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The Rules

By Dr. Michael Garrett

Sometimes I have my hand on the TV remote, ready to click for the morning news, and I’ll have the good sense to stop. The only way I can explain it is the sense of anxiety you might get if you were standing in front of floodgate at the base of a damn. If this thing opens, I’ll be too busy running to have time to think about what to do next.

Too often, though, I give in and press the button and begin another day flooded by more than I want to know, doubtful of the truth of much of what I hear, and floundering with the frustration of what to do about it. It makes me angry. Isn’t that the agitation so many of us live with? How do I pay attention to my world without being swept along by the chaos?

I know I need something to anchor me more deeply to the reality of God than reacting to the latest breaking news. A few years ago, I began to study the practices of the early Christians – people seeking to live the Christian life during the first 700 years of the church. Over time many of them formed communities governed by a “Rule of Life.” In those communities they tried to answer two questions: “Who do I most deeply desire to be?” and “What can I do to let those God-given desires rule my life?” They figured out that the well-lived life could not be a solo act or left up to good intentions. They needed a “rule.” And they needed each other’s help to be their best selves.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans writes:

Love must be sincere. (vs.9)

Love is the fundamental desire God places in our lives through the mercy of Christ –  a desire to love our God, self, others and our world. Those desires must be expressed in faithful practices that keep it real.

Paul goes on to give a list of what it looks like when we are living the life we were created to desire and not bobbing along in life’s relentless flood. Is it God we desire?

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (vs.11- 12)

Has God placed a desire in your heart to love others well?

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (vs. 13) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (vs. 16)

Maybe we feel called to love our hurting world, hard as that may be.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (vs. 17-18)

Can you really do any of this?  Earlier in the chapter Paul writes:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (vs. 1)

No, you really can’t do this.  But a Christian community held together by God’s mercy can. People who have received God-given mercy, whose hearts are being filled with God-implanted loves, are able to help each other be the living sacrifices that keep faith real. In Paul’s imagination he sees a community of people (let’s call it a church) caught up in grace, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and helping each other do something beautiful with the reality of God in their lives.

So how do you get started living with a rule of life? Start with your desire. You have at least one God-inspired want in your relationship with God, yourself, others or the world. What is it? The bones of the spiritual life are the God-kindled desires we discover when we stop riding the rapids long enough to pay attention.

The muscles of the spiritual life are the practices we connect to the bones of spiritual desire. If we want a relationship of greater depth with God most of us will have to learn how to sit quietly and listen for God’s still, small voice. We’ll need to pray and we’ll need stick around long enough to hear if God has anything to say!

Maybe you desire a deeper relationship with yourself. You might need to take time for a daily review. Where was God today? Did I perceive it? Did I fall short today? Do I need to seek somebody’s forgiveness?

Do we want a deeper connection with others? It’s time to come back to church or become part of a small group of believing folks. We all have a deep need to be known.

Do we have a desire to better love the world? The Fayetteville community is full of human need. Perhaps it’s time to roll up your sleeves, volunteer and touch some lives you’ve hardly considered.

This just scratches the surface. Spiritually speaking, if we want to frame our life more often than our life frames us we need a rule of life. It’s the spiritual plan that helps keep us faithful and sane when the floodgates of life are open. Are they every really closed?

 

Michael Garrett is senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville