The Mind-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Tidying Up is one of the newest bingeable Netflix series featuring a calming host who visits people’s homes to help them “spark joy in the world through cleaning.”

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill home improvement show, though. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air in the home and garden space. There’s no race against a clock, silly competition, or mention of home values (though there is plenty of clever editing to heighten the dramatic tension between guests). Just minutes into the show, you realize it’s not really a renovation show at all. It’s a show about the humans behind their stuff, something we could use more of in a world increasingly filled with Amazon Prime boxes.

But what’s most different about Tidying Up is its host, Marie Kondo, who radiates empathy and wields enormous influence. Kondo is a big deal. So big a deal, in fact, that her name is now a verb. With millions of book sales and untold millions watching her new show on Netflix, she has an outsized power to persuade hearts and minds.

In many ways, that influence isn’t a bad thing. But despite the good in Kondo’s show and books, her philosophy should give Christians pause.

The Mind-Blowing Success of Tidying Up

Kondo became famous following the release of her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book sold 2 million copies and landed on the New York Times Bestseller list. In it, she details her tidying philosophy—”Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.”—which she calls the KonMari method. In 2016, she released a follow up titled Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Altogether, her books have now sold 11 million copies.

Her success seems due in large part to her approach. That’s certainly true with Tidying Up, where “the ostensible makeover at the heart of every episode simply involves regular people becoming happier and more at ease in their own homes. Kondo doesn’t scold, shame, or criticize” her clients, writes Sarah Archer for The Atlantic. And that’s true. Kondo never suggests remodeling a space or adding new paint. She simply moves from room to room, helping each area bring less stress and more joy to her clients.

Her tactics are genius. To help clients visualize how many clothes they own, for instance, she has them pile every article of clothing onto their beds. The mountain of threads confronts them with just how much stuff they own, and perhaps just how much their stuff owns them. Kondo’s unstated belief that most of us own far too much stuff resonates in a world where we’re all accumulating mountains of things.

But the KonMari method, for all its positive influences, has a major flaw.

When the Joy Doesn’t Spark

Central to Kondo’s method is the idea that we should only keep those things that “spark joy” in our hearts and minds. “Joy,” as she employs it, is more akin to happiness (a feeling) than true joy (a conscious choice). How do you decide which shirts to keep or which heirlooms to hold on to? According to Kondo, you consider them one at a time and ask yourself if the object sparks joy inside you. If so, keep it. If not, discard it. Simple.

But things get complicated when this philosophy is applied to non-material objects, like relationships. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up opens with testimonials from Kondo’s former clients. The first quote is from someone who (after pairing down, we assume) decided to quit their job and open their own business doing something they had dreamed of since being a child. That’s simple and inspirational enough. But things took a turn in the next testimonial:

“Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”

This person’s marriage wasn’t sparking joy, so they discarded it like an old pair of jeans. And why not, if your driving philosophy is based on what brings you happiness? The problem with making decisions based on what “sparks joy” is that this is a terrible way to live and is, in fact, an obstacle to a happy life for yourself and others.

How Not to Be Happy

The person that makes decisions and measures their self-worth based on happiness is destined to be unhappy. Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are, by definition, fleeting. To experience a feeling—happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, excitement—is to be in that emotional state for a finite period of time. Your feelings start and stop. They change as often as your circumstances. The search for happiness is a terrible guide to happiness because happiness itself is a moving target.

Your circumstances are largely out of your control, no matter how much control you think you have. We can never control our circumstances enough to ensure our happiness. Jobs are lost, loved ones die, people age, buses are late, coffee spills. The things that made us happy yesterday don’t make us happy today. The things we think will make us happy seldom do. And if they do, the happiness never lasts as long as we’d like.

Pursuing happiness above all else is not only unhelpful in the search for happiness, it’s also harmful to others. The person who makes decisions based solely on what “sparks joy” is a person who doesn’t consider others’ feelings or needs—a far cry from the call to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). This is evident in the person who left their marriage because it no longer made them happy. Basing our life on what brings us happiness crowds out the voices of those around us and makes personal pleasure our end game. But as we’ve seen, to search for happiness by only doing that which makes you happy simply won’t work.

Organization Won’t Lead to Transformation

If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves nodding to the idea of pairing down and cleaning up without realizing we’re saying yes to Kondo’s broader philosophy. Christians should approach Kondo’s books and show with a healthy amount of skepticism, just as they should when consuming any information or entertainment.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world,” wrote the Apostle John (1 John 4:1). Christians must test the spirits they see on TV, in books, and in conversation. Take the good and leave the bad. This mentality is critical for being in the world but not of it.

So go ahead and take some organizational tips from Tidying Up, but don’t fall for the belief that cleaning is life-changing. Don’t mistake the organization of your stuff with the transformation of your heart. No amount of discarding, organizing, and folding can change the human heart. Only God’s Word can do that.

