A great soul in a small house is the idea which has touched me more than any other. —Lacordaire, quoted in Wm. Barclay./1
The modern small-house movement is attractive. It appeals to the need for simplicity in man. It allows people to escape great expenses, the oppressive burden of mortgage payments. It forces one, in a way, to fit into small living quarters what is most important.
Living in a small house, however, is no guarantee of a happy heart. On the contrary, if the heart has not been previously conditioned, cramped quarters can be a cause of discontent and discord.
How can one be that “great soul” which Lacordaire praises above?
First, discover the value of things.
We can enjoy things without living for them, but if Lacordaire’s warning for his day was true, how much more for ours: “The rock of our present day is that no one knows how to live upon little.”/2 Many of our grandparents and even our parents knew, but we don’t. We are surrounded by things. We store more things and buy more things and carry more things with us than ever before.
Witness the growth of the storage industry. We have the largest houses in history, but our houses cannot hold all our stuff. So we rent storage space!
And now there’s the “man bag.” We, men and women, have stuff which we just must tote around.
An acronym has arisen, EDC: every-day carry. Not long ago I asked people what were their essential items which they carried with them all the time. I listed mine: Bible, Bullet Journal, pens, glasses, evangelistic card, Bible correspondence course, documents, money, phone.
The sign of our times is walking around or hanging out at the mall, the great prison of commerce. We worship at the shrine of purchase, at the altar of possession, and even when we’re not buying, we want to be near the products we desire.
In all the carrying and storage and buying, do we know how to use things rather than be possessed by them? The great soul knows.
Second, know what is essential.
We confuse wants for needs. But what are real needs in this life? The apostle Paul has made the list for us, and it is a short one. “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” 1 Timothy 6.8 ESV.
We aren’t happy with just any food, we want gourmet. We want variety. We have a long list of likes and dislikes. No leftovers, please. Always fresh, always hot, served in record time, with portions that would do for two. Or three.
Nor is any type of clothing suitable for us. We must have the latest styles, the name brands, the attention-getting acessories. Our underwear may cost as much or more than outer clothing. Of course, we must have a complete wardrobe, for every social occasion and setting.
There is no special advantage to poverty. But having more than what is essential makes us rich, by definition, and brings with it special temptations and challenges. Only when we know what is essential can we resist the temptation for more. The great soul knows this.
Third, pursue relationships, not things.
Wm. Barclay was right when he wrote that contentment obtains
“when we escape the servitude of things, when we find our wealth in the love and the fellowship of men, and when we realize that our most precious possession is our friendship with God, made possible through Jesus Christ.”/3
No relationship is greater, more intimate, and more important than that of having God as Father. All the Bible seeks to move us toward him. Obeying the truth allows us to know him who is true. Relationship with God provides us the basis upon which we may relate properly with all others.
This relationship demands exclusivity, however. God is a jealous God who brooks no competition. No one can serve God and money. Attempts to be friends with God and friends with the world constitute spiritual adultery, or unfaithfulness. He is the pearl of great price for which we give up all to get him. When we do, we discover that he is eminently worth it. The great soul knows this.
Great soul in a great house
More than being a great soul in a small house, I want to be a great soul, in God’s eyes, in his magnificent house, which is the temple of the Spirit, the kingdom of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Not because I want to pursue greatness as such, but because I want to have God’s perfect love, follow Christ’s perfect example, and cooperate fully with the Spirit of truth whose mission is to make him known in all the world.
1/ Quoted in William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Rev. ed. Westminster Press, 1975: 130.
2/ Ibid., 129.
3/ Ibid., 131.