Rule of Life: Sustaining your faith for the distance

There’s a new category tag on this blog and it’s called “Rule of Life”.  Each posting I offer that will help equip people for developing the disciplines to sustain and enliven their faith will be tagged “rule of life”.  For those interested the the “why” of rule of life, I’ll suggest listening to the teaching from my church on February 21st, 2010.

I’ll open this category with two things:

1. Resource – for a quick overview of what a rule of life is, and it’s significance, I’ll refer you to this link.  Bethany’s rule of life booklet will soon available on this website as well.  Check back.

2. If you have questions or comments about ‘rule of life’ as you begin this journey, please post them on this entry, and I’ll work to respond to them, both here online, and in the equipping we offer for spiritual disciplines and discipleship at Bethany Community Church.

At a time approaching spiritual burnout, I discovered the ‘rule of life’ concept over a decade ago, and have found the practices contained therein to be life giving, rather than a choking constraint.  I hope you’ll join us in this journey, not by talking about rule of life or studying it – but  by actually developing your own rule of life.  This morning, as I sat under the redwood tree in silence, and then prayed, I was grateful for these practices that bring integration and wholeness to my life.  Let the adventure begin.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Linda

    Pastor Richard,

    I respectfully disagree with you on the “Rule of Life” program, here is an excellent article on the dangers of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines:

    http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue91.htm

    In Christ,
    Linda

  • raincitypastor

    Thanks for the comment Linda, and the link. The article you linked though, is in fact building a straw man to knock down, at least in reference to what we’re doing at the church I lead.

    Your article says: True Sabbath rest is only found in Christ – and this is exactly what I preached yestrerday, drawing on the same text as the article, Hebrews 4:1. At this point, I agree with your author, so I hope its clear that I’m not advocating a works oriented salvation, which is the ‘straw man’ your article seeks to knock down. I would never attach salvation to spiritual disciplines, as some sort of means to gaining favor or righteousness. I’d venture to say that Willard and Foster also don’t advocate that works will earn righteousness either, though I’ve not read all their writings, so can’t speak with authority on that.

    Your article also seems to imply that there’s nothing to be gained from disciplines, even though Paul declares in I Corinthians 9:23ff that he ‘buffets his body and makes it his slave’; even though Jesus clearly practiced times of intentional solitude, and regular prayer; even though Jesus said to his own disciples, “when you fast…”; and even though the entire point of Psalm 119 is to praise the value of meditating on scripture, a theme which began clear back in Psalm 1. What do you make of these things?

    Your article builds this dichotomy between salvation by grace, and the legalistic, pride inducing asceticism of Colossians 2, as if those are the only options. I say no to both, and instead this:

    “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” – I Tim 4:7, along with I Corinthians 9:27. Sadly, both passages are conspicuously absent from your article. Their absence makes sense though, because if he included these passages he’d be validating the disciplines, and that would sort of defeat the point of his article.

    • Kevin

      I have to agree with Linda in that following the guidance and leadings of the Spirit is dangerous. To quote the article that she linked to, if we follow the Spirit then “there is no telling were we will end up.” Very dangerous.

      I have to disagree with Linda, however, in that spiritual formation and disciplines do not lead us further from God but closer. Those who wish to be born again must be born of the Spirit, must be born of a wind which has no beginning and has no end (John 3:8). To engage in relationship with God through Christ and by means of the Spirit is to engage the truly transcendent (and dare I say mystical) nature of God; it is to put up one’s sail and set out onto open water. This is necessarily a dangerous endeavor but nowhere near as dangerous as consigning oneself to being bound to flesh and bound to finitude, landlocked by mortality and destined only for death.

      As you said, Richard: “let the adventure begin.”

    • Linda

      Here is a commentary on the 1 Timothy chapter 4 , the disciplines have nothing to do with what http://www.urban-monk.org teaches:

      Spiritual discipline which strives for godliness is far superior to mere physical discipline. The disciplines advocated by the false teachers were of no value. They only robbed the saints of God-given pleasures. But there are some physical disciplines that are of some profit. Watching our diet and maintaining physical exercise are beneficial to the physical body. But spiritual disciplines are better. Just what are these spiritual disciplines? I believe that at least some of the disciplines which promote godliness are outlined in verses 11-16:

      11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you (1 Timothy 4:11-16).

      Timothy (and all other youthful saints) should exercise discipline over their youthful desires and inclinations. This sounds foreign in our culture, where youth feels compelled to experience every pleasure and indulgence. Discipline is necessary for godliness in matters of speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Discipline needs to be exercised in ministry. Timothy is instructed to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching” (4:13).

      Discipline is likewise needed to develop our spiritual gift(s):

      6 Because of this I remind you to rekindle God’s gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

      Paul reminds Timothy of the time when his ministry was confirmed by prophetic words and when the elders laid their hands on him, which appears to have been accompanied by certain spiritual gifts (4:14). These are matters which require Timothy’s commitment and personal discipline. Paul urges his spiritual son to give careful attention to both his doctrine and his practice. In doing this, Timothy will be spared from a wasted life and ministry. He will likewise deliver those who listen to him from the pitfalls of an undisciplined life.

