A “Rule of Life”
I began playing golf when I was nine years old. My dad was my first teacher, but as I developed he found a golf pro who gave me lessons. In high school, my instructor told me that I had a great swing. He predicted that I could be one of the top players in our conference. I played every day – eighteen or even thirty-six holes each day. But I never developed to the potential he predicted. It wasn’t because I lacked the desire – I wanted to be the best. But if you looked at my life and how I spent my time, you’d have to say I lacked the intention. In no way did I intentionally plan or strive to be the best golfer I could be. I just wanted to have fun, not put in the work required to get better.
In 2001, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I’d been running for some time and believed I could do it. I began a training program that helped me build up my endurance and prepare for the race. I organized my priorities so that I ran faithfully all my training runs. Even when Angie and I went for a getaway weekend, I woke up early to do a twenty mile run that needed to be done for my training. I had both the desire and the intention to run the marathon. And I intentionally organized my days to make sure I would achieve my goal.
A few years ago I was frustrated with my spiritual progress. I wanted an intimate walk with Jesus, but something was missing. As I was crying out to God, asking him for deeper intimacy, I was convicted that while I said that’s what I wanted, but the way I lived didn’t reflect that as my priority. I may have had the desire to be intimate with Jesus, but I wasn’t living intentionally with the result that I wasn’t experiencing it either.
As I wrestled with God over this, the question that was before was: How should I live if I really, truly want to be transformed into Jesus and have a close, intimate relationship with him? If that’s really my priority and my desire, how do I live intentionally so it becomes more than wishful thinking? I knew there were spiritual exercises that I needed to commit to…Scripture reading, prayer…and others I was learning to practice regularly…silence and solitude, self-examination, personal retreats…
Through friends, teachers, and books I was reading, God led me to two things that have helped me to live intentionally and increased my desire for more of Jesus: 1) developing a “rule of life” and 2) a new perspective on how spiritual formation works.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun defines a “rule of life” as “a way of being intentional about the personal rhythms and guidelines that shape our days” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p. 36). It should be a personal and realistic pattern that will allow us to seek Jesus. In my “rule of life” I have things I do daily and at other intervals. These are things I know can help me to connect with God at a deeper level. Questions to ask as we begin to think about a “rule of life” include: What practices will I seek to engage in on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis? When and where will I practice them? How will I engage in the community of faith as a part of my practices? Are there some things that are not natural to my personality that I need to practice anyway? Are there specific sins or areas I struggle with that would be helped by specific spiritual practices?
As we sense the rhythm God is calling us to, we prayerfully begin to live it. It is good to review how it’s going from time to time. We may find we were overly ambitious in some areas and need to make adjustments or that our patterns are creating stress for others. We need to be sensitive to that too. A “rule of life” is not meant to create legalism, but to be a tool to help us in seeking after Jesus. It is a guideline, not a straitjacket, intended to empower us to live in the freedom we have in Christ as we are being transformed into his image!
Along the way, God led me to a realization: Spiritual practices won’t transform me. My efforts won’t transform me. Only the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in my life will transform me. The purpose of spiritual practices like prayer, spiritual friendship, Scripture, solitude and silence, self-examination, and simplicity is to open our lives up to the work of God’s Holy Spirit. These practices create space for God to work in our lives. They are a way of receiving God’s grace. They allow us to place ourselves before God so he can transform us.
Robert Mulholland suggests in his book, Shaped by the Word, that we need to be ready to persevere in spiritual practices day after day, week after week, year after year, regardless of whether we see the spiritual fruit we expect or not. His point is that as we offer ourselves to God, it is God who changes us – when and how and into what he wants. Like Daniel in the movie The Karate Kid, painting and waxing and sanding because Mr. Miyagi said so even though it wasn’t what he expected…resulted in developing the muscles he needed to perform karate. As we faithfully do spiritual practices, God is developing in us spiritual “muscles” we won’t realize are there until we need them.
I hesitate to give a personal example because I have such a long way still to go…but I’ll close with one anyway. One of the practices I began some time ago as part of my ‘rule of life’ is “centering prayer”. It’s a time of simply quieting myself in God’s presence and waiting on him. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m very good at it. I have a hard time quieting my mind. But when I am regularly practicing centering prayer, I respond differently to things throughout the day. I have more peace. It takes longer to become unsettled or angry. Even my wife has commented on this. I can’t always see it. But God is at work through these simple offerings of my time and my heart each day. Whether I can see him at work or not isn’t what’s important. It’s his time. My desire and intention is to open my heart to the Holy Spirit’s work. He can do with my offering whatever he wants!