As New Year’s approaches, many of us will be establishing New Year’s resolutions. These often help us to direct our lives in a more positive direction. Sometimes, they come from a healthy desire to grow, and sometimes they come from guilt and shame over how we have managed our lives up to this point. Oftentimes, we abandon our resolutions after a short time, adding to the guilt and shame that might have motivated them in the first place. Maybe a better approach to this practice would be to establish Rules for Life.
A Rule for Life establishes a rhythm in your life. (In fact, you could call it a “Rhythm for Life” if the word “rule” seems too legalistic.) It is a spiritual discipline that invites the Holy Spirit to partner with you as you practice Romans 12:1-2. A Rule for Life “[offers] your [body] as a living sacrifice” so that you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It puts you in the right place at the right time with the right heart for God to do transformation work. Your part of the partnership is showing up with the right heart. God does the rest.
Sometimes, we try to rush God into the few minutes that we have available for Him in our busy schedules, but my experience is that God rarely shows up when I summon Him. He is unlikely to give in to my need for Him to be present just when I have the time. He is a jealous God who won’t compete with the idols of work and entertainment that I choose to worship with my time. Instead, He requires that I make Him a priority both in my time and in my behaviors. He wants me to schedule Him into my calendar and show up ready to spend time with Him. He wants me to choose Him in moments when I’m tempted to choose my sinful nature. God wants me to prioritize Him even when I don’t see the benefit. I am often impatient for the proof that my behaviors are making things better, but much of God’s work in my life is way below the surface. It’s inner transformation. If I show up regularly and choose God over evil when I am tempted, God will be faithful to reorient my soul towards Him.
Some examples of Rules for Life are:
- Begin every day with prayer.
- Meet with my accountability partner each week.
- Practice a Sabbath rest.
- Tell God thank you.
- Stop eating before I’m full.
- Let each person be my teacher.
- Visit God’s creation.
- Bounce my eyes when I feel tempted to look.
- Spend time journaling each day.
- Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with each person I meet.
- Keep Christ on the throne of my heart.
Notice that these are not SMART goals. Making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound can lead to legalistic observance. Instead of worrying about whether you met the specific criteria of a Rule for Life, allow God to speak to you about them. Practice the spiritual discipline of Examen at the end of each day by asking, “How did I do with my Rules for Life today? What pleased you? What would you have me do differently tomorrow?” God won’t beat you up over what you didn’t do, but He will redirect where necessary and encourage you so that you have the strength and motivation to keep going.
Rules for Life can sound a lot like New Year’s resolutions, but they shouldn’t come with emotional baggage. A Rule for Life should help you love God more. If it makes you feel guilty because you aren’t doing it, let it go. It shouldn’t be a legalistic practice to “earn God’s love.” If it becomes one, you know that Satan has gotten ahold of your Rule for Life and twisted it for his purposes. As long as you cling to it, Satan will have the power to accuse you for not living up to your commitment. Just release it, and try to find a different Rule for Life that gives life to you. When you think about your Rule for Life, it should bring peace into your soul. It should be time that you long for or practices that resonate with you. Keep experimenting with different Rules for Life until you find ones that uniquely fit who you are and where you are in life.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, try establishing some new rhythms. Make yourself more accessible to God’s good work of transformation in you.