      • raincitypastor

        Linda, I agree with everything you said about the value of discipline except for this:

        “the disciplines have nothing to do with what http://www.urban-monk.org teaches”

        Do you really presume to know that what Mr. Urban teaches has nothing to do with developing self-control (2 Tim. 1), or reading the Bible (I Tim 4:13)? On what basis can you say that this man’s teaching fail to move people towards developing self control, and reading the Bible?

  • http://www.journeyofadad.blogspot.com Derek

    This is another one of those fine balancing acts we walk as Christians.

    Is reading the bible and praying daily encouraged in scripture and good? Yes.

    But can doing it strictly out of a practice of habit steal away some of the joy and spontaneity that is essential for a healthy relationship? It certainly can.

    The point remains though, we all agree these disciplines are good things. They will help us and not harm us.

    At this stage in life maybe I am ready to make a commitment to do such and such every day, but maybe at another stage I am still needing to be free of such restrictions.

    Richard’s essential point on Sunday I believe was his statement admonishing us that, in all things, no matter when we do them or how, may they make us more like Jesus and not less.

    I find comfort in the fact that all around me yesterday morning I was surrounded by people saying, “I want to be more like Jesus and not less.”

  • Linda

    Rain City Pastor – this website promotes the heretical Roman Catholic mass, were “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”, and to eat the bread and drink the wine, ‘the body and blood of Christ”. Christ died once so He cannot be continually sacrificed, instead of saying “is sacrificed for us” it should say “was sacrificed for us.” It should say the bread and wine “represents the body and blood of Christ” and not say just “the body and blood of Christ.”

    Praying, and meditation upon the Bible are all biblical, but the Roman Catholics tend to practice Eastern and New Age disciplines which are not biblical.

    • raincitypastor

      Your observations cut to the center of a difference between us Linda. You seem to indicate that if there’s a single point with which you disagree with someone, you need to throw their whole belief structure away. This perspective will leave you listening only to teachers who represent, 100%, what you already believe, which leads me to believe that you’re done learning anything new or being challenged. (a posture I find different from even Paul the Apostle, in Philippians 3:12-14) I get that we need discernment, but discernment doesn’t mean labeling someone a heretic – it means addressing particular beliefs, as you’ve done in pointing out your disagreement with Mr. Monk over the doctrine of transubstantiation. Fine. Disagree with Catholics regarding transubstantiation. I do too.

      But the leap from that disagreement to your next statement: “Roman Catholics tend to practice Eastern and New Age disciplines” is without merit. And presuming that the readers of my blog will suddenly either buy the doctrine of transubstantiation, or become “New Age” is, frankly, utterly beyond me.

      When you read Revelation 2 and 3, and Jesus letters to the churches there, you find that he utterly condemns one church, praise one church, and the rest receive a combination of praise and correction. I’m glad Jesus treats us that way, because most of us need both praise and correction. If you presume that there’s nothing worth honoring about Henri Nouwen, who left his teaching post to care for developmentally disabled people, who practiced the spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible reading, silence, solitude, fasting, who wrote “The Return of the Prodigal” and “Compassion”, then go ahead and presume he’s a heretic at every point, including his prayer life, fasting, and silence, and service, and generosity, and more compassion than most of us. But I’ve a deep suspicion Jesus would disagree with you.

      • Linda

        Rain City Pastor this is what Henri Nouwen believes:

        “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”

        —From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book
        page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition

        I know for certain that the Lord Jesus Christ disagrees with Henri Nouwen, since He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through Me”

  • raincitypastor

    Congrats on googling his name and finding this quote on lighthousetrailsresearch.com – if you’ve read the whole book, I apologize. If not, when you’ve read Sabbatical Journey in it’s entirety, I’ll wager that you’d change your comment to say instead, “Jesus disagrees with Nouwen ‘on this point’” —

    And I’ll continue to challenge you: you’re certain that his prayers, solitude, silence, service, and generosity have nothing to do with Jesus?

  • http://feminoggles.wordpress.com Eden

    Richard,

    I admit I had an adverse response to the idea of a “Rule of Life,” as I understood it to be a spiritual plan involving spiritual disciplines. And as I continue to put my language towards it, it became a series of things I must or should (to heap on a ‘healthy’ does of ‘Christian’ guilt) be doing to foster a deeper spiritual life with God.

    It is important to state my bias, having come from a very dogmatic, legalistic church and even family life. Hence, of course I would have an adverse response to my church telling me once again I should be doing things to build up my life with Christ. I think I would also encourage those posting on here, and reading this, to be curious about their own past, which might form a bias one way or the other.

    Because out of my own curiosity, knowledge of my self, and deep love for God, I can take in the “Rule of Life” idea and make it my own.

    Have I been doing the spiritual disciplines so long that they are (temporarily) spiritually dead to me? Do they still feel like a “choking constraint”? So, then my Rule of Life might be a creative process of re-imagining what spiritual rituals I could construct that might revive and grow love of God in me.

