This is the fourth essay in this “Back to Basics” series.  I began with a series based on Dr. Albert Day’s devotional classic, Discipline and Discovery.  The first two I grouped under the title, “The Cause of our Lifestyle.”  The first “cause” or reason established was our great need for it.  We frequently fail to be and to do what Christ wants us to be and do.  Sometimes we fail simply because we crumble under the pressures of daily life.  And sometimes we fail because we are undisciplined.  Always we wrestle with three special areas of need; namely, the selfish self that lurks within us, a desire for things, and an obsession with what other people think.
            In the second essay I continued the theme of the cause of our lifestyle, but turned to the way that we overcome our failures.  We live a DOC lifestyle (the lifestyle required by the New Testament) because it is the path to victory over sin.  It is the way we break the tyranny of self, things and people.  It is the means of attaining spiritual maturity, the Spirit-filled life, total commitment, holiness, entire sanctification, Christian perfection, or whatever you prefer to call a proper spiritual union with Christ in the Spirit.
            Whatever we choose call it, this lifestyle has two complementary aspects.  On the one hand we must depend totally on God to make it happen; and on the other hand, self-discipline is necessary.  That is to say, God does it.  It is God who cleanses and empowers us, but he expects us to do our part by being self-disciplined.  And part of that expected self-discipline is the virtue of obedience, the first of eight set forth by Dr. Day.
            Day correctly began with obedience, because it strikes most quickly and drastically at the selfish self that is at the heart of our sin problems.  Obedience is a matter of the will, as is sinning.  We make choices to obey God, or not.  Any choice to disobey God is a choice to obey the devil, because all the devil desires is our disobedience to God.
            That is the cause of our lifestyle.  In the third essay we began to consider the calling of our lifestyle.  Under the heading of calling of our lifestyle, are several practical virtues that call us to specific, outward lifestyle decisions.  These virtues are important, because they impact the way we view money, clothing and other possessions.  The virtue we discussed in the last essay was simplicity.  If we live a life of simplicity in word and deed, we shall avoid a whole host of problems.  For example, it drives out hypocrisy.  It frees us from the need to seem more saintly than we are.  It frees us from the need to impress people.  It frees us from the need to exaggerate the truth in order to make ourselves look better than we are, or more important, or more heroic, or to be a person who possesses greater faith than we do.  After obedience, simplicity is a fine virtue to cultivate.
            In this fourth essay, we want to take up a second practical virtue, frugality.  Frugality is the act of economizing in the expenditure of resources.  To be frugal is to be economical, to be sparing.  A closely related term that is used frequently in religious circles is the word “stewardship.”  A person who is properly frugal will be a good steward, or manager, of the resources under his or her care.  One certainly should not buy things one cannot afford.  But by the same token, we should not buy things we don’t need just because we can afford to buy them. 
            However there is a great danger associated with frugality that can only be offset by the virtue we will discuss in the next essay, generosity.  Frugality that is not balanced by generosity will end in sin.  Frugality easily can slip over into stinginess, penny-pinching, miserliness.  And if that happens, it no longer is a spiritual virtue.  It becomes instead a selfish habit that binds one in chains of self as surely as any other sin.
            A ready reminder of the down side of frugality, miserliness, always comes to hand at Christmas time, when the various cinema versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol begin to appear on television.  Scrooge and his dead partner Marley are classic misers.  And Marley, when he comes to haunt Scrooge, walks in death carrying a great burden of heavy chains.  What vivid symbolism!
            Another type of negative example that comes to mind is a wealthy couple Tillie and I met some years ago, also during the Christmas season.  Friends invited us to a special Christmas musical event in another Kentucky city.  Before the service we went to dinner with our friends and a third Christian couple, whom they knew, but whom we never had met.
            The other couple was very wealthy.  They also happened to be prominent members of the church where the service would be held.  That dinner was an experience that only can be described as culture shock.  The dinner conversation, which was dominated by the rich couple, was about investments, an antique car collection they owned, and several tax dodges that was enabling them to minimize their federal tax load.  Indeed they seemed almost obsessed with keeping their money out of the hands of the government.
            A little later they began to talk about Christmas presents.  That in turn led to a discussion of what the gentleman called a “bauble” that was hanging around his wife’s neck.  He made it quite clear that the pendant was not a Christmas gift, but only a “bauble” to amuse her.  It was a solid gold replica of one of their antique cars, with diamonds as hubcaps and headlights.  During that meal, nothing whatsoever was said about Jesus Christ, including by me.  I just sat there in awe, making an occasional noise to indicate I was listening.
            As I later reflected on that experience, I came to realize just how relative these matters are.  That is, it is easy for someone in my financial circumstances to criticize people who are in a totally different set of financial circumstances.  I have no way of knowing, but the reality could have been that proportionately speaking they were better stewards of the resources God had given tem than Tillie and I are of ours. 
            And what if a Christian couple from an undeveloped country came to dinner at our house, and sat at table with our family, and observed our conversation.  Would they feel that same kind of shock at our lifestyle that I felt in observing that couple’s?  I wonder.  At any rate, from my perspective, it seemed to me that the rich couple exhibited little concern for frugality, or what they might have done for others with their money. 
            The importance of the proper form of frugality and its relation to spirituality were captured sharply by Dr. Day, and I want to quote him at this point: 
            A man is at prayer what he is outside of prayer.  What dominates his consciousness on the street or in the store, will dominate it when he is on his knees.  He will try to direct his mind toward God.  But his mind will be full of thoughts of things, and desires for things, and fears of loss of things, and schemes to acquire things.  He will, if he thinks of God at all, try to make God his agent in the acquisition of things.  So he will never have real fellowship with God.
                 But if he practices frugality, … what he is free from in the store, he will be free from at the altar.  When he tries to direct his mind away from things to God, he can do it, because he has earned an independence of things, which makes him free from their tyranny (D&D, pp. 71-72).
            Frugality is not just a matter of good stewardship; it affects our whole mentality in respect to things.  And our mentality in respect to things in turn affects our whole relationship to God, because when we pray, our minds focus on whatever happens to be dominating our thoughts before we pray.  Therefore, if our minds are constantly filled with our possessions and how we are going to use, increase, or protect them, we will not be able to shake that mentality when we pray.
            Some people who discover this spiritual principle turn to asceticism, the extreme form of self-denial.  Deeply religious persons in many of the world’s religions practice it, because they believe only total self-denial can make possible complete communion with God. 
            But that is not what Dr. Day and I are suggesting.  Frugality is much more limited than asceticism.  Frugality is simply a matter of controlling our resources to God’s advantage.  It is a matter of refusing to permit our resources to control us, and thereby cause us to fail to fulfill God’s dream for us.  Frugality is not miserliness.  Frugality is good stewardship; it is a means to freedom from the tyranny of money and things. 
            I have focused on frugality regarding our material resources.  Dr. Day takes a broader view of frugality than that.  He suggests that must exercise frugality in respect to food (not only in terms of avoiding costly foods, nut in terms of overeating).  Moreover we should fast on some sort of regular basis as a spiritual disciple (D&D, PP. 74-75). 
            He also says that we should practice frugality in sleep. That is, we must not waste time by spending too much time in our beds.  That point is well taken; but in our culture today, more people are not getting enough sleep than are sleeping too much (D&D, P. 75). 
            Day even recommends frugality in our relationships.  By that he does not man that we should avoid deep friendships.  Rather he means that we must not allow any of our relationships to come between us and God (D&D, PP. 76-77).