Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12.

To this end we always pray for you, asking that God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

How should you pray for other people? Should you pray that they be healed of all their diseases, freed from temptation and trial, and given all the food, shelter, clothing that they desire? Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is far from that. He prays that they be made “worthy of his call,” that God would help them to fulfill every good resolution, that Jesus may be glorified in them. In a word, that they be brought to spiritual maturity.

Quaker authors tend to have their own unique perspective and vocabulary for the spiritual life. For Quakers, who dress simply, have simple possessions, speak plainly, and let their ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ be ‘no,’ simplicity is often taken as a mark of a mature spirituality. But what, exactly, is simplicity? Well, it’s a bit complicated.

Thomas Kelly, in his World War II era classic on the spiritual life A Testament of Devotion, has five chapters on the spiritual life, on the light within, obedience, community, social concern, and simplicity. For him, simplicity is “the last fruit of holy obedience” and “the beginning of spiritual maturity.”

In addition to simplicity of exterior trappings, we may think of simplicity of intention. Simplicity is not trying to sell something, to get something, to bring someone over to its point of view, to gain power over someone. It is not hypocritical. It is guileless. It is a unified, transparent self. It is a single eye.

Simplicity is found in the company of humility. It does not seek to impress with fine possessions or food or words or appearances. It does not even think of itself.

Because it is content, simplicity “responds to sorrow and strain by walking in serene, unhurried calm, with joy and the assurance of eternity.” It “cuts through complex problems to the Love of God and clings to him.” Thus, simplicity is not found apart from faith, and it is marked by peace and “radiant joy.” The “simplified personality is stilled and tranquil, listening in childlike trust to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark.”

So what is simplicity? Is it a Greek apathy or dispassion, in which we are freed of sinful passions and turn our passion toward God? Is it a European detachment, in which we break the bonds of our love of the world, or recollection, in which we keep ourselves in the presence of God? Is it Paul’s continuous prayer? Is it Jesus’ loving God with whole heart and soul and mind and strength?


Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and