    Have I come out of a period of needing to walk away from spiritual disciplines (finding closeness to God in other ways), but now feel myself longing for closeness to God in the disciplines? So, then my “Rule of Life” might re-invite Scripture, Prayer, and the others back into the rhythm of my life.

    Your last couple lines, Richard, are appropriate and feel at the crux at this exercise for me: to allow integration and bring wholeness into my life. My understanding is that you are not asking me to lose my self in the regiment of disciplines, but to find my self in the pursuit of God.

  • Lamont

    Richard Baxter on Spitirtual Disciplnes. Excellent!

  • Lamont

    In the book Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection biographer Wil Hernandez, who “teaches a course on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen at Fuller Theological Seminary” tells us:

    This deep experience of ourselves captures the nature of our inward journey. Henri Nouwen himself embarked on what journalist Philip Yancey calls a form of “inward mobility” wherein “[h]e withdrew in order to look inward, to learn how to love God and be loved by God.” Such movement is best realized in the context of solitude. In solitude, we can pay closer attention to our inner self and consequently become present to our own experience…

    If Henri Nouwen was looking inward he should have found what Jesus said he would….
    For out of the heart come evil thoughts,murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Mth. 15:19

    Nobody will find God looking inward!

    • Glenda

      Wasn’t it Calvin (yes, it was) that argued that there can be no knowledge of God without knowledge of self? By looking inward one comes to realize how we (humanity) were made by God and how, in our wretchedness, we perverted ourselves. Through such meditation and introspection–as is promoted by Nouwen, Calvin and others–one “is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him (Calvin, Institutes).” In finding himself, who’s to say that Nouwen didn’t find the very things that Christ spoke of in Matthew 15? Perhaps he didn’t find God in any objective sense, but discovered the present need for God. In learning how to love and be loved by God, is it not pertinent to know where we feel weak, where we feel broken?

  • Lamont

    I know Calvin taught (as the Bible does in Romans) that man has the inward testimony (moral law) written on his heart, and also the light of creation. Perhaps I’ll have time to read Calvin’s comments on this while I’m out of town this week. But that wasn’t my point!
    Is there evidence that Calvin was drawing from “Eastern Mysticism” (Hindu/Buddhism etc…) to develop the techniques for meditation and introspection to draw closer to God?
    (I think not)
    It seems to be the case with Henri Nouwen.
    From my understanding, it is from the outside that we learn and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord by scripture reading, prayer, and sacrament (not transubstantiation) by bringing it inside and meditating on it there. I understand that to be scriptural.
    If Nouwen was Roman Catholic in the true sense, then he’d be leading others by hand to Hell wouldn’t he? I don’t believe that Nouwen and Calvin would agree on the Gospel at that point.
    Lately it seems that the church is heading back to Rome, and that is bothersome to me (and I think many others as well).

    I’m Sorry if this doesn’t make sense Glenda. I’ve got to get to sleep. I’ve got to be up by 3:00 a.m., and its 11:03 p.m.

    • Glenda

      Please, by all means sleep. I also don’t have adequate time to comment, but I will say that while Nouwen is drawing from an Eastern Mysticism, that has very little to do with Hinduism or Buddhism. Remember, when we talk about the church in the East, we’re talking about what became the Orthodox church and. Based upon your conversation with Juliet on mysticism, I won’t try to sell you on the virtues of Christian Mysticism, save to point out that Nouwen is drawing from a rich, mystical tradition that stretches back to Anthony and the Desert Fathers. I trust in your ability to check them out on your own, but I it’s important to note that the people who led this movement away from cities and into the wilderness were people who were disturbed by the institutionalization of the church (much in the same way that you seem to be bothered by Rome).

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  • Linda

    You can also find other Evangelical Spiritual disciplines resources on-line at:

    http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Spiritual-Disciplines/

  • Glenda

    Wasn’t it Calvin (yes, it was) that argued that there can be no knowledge of God without knowledge of self? By looking inward one comes to realize how we (humanity) were made by God and how, in our wretchedness, we perverted ourselves. Through such meditation and introspection–as is promoted by Nouwen, Calvin and others–one “is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him (Calvin, Institutes).” In finding himself, who’s to say that Nouwen didn’t find the very things that Christ spoke of in Matthew 15? Perhaps he didn’t find God in any objective sense, but discovered the present need for God. In learning how to love and be loved by God, is it not pertinent to know where we feel weak, where we feel broken?

  • Glenda

    Please, by all means sleep. I also don’t have adequate time to comment, but I will say that while Nouwen is drawing from an Eastern Mysticism, that has very little to do with Hinduism or Buddhism. Remember, when we talk about the church in the East, we’re talking about what became the Orthodox church and. Based upon your conversation with Juliet on mysticism, I won’t try to sell you on the virtues of Christian Mysticism, save to point out that Nouwen is drawing from a rich, mystical tradition that stretches back to Anthony and the Desert Fathers. I trust in your ability to check them out on your own, but I it’s important to note that the people who led this movement away from cities and into the wilderness were people who were disturbed by the institutionalization of the church (much in the same way that you seem to be bothered by Rome).


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