Call it a rhythm or a daily rule of life, we all love our routines. This morning at 7 a.m. after my quiet time, I was peeling carrots for tonight’s dinner and I was thanking God for the gift of the morning. Through the window, I saw the snow falling on Elephant Rock and a warm feeling of gratitude came over me. So, I began thanking God for everything. I thanked him for the gift of being able to peel carrots and for having carrots to peel. I thanked him for the gift of another day, for his Word still echoing in my mind from Sunday’s message, for GracePointe, my friends and for his loving presence. Do you ever have moments like this? When you feel overwhelmed by God’s goodness? God is everything!
Though your life may seem full, does it at times feel empty? Do you have these unfulfilled longings that never seem to be satisfied? Do you yearn to hear the voice of God louder or clearer? Whatever your life situation, God is calling you to himself, every hour of every day God is gifting you for service and preparing you live an abundant life.
Romans 12:1-2 (MSG) So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life —and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for a variety of purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, and worship. But maybe its time to prayerfully look at your life to see how closely it aligns with the heartbeat of God?
What is a rule of life? A rule of life is like a trellis, a structure that supports say a grapevine. A trellis holds up the vines so they are more likely to catch sunlight, they grow better lifted off the ground and are easier to prune. Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships in your life that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ's glory.
In every 24-hour period, how often do you stop all business and performance and take a little time to bask in God’s presence? How deep is your listening? Jesus is speaking to us through everything—even conflict—but do we hear his voice?
A rule of life may include prayer, reading the Scriptures, tending relationships, sleep, care of your body and sabbath time (no work or performance). Do you take time from all the distractions in life to listen for Life? To listen for those longings to surface. To listen for new learnings—about God and your relationships with others. By being attentive to the daily rhythms of life, by looking for God’s presence in everything you are on your way to crafting a well-tended life. Taking time each day to connect with God whether it is peeling carrots, driving, reading a daily devotional or sipping that first cup of hot coffee (tea for some) in the morning, God is in everything! And his deepest desire for you is that you craft a life that you truly love.
In his book, Crafting A Rule of Life, Stephen Macchia suggests following the Rule of St. Benedict of which listening and humility are so essential. Here are few ways to think about your life.
1. Rule of life is holistic: consider your entire life—take an inventory: your life with God, your home life, relationships, ministry, caring for your body, sleep, recreation, sabbath...and just to name a few. Is God there?
2. Rule of life is Spirit-empowered like the ancient church in Acts 1-4. Is the Spirit alive in you, convicting you, encouraging you, challenging you and growing you?
3. Rule of life Includes rhythms and relationships (Gen 37-50). Who do you have solid, trusting relationships with—are you tending them, investing in them?
4. Rule of life is to humbly fulfill Christ’s glory (Hebrew 11). Are you fulfilling the call of Christ with the utmost humility and sense of privilege in serving him?
5. Jesus is the ideal embodiment of a Spirit-empowered life. Is Jesus in speaking to your heart throughout the day? Where, when and what is he saying.
God is both at work in the ordinary and extraordinary of daily living. J.I. Packer says it best: “The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient (full of energy) Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God's presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God's word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”
― J.I. Packer
On the heels of Martin Luther King Day, come words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—love your enemy, pray for them and go the extra mile. The Sermon on The Mount, Matthew Chapters 5-7 is known as the Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine or the Magna Carta of the Kingdom. This sermon is considered the capstone of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus gathered his disciples and the crowd led them up a hillside in the region of Galilee. Although it is only three chapters long, the sermon probably lasted all day.
The Jews in Jesus’ day were living in hard times. They were facing a national crisis. Roman rulers controlled their land, took their money, and raped their women. Many of the Jewish priests and local leaders were assassinated and replaced by handpicked appointments from Rome or Herod. Thousands of Jews who tried to resist Roman rule quickly paid the severe price of death.
So, in the midst of all this trauma and chaos, Jesus in his sermon gives quite a revolutionary command—"love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven….if you love those who love you what reward with you get...And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others” (Matt 5:44,46-47)?
Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart. And where the rubber meets the road for many of us is our ability or inability to love our neighbor, let alone love our enemy. It is so easy to love, forgive and pray for people in our families or people we genuinely like or people who contribute to our success. But to love and forgive those who hurt us or wrong us or oppose our views, sometimes, it literally seems like an impossible task. Especially right now, as we are still in the heat of a long battle with COVID, where living in uncertainty has become the constant for us—we feel powerless.
Coupled with increasing anxiety about the economic and political landscape, the last thing we need to hear from God is that we need to love and pray for our enemies—we have enough failed attempts and guilt to wade through. But, what’s the risk if we don’t love our enemy? We carry the hurt and resentment with us. We become fused to it. Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
So how do we love our enemies? Show your enemies the genuine respect that every human being deserves. Each of us are made in God’s image. Allow yourself to feel compassion and mercy for them. Like you, they too have a backstory of fears, hurts, concerns and aspirations—don’t take your enemy so seriously. Make an effort to explore where your anger comes from, you may be projecting some of your unresolved issues into the situation. And lastly, if you can’t love someone, do no harm to them.
Howard Thurman, sums it up well, in an excerpt from Jesus and the Disinherited. “You must abandon your fear of each other and fear only God. You must not indulge in any deception and dishonesty, even to save your lives. Your words must be Yea-Nea; anything else is evil. Hatred is destructive to hated and hater alike. Love your enemy, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona
The earliest Christian monks inhabited the desert land of the Middle East starting at
the end of the second century AD. Known as the “Desert Fathers”, they left everything in search of knowing Jesus Christ by making the Gospels absolutely integral to their daily lives.
In our current pop culture, one might frown upon these Desert Fathers, thinking their words are a bit archaic and irrelevant. But nothing can be further from the truth. In the desert, these early followers of Christ moved away from materialism and worldly pleasures and sought solitude in the desert. Away from crowds and distractions, they more clearly heard the voice of God. The solitary life of the desert helped them to talk less and listen more. They were not ashamed or embarrassed about their brokenness but learned from it and openly express their struggles.
So, what nuggets can we glean from these wise sages and take with us into the new year?
Never stop starting over. Every day is an opportunity to start over. Failure is not the end, it’s the beginning. You don’t have to wait for a new year to start over. Abba Poemen said, “That every day he made a new beginning. My God do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to start new” (Abba Poemen, 5th century).
Live intentionally, not aimlessly. Without a purpose, many people don’t feel joy or much fulfillment in life. In this new year, even in the midst of this pandemic, find a purpose, a purpose with eternal significance. Invest your life (time, talent and treasure) in someone or something other than yourself. "Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort" (St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th century).
Stop judging others: “This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate those who hate their neighbors (Abba Moses The Black).” In our current culture, political disagreements and racial differences have reached a fever pitch—finger pointing and blame. In the new year, may each of us focus on our own faults rather focusing on the sins of others.
Brokenness is Universal. "The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a person never belittles anyone…He knows that God is like a good and loving physician who heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress" (St. Maximos the Confessor, 7th century). We are broken to some degree. In fact, it is our brokenness that often binds us together. When we recognize our own hurt in the brokenness of others—we are more able to move towards them in empathy. Everyone goes through the desert—illness, emotional despair and spiritual emptiness. In the new year, don’t be afraid to explore your brokenness, share it with others and ask for help. That is where true healing and growth begin.
Listen More Speak Less. According to Abba Poemen, ‘Silence is a way of waiting, a way of watching, and a way of listening.” In the new year, remember that silence too is a language.
Pray. Prayer brings us into the very heart of God. Some brothers asked Abba Macarius of Egypt, a 4th century Coptic Christian, ‘How should we pray?’ He said, ‘There is no need to talk much in prayer. Reach out your hands often, and say, “Lord have mercy on me, as you will and as you know.” But if conflict troubles you, say, “Lord, help me.” He knows what is best for us, and has mercy.’
In this new year, may each of us live intentionally with a purpose beyond ourselves—to love our neighbor, to seriously work at forgiving each other and may each of us see the brokenness in others as our own.
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona