I (Alan) remember my first years as a follower of Jesus. January was always exciting for me. My church often started new corporate spiritual practices like a year-long Bible reading plan. I’m a high structure person. I like reliable frameworks within which I can cultivate a spiritual path forward.
When I began these new disciplines, I got more pleasure and excitement out of the structure than I did from the reality around which that structure was built. I didn’t used “rule of life” language then, but that’s what I was building. I realize now that my focus was more on the “rule” than it was on the “life.” I took more pleasure in making a plan and carrying it out than I did in the life for which I was planning. There is a difference between planning your life and living your life.
I (Gem) prefer far less structure. Once I devised a plan, I soon became stuck and felt the need to resist it. I loved being with God. I just didn’t know how to stay faithful to a structure. I wrongly equated the methods with the relationship and found myself struggling to maintain the rhythms.
What helps me now is having many tools in my toolbox for being with God. A rule of life, by definition, is a structure. Even a spontaneous extrovert like me has to come to terms with that. I love creativity and variety so I make a structure for the practices, but let myself choose from many options within it. All of my options point my heart to God. My rule of life is like a trellis on which the flowers of spiritual practices grow.
Last year we launched a new ministry which has become a framework for our practiced faith and lived ministry. The shorthand we’ve been using as a personal and ministry rule of life is to rest deeper, live fuller and lead better. It’s more than a slogan for us. Each phrase captures something we’ve come to treasure in our journey with Jesus over the years. And this framework works for both of our personalities. We’ll unpack these three little phrases with language that we have been developing together.
Rest here is not so much about taking naps or taking vacations, as wonderful as these gifts from God might be. Rest here is about finding deep rest for our souls in God. Spiritual practices like solitude, silence and prayer have become critical rhythms in our lives. Engaging the scriptures as a place of personal nourishment and friendship with God has become a stable and secure home for our souls. Taking a day a week (a Sabbath) to really rest and learning that the world still keeps spinning without us frees us from over-responsibility. Enjoying relationships for no other reason than to love and be loved enables us to relax inside. Perhaps at the center of our idea of “rest” is the good biblical language of abiding, like a branch does in a vine. It’s a fruitful place to live and work.
In fact, Jesus says that if we abide in him—remain connected to him and rest deeply in him—we will find our lives becoming more fruitful. Spiritual maturity and abundance is the welcome fruit that comes as a result of lingering with the One who loves us. Cultivating ways of resting deeper leads to the natural outcome of living fuller. Jesus says to us that he came so that we would have life—life to the full.
A fuller life doesn’t come from more achievements, more possessions or more recognition. It bubbles up from within us where Jesus is making himself more and more at home. Fullness isn’t out there for us to grasp and cling to. Fullness is already here because Jesus is already here. The more deeply we trust him and entrust ourselves to him, the more rich and generous our lives become.
Who we are (“rest deeper”) informs how we live (“live fuller”). This brings us to how we engage the world around us. We do so with more peace and less anxiety, more freedom and less drivenness, more bouyancy and less burden. Rather than straining to produce, we experience the rivers of living water flowing from within us that Jesus promised. The energy we need to do what we want to do is already there. This way of working and leading only comes from developing a holy rhythm of rest in our life. The abundant life that can sometimes seem elusive begins to happen more naturally.
The influence of our lives on others is always given to us by God; it is not something we take for ourselves. Genuine productivity is doing the good work God actually prepares for us day by day. We learn to slow down and enter into a life of rich fruitfulness–of true productivity. We learn to engage our work from a place of confident rest in the love of God. Our work becomes an expression of fullness rather than a desperate search for fullness.
We’ll close with a few questions to consider:
- In this new year, how might you rest more deeply in friendship with God?
- In what ways is Jesus coming to bring you a fuller, richer life?
- How might that life overflow into more fruitful relationships and more eternally productive work?