Category Archives: spiritual disciplines

Rule for Life


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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.

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Filed under Daily walk, discipline, habits, sanctification, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines, Substitution

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

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Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Find Your Cadence


I once met a friend at a park for a lesson on how to get into cycling as a way of keeping healthy.  It was my one and only lesson (because exercise is a synonym for pain in my dictionary), but I learned something important that I have totally failed to apply during the many years since.  Seeing my lack of experience right off, he gave me a piece of advice:

“Find your cadence.”

He went on to explain that I was jerking the pedals in a very inconsistent pattern.  They key to burning calories efficiently and without injury is having a smooth, consistent motion at a relatively swift pace (more than 50-60 revolutions per minute).

Honestly, I haven’t thought about his advice much since then.  I rarely get on a bike.  (Who has the time?)  But I thought about it this morning as I was walking back from taking the kids to school.

My life is often an off-balance, inconsistent, jerking-the-pedals kind of mess.  I’ve always prided myself in being a spontaneous, hands-off-the-handlebars kind of person (INFP for those of you who are familiar with Myers-Briggs).  I hate to be scheduled; I hate routine; I like to stay up to all hours of the night…I just love the enormous possibility of a day free from obligations.

But as the years have gone by (I’m 39), living la vida loca is starting to take its toll in repetitive stress injuries.  My body now pays triple what it used to cost me to stay up past midnight.  I never feel like exercising.  I’m always tired.  I’m hopelessly behind on my to-do list, and my spiritual disciplines are somewhat undisciplined.

I find that I’m always trying to play catch-up….in my finances, in my relationships, in my work, in my spiritual life…so I take the turns of life at breakneck speeds and load my bicycle down with all kinds of good intentions.  Then every once in a while, I crash with an illness that lays me out until my body can repair the damage I’ve done.  This is no way for a mature, father of three and husband of one to live.

So, what occurred to me as I walked home this morning is that I need to find my cadence.  In other words, I need to find the rhythm and the pace that I can sustain long-term, and I need to stick to it.  I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at this for years, but I’ve lacked the discipline to keep it up and I’m pretty sure that Satan has been doing his best to interrupt my cadence whenever possible by throwing hazards on the road right before I get there.

The key to this working, I’ve realized, is that I need to select a lower gear.  I’m wearing myself out trying to pedal at top speed in a gear that’s too hard for me.  I need to stop trying to do so much that I’m always behind.  I need to forgive myself for what I didn’t accomplish yesterday.  I need to stop trying to catch up and just start fresh wherever I’m at.  Most of all, I need to listen to the messages my body is sending me and get more sleep so that I’ll have the energy to handle whatever challenges the day brings.  Rhythm and rest.

This is more journal than blog.  My apologies.  Hope that maybe it helps you find your own cadence.

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Filed under commitment, Daily walk, discipline, habits, health, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines

Sharpening the Saw


Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a large tree.

“What are doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the exhausted reply. “I am cutting down this tree.”

“You look exhausted. How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours now,” he returns, “and I am beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes, and while you’re sitting down, sharpen that saw?” you inquire with concern. “I’m sure that it would go easier.”
“I don’t have time for that,” the man says. “I’m too busy sawing down this tree.”

Sounds ridiculous, right? Everyone knows sharper saws accomplish the task with much less effort.

Not so fast… we are all guilty of failing to sharpen our saws. Your “saw” is your set of resources that you use to be productive. Stephen Covey groups these resources into four categories: Physical, Social/Emotional, Mental and Spiritual. When you fail to sharpen the saw in one of these categories, your productivity will suffer.

For example, when you fail to sharpen your Physical saw by getting enough sleep, you aren’t as “sharp.” It’s harder to think conceptually and make decisions. The longer you go without sharpening this saw, the more mistakes you make.

When you fail to sharpen your Mental saw by attending training, reading books and learning new ways of doing things, you become less effective in your ministry. Others, who have more relevant knowledge, begin to outpace you.

It’s okay to take a break, and it’s okay to invest some time, energy and resources into yourself.  Why not set some daily goals to incorporate a few saw sharpening habits regularly in the coming year?

If the ax is dull,

And one does not sharpen the edge,

Then he must use more strength;

But wisdom brings success.

(Ecclesiastes 10:10)

(S – Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People )

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Filed under growth, habits, learning, planning, Preparation, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines

Minute-by-Minute


Many of us live in time compartments. We think in terms of years or months or weeks. It helps us to slice up the time, so that we can plan and set goals. When that period of time is done, we box up the compartment and set it aside as part of the past. “Last year, this happened to me…” or “Last week, I did such and such.”

When we are struggling to get rid of sin in our lives, we use the time compartments as a way to measure our success. “If I can just control my anger this week on the drive to work…” or “I’m going to try to give up donuts for an entire month…” The time compartment helps us to set our expectations so that we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

But sometimes they work against us. I’ve got a friend who struggles to live in weekly compartments, because if he messes up early, he feels the entire week is shot. Having lost the battle on Tuesday, he cedes the rest of the week to the enemy. For example, if he gives in to the temptation to smoke a cigarette by Tuesday (he’s trying to quit), he feels defeated. In his thinking, the entire week is ruined, so he might as well keep smoking and start fresh on Sunday.

This is a common trick of Satan’s – getting us to think in terms of “all or nothing.” He knows that some of us only have to lose the battle with the temptation to sin once before we give up the fight. How long we give up depends upon how big our compartments are.

Some of us think year-by-year.

“I had a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but I gained several pounds on my vacation. Guess I’ll try again next year.”

Some of us think month-by-month.

“I was trying to keep within a budget, but I blew it again. Guess I’ll try again next month.”

Some of us think week-by-week.

“I promised my wife I would start coming home on time for dinner, but I’ve just got too much work to do this week. Guess I’ll try again next week.”

Some of us think day-by-day.

“I made a commitment in my quiet time to control my lustful thoughts, but that didn’t last past the gym this morning. Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.”

It’s a dangerous rationalization for sin, but it’s surprising how convincing it sounds to the person who is struggling to get rid of bad habits. It takes so much energy and effort to change our behavior patterns that we are relieved in a way when we mess up. We feel like we are off the hook until our next time compartment starts up.

But what if we lived minute-by-minute instead of day-by-day or week-by-week or month-by-month? Then, if we gave in to temptation one minute, we could start over in the next. Right after we sinned, we could repent, ask for forgiveness and then box up the minute of our failure as part of the past. Immediately, we would have a fresh, new minute to use! A minute where our relationship to God had been completely restored because of our repentance and His forgiveness!

When we are struggling with persistent sin, we probably can’t be trusted with time compartments larger than a minute or two. We have to take away the excuse (and Satan’s lie) that we’ve ruined a whole day, week, month or year. Nothing is ruined. Each minute stands on its own. Every moment, we can make a new choice to follow God, and what is in our past (even just a minute ago) doesn’t have to infect our future.

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Filed under accountability, Challenges, Daily walk, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, repentance, righteousness, sanctification, sin, spiritual disciplines