Some people are lists people, people who delight in organisation, thrive on routines, are lost without perimeters and flourish best when living within a certain set of rules. I am not one of those people. Never have been.
I make lists for my memory’s sake and they get lost in the myriad of other notes. I try to be organised and succeed on the surface but don’t look in the drawers or the file box!
I’m fine with rules and am happy to embrace them as long as they make sense and serve a good purpose. If they don’t…
And I have attempted routine again and again and fail every time because I get bored and restless, feeling boxed in, suffocated.
So embracing a ‘Rule of Life’ or ‘Spiritual Practices’ is not necessarily my natural inclination.
But I have experienced something incredibly satisfying, life-giving and surprisingly freeing in choosing to consciously live according to a set ‘Rule of Life’, implementing different spiritual practices within the various seasons of my life.
Often when talking with others about this, the inevitable questions will arise around how to keep a Rule of Life or spiritual practices from becoming legalistic or all about our ‘hard work’ and good performance.
‘It is both worthy and wise to lead a spiritual life that is ordered by certain structures. Structures can become legalistic and turn into a form of self-imposed slavery. But they don’t have to. They can be a freely chosen expression of determined love. And over the months and years they expand the heart. They make the heart wide for the great beauty of God.
…the objective here is not slavish adherence to a set of religious rules! And even less about…performance mentality…
The goal here is practice, training the spiritual sense of taste for the noble wine of the love of God.‘
I love the line ‘a freely chosen expression of determined love.‘ Because, do we not put disciplines and routines and practices into our lives to express our love for someone or something, to participate in what we love, to care for our bodies the way they deserve to be cared for so that they can go the distance, to ensure that the relationships most important to us are being nurtured? Why would we treat our spiritual lives and our relationship with God any differently?
And then the line ‘training the spiritual sense of taste for the noble wine of the love of God” – this is truly what spiritual practices are about!
I have a friend whose sister began working for a micro-brewery last year. A year ago she was happy with a bottle of Corona (apologies to any Corona lovers out there) but now she can only really enjoy quality beers and ales and can tell you quickly if one is too hoppy etc.
And this is what the spiritual practices do for us – they train us to no longer settle, to no longer be content with the cheap and easy that doesn’t truly satisfy, rather to give ourselves to what does satisfy and brings life.
Johannes goes on to share some quite practical wisdom around implementing spiritual practices:
‘If you would like to give new impetus to your spiritual life, make a decision, something concrete. “If the fire is about to go out, you should put another log on”, teaches Thérèse of Lisieux. By concrete, I mean a definite decision, a new step of surrender. It could be to get up a bit earlier and start a daily prayer time… For things like this it can be of great help to set a specific time and place…
A new step of surrender might also mean trying something new in Bible study, fasting and worship, something that jolts my heart out of its state of apathy. It’s important to set clear, realistic goals so that this does not remain just a pious wish. In all of this it is never a case of trying to impress God with my performance; the point is to make my heart available to enjoy his beauty through collaboration with his grace.’
‘Something that jolts my heart out of its state of apathy’ – I think we all need this at times. If you are anything like me, you might need it fairly frequently. But not because you need to look or act a certain way or be a certain type of person to please God. Instead it’s about living life, true life, to the full, the way He intended, because you have freely chosen this way of life due to determined love.
And the beauty of all this lies in that last statement – ‘the point is to make my heart available to enjoy His beauty through collaboration with His grace.’
If your heart resonates with this, join me now in praying this beautiful prayer by George MacDonald from his famous The Diary of An Old Soul:
‘When I can no more stir my soul to move, and life is but the ashes of a fire; when I can but remember that my heart once used to live and love, long and aspire – O, be Thou then the first, the one Thou art; be Thou the calling, before all answering love, and in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.’