Decluttering: In Search of True Spirituality

Recently, I listened to a number of TED talk videos on YouTube about decluttering.

“Downsize Your Life: Why Less is More.”

“How Many Towels Do You Really Need?”

“Is Your Stuff Stopping You?”

“From Clutter to Clarity”

Beyond TED talks, YouTube appears to have hundreds of videos about decluttering, downsizing, and organizing, and more about minimalism versus materialism. When I google such topics, I am overwhelmed with the amount of information and advice about clutter. Irony. The clutter of information. The clutter of advice. We are drowning in it.

Clutter and materialism have spiritual roots. I realize that everything in life is related to spirituality. Back to our theme of spirituality.

How do we sort out the many spiritualities that face you and me? What do these various spiritualities mean to me and to my own spirituality? What is true spirituality?

Time to declutter some thoughts and reach down to the root. People propose and practice many kinds of spirituality, but Christian spirituality, biblically tethered, recognizes spirituality as

Life sourced in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit who inspired (God-breathed) the Scriptures (II Tim. 3:16).

This spirituality forms the point of reference for me in discerning spiritualities, their sources, and sorting through the clutter of ideas.

Back in April, I proposed a framework for interpreting spirituality. It was a start. (For reference, you’ll find the seven points reprinted at the end of this post.)

In 1971  Francis A. Schaeffer published a book entitled True Spirituality. This book came to my mind over six months ago, as I was pondering issues of spirituality.  “Hmm. I know I own this book. I can see the cover in my mind,” I thought. In all our decluttering efforts, did I get rid of it? If I can locate the book, I thought, maybe he can bring some biblical light to the issues.

Since our move from Arizona to Indiana last summer, I sometimes struggle to find things I think I own. With each move, and we’ve moved many times, I purge. Declutter. However, it is with pain that I purge books. Maybe I gave this one away. How would I know? My brother-in-law, graciously, unpacked most of my books and shelved them, providing a preliminary order. Then at Christmas, my daughter, Amanda, reorganized them more specifically.

Her reasonable organization made it easy to locate the book, nestled with a number of other Schaeffer books. “Ahh! And there also is Schaeffer’s tiny book, Escape from Reason!”

Thank you, David and Amanda, for lending your minds, strength, and time to organizing this home library!

This is a 1971, original edition. Isn’t the cover interesting? What is the relationship between spirituality and the two scenes on the cover? What may the cover communicate about the nature of true spirituality?

I opened True Spirituality to the preface. My eyebrows lifted. I did not remember that he hits the paper running with the admission of his own spiritual crisis.

Schaeffer faced a spiritual crisis, traversed its dark trails, and came out the other side to write about spirituality, what he called true spirituality.

This crisis motivated the writing of this book. He sees the crisis as not just his own; it is a common trail.  Who hasn’t gone through a spiritual crisis? Or if you haven’t, you probably will, and positively speaking, you’ll want to be prepared.

A spiritual crisis admits to the existence of something more within oneself and one’s world than the material – physical world of existence. Something spiritual is the energy or life force behind the object or body. We think; therefore, we’re confused. (Sorry, Descartes! We’ve devolved from “I think; therefore, I am.”)

Clutter of the mind. A crisis of understanding, of sense making.

A crisis of longing. Longing for some things that one expects (should be?) but  can’t grasp or make happen. The crisis is that we do not have the power, individually or collectively, to refurbish ourselves, let alone create ourselves, constructing our own meaning. We do make improvements. Collecting stuff may be one way to attempt to satisfy the longings. Yet, we don’t get to that point we nebulously long for. We still long. So, this restlessness never dissipates. It lingers, nibbling at our longings. There’s something spiritual in all of this.

This restlessness may be the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Are you being wooed to God?

Schaeffer’s crisis was based upon his adult background in Christianity that followed his youthful agnosticism. An agnosticism that he relinquished for the Christian faith. However, in time he became so discouraged that as he wrote, “I had to go all the way back to my agnosticism and think through the whole matter” (Preface). He had to de-clutter his experience and return to his unbiblical roots and then to his biblical roots. His entire book employs Scripture and biblical theology and principles in order to explain the true spirituality of Christianity.

As he worked through this spiritual crisis, he recognized a problem which he called “the problem of reality” (Preface).  After years as a pastor within orthodox Christianity back in the 1950s, he realized that “among those who held the orthodox position one saw little reality of the things that the Bible so clearly said should be the result of Christianity” (Preface). Next, he realized that “my own reality was less than it had been in the early days after I had become a Christian” (Preface).

Schaeffer presents what he finds to be a truly, biblical spirituality which is a response to or an outgrowth of “the orthodox position” (beliefs that are soundly biblical) that changes or transforms the person and the people. Right belief is not enough.

Actually right belief, I’m sure Schaeffer would agree, is not right belief until it is lived belief: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).

What amazed me, from my twenty-first century, re-reading of Schaeffer’s book was his no nonsense, non-feely, cut to the heart, and even repetitive exposition on the subject. “Spirituality” today sounds so nebulous, so touchy-feely, so individualistic. Not to Schaeffer.

Even though his spiritual crisis had roots in some lack of experiential evidence he’d observed both in other believers and also himself, his antidote was not to swing the pendulum (my analogy, not his) in the opposite direction but to return to the biblical fulcrum and let equilibrium flow from there. This equilibrium would encompass the affective domain (the emotional, psychological, touchy-feely aspects of being human and created in the Creator’s image) as well as other domains (the cognitive and volitional).(Schaeffer does not write this this kind of “educationese”; I’m summarizing his ideas as I understand them.)

