As God’s beloved child, you are invited to experience a life of freedom and joy in the Kingdom of the Heavens—a rhythm of life with Jesus in his easy yoke. Because you’ve been saved by grace, you do not need to earn your salvation by living under rules of religious requirement. It is for freedom that Christ has set you free! (Gal. 5:1) We hold this freedom in tension with a desire to be transformed into Christlikeness. It is the Spirit of Jesus that transforms AND you are invited to participate in the Spirit’s work.
Dallas Willard encouraged us that while we cannot achieve transformation by trying harder, we can train. This is the basis for what he termed a “curriculum for Christlikeness.” Centuries earlier, St. Benedict developed the idea of the Rule of Life to guide this transformational process. I prefer the term “rhythm of life” rather than “rule” because it helps me to hold my practices more lightly, recognizing that what is helpful in one season may be counterproductive in another.
If you’ve wanted to develop a rule of life for yourself, this article will help by taking you through a step by step VIM Pattern (from Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart) and specific examples from my own rhythm of life that you can draw from.
Planning to Be More Like Jesus
Jesus lived in the easy yoke he offers us. He didn’t push, press, or strain. He didn’t try to make things happen but lived in submission to the Father. He was never in a hurry. He didn’t worry. He was relaxed, so he had time for people and was hospitable toward those who sought his company.
I am inspired to be more relaxed like Jesus. Along these lines, I sense God guiding me to a rhythm of life featuring a few spiritual disciplines that are important for me to practice at this time. This rhythm of life is framed by Dallas Willard’s VIM Pattern which identifies three essential components of a plan for spiritual transformation: Vision, Intention, and Means.
I have learned that it is helpful to point my rhythm of life toward a specific area of life change. In general we practice spiritual disciplines to become more like Jesus, but the effectiveness of spiritual formation is greatly increased if it is focused on the purpose of growing in one particular area — learning to obey one of Jesus’ teachings or overcoming a specific sin or struggle.
Vision: One Way to Be More Like Jesus
God has given me a vision that I can learn how to live in Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden (Matthew 11:28-30) instead of trying too hard. By relying on his gracious presence with me, I can learn to be more relaxed as I do whatever I am doing. Over the years the Lord has helped me in this way especially as it relates to not being anxious or hurried. But sometimes I still tend to push myself too much and this diminishes the grace I have to give others.
For instance, sometimes when I’m teaching I say (or write) more than is helpful for people. Often, “Less is more.” People will benefit more from my teaching, writing, and counseling if I pause to breathe, feel, and be in the moment, while inviting them to join me.
Intention: Resistance to Overcome
When I try too hard, it’s because I want to control an outcome and “make something happen.” I like to rely on myself and feel in control! I like to take pride in my accomplishments! But actually I don’t really like this self-way of life because it makes for a hard yoke and a heavy burden! Jesus’ way is easier, lighter, happier, and better. I want to learn more how not to resist the Spirit of Grace and instead to submit myself to Jesus’ easy yoke.
If I accomplish less outwardly, it’s okay. In fact it’s probably better, because it helps me to be more relational and loving toward God and others, which of course is the only “accomplishment” that really matters!
Means: A Rhythm of Life With Jesus
For the next six months I want to learn more about how to walk and work with Jesus in his rhythms of grace rather than in my straining (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG). It helps when I focus my best energies — striving, but not straining! — to further my Intimacy with Jesus, knowing that abiding in Jesus, as he abides in the Father, is the source of my fruit-bearing.
I plan to adjust my current “Six S’s” Rhythm of Life (each discipline starts with the letter “S”!) that I’ve been practicing for over a year and apply it to learning not to strain but instead to rely on the Holy Spirit. Each of my five core disciplines is focused on time, which is God’s precious gift to us. The time I practice the five disciplines moves from yearly, to weekly, to daily, to events within a day, to moments throughout the day. Each of my disciplines complements the others.
Spiritual Retreat (Monthly)
Once a month I set aside an extended block of time for solitude and silence in which I completely unplug from media, work, and my normal responsibilities for two to five days. We call this “TLC Time” for “To Love Christ” in our Soul Shepherding Institute retreats and mentor students in this practice.
Periodically, I also take extended longer retreats or Sabbaticals. Here are a few examples:
- Retreats at the beginning of a year have given me space for rest, Scripture meditation, prayer, journaling, and discernment for my next season of leadership.
- During Lent Kristi and I use our Unforsaken booklet to do a Stations of the Cross retreat for confession of sin, appreciating Jesus’ mercy, and spiritual growth.
- One year I took a two week study Sabbatical at a monastery to participate in a Doctor of Ministry class that Dallas Willard taught on “Spirituality and Ministry.”
- Another year Kristi and I took a 30-day Sabbatical and did The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius.
Soul Shepherding provides Sabbatical Coaching for pastors, missionaries, and other leaders to take Sabbaticals that vary in length from one month to one year.
Each week I keep a Sabbath day in which I do no work. For at least 24 hours on Sunday or Monday I relax, worship, and enjoy family and friends. Often I sleep in. I generally take extended hours for solitude either as part of my Sabbath or another day during the week. I especially like to do this in a beautiful nature setting. My focus is to restrain my drive to be productive and simply be in God’s presence.
Sometimes I begin my work week in extended Sabbath mode, setting aside all the work that is pressuring me and instead praying about these things, submitting my work and myself to God, and enjoying God’s presence.
I know that Sabbath rest is taking hold in me when I find myself relaxed in stressful situations, walking or driving slowly, sitting and doing “nothing,” or lingering in bed in the mornings.
