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Renewing Your Rule of Life

Renewing Your Rule of Life
By Jeremy Linneman • Issue #13 • View online
Nutrients for your spiritual life. An essay newsletter on spiritual formation, community, and culture.

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. 
I first wrote on creating a Rule of Life in 2015, and then I wrote a revised and expanded essay for The Gospel Coalition about twelve months ago. 
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, 196).
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.
Fidelity Sports: The Chiefs are Unbeatable(!) and We Predicted It
On November 15th, I wrote this about the Chiefs in GOOD SOIL / Fidelity Sports:
After a 4-0 start, we sit at 6-4, and only a half-game in front of the lowly Raiders. Time to panic?
Let’s keep this in context. Because roughly 31 of 32 other teams would trade their entire franchises for ours in a heartbeat. Because we have Patrick Mahomes, the most gifted athlete in human history and possible descendent of David son of Jesse. Because it doesn’t even really matter that we win: What matters is that, at any given moment, even on 4th and 28, with twenty seconds left, and we’re down by 16 points, we still have a chance, and the other teams’ fans are on the edge of their couches praying to just hold on.
And then on Dec. 6th, in this very same prestigious periodical, I wrote:
Hot take #1: The Chiefs won’t lose again this season. We’re 8-4, but we’re rolling with two strong wins, Mahomes back, and an O-line getting healthy. We’ll win in New England this Sunday, sweep the AFC, and beat the Seahawks/49ers/Packers/etc. in the Super Bowl.
And, well, the Chiefs have not lost since then. From 6-4, we won our final six regular games by an average score of 27.8 to 11.5. That’s right, over the final six games, we had the #1 scoring defense in the NFL. So, that put us in the #2 seed in the AFC with a week off before welcoming the Houston Texans back to Arrowhead.
As for that KC/Houston game on Sunday, well, you just had to see it for yourself in real-time. It was, without question, the most unbelievable half of playoff football in pigskin history.
First 20 minutes: Houston 24, KC 0
We blew coverage on a simple third down, and the Texans scored a 54-yard TD. Then we had a punt blocked and returned for a TD. Then we fumbled a punt return, which led to another automatic TD. And we gave up a field goal. In the moment, it felt like free falling at the standard rate of gravity, 9.8 meters per second. But I still had some faith, because, as mentioned on Nov. 15th, we have Pat Mahomes.
Next 40 minutes: KC 51, Houston 7
Seriously. It was like watching a video game where the other guy set down his controller and walked away for an hour. Except, worse. Take a look at our eight drives after falling behind 24-0:
  • 2 plays, TD pass
  • 3 plays, TD pass
  • 3 plays, TD pass
  • 8 plays, TD pass
  • 7 plays, TD run
  • 6 plays, TD run
  • 4 plays, TD pass
  • 6 plays, Field Goal
Have mercy. In this stretch, we scored 51 points in less than 32 minutes. In a playoff game.
This Sunday: We play the Titans, who beat us eight weeks ago (our last loss), when we botched two field goals in the final two minutes. But, no doubt, they are a good football team. They just the Patriots and Ravens on the road. And this weekend’s game will be in 10-15 degree weather, which suits Tennessee much better than our pass-first, pass-second, pass-always offense.
My prediction? We’ll focus exclusively on stopping the run on 1st and 2nd downs, blitz every single 3rd-and-long, and make Tannehill throw more than his usual six times per game. Meanwhile, our offense will keep its foot on the gas…
Chiefs 34, Titans 16
Benediction: Prayers for Renewal
My two favorite renewal prayers, one from the Old and one from the New:
Lord, we have heard of your fame; We stand in awe of your good works, O Lord. Renew them in our day; in our time make them known. In Justice, remember mercy. — Habakkuk 3:2 (paraphrased)
Turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19
Come Lord Jesus! Renew us, O God! Come Holy Spirit!
Thanks for reading GOOD SOIL. See you again in two weeks.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Jeremy Linneman

Nutrients for your spiritual life. An essay newsletter on spiritual formation, community, and culture.

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