Who Wrote the Bible?

In my last post, we saw that the words in the Bible are living and active because they are God’s words.

But wait a minute, you might be thinking. Didn’t Paul and Peter and John and Moses and David and many others write the Bible? If that’s true, then how can we claim it was written by God too?

I’m glad you asked 🙂

Dual Authorship

Historically, if you asked someone in the church who wrote the Bible — God or man — the answer would be “yes.” Through the centuries, the church has understood the Bible to have a dual authorship.

This means that “While the authors of the Bible wrote as thinking, feeling human beings, God so mysteriously superintended the process that every word written was also the exact word he wanted to be written — free from all error” (Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).

This is called the Verbal Plenary view of the doctrine of inspiration, in case you want the technical jargon.

What the Bible Says About its Authorship

Biblically, this notion comes from places like 2 Peter 1:21, which says,

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So yes, men authored the Bible, but the words they produced were from God through the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says,

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

How much of Scripture is breathed out by God? All of it.

That means every word that God intended to be in the Bible has been breathed out by God himself. And the way those words made their way to us is through the written records of what we now call the Bible.

The Word of God

If the Bible is the “Word of God,” then what we’re actually talking about is a book of words that the all-powerful, all-knowing, transcendent God decided to write to us! What could be more important than reading and studying this book?

If we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then it should be much more than a book that we are familiar with. It ought to shape every aspect of our existence. It should guide the decisions we make in life.

If God is the designer and creator of this world, if he made us and placed us on this earth, and if he has taken the time to tell us who he is, who we are, and how this world operates, then what could be more important to us than the Bible?

The Bible isn’t merely an inanimate object that we study and pull information from. It has a life of its own. It acts. It reads us; it pierces to the deepest parts of our being and discerns our motivations.

—Francis Chan, Multiply

Since our God is a living God, his Word is alive, and he works through his Word to actively transform every part of our being.

This is part 3 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

A Look Inside One of My Prison Visits

As a writer and editor for Prison Fellowship, I have the opportunity to go into prisons all over the country to see the work God is doing in incarcerated men’s and women’s lives. During my last visit to a Virginia prison, our (top-notch) photography and video team was on site to capture the day. It’s hard to describe a prison visit, especially when it’s for a joyous occasion, but hopefully what we pulled together gives you a sense of what one event was like.

You can see the photos and read my recap of the day here.

What is the Bible?

The Bible is the story of God’s action in the world. It tells of his plan and purpose for his creation.

The Bible was written over sixteen centuries by about forty authors. It’s an amazing collection of 66 books, written in different styles and voices but all containing God’s consistent and unchanging message to the world.

The Bible is divided into two section —the Old and New Testaments — and is comprised of a wide variety of literary styles. It’s made up of narratives and dialogues, proverbs and parables, songs and allegories, history and prophecy.

While some of the books were written by eyewitnesses, others were handed down orally and were later put to paper. But there is a remarkable consistency in the story the Bible tells. While the style is diverse, the message is unified.

What the Bible Says About the Bible

That’s, practically speaking, what the Bible is. But let’s look more closely at what the Bible says about itself. And to do that, there’s no better place to go than Psalm 19. It says,

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.

– Psalm 19:7-11 (NIV)

We learn several things about what the Bible is from these few verses.

  • First, “The law of the Lord” means the law belongs to the Lord and comes from the Lord. The Bible is the Word of God — the very words God would have us know that tell us who he is and what he’s like and what he wants from us and how we are to live and how we can live with him forever. This is why you’ll hear the Bible referred to as the Word of God so often.
  • Next we see that the Word is perfect. That means it’s not incomplete, it doesn’t lack anything. It’s perfect.
  • The Bible is trustworthy. We can bet our lives on its truth and trust what it says.
  • The Bible is clear. It makes wise the simple. Its meaning can be plainly understood and applied to our lives.
  • The precepts of the Lord are right, which means the Bible is true. It’s not a book of simple platitudes or fables, it is the one source of Truth in this world, given to us by God himself.
  • God’s words in the Bible are eternal. The Word of the Lord stands forever; its claims are timeless, unending, and unchanging.
  • And God’s words in the Bible are sweet. They are sweeter than honey, refreshing us and calling us to savor them.

Living and Active

There’s one more thing you need to understand about the words contained in the Bible that makes it different than any other book out there. The words in this book are alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

As you work to interpret God’s Word, God’s Word interprets you — your thoughts and heart and motives and actions. You read the Bible and the Bible reads you.

For Reflection:

  • Spend a couple minutes scheduling your Bible reading. Put it in your phone’s calendar or jot it down.
  • What’s your biggest barrier to reading the Bible regularly?
  • How does delight drive our behavior? Do you delight in reading the Bible? Why or why not?
  • What might help you dig into the Bible more frequently?
  • Look at Psalm 19. What do these verses tell you about the Bible?
  • Re-read Hebrews 4:12. What does this verse tell you about the unique nature of the Bible?

