Forming Rhythms for your Spiritual Life

How did 2018 go for you? Did your life feel insane or out of order? Would you often find yourselves using words like stressed or exhausted or anxious? When others asked you how you were doing, what was your usual response? If you’re anything like me, the temptation was to respond with, “busy!”

We live in the future that sci-fi authors dreamed of as being a perfect world where people worked less, rested more, spent time with their families at home. 2019 in the imagination of the thinkers of the past century looked like heaven on earth. And yet here we are, we’ve made it to the future. Sure we may not have jetpacks, lightsabers, or interstellar travel, but we just about everything is automated or “smart,” we have digital assistants, longer life expectancies and the whole world seemingly available to us through a piece of metal, plastic, and glass in our pockets. 

We’re in the future with many of the tools that were promised to give us rest, peace, and joy. Yet we work more hours, are more anxious, unhealthy, sleep-deprived, depressed, and more lonely than previous generations. 

“Is this the sort of life we were created for?”

Is this the sort of life we were created for? And specifically for us as Christians, is this the sort of life God intended not only for his creation but for his children through faith? 

We are creatures with eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) capable of relationships, beauty, creativity, adventure, excitement, and joy; yet we’re distracted from that purpose by Buzzfeed articles, celebrity gossip, fake news, Netflix binging, and sports stats.

True life could be breaking into our souls and lives, but we’re content with Which Disney Princess are You? quizzes  or This Man Swallowed a Bowling Ball Whole, You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next! banner ads. 

“But these things are more than mere distractions, they are actually practices.”

But these things are more than mere distractions, they are actually practices. Repeated patterns that are shaping our very hearts, or as author James K.A. Smith calls them, “cultural liturgies.” Like the Call to Worship, Lord’s Supper or Benediction in the liturgy of a Sunday worship gathering, these are person-forming-practices that point our lives in a particular direction. 

The formation of who we are does not simply happen but is the collective sum of the millions of decisions made and moments spent throughout our lives.

“Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we move into 2019, my encouragement would be to take an audit of yourself and your life. Are your current habits, patterns, rhythms of life developing you into the sort of “you” you want to be?

“If I want to be healthy, then there are specific rhythms, habits, and a diet I’ll need to adopt for the sake of being healthy.”

Many of us already do this in almost every area of life: exercise, diet, education, efficiency at work, etc. If I want to be healthy, then there are specific rhythms, habits, and a diet I’ll need to adopt for the sake of being healthy.

For some reason though, when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our discipleship and spiritual health, many of us (although we wouldn’t say it) live as though health in this area of our lives comes merely naturally, that is, we really don’t need to pursue habits and rhythms of health. 

So, as I said a moment ago, take an audit of your discipleship to Jesus and relationship with him. Are the rhythms, habits, and pattern of your life moving you towards or away from being fully human, that is, the image of Christ? (Galatians 4:19)  

As you move into this new year, looking to lean into the Spirit’s work of forming you into a healthier disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d like to recommend a resource for just that. 

Pattern is a website designed by King’s Cross, an Anglican Church in London, where they have compiled a library of some of the most historically practiced patterns of Christians throughout church history, the library is divided into three sections, their definition of a disciple: 1) Be with Jesus, 2) Become like Jesus, 3) Do What Jesus Did. 

In each of these sections is a page with a selection of person-shaping-practices, around one of those three elements of a disciple. Over the fall, a few other folks in the church and I have started our month by opening the page, selecting one of the three sections we feel lead by the Spirit to lean into and then just choose one of the practices listed and lean into the practice for that month. 

For example, for January, I might feel called to lean into being with Jesus and choose Sabbath, Journaling, or Silence as my practice. I would pick one of those practices, read over the page and develop a plan to implement that practice for the next 30 days. In February, I might feel led to doing what Jesus did, joining his mission and might choose the practice of Encouragement, Creativity, or Partying. (Yes, Partying is one of them!) 

The goal is not some daunting yearlong resolution, but a dedication to living into the fullness of the Christian life, as Pastor and Scholar Craig Dykstra once put it, “The life of the Christian faith is the practice of many practices, not because this is something we accomplish, but because these practices are the habitations of the Spirit.”

Ryan Smith