What is a rule of Life? Marjorie J. Thompson, in her book, Soul Feast, describes a rule of life this way: “A Rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness…it is like a trellis, (it) curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail effort to grow spiritually…. It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.” “A rule of life is not meant to be restrictive, although it asks for genuine commitment. It is meant to help us to establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedom can grow.” A Rule of Life seeks to balance and even harmonize our daily rhythms of inwardly and outwardly-directed activities, our spiritual disciplines and daily work and responsibilities, our thinking and our acting in the world. Consider, for example, the Rule of Life that John Wesley provided for the People Called Methodists:
Wesley's Rule: “… There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, FIRST: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as: The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without probability of paying for them.
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, SECONDLY: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men: To their bodies, of the ability which God gives, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison. To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that "we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it." By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only. By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed. By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake. THIRDLY: BY ATTENDING UPON ALL THE ORDINANCES OF GOD; SUCH ARE:
The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence.
These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. …
You can see from this list that John Wesley himself sought ways for the people with whom he ministered to pattern their lives after the Way of Jesus, and that he sought ways to make that Way relevant and applicable to the time in which he lived. As you work on your own Rule of Life reflect back upon your life experiences as well as the work you have done in the JP21 Via Vida workbook and the sessions you have attended. Discern the points of growth you want to address, and the tasks you need to undertake in order to achieve that growth into the abundant life of the Spirit that is your inheritance as a beloved child of God.
Remember that always and everywhere: you a beloved child of God. Go live into your true identity.
Living According to a Rule of Life
As you begin to discern a personal rule of life, ground it in prayer, and the other Spiritual Life Practices from this Via Vida. Consider your present pattern of life. What is each hour of the day currently devoted to? What is necessary for care of your body and family? What is devoted to work or producing an income? What is strictly leisure and pleasure? Then consider what spiritual practices you want to maintain and how they can frame your daily activities. Do not add them to an already busy schedule, rather, find ways to trim your schedule of the things that are actually superfluous to the healthy growth of your heart and mind. A rule of Life is not restrictive, but is a means to this end: “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is our head, into Christ“ (Ephesians 4:15).
Here are some basic guidelines to consider: Start Simply
Consider the practices you have already been doing. Find a regular time each day to do them.
Find one or two things to do each week that take you out into the world in ways that benefit other people in the ways that they identify as being needful.
Make the practices concrete, practical and embodied, not vague or ideological. For example, “Use a lectionary of daily readings,” not “read the Bible more.”
Craft It According to Your Personality
For example, if you tend to be more introverted, make time for those times alone, in spaces that feed you inwardly. If you are more extroverted, make time to be with friends or engaged in volunteer work with people out in the community.
Include Disentangling Work
Find a supportive group to continue some of the Disentangling Work that you encountered earlier in this Via Vida.
Put into practice the new ways of thinking and talking that are suggested as part of the Disentangling Work.
You may want to structure your entire Rule of Life around this ongoing work.
Remember to include the spiritual practices you have learned to be a part of your Disentangling Work.
Keep a Healthy Balance of Structure and Spontaneity
Don’t let your rule become rigid, boring, or a legalistic, dull obligation. And never let it override the Spirit’s frequently unscheduled interruptions in our days. A good rule should feel like freedom, not slavery.
Keep It Flexible and Adaptable
In the same way you are a work-in-progress, a good rule of life is a working document. As you continue in your growth, you will discover areas that you need to address. You may also discover that there is a cause or group you want to work with that aligns with the Path of Jesus. Adapt your rule and routine accordingly.
Above all, remember that the Jesus Path is an ongoing adventure, challenge, and deeply fulfilling journey. Enjoy it, enjoy your companions, and enjoy the Presence of the One who journeys with you!