Rule of Life: Ordering our lives to be with Jesus

By Pastor Brian

One of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard (which is saying something because I love so much of what he wrote!) comes from a conversation he had with a pastor named John Ortberg. Ortberg was pastoring a large, growing church in the late 90s but came to realize he was unhealthy in multiple parts of his life—unhealthy spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. So he called his mentor Willard, described his situation, and asked what he should do. Willard replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg jots that down, and asks, “Okay, what else?” Willard replied, “There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”(1) 

When I read that, it resonated deeply with me. I know the hurry and busyness that characterize my own life and heart—and I know what that hurry and busyness does to my life with Jesus. I know what it does to my relationship with my wife and kids. I know what it does to my soul. And I’m guessing you can relate. Even in quarantine when we don’t have anywhere to go, we can still find ways to hurry! To avoid slowing down. To stay busy and distracted. We’ll look more at what’s beneath our hurry and busyness in the weeks to come when we explore the practices of Silence & Solitude and Sabbath, but this week, I want us to see that hurry and busyness undercut our attempts to cultivate a rich life with Jesus, which is just one reason we need a Rule of Life.

What is a Rule of Life?

The word “rule” comes from the Latin word “regula,” which literally means “a straight piece of wood,” but it’s also the word used for a trellis. So think for a moment about what a trellis does for a vine: it supports and provides structure for the vine to grow. Without a trellis, a vine will stop growing, begin to wither, and eventually die. This image becomes even more vivid when we recall the passage we looked at in last week’s post from John 15:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:4-5 

Jesus’ fundamental call to us is to abide in him. To be with him. To find our life in him. A Rule of Life helps us order our life in such way to make that possible. It’s the trellis that enables us to abide in Jesus. John Mark Comer writes, “What a trellis is to a vine, a rule of life is to abiding. It’s a structure—in this case a schedule and a set of practices—to set up abiding as the central pursuit of your life. It’s a way to organize all of your life around the practice of the presence of God, to work and rest and play and eat and drink and hang out with your friends and run errands and catch up on the news, all out of a place of deep, loving enjoyment of the Father’s company.”(2)

Pete Scazzero defines it this way: “A Rule of Life, very simply, is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do.”(3) 

A number of things to note: 

First, a Rule of Life is a means to an end. The end is enjoying and abiding with Jesus! A Rule of Life helps us create space to cultivate our relationship with him. It’s a means to that end.    

Secondly, a Rule of Life encompasses the whole of your life. In other words, it’s not just a schedule pertaining to your spiritual practices. A Rule of Life includes your mind, your body, your relationships, your habits, your patterns of work and rest, and all other parts that constitute you as a person. This is important to recognize, because one of the greatest challenges of engaging in spiritual practices is seeing how they fit into the whole of our lives. For example, I might have great aspirations to incorporate more prayer, Bible reading, and silence & solitude into my life with Jesus, but the reality is that’ll never happen unless the number of hours I’m spending at work or watching Netflix or scrolling Instagram changes. Developing a Rule of Life helps you to look at your life as a whole and see the ways our life with Jesus is connected to things like our sleep habits, our use of technology, our work schedule, etc. In this way, a well constructed rule can help slow us down to love God and love people in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

Thirdly, you already have a functional Rule of Life. The problem is that it’s probably not conscious and intentional! We unconsciously engage in all kinds of practices every day that shape our hearts, habits, and loves. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor and with both hands at sections of time.” The advantage of an intentionally planned Rule of Life is that it guards us from living lives that we don’t actually want to live. It helps us organize our days in a way that keeps enjoying and abiding with Jesus in the central place.

Fourthly, a Rule of Life provides the structure we need in quarantine. Our normal schedules and rhythms of life were thrown off completely when this quarantine began, and so we have both a need and an opportunity to put some key practices in place. A Rule of Life is a much needed tool for us right now!

How can we develop a Rule of Life?

