I’ve found Willard’s statement to be true. Most Christians lack a specific plan for their walk with God. We plan basically everything else in life, so why not this? The reason I focus on the Rule of Life is because it can serve as one’s compass north along the spiritual formation journey. This is just part of Your Spiritual Formation Plan, though, which is a workbook that guides you to form a holistic spiritual formation plan specific to your life right now—and for where you want to go. Many Christians falsely think planning and strategizing do not comport well with the spiritual journey. For them, the spiritual journey with God is something that just sort of happens. But this doesn’t work—not with spiritual formation and not with anything else in life. The truth is this: while God works in us, we work with him. That’s why Paul said, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13, NIV). Peter said as much when he wrote of how we can participate in God’s divine nature in 2 Peter 1:4:
“Christians generally don’t have a plan for teaching people to do everything that he commanded.”
He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.“For this reason,” he says, “Make every effort to add to your faith …” (2 Pet. 1:5).
God works in us as we work with him.
Out of this biblical understanding of how spiritual formation works at the most elemental level, I think it’s vital that we exert our effort, energized by God’s grace, toward exercises like crafting our personal Rule of Life. Note: I also think family leaders and church leaders will do well to craft a Rule of Life for their people, too! Let me know via comment below if you’re interested in learning about that. I’d like to write on it to share my vision for how you might apply what you’re learning here to a group context.
Why Create a Rule of Life for Yourself?As I mentioned, the most important piece of your spiritual formation plan is the Rule of Life. By crafting your Rule of Life, you’ll walk away with a clear vision of who you want to be—on paper. Having this will set your course of spiritual formation like nothing else. It is a launching place into the wilds of God. The tradition of crafting a “Rule of Life” goes back to the sixth century A. D. with Saint Benedict, an early Christian monk. Saint Benedict wanted to clarify and even codify his vision for the community he led, as they pursued God together. He wrote that vision on paper, and it became the first “Rule of Life,” known as The Rule of Saint Benedict. Since that time, many people have adopted this practice for not only their community but also for their personal life.
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What Is a ‘Rule of Life’?The word “rule” in the Rule of Life does not mean that you’re creating rules for yourself. Instead it’s more like a ruler for your life: a way to assess where you are on your journey toward of discipleship. It’s not goal-setting or New Year’s resolutions. Those contain time-bound goals, which serve a different function than the Rule. Neither is the Rule of Life a new “law” for you to earn status with God. It’s simply the standard you’ve chosen by your own will and desire before God and a set of descriptions for the person you want to be in Christ.
Your Rule of Life is a high-level overview of who you want to be in Christ within your personality.
This is an opportunity for you to plan our who you want to be and what you want to do in as your general way of life. It should encompass the major aspects of who you are as a person, laid out on paper and crafted by you. If you thoughtfully craft your plan, it will be something you can go back to time and time again throughout your life. While I advise you to solidify your Rule, you may at first change it from your initial draft. In my personal experience and my experiences working with others, drafting multiple times is a necessary part of the process. Plan on making multiple drafts as you pray through it, draft it, and redraft it. Eventually, the goal is that you will settle on a solid form. So don’t worry too much about “getting it perfect” the first time. In the very next section below, I describe how to craft your Rule in more practical terms, but remember to have fun with it. This is an exciting first step! You get to dream with the Lord, and in Christ, we can find real hope for becoming the kind of persons God has called us to be. The long-standing tradition of crafting a Rule of Life ultimately helps us love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. If you find your rule of life does not help you better love God, then it should be abandoned and something else should take its place. In all this, your Rule is your personal way of living that leads toward loving God. Your Rule goes beyond who you should be and uniquely captures who you want to be in light of who God has called you to be as a disciple of Christ Jesus.
How to Craft Your Rule of LifeBefore you jump into the step-by-step instructions below, which help you prayerfully craft your Rule of Life, remember this: you’re creating a draft, and you can change it after you draft this initial one. Don’t get bogged down in getting everything perfect. The important task is to simply get started. Starting on the next page of this workbook, you’ll have space to draft your Rule using suggested categories, as a starting place.
I recommend setting aside an hour or two to complete your first draft.