From the beginning Schaeffer simply presents spirituality as “the Christian life” (p. 3). He explains, “there is no way to begin the Christian life except through the door of spiritual birth, any more than there is any other way to begin physical life except through the door of physical birth” (p. 4). Sensible. He then shows the corresponding relationship between the inward and outward life experience.

(The biblical framework I wrote (within the April 10 post) would be good to review right now, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post, if you care to reference it. Schaeffer’s influence is in it, but it simply summarizes truth claims extracted from the Scriptures. I think we’ll be ready to add a few points to it soon.)


Ah. Now is a good time for a break. Make a cup of tea (or whatever you like) and then return to this post. Much better!

Unlike general and personal spiritualities you hear about from the health community, from lifestyle gurus, from life coaches and many psychologists, Christian spirituality is firmly rooted in specific revelation, the Bible, which gives tethering power to true spirituality.  A tethering that  provides stability, discernability, wisdom, and all that is needed to nurture transformative growth — real spirituality (II Tim. 3:16-17).

Schaeffer’s first chapter centers on the Law as in the Ten Commandments and the Law of Love. He’s building his case for what true spirituality looks like in Christ-followers. He explains the relationship between the inward and the outward person.

You would suppose that he would use the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to explain the outward: human behavior. Obedience to the law. You would suppose that he would use the Law of Love (Rom. 14:15; Romans 13:8-10: Matt. 22:37-40) to explain the inward. What happens in the heart. However, Schaeffer first goes to the Old Testament, to the end of the Ten Commandments to expose first the heart of man which directs the behavior of man.  Christ confirms this through the New Testament law of love. Schaeffer develops this insight through the tenth — the last commandment.

The tenth. What does order mean? Because we view the first four commands, regarding our relationship with God as the most important, it would seem logical that the tenth would be least important. God is not into clutter. Just ten commandments here. Nothing negotiable. Nothing extraneous. Nothing least.

Schaeffer tackles the tenth, Exodus 20:17: “Thou shalt not covet….” The verse adds a few illustrative examples of what not to covet: your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, animals, nor any of your neighbor’s possessions.

Schaeffer claims that the tenth commandment presents the heart of the list! I never thought of that. He calls it “the hub of the wheel” (p. 7). He explains that whenever we brake a commandment, we always break at least two, coveting being the first. Coveting is an inward act of attitude and will, existing before any outward act.

Schaeffer explains that “coveting is the negative side of the positive commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind;…and shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37,39)” (p. 8). The last commandment connects to the first commandment. True spirituality has both negative and positive forces.

The test of coveting goes beyond behavior and following rules. Schaeffer says that “confronted with the inward command not to covet, [the average moral person] is brought to his knees” (p.8). It requires spiritual life (which is the result of spiritual birth) in order to be fueled to love rather than to covet.

True spirituality has the quiet disposition of a trusting heart, a contented heart, even in the midst of one’s demanding activities. True spirituality is the working together of the inward (the heart) and the outward (the behavior), motivated to love God and others.

Schaeffer says it well:

“First, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love [people] enough not to envy” (p. 9). This is a good test of real spirituality. Is the Holy Spirit empowering us? Do we invite Him to enable us to love God by putting His will above our own? To love others by taking joy in their blessings without referencing ourselves?

Here’s a good quotation. For eighteen years Paul and I have been taking Juice Plus as a nutritional supplement. Its researchers, journalists, and promotors, no matter how wise, are not my spiritual anchor and tether.

Other spiritualities may offer psychological, self-help keys to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, with coaches cheering you on. You can find lots of their help on YouTube, at Barnes and Nobles, and at your doctor’s office. It’s not all bad, but it’s a huge amount of clutter to sort through. And even what is good and practical centers on human dimensions of understanding human nature, health, and capacity.

Christian spirituality extends another dimension to reality. Spiritual birth, to be born again by willingly accepting Jesus’ forgiveness available to us through His death on the cross for us, makes us  “new creations” in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”  (II Cor. 5:17). The Holy Spirit comes to enable us to live as we never have before. (Actually, we once were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive in Christ. Ephesians chapter 2).

Read the book of Ephesians. It’s not a long book. Mark it up and ask God to nurture you spiritually through every concept you learn. If you are willing, you will be changed — inwardly and outwardly.

We need to declutter our lives to find true spirituality in Christ.

What emerges are decluttered and doable spiritual goals:

Love God: worship Him.

Love our neighbors: bless others through specific, creative, and simple acts.

True Spirituality.


A Biblical Framework for Interpreting Life-Spirituality  (from my April 10, 2019 post)

  1. The universe is the creation of its Creator.
  2. The universe is both natural or material, composed of matter, time, and space, and also supernatural, the unseen life behind the seen. The natural and the supernatural comprise reality.
  3. The Creator created humankind as a special creation, creating him and her in the Creator’s image and likeness.
  4. The Creator, Elohim (Hebrew term) is also YHWH (Hebrew name for the person of God). That is, God is Almighty, Infinite, Powerful, Wise…. but moreover, He is personal, not an abstraction; He is Personality. That’s why He named Himself “I Am”. Personal.
  5. Human personality and psychology stem from God’s personality and character.
  6. Both the physical world and spiritual laws and principles are manifestations of God’s character. That is, both the natural and the supernatural reveal insights into God.
  7. Conflict invaded earth when the creature (Adam and Eve, impacting subsequent humans), created in their Creator’s image, refused to be the creature before their own Creator.  Another personality is introduced in the Genesis account: the serpent, representing Satan or the devil, and the forces of evil. The entrance of this conflict is called the historic Fall of humankind; the place where sin and death entered the narrative of reality.
  8. Ready to add 8,9, and 10.
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