“A good rule can set us free to be our true and best selves. It is a working document, a kind of spiritual budget, not carved in stone but subject to regular review and revision. It should support us, but never constrict us.” 
Margaret Guenther

There’s no single “correct” way to do a Rule of Life. Your Rule will depend on your age, your stage of life, your personality, your work schedule, how long you’ve walked with Jesus, what drains you and what gives you life, whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. You’ll find some practical steps in the Practice of the Week section below, but here are some general principles to keep in mind:(4)

Start small & simple. There’s a real temptation to develop an overly-ambitious Rule of Life that looks great on paper but is totally unrealistic in practice. Select some practices that are doable for you right now. You can always add more.

Take into account your stage of life. The young mother’s Rule of Life who has three children under the age of five is going to look very different from that of the retired grandfather. Similarly, the Rule of Life of one who became a Christian six months ago will look different from one who has been following Jesus for 50 years.

Be flexible. Developing a Rule of Life that fits you is a process of trial and error, so feel free to experiment until you find what works for you.

Be specific. Try for practices that are practical, concrete, and embodied, not vague and ideological, e.g. “Sabbath on Sundays” not “rest more.”

Include these basics. While there will be great variation in the Rules of Life of Trinity members, I encourage you to include at least these three: Scripture & Prayer(5), Silence & Solitude, and Sabbath. These are spiritual practices that I believe to be nearly essential to our life with Jesus. We’ll look at these in greater detail in the coming weeks, but try to include them as you’re developing your Rule. 

PRACTICE OF THE WEEK: Create your own personal rule of life.

STEP #1: Spend some time looking at the resources linked below. Choose the worksheet or workbook that best fits you and your life.

  • Crafting a Personal Rule of Life” from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
    The Scazzeros provide some great questions that help you identify life-giving and life-depleting practices that are unique to you. Their Rule of Life worksheet is the last page of this pdf and suggests four quadrants through which to view your life: Relationships, Prayer, Rest, and Work.
  • Developing a Personal Rule of Life Workbook” from Bridgetown Church.
    Bridgetown Church has put together a holistic and user-friendly workbook to help you construct your Rule of Life. They have some wonderful questions and suggested practices that are worth considering.
  • Rule of Life Worksheet 
    This is a basic worksheet that I put together, and it’s about as simple as it gets. If you choose to use this worksheet, consider working through the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown workbook to help you determine what to include. 
  • Weaving Together Your Personal Rule of Life,” Stephen Macchia.
    Another basic worksheet. Similar to the one above, if you choose to use this worksheet, consider working through the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown workbook to help you determine what to include.

STEP #2: Prayerfully reflect upon and answer the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown Workbook.

STEP #3: Draft your Rule of Life. Fill in each category on the chart of your choosing. By the way, forcing yourself to fit your Rule of Life onto a single page will help ensure that you’ve constructed something that’s both realistic and doable for you.

STEP #4: Discuss your Rule of Life with your roommate, spouse, or some other member of your household. If you live alone, discuss it with a friend who knows you well. Invite them to speak into what you’ve written.

STEP #5: Try it out. Spend a few weeks with it, and revise as needed. If you find it to be overwhelming or unrealistic in certain ways, then change those parts.

GIVE YOURSELF TONS OF GRACE! Remember that a Rule of Life is a means to an end and not the end itself! The end is abiding with Jesus—the one who loves you and has given himself for you. And his love for you isn’t dependent upon how well you keep your Rule of Life!

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Listen:

Read:


(1) John Mark Comer recounts this story on pp. 18-19 of his great book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.
(2) Ibid., 95.
(3) Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 196.
(4) Based on Bridgetown Church’s “Developing a Personal Rule of Life Workbook.”
(5) I’m counting Scripture and prayer as one practice for the sake of convenience. They’re best practiced in conjunction with one another, which is why, for example, the Daily Prayer Project prayer guide contains elements of both prayer and Scripture reading throughout.