Its that time of year again. New Years Resolutions! Have you made any yet? Common resolutions that tend to come out this time of year are: to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, spend more time with family… That’s what is cool about starting a new year, its an opportunity to do a little inventory taking of our lives to see if we would like to see something different.
Perhaps what would be most beneficial of all is to do a spiritual inventory and create some New Year’s resolutions for the soul. In fact, there has been a spiritual practice that has been done for centuries called the Rule of Life. Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Sacred Rhythms, describes it this way:
Dallas Willard uses a different term for rule of life, he uses “Curriculum for Christlikeness” (C4C). Dallas says the C4C should have two primary purposes:
- learning to dearly love and constantly delight in the “heavenly Father” manifested in Jesus
- removing our automatic responses that keep us in bondage.
A rule of life is not this dry and dusty legalistic practice where we end up beating ourselves up for falling short. It is simply an invitation to join Jesus in ways to walk in the Kingdom of God. Would you like to learn to really know God’s love more fully and to be freed from the “old nature” and its automatic responses? If so, then developing a rule of life, sacred rhythms, a curriculum for Christlikeness, or Resolution for the soul is a worthy endeavor.
In her book Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson describes this process of growth in a beautiful way:
The caterpillar must yield up the life it knows and submit to the mystery of interior transformation. It emerges from the process transﬁgured, with wings that give it freedom to ﬂy. . . .
A rule of life gives us a way to enter into the life-long process of personal transformation. Its disciplines help us to shed the familiar but constricting “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed—the true self that is naturally attracted to the light of God.
A Better Way
What a rule of life helps us do is to understand that there is a better way to live. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Jesus offers us a better way to live. So what are some items we can include in our rule of life? If you would like to do some reading on the subject, three books I recommend are:
- Celebration of Disciplines (Richard Foster): this is a classic book on various spiritual disciplines.
- The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard): This one will make you think and it takes time to noodle through, but Dallas presents the Curriculum for Christlikeness as part of this book.
- Sacred Rhythms (Ruth Haley Barton): This may be one of my favorites. The author writes with such clarity and passion and describes the cry of the heart for God and how to satisfy the cry with various spiritual disciplines
Practical Rules for Living
We recently discussed the topic of a rule for life in my Community Group (aka Sunday School) at church. We spent a few moments in silent prayer asking God to speak to us about what He would want us to consider. We then brainstormed together some practices that we felt led to share. Below is list of what we discussed. I love the heart of my friends and the passion and humility they demonstrated as we spent this time together. When we think of spiritual practices, the traditional list can include prayer, fasting, solitude, study…. I love this list below as it is such a practical way to implement the spirit of the disciplines.
- Recognize automatic responses: this practice involves being more intentional this year to just notice and see our reactions and what God might want us to know as we ponder them.
- Take everything to God in prayer: this practice is the desire to take everything in our lives to Him. How often do we strain and fret about things and we try to figure life out on our own? We want to see our automatic response to go to God in everything and in all circumstances.
- Give up the need to be right: Wow, now this one is getting a little personal! Why is it we have this need to be right? I remember one time watching a counselor conduct a marriage intensive with a couple. At the end of the day, there was no real progress. The counselor made this statement: “I think it is more important to you to be right than it is to be reconciled.”
- Take Ten: As in ten minutes before you decide to respond or say something. Rather than give in to the heat of the moment, take ten. Research shows when we are in conflict, the fear-based “fight” or “flight” portion of the brain overwhelms our logical part so often say and do the wrong things. Practicing a take ten approach is a biblical and healthy way to enhance our own well-being as well as our relationships.
- Ask for help: one person asked for help on disciplines for dealing with anxiety and fear. So I added this item to the list (actually it was my wife’s idea). Asking for help is a worthy discipline to consider. How often do we say to people that we are “fine” but are struggling on the inside? The next bullet point came out of exercising this discipline.
- Set our hearts and minds on Jesus (Col. 3:1-3): in the battle of fear and anxiety, the enemy is constantly wanting us to focus on our pain and circumstances, anything but God. There is just something in our nature that wants to dwell on things as if we can “add a single hour to his span of life (Matt: 6:27).” The enemy wants us to either focus on the past to remind us of our failures or to a future which is uncertain and where we can entertain scenarios that may never happen. With this discipline, we try to place our focus in the present moment on the truth of God and if we do look to the future, we look in the glorious hope of living with God forever!
- Silence: this is how we started out our time. We practiced 3 minutes of silence. It is amazing the power of being silent before the Lord. We are the temple of God whose Spirit lives in us. What a power practice to incorporate. What if we took 3 minutes each day and just sat in silence before God?
The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20)
- Fasting: This is one that I contributed as I feel the Lord calling me to practice fasting this year. I have dabbled with fasting from time to time but I am looking forward to building a more regular routine of fasting and seeking God.
- Practicing Community: We need each other! Wendy and I both came away from this meeting with our group impressed by the importance of being in authentic and transparent community with others. The enemy has tried to use this season of COVID to discourage community and move us toward isolation. We must exercise the practice of community to stay connected with the body of Christ.
- Accountability: accountability can seem scary… it can be a little unnerving to express to others something you want to see in your life and have them help hold you accountable. One person expressed feeling led to go on an international mission trip. I expressed the desire to fast. Just saying it out loud made it more intentional and subject to accountability. Maybe a great way to practice this discipline is to craft your own rule of life and then share it with someone or a small group. See how God can use others in your life to encourage you toward growing in your love for God and breaking the bondage of automatic responses.
As iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17)
Sometimes I can take a topic like this and create a huge list of things I’d like to do then over course of time become discouraged by my lack of progress. This year, I am praying about focusing on a few things. God may adjust these but for this moment hear are three things I would like to include in my rule of life. I invite you to hold me accountable. If you know me, ask me about how I am doing.
- Practice 3-5 minutes of silence every day
- Develop and implement a plan for fasting
- Pray this prayer for myself, my wife, my family, and others. Thank you to my pastor, Ryan Rush for this idea:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen ___ with power through his Spirit in ____ inner being, so that Christ may dwell in ___ heart(s) through faith. And I pray that ____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19
May you know the love of God that passes all understanding and be filled with all the fullness of God as you put into practice “resolutions for the soul”.