is it the weekly hunting and fishing trips? Or is it the spouse who is desperate for help at home? If you don’t decide beforehand what matters most, someone or something else will.

Second way to live with a disciplined pursuit of less: Clear out and cut back

Solomon writes, “Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and stress.” In other words, if we constantly live with two hands full of stuff, activity, and possessions, our lives will be filled with stress, toil, and exhaustion. But living with one handful, focusing on less, creates margin in our finances, schedule, and life. One handful living will bring more clarity, control, peace, joy and fulfillment. But most of our lives have been become overwhelmed and too full, just like many of our closets. When I was in college, I didn’t even have a real closet; I had this makeshift hanging station for the 7 shirts and 2 pairs of jeans I owned. Fast forward to today, I have 10 pairs of jeans, 15 pairs of shoes, dozens of shirts, and even three suits. I only wear one suit ever (like 4 times a year), half of those jeans and shoes, and maybe 75% of the shirts. By the way, I frequently get rid of stuff and I still have too much. What does your closet look like? Some of us have walk in-closets, walk-around closets, two-level closets or storage units to put the stuff that doesn’t fit in the closet. And even still, what do some of us say? “I’ve got nothing to wear!” Why do we say that? Because we are overwhelmed with how much we have.

Some of our lives, like our closets, are too full. And we don’t have enough room for the most important things. That’s why you’ve got to decide what matters most. Then, be relentless about cutting out everything that gets in the way of those things. As I mentioned earlier, the most important priorities for me are (each shirt with the priority listed on it) God, Family, Friends, Health, Purpose. These are my five top priorities.

The first priority is my relationship with God. I think most of us would say this, but we can’t just give lip service to God. We’ve got to live like he’s most important. That’s why I try to start every day with him. I read the Bible, pray, and reflect on what God is saying to me through His word and prayer. We also make church a top priority. Second is my family. My spouse and my kids need some of my best energy and focus. That’s why Emily and I go out on a date almost every Saturday night after church. That’s why I try to bring my best at the end of every night with my kids. I’m not saying we always do this; in fact, we fail frequently. But I want my family to be a top priority for me. Third is Friends. I can be good acquaintances with a lot of people, but learned I can only be great friends with 5-6 people at most. Health. I’ve always said to Emily, we get one life and God has given us this body to live in. Anytime we debate the cost of a gym, counseling, or eating healthy food, we make room for it. And finally, purpose. Notice I didn’t put in career. A career is great; purpose is better. What’s the difference? A career provides a paycheck; purpose provides fulfillment and a greater sense of meaning. No matter what you get paid to do, I find the people who are most content are those that prioritize living out their purpose. That could be within or outside of their careers.

Here’s the deal: If my life is so full that there’s no room for these five priorities, it’s time to clear out and cut back. How do I know if there’s no room? I get overly exhausted. Which let’s be honest, if you have little kids at home like us, we’re always exhausted. But if I’m constantly short, harsh, and angry. If I’m snapping at my kids or spouse. If I’m not sleeping well, irritable, or unable to focus on these top five priorities, it’s time to clear out and cut back. What kinds of things do we need to clear out? It could mean it’s time to dump that acquaintance you barely know or want to know. It could mean it’s time to decline the invitation for a happy hour gathering with co-workers you don’t enjoy. It could mean saying no to extra dinner invitations. Maybe you need to say no to attending a sporting event. Maybe it’s time to give away more of your material possessions so you have more time or financial margin for other things. Boat, car, cabin, snowmobile, credit cards, motorcycle, clothes. Maybe it’s quitting a board position, a non-profit organization, a community group, or a team. When our daughter and second child Marley was born, I quit playing Sunday night softball. Just didn’t have time. Before kids, I used to golf every Friday morning as well. Those were good days. But now, I spend almost every Friday morning one-on-one with our 4-year-old Marley. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything (well maybe golf once in a while). Maybe it’s, dare I say, giving up your season tickets or even crazier, doing less kids sports and activities. Once you do that, look at all that room. When you do, suddenly there’s margin, space and room to breathe. There’s margin in our calendars to be available for things that matter most. There’s space in our finances to not be so stressed and consumed by every paycheck. There’s room to breathe in life so we can experience more of what matters most.

In other words: Sometimes you got to say no to something less for God’s greater Yes. My greater yes is a strong relationship with God; to live more like Jesus; to be an emotionally, spiritually, physically healthy husband and father who has strong relationships; and someone who passionately pursues God’s purpose for my life. Those are my top priorities. What are yours? What do you need to cut back and clear out? Say no to something less for God’s greater Yes.

Last way to live with a disciplined pursuit of less: Choose quality over quantity.

Solomon writes, “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.” Ecclesiastes 1:8. There are no amount of possessions or experiences that will ever satisfy you. And here’s what I think: So many people don’t even know how weary and tired they truly are. Is some of the weariness inevitable? Sure, with kids, school, work, obligations – of course it can be wearisome - but you have a lot more control over your schedule and life than you might realize. You have the ability to choose quality over quantity. Let me ask you: Is there an area of your life where maybe it’s time to pursue quality over quantity? Once something comes to mind, commit this week to letting go of that desire for more and increase the quality of what you already have.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of officiating the funeral of a 93-year-old woman named Marge. There’s nothing like a funeral to get you to reflect on what matters most. As I sat there listening to people share about Marge, I was struck by how much she had made of her life with how little she actually had. Marge was 4’10”, worked two jobs and 11 hour days for 40+ years, and raised two kids as a single mom for most of her life. But her two kids, now both in their 70s, spoke of their mom as a fierce, loving, and consistent presence in their lives. Her 17-year-old great-grandaughter spoke of their close bond and friendship. She remembered the games they played and the candy she let her sneak away with. Her 40-year-old granddaughter didn’t mention anything she had bought her; instead, she recalled the experiences and memories they had made together. Her brother, now in his 80s, talked about the shared experiences biking and tubing together and how she had provided for her family on her own. And her friend Joyce stood up and shared how Marge had lived out her faith. When Joyce was going through the loss and death of her first husband, money was extremely tight. But several times an anonymous check would show up from a credit union in Joyce’s mailbox. Later, she realized those anonymous checks were from Marge, who didn’t have much money of her own. There weren’t hundreds of people there that day at the funeral. Maybe 75 or so, because according to Marge’s son-in-law Mike, a lot of her friends “had already gone and died because she had lived so dang long.” Son-in-laws are always good for a sentimental expression. But as I sat there, I thought: At my funeral, people are going to talk about what matters most to me. For Marge, it was clear: family, relationships with people closest to her, and faith. What will people say about me? What will people say about you?

It’s a sobering thought, but the bible talks about how our lives are like the morning fog – here a little while, then gone. So what kind of life will you live? What kind of year will you have? Some of you are carrying so much. Your hands are completely full. Maybe it’s time to lay something down. “Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and stress.” We need less stuff and more peace. We need less acquaintances and more deep friendships. We need less pointless activity and more time pursuing greater purpose. We need less of what doesn’t matter and more of what does. We need more of God. People will talk about the things that mattered most to you. What will they say?

Let’s pray.

Copyright: John Alexander
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.