‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’
Jesus, John 15:5
If remaining in Jesus is what makes us bear fruit, one definition of a Rule of Life might be ‘what that remaining looks like in practice, tailored to each of us with our unique set of circumstances, capacities and personalities’.
‘A rule of life is a schedule and set of practices and relational rhythms that help us create space in our busy world for us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did—to live “to the full” ( John 10v10) in his kingdom, and in alignment with our deepest passions and priorities. While the word “rule” may strike you as a strict or binding constraint, the Latin word we translate “rule” was originally the word for a trellis in a vineyard. In the same way a vine needs a trellis to lift it off the ground so it can bear the maximum amount of fruit, and keep free of predators and diseases, we need a rule as a kind of support structure to organize our life around “abiding in the vine,” ( John 15v1–8) as Jesus imagined.’
John Mark Comer
Rule of Life is not a new fangled church gimmick. It is an ancient tradition developed by monastic communities, especially the Desert Fathers and St Benedict, handed down through the ages. The concept was largely lost to western evangelicalism until resurfacing in recent years a bunch of leaders separately began to find Rule of Life extremely helpful to the pursuit of following Jesus in the busy, fast-paced world we now inhabit, in which Christianity is no longer the dominant belief system.
Crafting Your Rule
Rule of Life is about whole-life discipleship. It isn’t just a set of ‘spiritual’ disciplines. It includes all aspects of life and seeks to integrate the physical, emotional, relational etc. It’s also about how we live and not just what we believe, because Jesus is not only the Truth, but also the Way and the Life (John 14:6). Crafting a Rule of Life begins with adopting a set of practices or areas of life we consider essential to being a Jesus follower. You can come up with your own, or go with a current model. Here are three examples. These don’t carry the authority of scripture, but they do all claim to be based on the Bible as well as the wisdom of Christian practice throughout history.
Credit: Ken Shigematsu, God in My Everything
Next, start by listing the things you already do (habits/practices/rhythms) that fit your categories/criteria. If it helps, you can also map out how frequently you do these things (daily, weekly, monthly, termly/quarterly, annually).
Then, over time, think and pray about what things you might want to gradually add in, and which things in life you want to prune out in order that everything fits.
Another option is to use a grid like the ones below, which are similar to one another but use differing vocabulary.
*This comes from practicingtheway.org . They use the term ‘abiding’ here. Essentially it’s the prayerful/‘being with Jesus’ stuff. There’s loads more about this on their website.
For another option, just go to https://practicingthewayarchives.org/unhurrying-with-a-rule-of-life/workbook and click on ‘download pdf workbook’.
A few practical tips about crafting your own Rule of Life. These have been adapted (shortened) from Shigematsu and Practicing The Way.
Often people rush to change too much all at once. ‘Small habits can make a big difference’. Start by mapping what you’re already doing and maybe adding one tweak at a time.
‘A sustainable rule of life will be built slowly, tested, and regularly revised’. So build ‘slowly, deliberately, prayerfully’
This ‘isn’t primarily about adding more things... In fact, a monastic life is structured to implement renunciation.’ ‘Pruning strips us of what is non-essential to the power of God’s life rising within us. But it also gathers and focuses energies previously dispersed in draining distractions or even apparently worthless commitments.’
Account for your Energy
Different people are energised by different environments, activities and times of day/year. To an extent, it’s good to push ourselves... but it is generally helpful to work with the way you’re wired up by God, not against it, where possible
Consider your Life-Stage
Seasons, both of a year and of life in a broader sense.
Rule of Life needs to look different in different seasons & stages of life
St Benedict’s rule was famous for gentleness and flexibility. In some old monastic orders monks were taught that if they were fasting and somebody visited them, they should break the fast to enjoy food with the guest.
We don’t exist for the rule. The rule exists for us. We need a rule that bends. Have grace with yourself.
Make Time for Fun
’If we focus our time and energy only on the likes of prayer, study or social justice, we can become too overly intense. Too serious. We lose our joy, our ability to laugh, to delight in the beauty around us’
‘Our play is not something separate from our spirituality; it is itself a sign of the presence of God in the world’
Following Jesus is not an individual pursuit. We are created for community, and any good Rule of Life should reflect this.
You can also craft a Rule as a group, couple or family if you like
Balance the Upstream and Downstream
‘Upstream = practices that may feel hard for you, but really move your soul toward growth.
‘Downstream’ = those practices that you find fun, living giving, easy and joyful.
As a general rule, we need just a few upstream practices, and lots of downstream practices.
Remember that a Good Rule is a Working Document
’Like us, it’s dynamic, not static. Life is a bit of a moving target, so we have to regularly review our rule and make sure it’s still bringing us life with God and others. If you are sacrificing healthy relationship (with God or others) in order to accomplish your “rule,” this version of your rule has ceased to aid you in the goal of drawing closer to God and becoming a person of love.’
Thanks for reading and for being up for giving this a go. Our hope and prayer is that, as a bunch of people trying to follow Jesus here and now, crafting a Rule of Life will, over time, ensure that we remain in Him and thus bear much fruit.
Ken Shigematsu, God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God
Stephen A. Macchia, Crafting A Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way
Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
Churchology Podcast episode: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaBS3wZWNgY
Renovare Webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyznHNty0rE