Each day I interact with Scripture in a variety of ways that differ from one day to the next. Staying flexible and keeping things fresh is important for me. I want to avoid getting in a rut! I don’t want to just get through God’s Word for the day, I want it to get through me.
Usually I do the daily Bible readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Often I meditate on Psalms and other chapters/passages of Scripture that I’ve memorized or I memorize new ones. Sometimes I do Bible studies on various subjects especially for ministry purposes, but even then I seek to apply this learning first of all to my own life. About once a week, I use Lectio Divina or similar approaches to Scripture meditation and journaling especially as part of the groups I lead, but here again I participate in this personally for my own formation in Christ. Every morning I use Scriptures I’ve memorized to help me pray, sometimes lingering in bed as a mini-Sabbath. (For instance, I’ve used “The Apprentice Prayer” in the mornings.) I also sing Psalms, especially in the shower!
I do not use all of these Scripture disciplines every day! That’d be too much for me — especially when I’m trying to learn that “Less is more!” On a given day, I may not sit down with my Bible open to read and meditate or study. It may be on a given day that the only ways I interacted explicitly with God’s Word were to meditate and pray through Psalms or other Bible verses as I was showering, driving my car, walking/jogging, or waiting for someone. (These are examples of Selah which I discuss below as my last S.)
Kristi and I walk daily as we share our lives and pray for one another. We talk about our experiences and struggles, how we’re experiencing God (or not), and what we sense God saying to us. We confess our sins, celebrating God’s mercy and how he’s helping us to grow. We pray for each other, our family and friends, and our ministry. I seek regular support and guidance from a mentor/coach. I also share personally with other soul friends who share with me, including in the pastor groups that I lead.
I can’t imagine a rhythm of life with Jesus without spiritual friendship. Sharing personally about my life and relationship with God with soul friends is so built into my life that I hardly think of it as a “discipline.” I don’t think we can follow Jesus well without soul friends. This keeps me honest and vulnerable before God.
I learned Statio from the Benedictine monks (the original practitioners of a Rule of Life). They make it a habit to arrive early to events in order to pray and prepare. This is a way I put extra margin in my schedule. It’s also a way of loving my neighbor, respecting others, and putting their needs ahead of my own.
Sometimes I don’t practice Statio as I want to learn to do and find myself running late. (This is the hardest of all the disciplines for me.) In those cases my goal is still not to hurry. The point of Statio and margin is to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life. Just because I’m late doesn’t mean I have to hurry.
“Selah” is a word that’s in our Psalms prayerbook 71 times. It probably means, “pause to reflect and pray.” It’s a breather that helps us to practice God’s presence and be present to the people and opportunities at hand.
In my way of thinking, Selah or practicing God’s presence by continually pausing to shoot up little arrow prayers is really the point of any rhythm of life. Praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is how we worship the Lord with our lives (Romans 12:1) and it is our source for loving our neighbor — being radiant with God’s joy and peace so that we naturally and routinely draw people to Jesus.
To help me Selah with the Psalmist, I often take deep breaths during the day as a bodily expression of prayerfully resting in God. I also use various Breath Prayers from the Bible. Two that especially help me to rely on the Holy Spirit instead of my straining are:
- “In Jesus’ name… Not my strain” (inspired by Psalm 20:7).
- “Thank you… Lord” (Matthew 11:25).
An important way for me to practice Selah is in conversation with people or while teaching. It’s a big positive impact when I linger in quiet moments with others, practice “situational silence” by giving others the last word, pause while I’m speaking or teaching, or appreciate stop lights that come when I’m driving as opportunities to pray.
Rhythms of Grace
I find it important that my rhythm of life balances disciplines of abstinence and engagement. Sabbatical, Sabbath, and Statio are disciplines of self-denial and reading/praying Scripture and using Selah prayers are disciplines of connecting, especially with God, but also with others. Meaningful engagement with God and others is facilitated by the practices of abstinence. Or, another way to say it is that learning to deny myself helps me to become more loving.
There are other disciplines I practice as grace rhythms at various times which are important for me, but not as important as these Six S’s above which make up my basic rhythm of life. They actually represent more than six disciplines as others are imbedded in these basic rhythms, like solitude and silence (part of Sabbatical and Sabbath), confession of sin and celebration (part of soul friendship), and worship and service/intercession are part of all six of the rhythms. Also, Scripture includes a number of related disciplines, namely study, meditation, memorization, and prayer.
Some other disciplines that are important for me include spiritual reading (especially from the Classics of Devotion to Christ), receiving spiritual mentoring/coaching, doing “watch and pray” exercises, and fasting.
Developing Your Own Rhythm of Life
Using the Six S’s to appreciate that often “Less is more,” is my current rhythm of life with Jesus. After reading such an in depth presentation of my rhythm of life, you may think that I need more help learning about “Less is more!” But for me this rhythm fits my life in ways that are life-giving and not burdensome. It’s flexible for me and it’s not too much to do. (For instance, Statio and Selah are things that I do as I’m doing whatever I’m doing.) Most importantly, each of the S’s is a practice that blesses me.
Your rhythm of life may draw on similar practices to mine, or it may look very different. A helpful starting point is to begin with the VIM Plan considering one area of growth to focus on. The very best inspiration is Christ himself! My article “Jesus’ Rhythm of Life” explores the Scriptures to identify Jesus’ patterns of daily life and spiritual disciplines. In the Soul Shepherding Network you can access two webinars that will help you jump in and begin designing a custom rhythm for your life today: Rhythm of Life: Spiritual Disciplines for this Season and One Change to Be Your Best Self (VIM Plan).
I pray you’ve been inspired to explore specific ideas in developing your own rule of life to grow in Christlikeness, or as I prefer to call it, a rhythm of life with Jesus.