I have a restless and inquisitive mind, so I read voraciously in several areas: theology, the practice of ministry, history and, of course, fiction – though I’m fairly picky about what fiction I read. One of the reasons I read so widely is that I love following rabbit trails.
I can be reading a book or a blog, and the writer will mention something that tickles my fancy, and off I go, googling a book title or a name or an idea I never heard of before. Half an hour later, I may have satisfied my curiosity, or maybe only whet my appetite for more.
A couple of weeks ago, after I did a message on doing good, Jean Reynolds pointed me to a song that I had never heard before. Turns out, it was slyly hidden in our green hymnal supplement all the time, and I’d never noticed it.
The lyrics were from that saying attributed to John Wesley, though he probably never said it quite this way:
Do all the good you can
by all the means you can
in all the ways you can
in all the places you can
at all the times you can
to all the people you can
as long as ever you can.
What intrigued me most about it, though, was the title: Rule of Life. I’d heard a little about it before but decided I needed to know more.
I started with United Methodist resources. Sure enough, I found a brochure with a cover much like the one you see on the screen. The brochure said that the United Methodist Rule of Life consisted of those Three Simple Rules that we discussed the previous three Sundays.
I wanted to know more, so I kept digging, and I found many resources for devising a personal rule of life. A brief but very helpful summation originates not far from here, in Independence, at the headquarters of the Community of Christ, what used to be known as the RLDS church. The Episcopal Church calls its rule The Way of Love. Elaborate and comprehensive instructions also can be found at the website of Bridgetown Church in Portland.
Turns out, you can make this as easy or as difficult as you like. I’m going to show you an easy way this morning – and all the result of me following a rabbit trail.
Let’s begin with the basics. What is a rule of life?
First, it is not a rigid list of laws or regulations that you have to follow – or else. A rule of life is a voluntary and loving way of relating to God, self and neighbor. It’s a pattern for intentional living, a plan for holiness of heart and life.
The word “rule” comes from the Latin regula, from which we get the words “regulate” and “regular.” Regula means a straight edge, like a ruler, or a pattern for growth, like a trellis for flowers or a grapevine.
Some rules of life are corporate, such as the Rule of St. Benedict used for centuries by monasteries around the world. We’re going to talk about a personal rule, devised by you just for you. It’s simply a pattern of practices that helps you grow.
Right now, right before your eyes, we’re going to build one, using a handout that came out in the Weekly Update. If you didn’t get it, email me or the church office, and we’ll send one out to you. (A copy follows.)
We’ll start with five basic categories, and then add certain practices in each category. One of the first things you’ll notice is that some practices fit in multiple categories, so you can put the emphasis wherever you want.
The first category is Body. Here are some practices you might include here.
Adequate sleep: Seven to eight hours a day is often suggested. Some people think they can get by with less. Some need more. What’s best for you?
Regular exercise: That’s what your doctor nags you about all the time, right?
Walking or running: Run, if you can. Walk, if you can’t run. It’s good exercise, and you might meet some new people on the way, especially these days when so many people are out walking.
Participating in sports: Notice that it doesn’t say “watching sports on TV.” You may get worked up watching the Chiefs play, but it’s just not the same.
Healthy diet: Hey, you know what’s good for you and what’s not.
Practice self care: Some of us are really good at caring for others and really bad at caring for ourselves. Remember that Jesus says we should love others as we love ourselves. You can’t help others if you’re sick all the time because you don’t take care of yourself.
Eliminate hurry: Slow down! Save energy and reduce stress.
Adequate water: Eight glasses of water a day is usually cited as a goal. If you’ve ever gotten seriously dehydrated, you know why it’s important.
Limited alcohol: No lectures here. You get the hint.
Recreation and hobby: You don’t have to collect knick-knacks or run model trains. Do what most appeals to you.
Play with children and Play with pets: Both may wear you out, and it’s sure good for you.
That’s a dozen things in only one category! Don’t think that you have to do them all. Choose a few to start. You’re on your way to a rule of life.
The next category is Mind.
Adequate “down time”: Do you ever just sit or lie down for a few moments to rest?
Silence & solitude, retreat: These are longer forms of down time. They also can be a spiritual discipline.
Periodic fasting & self denial: Most of us have an unhealthy relationship with food. Fasting from food can help identify the problem. You also can fast from social media – especially Facebook – and digital devices. My iPad is really annoying about telling my how much screen time I’ve had in the last week, but the hint is helpful.
Weekly Sabbath: It’s not just a commandment, it’s a necessity for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Your Sabbath may not be Saturday or Sunday, as long as it’s one of those seven days. Mine is usually Monday. This is another form of down time and retreat.
Listen to music: You can do this most anytime, often while doing other things.
Listen to podcasts: I’ve done this sometimes while digging out weeds in the garden.
Fiction and non-fiction reading: If you don’t know what to read, ask somebody in our Roses & Thorns Reading Group.
Maintain a rainy day fund: You really do need to be ready for that impossible-to-foresee emergency that quickly drains your resources.
Have deep conversations: Most of the time, most of us major in the minors. Deeper conversation is good for your spirit, too.
