One of the things I am being strongly motivated to investigate at present is a “Rule of Life”.
It’s crazy really. I have been a Christian for almost 30 years. My Protestant heritage has meandered from High Anglican through to Baptist, then to “Bapti-costal”, to full-blown Pentecostalism and now to rediscovering what it is to simply be a Christian .. and yet, it’s not been until now that I have “stumbled” onto this ancient practice of the “Rule of Life”.
The Apostles of old, the Desert Fathers and the medieval, or, Ancient Mystics all had profound insights into the how to live the Christian life with a true, living and sensual spirituality coupled with a pragmatic desire to see the rule of Christ’s Kingdom extended here on earth. How is it then, that after nearly 30 years of church life, it has only been in the last eight years or so that I have slowly ”stumbled” onto more and more of what has been known for milennia? Why has all this remained hidden from me for so long?
These are questions I cannot answer but I am so thankful that they are now “coming to light”. In many ways, it was John Sandford who triggered this quest within me. As a young and developing prophetic ministry, I was struggling with my identity. Why was I so different to most? Why did I seem to be alone in my experiences? Was I as weird as some suggested I was?
John Sandford helped me to see that I was simply a prophet in the making and that a part of that “making” was the “dark night of the soul”. This led to the discovery that an ancient mystic named St John of the Cross had already written extensively about this process because he had lived it almost a thousand years before I was born. Guy Chevreau then suggested I tap into some of Thomas Merton’s writings on Contemplative Prayer as a precursor to reading St John of the Cross. Graham Cooke talked with me many times about the writings of the Desert Fathers and the Ancient Mystics.
What a rich tapestry of Kingdom experience and history is woven by these authors. Writings not borne out of “perhaps” or “maybe”, but insight borne out of hard won experience in the Secret Place before God. We need what they have to teach. It is far richer and more penetrating than almost all of the froth and bubble available at our local Christian bookstores today.
I have a confession to make. I am prone to distraction. I’m a gadget-guy and as such I think I would make a good magpie. Anything bright and shiny has the potential to catch my attention and steer me off course. I have to be very careful to maintain my focus. As a result, it seems to me that investigating the development of a “rule of life” may in fact be one of the things that will ensure I lead a dedicated and fruitful life, committed to the very specific things to which I have been called.
Maybe you see some of yourself in my confession. Perhaps then, you and I will realise that developing a “rule of life” for ourselves in this day is not such a far fetched idea. So, go on! Cross the line. Decide to step over the barriers we have built up between ourselves and other Christian traditions and delve into a wealth of life-changing experience.
The following is reprinted for your consideration …..
THE ABC OF RULES OF LIFE
by Pete Greig (from 24/7 Prayer)
OK, OK, I ADMIT IT… A few years ago, I’d have viewed an article like this with an odious mix of dumb suspicion and glum boredom. I mean who gets excited about such terminally dreary concepts as Spiritual Formation, Religious Rules and sustainable Rhythms of Life? Normal people don’t bother with this stuff. Leave it to monks, Henri Nouwen groupies and the lady who smells of disinfectant in the local Christian bookstore.
And yet here I am firmly in the Henri Nouwen fan-club, yearning for greater spiritual depth and getting excited about Rhythms and Rules of Life. The lady in the Christian bookstore was, it seems, onto something all along. This generation, against all the odds, is scouring the past for expressions of Christian spirituality that relate directly to the trials of contemporary life and offer hope to us as flawed personalities, dazzled by this wonderful yet fallen world.
Increasing numbers of us (individuals, communities, and even secular programs for personal development) have begun to develop our own Rules of Life as a strategy for fostering intentional change and growth.
If creeds are what we believe and Christ is why we believe, a Rule is how we seek to live out that faith, day-to-day as a disciple in the power of the Holy Spirit.
INTO THE DEEP…
“Perhaps somewhere in the subterranean chambers of your life,” writes Richard Foster, “you have heard the call to deeper, fuller living. You have become weary of frothy experiences and shallow teaching. Every now and then you have caught glimpses, hints of something more than you have known. Inwardly you long to launch out into the deep.”
