I’m a creature of habit. I love my routine. If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”
So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.
According to the CS Lewis Institute
“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”
The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life. They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work. It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.
A Rule of Life is not just about prayer. It is a whole life spiritual experience. Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”. In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.
While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.
Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself. This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.
At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis. Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.
Here is my personal Rule of Life
1 – Practice Sabbath
Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off. They remain off for at least 24 hours.
During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work. I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications. Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends. God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.
2 – Read a Psalm
I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.
The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long. Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes. Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days. Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise. This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.
3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer
After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer. My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer. Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.
The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way. They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship. A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post. It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.
4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day
The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century. Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day. The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.
Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.
Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.
“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”
“Where am I connected with God?”
“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”
I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams. Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams. I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.
So that’s my rule of life. What’s yours? Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God? I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…