We move on then to our third category, Spirit.
Weekly worship: Ought to be obvious. So should Daily prayer all ways. We’ll talk more in the future about the many ways you can pray. One way is the Daily examen. This is a way of winding up the day with a sort of spiritual scorecard. How’d I do today, Lord?
Another way of prayer is Contemplation & reflection. This is a deep discipline I would love to know more about personally.
Daily scripture reading also is important. Next week I’ll introduce you to a Bible study plan I think could be helpful for you. You can dig deeper into what you’ve learned in a small group, or what John Wesley called Christian Conference.
Holy Communion is a sacrament you should try to partake in at least monthly. Maybe we can talk someday about making it a weekly practice.
Sharing your faith: It’s not just how you live but also how you explain why you live the way you do. Be prepared, as it says in 2 Peter chapter 3, and you’ll be surprised how often the opportunity arises.
Church activities: Many of these will resume, one of these days.
Special ministry fund: Besides saving for a rainy day for yourself, you might save a little for a special ministry’s rainy day so you can give whenever you learn about it.
Visit the sick & imprisoned: Neither are viable activities at this time, but even now if you know that someone is sick, maybe you could call ahead and pull into the drive and honk your horn to let them know you care.
Feed the hungry: We still do this through the Community Food Bank, though it’s still not safe yet to re-open Grace Café.
Resist evil, speak out against wrong: You don’t have to march in the streets to make your opinion known. The two Kansas senators stopped replying to my emails years ago. But they know where I stand.
Work is our fourth category.
Work can be a real grind, or it can be something that gives your life pleasure and meaning as well as income. Embrace work as a ministry to others, because that’s what it can be. But try to Maintain work boundaries. Don’t work too much, and don’t bring it home. If you work from home, know when to quit.
Know why you do what you do – especially if you consider it a vocation so, as we said above, you can share your faith with others. Whatever you do, work hard – give it your best effort within a reasonable time – but always remember to play harder.
Our fifth and final category is Relations. This is all about maintaining your all-important relationships.
Many couples have learned to cherish a Date night with your spouse, though that may be hard to do right now. Dinner and a movie might not be safe yet. Meeting with friends and Making new friends can be hard now, too, but it’s also rewarding. You might make some new friends when you Visit neighbors, including people you barely know who live right down the street.
Maybe what you really need is a “Do nothing” night when you try not to accomplish anything. Or maybe you’ve had your fill of those in the last six months.
Finally, there’s Generous giving of self and resources. That’s kind of a miscellaneous gathering of some things we’ve already mentioned and some we haven’t. Fill in the blanks on your own.
That’s all there is to it. You can add more categories and activities as you like. Probably many of you are saying, “I already do half these things!” If so, that’s great! That means you already have a rule of life, or at least the start of one.
Now, go down the handout and put a check by all the things you already do. Then choose a couple more to add to your routine. See how that works for you. Add or subtract activities as you grow and your needs change.
My personal rule, of course, includes following rabbit trails. Yours may not. That’s how this thing works.
This is a simple way of charting a course for your future. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to make some improvements in your life or to ditch some bad old habits.
“I am the vine. You are the branches,” Jesus says. “Abide in me.” (John 15:4-5). Use your personal Rule of Life as a trellis on which you can grow and bear fruit with your life.
This is another way, as the Apostle Paul says, of taking “your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life” and placing it before God as an offering (Romans 12:1).
Take this thing out for a spin and see how well it works for you. Let me know how you’re doing. Most of all, embrace your whole life as a gift to God and others – and give it everything you’ve got!
This message was delivered September 13, 2020 at Egerton United Methodist Church, from John 15:4-5, Romans 12:1-2.
Here’s the text of the handout:
A rule of life is a commitment to live your life a certain way guided by love of God and neighbor. It’s a pattern for intentional living, a plan for holiness of heart and life.
Our English word “rule” comes from the Latin “regula,” meaning a straight edge or ruler, or a support system such as a trellis. Consider it a framework for abiding in Christ. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said (John 15.5).
Your rule can be as complicated – or as simple – as you make it. Here are some ideas for activities in several categories. It helps if you flesh each out with the amount of time invested: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, always. Choose some from each category to start. Add or subtract as you go.
Adequate sleep (7-8 hours a day)
Walking or running
Participating in sports
Practice self care
Recreation & hobby
Play with children
Play with pets
Adequate “down time”
Silence & solitude
Periodic fasting & self-denial – from food, social media, digital devices
Listen to music
Listen to podcasts
Reading, fiction and non-fiction
Rainy day fund
Daily prayer all ways
Contemplation & reflection
Daily scripture reading
Sharing your faith
Special ministry fund
Visit sick & imprisoned
Feed the hungry
Resist evil, speak out against wrong
Embrace work as a ministry
Maintain work boundaries
Know why you do what you do
Work hard, play harder
Date night with spouse
Meet with friends
Make new friends
“Do nothing” night
Here are resources mentioned in the message:
United Methodist Church
Community of Christ
Bridgetown Church, Portland