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Rules of Life

One of the things I have long admired about Catholicism is the idea, found in the monastic wings of the Church, of submitting to a rule of life. Orders like the Benedictines organize their lives according to regular routines. They are led into a rhythm of prayer and work and community that is based not on whims but on a discipline that has proven to foster faithfulness.

These routines aren’t only good for their usefulness, though. They aim at formation of a certain kind of character. They are about living humbly. These disciplines develop a basic posture of humility, a sense that we live as members of something bigger than ourselves, and there we find the meaning of our lives. This bigger something is often named by Catholics as the Church, and even though evangelicals understand the church somewhat differently than Catholics do, we share the belief that the church is the Body of Christ. We live as members of Jesus Christ. This is a humbling thought. It is a great privilege to have come into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ that we can live out each day both corporately and individually.

When we bring ourselves before the Lord in prayer, Scripture reading, and worship (the usual evangelical disciplines), how do we do it? Do we deliberately humble ourselves and submit our wills to the God who loves us and knows best? This was what Jesus himself did in his human life. The Gospel of John presents Jesus to us again and again as someone who lives in obedient responsiveness to his Father. “The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence… I do know him and obey his word” (8:38, 55). Jesus, the perfect human being and the one who was the very image of the invisible God, God in the flesh, lived out his humanity as one committed to a posture of obedience to his Father.

Some of the biggest hindrances to our flourishing in Christ are the tyranny of random distractions and our subservience to our own emotional states. The distractions keep us from noticing how little we are in the presence of God attending humbly and open-heartedly to him. As for our emotions, we wait for the feeling of being ready to pray, or in the mood for worship, or desiring a word from God, and we find too often that it doesn’t come.

Disciplines like set times of prayer and Bible reading, a commitment to weekly worship whether you’re feeling it or not, can help us. They condition us not to wait until the mood strikes, but to show up ready to hear from God. Together with less familiar practices like solitude, fasting, and silence—all with the purpose of giving attention to God and his Word—they train us not to think of ourselves as the lords of our lives. These practices are ways that we can de-centre ourselves and give more space to God. Jesus said that being a disciple would mean a commitment to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” And John the Baptist summed up his life’s mission with that memorable sentence, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). May John’s motto come more and more to orient our own lives in Jesus Christ, as we prepare ourselves to follow in his steps.

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