Then, you can come back to it to make modifications. For this initial draft, write without analyzing what you’re writing. If you’re not sure about something, you’re welcome to go ahead and jot it down. You can “edit” later. You might keep it, you might discard it. Allow yourself to go with the flow. This is especially important for the more analytical people. If you’re more of a go with the flow, spontaneous, or light-hearted person, your challenge might be to draft this but incompletely. Aim for filling up an entire page or two, using the outline below of spirit, mind, body, and social aspects. The outline I provide below can help, but don’t feel bound by that particular structure. Perhaps you want to organize your Rule of Life in a different way. That is perfectly fine! You might organize your Rule of Life in terms of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual rhythms, for example. Or you organize it based on your mission, your vision, your roles, your gifts, and your relationships. I offer the four parts below simply because they have helped me think in holistic terms about who I want to be. Not everything in mine can be placed on a calendar, but where helpful, I assign measurable quantities or frequencies to certain items in my Rule. While I recommend drafting this in one sitting, you may find you need more time. Regardless of how many times you sit down to work on it, it’s important to completely finish your first draft within one week. So make that your aim!
Step-by-Step Instructions for Drafting Your Rule of LifeMy suggestion is to write your Rule of Life in bullet point phrases or sentences, and write with commitment. That is, start each one with “I will ….”
- Go to a quiet place you can write and be alone. Bring with you pen and paper. You can also use the Rule of Life section in the Your Spiritual Formation Plan workbook or download my one-page Rule of Life template in PDF format here or in editable Word format here.
- Start by asking God what he wants your life to look like in general.
- Then, ask God specific, open-ended questions: What do you want of me in this area? And in that area? Write what comes to mind. It’s okay if you’re not sure it’s what God is speaking to you or whether or not you want to land on it—that’s okay too. Remember this is a draft.
- As funny as it sounds, ask yourself before God who you uniquely want to be within your personality. Write those things down.
- When you go through every area of the template I’ve laid out—spirit, mind, body, social—ask yourself and God, Am I missing anything important?
Rule of Life TemplateWhat follows are the four categories I’ve found most helpful for the Rule of Life. In Class 1 of my free, on-demand Spiritual Formation video course I define these terms in detail. I’ve based them on my understanding of the Great Command in Deuteronomy 6 and Jesus’ reiteration of it in Matthew 22, using Dallas Willard’s taxonomy of the human person in Renovation of the Heart as a modern reference point. Again, you download what follows as a PDF Rule of Life template here or in editable Word format here.
SpiritThe heart and will that form the character of my life.
MindThe thoughts and feelings of my life.
BodyThe temple of my life for God
SocialThe people surrounding my life.
Rule of Life ExamplesI’ve compiled a few examples of Rules of Life from people I know or whom I’ve taught in the past. I’ve included here only one of those examples. See more Rule of Life Examples here.
My number one rule of life:To love God with everything.
- To be a man who makes decisions in urgency but not in haste, in counsel but not in co-dependency, in wisdom but not in worldly wisdom
- To be a man who saunters through and savors beauty in life
- To find my value in faithfulness instead of outcomes
- To deal with hurt, doubt, and anger before the sun goes down
- To be a man who is quick to think, slow to speak, especially with criticism
- To eradicate all known sin in my life
- To confront in love and in good time instead of bottling it up or gossiping
- To pursue the beneficial, not simply the permissible
- To be a man who is fully present and who listens to remember
- Daily meditating in the Word
- Daily reflection through journaling prayers and lessons learned from God
- Weekly memorization of the Word
- Weekly extended reflection through solitude, silence, and journaling as Sabbath
- Sleep eight hours a night, listening to the Lord for exceptions
- Eat fruits and vegetables daily; avoid white sugar and white bread
- Drink coffee sparingly, three or less times per week
- Regularly fast
- Retreat 2 times a year
- Maintain a vigorous prayer life with detailed prayer lists
- Work out 3 times a week with weights and cardio most times
- Appointments: regular chiropractor, dentist once a year, doctor once a year
- Write friends letters often (about 2 letters a month)
- Regularly confess and repent without letting time go on in sin
- Call family, relatives, and good friends (weekly, monthly)
- Seek 360-degree church (up, across, down, out) for regular fellowship
- To cultivate long-term mutually spiritually encouraging, trusting relationships
- To actively seek the stranger and bring them into my home
- To be a man of his word: faithful, honest, and appropriately open
- To care for God’s creation, knowing that it is a beautiful gift
Share Your Rule of Life StoryNow that you’ve got a handle on the why, what, and how of creating your Rule of Life, I’d love to hear how it goes for you! Please share how you were helped by this blog or what your story with the Rule of Life is via comment below.
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