For the last ten years, I have kept a Rule of Life (or some version of one). A Rule of Life is an intentional way to keep God in the center of your life. A Rule brings order to your life, helping you remember your purpose, embrace your roles, and align your hours and days with your priorities.
A GOOD SOIL reader suggested that I write briefly on how to renew a Rule of Life. It’s a great suggestion. How can you keep up your Rule year in and year out? What changes? What stays the same? How do you keep the routine from becoming monotonous?
It’s (roughly) the start of a new year, so it’s a perfect time to consider these things. Read on!
What Is a Rule of Life?
From my TGC essay:
Every Christian has a well-established pattern of living, whether it’s an intentionally developed set of commitments or an unstated set of values and practices, like praying before meals and going to church twice a month. But many of us aren’t as deliberate with our spiritual development as we are with our time and priority management at work, and our lives and relationships suffer as a result.
Amid our busy schedules, we’re constantly juggling relationships and responsibilities and often feel like we’re dropping more balls than we’re keeping in the air. When we lack a consistent and thoughtful way of doing life well, we will end up distracted and overwhelmed by life, and our spiritual and emotional growth will plateau. Few of us want to take this approach to life, but it just seems to happen. We wind up scattered, hurried, reactive, and exhausted.
A Rule of Life is “an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do… The starting point and foundation of any Rule is a desire to be with God and to love him” (Scazzero
The Rule is a way to “begin with the end in mind”—to envision a sustainable, thriving walk with the Lord, in his Word, in prayer, in community, in our family, and in our work, then work backward to a set of commitments.
How to Renew Your Rule of Life
Of course, if you wrote a Rule of Life last January but haven’t looked at since February, you might feel like you’re starting from scratch.
And if you have mostly kept up the rhythms of your Rule, well done! If you have kept it perfectly, line by line and point by point, congratulations, you’re a Three on the Enneagram. (And you’re lying a little bit.)
Either way, I have a few suggestions:
Read Your Rule
Begin by re-reading your Rule and try to remember why you wanted to write one in the first place. How might your past year have looked different if you had kept it perfectly? How did you feel the effects of not fully practicing the rhythms you hoped to embody? Where did you do surprisingly well?
Update What Has Changed
My Rule doesn’t change much year to year, but I always take some time at the end of the year to review and renew it. But in some years, I have made a major life transition—a new job, a new city, et cetera—and the Rule can be significantly updated to reflect new roles and responsibilities.
Identify One Central Theme
What is one major, centering, must-happen theme for the year? Some folks write resolutions, some have a word for the year. I do Rules of Life. But each year’s Rule has a single major theme.
This year, I’m making prayer my theme, so my Rule reflects that. Not just contemplative prayer—that was my major theme last year—but praying for renewal. Praying for revival. This has been called “contending prayer,” where we are fighting for the Kingdom of God against the kingdom of the world—through prayer. That’s 2020 for me. (More on this soon, probably.)
What is 2020 for you? Maybe it is something else. Being present. Reading the Bible daily. Going to church even when it’s cold. ;)
Don’t rush this. What is God calling you to this year that’s different from last year, and might not be the same next year?
Make a ‘No’ List
Cut some stuff. What did you commit to last year that you don’t need to commit to this year? Another way to think of it: What are you saying ‘No’ to?
Remember that old adage: Every No is a Yes to something else. Saying No is a sign of maturity. It’s the superpower of the wise.
I often make a No List. It’s like a to-do list, but it’s a list of things I want to do but should not. Currently on my No List:
- Start my doctorate
- Buy and renovate an old house
- Start up my coaching side hustle again
- Coach the boys’ sports teams
- Start that wonderful city-renewal non-profit
- Buy a closet full of Air Jordan’s
- Do every bike race possible
I’d love to do all these things. But for the sake of what’s most important—praying for renewal, loving Jessie and the boys, staying healthy, giving Trinity the best of my heart and mind, and writing occasionally—there are many good things I need to eliminate.
Demand that God Shows Up
This is a delicate balance. My tendency is to pack my Rule with grand visions of doing lots of important things. Then I realize I can’t get it all done, and in trying, I’ll miss the most important things. So then, I over-correct and keep things really simple. So simple, in fact, that I can do it all without the Holy Spirit.
When you’re creating, renewing, and living by a Rule of Life, there should be a few things that are impossible unless God shows up.
This was the old slogan of Alpha, the UK-based evangelism course: “Alpha is perfectly designed to fail unless God shows up.” I love it. I want to be able to say: “My life is perfectly designed to fail unless God shows up.”
There’s no way I can spend an hour a day in prayer—unless God shows up.
There’s no way I can serve Jessie and the boys with all my heart—unless the Holy Spirit sustains me.
There’s no way Trinity will thrive and flourish through my teaching and leadership—unless it’s the presence and word of God teaching and leading us.
Demand that God shows up. Yes, I said ‘demand,’ in the sense of the biblical prophets and psalmists, but while also having the faith to hear No from him.
In the words of missionary William Carey, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
A Rule of Life is a perfect way to design your life for nearness to God, for healthy rhythms… and for total failure if God does not lead and fill you with his presence.