For those longing to launch out into the deep waters of God, Rules of Life have always provided the way ahead. It’s as elementary to the spiritual life as learning the A-B-C is to growing up:
A Rule enables us to develop a faith that is authentic and consistent with our convictions. Mountain-top experiences will never transform our characters without daily discipline, covenant community, and a set of personal values.
For example, the Rule of the Celtic Northumbria Community is a simple and profound covenant to availability and vulnerability, which they describe as “an ethic for Christians and other aliens in a strange land.”
A Rule of Life can be a COMPASS in confusing times…
A Rule enables us to develop a balanced, sustainable, and enjoyable rhythm of life. By mapping out the different dimensions of our faith in a few simple principles and practices, we are better able to balance the multiple demands of our diaries, in a life that is well lived and not driven by inner insecurity and outer expectation.
The Benedictine Rule of St Benedict emphasizes the daily balance between work, rest, and prayer lived out in community.
If we are to stay faithful in the long haul, without blowing up or burning out, a Rule of Life may well be the METRONOME we need to keep us moving forward “in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
A Rule enables us to center our lives on Christ. It calls us back continually to the place of prayer and worship as the life-giving spring from which everything else flows. A Rule can cut across the self-complicating tendency of Christianity, keeping us grounded in Christ’s simple presence.
St. Francis gave us the key to his Franciscan Order when he wrote: “Every day I find so much sweetness and consolation in meditating upon the memory of the humble witness of the Son of God, that should I live till the end of the world, there would be little need of my hearing or meditating upon anything further in the scriptures.”
[Legend of Perugia, 99]
A Rule is a PLUMB LINE measuring everything we say, think, or do against the example of Jesus.
ROCK & RULE
The word rule conjures up images of school and dreary regulations. But when we describe a Rule of Life, the word also carries its other meaning of a straight edge for measuring and drawing lines. In this sense, a Rule of Life is an instrument that enables us to keep boundaries and to measure our spiritual progress. Rules, do not have to be legalistic. In fact, they can express and encourage a deepening relationship with God.
When my wife Samie was first pregnant, the doctor Samie Greiggave her a long list of foods and activities she should avoid, exercises she should do, supplements she should take, and check-ups she should attend. She diligently followed every rule. Why? Because she loved the child she was carrying and wanted him born healthy and happy. These rules were not oppressive to her—they were life-giving!
St. Benedict of Nursia, living in the sixth century in Italy, wrote one of the most famous and far reaching Rules of all time, which remains the joyful heartbeat of the Benedictine Order to this day. He described it as “a little rule for beginners” and emphasized balance, gentleness with ourselves and others, and the importance of community.
Pete Ward, author of ‘Liquid Church’ and one of the pioneers of the first 24-7 Boiler Room, points out that a Rule does not provide us with any greater righteousness in the eyes of our Creator God, but that it does “bring us into a deeper relationship with Christ our Savior, and with each other.”
“In drawing up its regulations we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome… Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in the way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” (Saint Benedict)
Many of the men and women God has used most powerfully over the last two thousand years in every Christian tradition have lived according to a Rule of Life. Sometimes their Rule was not explicit, but more often, it was set out carefully and followed diligently. Some of these saints developed their own Rules, while others pledged themselves to existing Orders and communities.
Rules have been the heartbeat of life for many of those we esteem the most:
* for saints from St. Francis of Assisi to Mother Teresa,
* for great leaders from John Wesley to William Booth,
* for great preachers from Charles Finney to Billy Graham,
* for mystics from Teresa of Avilla to Thomas Merton,
* for theologians from Augustine to Bonhoeffer.
All these people (and countless others in every walk of life) came to a critical moment in their lives when they chose to make a covenant, to follow a spiritual Rule of Life that would serve them as a compass, a metronome, and a plumb line for every other thing they did from that day onwards.
In the light of such an impressive list of advocates, it is surprising that so few Evangelicals and Charismatics currently practice this powerful tool for personal growth and a deeper walk with Jesus.
Adapted from ‘The Vision & The Vow’ by Pete Greig,
[Kingsway (UK) / Relevant (USA) 2004]