This is part 2 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert?

Imagine yourself sitting down to a table with fresh white linens draped over top. Several pristine utensils sit before you. The napkin is neatly folded. It sits just above a clean, white plate. And on that plate is a big, black leather Bible.

As you look down at that Bible, does it look like the dessert you can’t wait to dig into, or does it look more like the brussels sprouts you shove aside so you can get to the good stuff?

The answer to that question means everything.

Too many of us look down and see a strange, foreign book we want to love, but we don’t know quite what to do with it. It’s just never tasted good, so we move it around on the plate and pretend to enjoy it.

That is not what God intends.

The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy

Instead, God means for his Word to satisfy our deepest cravings and to whet our appetites for more.

Psalm 19 says that God’s words are to be desired more than the finest gold and that they are sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb.

Is that how you feel about the Bible? If you’re like most people, probably not.

Bible engagement is, to put it bluntly, abysmal, even within the church. You might even call it an epidemic. After their recent study of Bible reading, LifeWay Research concluded that Americans are fond of the Bible but don’t actually read it. More than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible, they found.

Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. 40% percent of the people attending are reading their Bibles occasionally—maybe once or twice a month, if at all. There are some who read their Bible every day (19%), but for every one of them (19%), someone isn’t reading it at all (18%).

And it’s not as if the Bible is hard to come by in America. The English language Bible continues to be the most popular book in our world. Every year, about 25 million Bibles are sold in the United States. Among those homes that have a Bible, they own an average of three, not to mention the Bible apps on smartphones.

Most of us know this isn’t good, especially those of us in the church. We experience some low to medium level of guilt because we haven’t read the Bible much lately. The church often doesn’t help us feel any better. Over and over again, we hear that reading the Bible is crucial for spiritual growth and we should be in it every day. Yet most people aren’t doing it.

Why is that?

Why We Don’t Read the Bible

Maybe you’ve tried to read the Bible but got frustrated and gave up. Maybe you assume it’s the pastor’s job. Or maybe you don’t have the time or you’re not sure if it’s true. Maybe you just think it’s boring.

Overall, you might think the problem is a lack of discipline. That we’re just not getting up early enough or taking the time to sit down and read a few chapters of the Bible each day. And to some degree, that’s true. But the real issue is deeper.

We don’t have a discipline problem as much as we have a delight problem.

We don’t study the Bible because we don’t delight in the Bible. Think about it. You do what you delight in. You do the things you enjoy. Some of us enjoy kicking back and watching some Netflix or football. Maybe you enjoy exercising or woodworking or riding your motorcycle.

Why do we do these things? Because we enjoy them, we delight in them. When you delight in something, it doesn’t really feel like you have to make time for them; you just do them because you love them.

But so many in the church don’t delight in God’s Word. They don’t enjoy their time with him. And for many of them, I believe that’s because they were never shown how to delight in the Word.

If that’s you, then don’t worry — you’re in good company. In fact, I was just like this not that long ago.

How I Learned to Love the Bible

I’ve only been delighting in the Bible for the last 5 years. Before that, it was a chore at best that I rarely got around to. Reading the Bible for me was like that last item on your to-do list that you keep carrying over to the next one because you don’t want to do it.

To make a long story short, I wound up in seminary and one of my first classes was something called Hermeneutics, which I had to look up before registering. Hermeneutics, I found out, is a fancy word for the study of how to interpret the Bible.

The semester was full of grammar lessons and interpretation methods and practicing outlining the text and learning about the different genres featured in the Bible. Some of it was dry. Much of it was boring.

But it changed my life.

By the end of that course, I felt for the first time like I had a toolbox for the Bible and I knew how to use it. The tools I acquired in that class opened the Bible to me like never before, allowing me to see things I’d never seen and understand things I never imagined.

And it made me mad.

The Greatest Gift I Can Give

Why did it make me mad? Because I had to go outside the church to learn how to read the Bible. I had to pay money to do an online course with people I didn’t know to learn how to read the book the church was telling me to read.

I remember thinking, Why did I have to go to seminary to learn this? Why didn’t someone in the church teach me this?

From then on, I’ve been taking every opportunity I can get to teach what I learned to people in the church.

Aside from the gospel itself, there’s no greater gift to give to people than an understanding of how to read the Bible. It’s the difference in catching fish for someone versus teaching them how to fish. Catching fish for them will feed them for a day. But if you teach them how to fish, you’ll feed them for a lifetime.

So let’s learn to fish. Let’s learn to mine the depths of God’s Word and feast on the riches it contains.

To do that, we’ll first need to understand what the Bible is, which will be the topic of my next post.

This is part 1 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore