Sing Praises: Implement a Personal Worship Time

“You don’t want to hear me sing.”

That has been my refrain through the years whenever I have been asked, “Do you lead worship?” I’m not a terrible singer. I’m even an adequate guitarist. But as long as there are other options, I am convinced that you would rather not resort to inflicting my brand of worship-leading on any group.

Which is why I was surprised to find that incorporating a personal worship time to my existing devotional life would add so much to that time.

The terrible singers amongst us have often been reminded that Scripture only commands us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps. 100:1). But our worship gatherings are led by individuals who have often studied music or are at least gifted in some aspect of playing and/or performing music. The rest of us are encouraged to sing along with the group at the appropriate time where our “joyful noises” can be swept up in the wave of worship and (hopefully) be mostly indistinguishable from the crowd.

A Limited Theology of Worship

I wonder how you reacted to the idea of a “personal worship time” when you saw this blog’s title. When I incorporated a personal worship time into my devotional life, I called it all kinds of other things. I labeled it “song of the day,” “reflection song,” and a few other things before determining to call a spade a spade. This was a time of personal worship.

Why did I resist? In part, it’s because I’ve been conditioned to think that worship through song is something we do collectively as the church. Yes, there are all kinds of ways that we worship and worship is ultimately our lifestyle. But that particular kind of worship is reserved for corporate gatherings with other believers.

But should it be? The Psalms are full of exhortations to worship the Lord, ascribe glory to Him, praise Him, and thank Him. Some of those are corporate exhortations. Many are an individual’s statements of praise and worship that were later incorporated into corporate gatherings.

Corporate worship is good, but if your theology limits the use of musical worship to corporate gatherings then, like mine was, your theology of worship is limited.

Putting it Into Practice

The basic formula through which my devotional life has functioned for most of my life has been:

  • Opening prayer
  • Scripture reading/study
  • Reflection
  • Closing prayer

This is by no means the only way to structure a devotional life, but I’ve found that it’s given me a lot of freedom to experiment with different components along the way. For me, the easiest place to slot in a personal worship time was in response to what I read through Scripture for the day. My worship time initiated my reflection time but flowed out of what God said to me through Scripture for the day.

I made a Spotify playlist of worshipful/meaningful songs. Each morning, after my Scripture reading, I found a song that elaborated on something that stood out from my Scripture reading for the day. Sometimes it was a song of praise. Sometimes it was a song of remembrance. Sometimes it was a song that expressed sorrow or longing.

Every time it was worshipful.

I still enjoy corporate worship, but these times of personal worship that are directly tied into what I feel in my heart each day and what God has directly said to me through my reading of Scripture have become some of the more meaningful moments of intimacy and connection with the Father that I’ve had in a long time. In this season when many of us are either restricted from or choosing to not attend worship gatherings for safety considerations, cultivating a personal worship time could be a revolutionary development in your faith.

*Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Dear White Christians: Your Black Friends Are Tired

For us white folks, the wave of protests and conversations that have swept the country over the last month started with George Floyd. We learned about Breonna Taylor. We added Ahmaud Arbery. Then, we saw a movement.

For our black friends, the wave of protests and conversations that swept the country go back years. At least for a decade. For them, the above list of three expands rather quickly to include names like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and on, and on, and on.

Our (white people’s) willingness to engage in conversations about police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy now has many of even the most optimistic of our black friends wondering, “Why now?” For us, the last month has represented a watershed moment. For them, it’s another horrible reminder of the day-to-day realities of systemic racism.

This experiential divide is exacerbated by many white Christians’ lack of black friends. While evangelical churches have grown in diversity in recent years, many are still not representative of their communities or their communities are racially homogenous. The practical result is a very small pool of black Christians who are regularly engaging with a large number of white Christians, probably for the first time, on racial issues.

I’ve made it a practice to educate myself on such issues over the last month. Last weekend I hit critical mass. The amount of information I had taken in was overwhelming. The shame that I felt was palpable. The horror I experienced shook me. I had to take a break.

That was from a month of intentional learning. These realities face our black friends every single day.

They’re tired.

And somewhat skeptical. While George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery represent a tipping point for many white people, they are, sadly, drops in a long-overflowing bucket to most black people. Are we paying attention now because something has changed or because we’re bored? If something has changed, why has it taken so long? The George Floyd video, as horrible as it was, in many ways resembled the video we saw of Eric Garner in 2014.

And that’s just on the subject of police brutality! We have yet to even bring up the school to prison pipeline. The war on drugs. Housing inequality. Income disparity. Predatory lending practices. Microaggressions.

And if reading the list makes you somewhat roll your eyes or sigh as a white person, imagine your entire existence being wrapped up in and colored by those realities every single second of every single day. Imagine not being able to, as I did, just take a break from thinking about it. Imagine being asked ad nauseam about your opinion/experience as a representative of everyone who looks like you.

White Christians, your black friends are tired.

It’s not their job to teach you about racial issues, police brutality, systemic racism, housing inequality, police brutality, income disparity, or any other issue colored by racism.

Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Reflect on your experiences in light of what you learn.

“let every person be quick to hearslow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

-James 1:19-20

In a day and age in which we have so much access to so much that can aid in our education and edification, may we heed James’ admonition now more than ever.

Joy: How I So Badly Misunderstood Something for So Long

There was a knock on the door of our small, third-floor seminary apartment. My wife and I had moved into the on-campus dorm a couple of months earlier and had not had much interaction with our neighbors, so the knock was uncommon.

We were not prepared for what met us on the other side of the door. A couple, newly moved-in a few doors down, enthusiastically greeted us and introduced themselves. They were very friendly. Suspiciously so for my skeptical personality. We introduced ourselves, shared a little about who we were, what we were studying, etc. The other couple stayed incredibly up-beat and chipper the entire time.

After several minutes of chit-chat we closed the door. “Wow,” I remarked to my wife. “Someone’s working hard to appear really happy.”

I Was The Problem

My skepticism over the overly friendly couple proved false. A few months later I found myself working alongside the husband on campus. Our wives became friends. We spent a lot of time together. They weren’t trying to appear happy. They were just joyful.

And they were joyful in everything. Their joy didn’t shrink in the face of hard things. They weren’t blindly optimistic. One of the more amusing moments of my life was watching her cheerfully get upset when she felt her husband had been mistreated.

It took a little time, but our friendship with this couple made me re-consider my whole concept of joy. Joy wasn’t acting happy even when things were difficult. Joy wasn’t the product of forced effort in spite of authentic feelings. There was something else to it.

Joy wasn’t the product of forced effort in spite of authentic feelings. There was something else to it.

Eureka

I’m not sure how I missed it for all the prior years, but suddenly passages of Scripture that referenced joy began regularly jumping off the page at me:

  • “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” –Psalm 16:11
  • “For You make him most blessed forever; You make him glad with the joy of Your presence.” –Psalm 21:6
  • “Let those who delight in My righteousness shout for joy and be glad…” -Psalm 35:7
  • “With joy you will draw waters from the well of salvation.” -Isaiah 12:3
  • “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” -Jeremiah 15:16
  • “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” -Habakkuk 3:18
  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.-Romans 14:17
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” –Galatians 5:22-23

Examples are aplenty, but the theme jumped out at me over and over: joy and regularly experiencing God’s presence are inseperable.

Down Go the Defense Mechanisms

“Yeah, but I have a quiet time. I read my Bible. I pray… more regularly than most. I must be missing something.”

That’s what I told myself for a while. Surely I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and the problem was external. I checked all the boxes, so why wasn’t I experiencing this kind of joy? It must just be my personality.

That all came down one faithful day as I heard a teaching on abiding in Christ that I had heard a million times before. In John 15 as Jesus probably strolls through a vineyard on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane He said:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

John 15:4

Then, the lightbulb moment. Joy is a fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy”

Galatians 5:22

I was struck with the conviction that I wasn’t experiencing joy because, in spite of all the perceived “spiritual” activity I was engaged in, I wasn’t actually abiding. My prayer times were formulaic instead of conversations. My Bible-reading was ritualistic as opposed to breathing in the Word of God. I allowed myself to dwell on the difficult instead of intentionally rejoicing.

The Rubber Met the Road

The most drastic change I made after that eureka moment was in how I resolved to answer a simple question everyone is asked multiple times a day: “How are you?”

Prior to that moment, my default answer centered on how busy I was, how something had happened that did not meet my expectations, or some other generally negative response. Now, I resolved that whenever I was asked some version of “How are you?” I would instead think about one thing that had recently gone well and share that.

Several months later I was in a conversation with a student I had known for a brief time. During the course of the conversation I confessed to not being in a great mood. The student was taken aback. Shock filled his face as he exclaimed, “But you’re always so… happy!”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. “No, no, no, no, no,” I said. “I’m generally a pretty miserable person.”

“Are you kidding? You’re one of the happiest people I know,” he replied.

Dumbfounded, I thanked him and walked away to consider what just happened. Then, I remembered that I had only known this student since I had made the simple decision to answer every version of “How are you?” with a positive answer.

It had worked. I still saw myself the same way. I still had many of the same thought processes. But joy was evident to others in a very tangible way.

Where We Miss the Mark

Many of us conflate joy with optimism. I am no optimist. But I have learned that joy can be cultivated to an extent that even my pessimistic, pragmatic, realistic self can display Christ-centered joy to students who don’t even know Jesus. Reflect on these two questions as you evaluate your joy meter:

  • Are you abiding in Christ? I don’t mean are you having a quiet time. I mean are you actually connecting with Jesus in real, meaningful ways? Are you allowing Him to minister to the deepest parts of your heart and soul on a regular basis? If not, what is preventing it?
  • Are you looking for joy? The Bible talks a lot about remembering the Lord and what He’s done for us. Do you have an intentional practice to “forget not all His benefits?” (Ps. 103:4) It can be as simple as my practice of choosing to respond to “How are you?” in a positive manner.

Life Rule Check-In, 2 Weeks In

From time to time I’d like to give an update on how I’ve done living according to my newly established life rule. Hopefully this can be an encouragement to you as you consider developing or adapting a rule of life to help you follow in Jesus’ path and/or align your life patterns with your stated values.

Overall

In a macro-sense, this experiment has been incredible. My wife noted yesterday that in the last few weeks I’ve been much more at ease, my stress level is way down, I seem happier, I’m much more attentive to her and my kids, and my presence is more calming. I’ve been able to keep all of my rules regarding phone usage and have been vigilant that, once I step away from my work for the day, it stays away. Since the phone was such a hindrance to my faith by making me buy-in to the lie that I always had to be available and by enabling my desire to escape rather than engage, putting it down and removing distractions from it has been a vital step. I’m happy to report that, after the first week of my life rule, my screen time report informed me that my usage was down 61% from the previous week. In the second week, it was down another 13%. This is while still needing my phone to text, call, and FaceTime students and ministry leaders for at least an hour a day. Putting the phone down has been incredibly freeing and life-giving.

The Specifics

  • Before I open my phone in the morning, I will first do my devotion time. With the exception of the morning that I overslept and woke up to needing to get breakfast ready and get to work before I had a chance to stop, this has been a success. Previously, I would have spent 30-45 minutes on social media or playing games before I did a quick devotion time. Now, I make a cup of coffee and have a nice, leisurely devotion time. Stepping into the day in better communion with the Father has made a world of difference.
  • Pray a Psalm a day. With the same exception as listed above, this has been a success. I love praying the Psalms!
  • I will put a weekly Sabbath on my calendar. Yes, and it’s great.
  • Part of my Sabbath will include a weekly reflection journal. Nope, haven’t done this yet. I’m terrible at journaling, but know this will be we welcome and helpful addition. I’ll do it this week.
  • Call a friend once a week. Yes, and it’s been great to catch up with people just because.
  • Arrange to do something fun with someone I’m not related to once a month. There hasn’t bee much of an opportunity to do this yet (social distancing and all), but I’ll figure something out in the next two weeks.
  • Find a way to go on a date with Jenna at least once a month. Again, this has been difficult because of social distancing, but I’ll figure something out, especially with Mother’s Day approaching.
  • Have an activity that I do with Ava and Caleb individually at least once a month. Ava has an activity. Caleb does not yet. In the next two weeks, we’ll find something.
  • After 6 PM, put my phone down for work-related purposes. This was amended to 8 PM pretty quickly because I was having some meetings that started at 8 PM. It’s hard to put your phone down for work-related purposes when you’re getting texts about the Zoom link at 8:05. However, I do have all the apps on my phone except calling and texting locked after 7 PM until 7 AM the next morning.
  • No phone in the bathroom. Take time to pray. Some yes and some no. Haven’t done as great with this one as with others.
  • Limit TV consumption to 10 hours a week or less. I went a little over this past week because we introduced our kids to the original Star Wars movies over the weekend.
  • Limit podcast consumption to 1.5 hours a day. I didn’t realize how hard this would be. I generally listen to podcasts while I work. I’ve had to filter down the ones that I listen to pretty drastically. Some days I hit this and some days I go over. Still in progress.
  • No multi-tasking. Ugh. I love multi-tasking. I’ve done better at being present with my family, but some of those Zoom meetings…
  • No social media on my phone (IG ok, since it has phone-only features that I use for work). This was actually pretty easy. Everything has stayed off my phone and I installed a strict 15 minute a day limit on IG. I even managed to do a 5 minute IG live one day and still stay under my limit.
  • No email on my phone. Done. Don’t miss it or the incessant bings.
  • Begin to systematically appraise purchases based on how products are produced. I mostly intended clothing when I wrote this, but I am beginning to wonder if I should include food and other goods, too. It will be a matter of prayer over the next few weeks.
  • Utilize the Daily Office to guide my devotion time. Love, love, love the Daily Office. This was a great decision.

In Summation

I don’t want to go back to the way things were before this. Obviously, I’ve got a few areas to shore up on my plan, but overall this has been faith-affirming, life-giving, and a much needed change. I fee like my habits (those small decisions you make minute-to-minute without even really thinking about them) are beginning to align with what I say I value, what is eternally important, and bring me nearer to the heart of Jesus.

Nope, not going back.

Formation and Resistance: Re-Thinking Personal Discipleship

Categories help our brains organize information. Having “bins” into which we can easily toss information helps us with recall. Having two pieces of information int he same “bin” helps us see relationships that we may have previously missed. Once all those seemingly random pieces of information are sorted, we can even see relationships between the larger categories by which we sorted them.

Recently, I’ve started to think of my discipleship in terms of two catch-all categories: formation and resistance.

  • Formation: a discipline, behavior, or mindset cultivated for its positive benefits. Most often, these are disciplines, behaviors, or mindsets not currently practiced. For example: taking a Sabbath, praying a Psalm daily, reading the Bible, etc.
  • Resistance: a counter-discipline, behavior, or mindset from cultural or personal norms. Since every behavior is formational, resistance disciplines recognize that some behaviors we simply seem to fall into can hinder our pursuit of Christ, distract us from what God is doing in any given moment, or run counter to personal values. For example: shutting my phone down at a certain point in the evening to be present with my family, deleting social media and email from my phone, limiting the amount of TV I watch weekly, etc.

We often tend to think of discipleship in terms of the formational. When I first came to Christ I was encouraged to begin a daily quiet time in which I was to pray, read the Bible, and pray again. There were some mild exhortations to remove sinful behaviors from my life, which is a helpful and necessary exhortation. But there was never any encouragement to examine my default habits, those things I went to when I got bored, worried, stressed, or began to struggle in some other way.

That’s where resistance disciplines come in. In my case, my resistance habits removed the things I did to distract myself from hard things or to avoid difficult conversations/realities. They also helped me identify specific practices I tended to prioritize over practices that I claimed to value (i.e., always being accessible vs. prioritizing my family).

While formational disciplines might be pretty similar from one person to the next– after all, everyone who is honestly pursuing Christ should be doing things like reading the Bible and praying– resistance disciplines will most likely vary.

Here are a few steps to identify your resistance disciplines:

  • Start with an honest, prayerful consideration of your personal and relational values. Who do you want to be? How do you want your relationships characterized?
  • Consider your reactive behaviors. When you get stressed, to what do you default? Worried? Bored? Write it down.
  • Imagine alternative responses to your reactive behaviors. How can you plan to change your response to those triggers to more align with your values?
  • Identify what behaviors, attitudes, or practices that you might need to eliminate altogether. Remember, when we remove a behavior it creates a habit vacuum. Think about what behavior or practice with which you will replace the eliminated habit (for instance, instead of scrolling through Facebook when I wake up, I will first spend 5 minutes in prayer).

What sorts of formational and resistance disciplines do you currently practice? Are there any that you would like to take up?

Changed Hearts Soften Hearts

Our house experienced a milestone this week. My oldest daughter decided, at 6 years-old, that she wanted a new heart and asked Jesus to save her.

So you know, I am one of those people who is generally wary of rushing kids into decisions. I assure you, this was not rushed. She started asking really serious questions over a year ago. A few months ago, she insisted that she should get baptized. I’ve held her back, continued to ask questions, and made sure that she completely understood what she said she believed, why that was, and what it would mean for her going foward.

This week I couldn’t hold her back any longer. She got it. So, we went to her bedroom to pray. I asked if she wanted me to help her pray but she insisted that she express her faith herself. She prayed the most simple, beautiful, child-like prayer asking for a new heart and committed herself to Jesus.

Yes, there were tears.

Her joy since then has been contagious. Her mom and I have talked about how something in her is clearly different. It’s really been amazing.

And convicting.

I work in campus ministry at a primarily professional-level school. We don’t often see students make professions of faith. Honestly, I had started to wonder if I was the problem. Nothing ever seemed to work the way I intended. We never really saw students quite get to that point of deciding to follow Jesus. My heart grew cold.

Now, I hear the joy in my little girl’s voice as she talks about how she perceives Jesus to have changed her heart. “I just feel so much more love.” “I feel a different kind of happy.” “Dad, I’m God’s child.”

It’s enough to melt a cold heart.

The Tipping Point

In a way, I’m pretty fortunate. My story isn’t one in which I spent years hustling after some version of the dream. It isn’t one of reaching what I supposed to be the pinnacle of my profession or calling and finding it exceedingly hollow. I didn’t completely flame out and spiral out of control. One day, I just got tired.

But this was a different kind of tired. It persisted after vacations and weekends away. It persisted even after I took up exercise again and got myself in the best shape I had been in in over a decade. It persisted even after overcoming professional and ministry obstacles that would have left me elated in the past. Nothing could shake the feeling that something was just off with my life, my priorities, and my faith.

Full disclosure, I’m a Christian minister. I work in a campus-based ministry setting at a professional level school. I teach and harp on spiritual disciplines regularly. I regularly stand before groups of Type-A, high-achieving, work-till-you-drop types and advocate for radical ideas like taking a single 24-hour consecutive period every week to close the books and re-orient yourself to God by resting. Most of the time, I even practice it myself. Most people who know me would probably describe me as disciplined and ordered in my life.

Yet here I was, over a period of about a year and a half regularly feeling like I was missing something. If an event or ministry I planned didn’t get the results for which I hoped, that was ok. We could break it down, figure out what happened, and try again. If I tried that new discipline for a month or so and that nagging that I was missing something didn’t go away, no big deal. There were lots of other things I could try.

Trying was the key. Take on the challenge. Fail. Learn. Re-strategize. Try again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Oh, and remember to sprinkle in enough Jesus stuff to the process. I am a minister, after all.

The Drop that Overflowed the Bucket

The tipping point came slowly enough. I can’t even credit a single person’s thought or work for getting me there (though I’ll reference several at points). Finally, one Saturday afternoon, as my family took a nap, I finished a book that was my latest attempt at putting a band-aid on my problems when I felt a subtle push to take things a little farther than I previously allowed myself to go. I grabbed a pen and paper and began to write out all the ways I felt like God was leading me to change my life in that moment.

Not to get more accomplished. Not to be a success. But simply to be better at being.

Being a follower of Jesus.

Being a husband.

Being a dad.

Being someone worthy of imitation.

Being child-like in my faith in God.

It was my new Rule of Life. Not familiar with a Rule of Life? Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it later.

Over the most prayerful 20 minute period of my personal devotion life in quite some time, this is what I feel the Lord led me to set as the parameters for how I would organize my life around following Him. How I would prioritize the things I believe He values over the paths of least resistance that I had accumulated in my life. Here’s the list:

A digital detox followed.

  • All social media was deleted from my phone except for Instagram– it only survived because I utilize some “phone-only” functions for work-related accounts I managed.
  • All email was removed from my phone. I could check it on my computer when necessary.
  • I purged many of those emails to which I had subscribed at some point to get some kind of percent off.
  • I deleted all news apps. Instead of informing me, I found them to fuel anger and frustration more than inform.
  • I deleted all my time-wasting games. If I could use it as an escape, it had to go.
  • I deleted all those work-related apps that I could access on my computer.
  • I set my phone to deactivate except for texts and calls from family after 7 PM all the way until 7 AM (by the way, I get up at 4 AM).

The next morning, I got to work. I took up the Daily Office as a reading plan again. I started praying through a Psalm a day. I put a Sabbath on my calendar.

Through the first week, I only found one of my rules that needed to be altered. When I’m in charge of a work-related meeting that doesn’t start until 8 PM, it’s difficult to limit my contacts to family. So I changed the setting to allow anyone to contact me and receive an alert until 9 PM. After that, no alert. I’ll see it in the morning.

And by the morning, I mean after I wake up, have a good cup of coffee while reading my Bible, have an extended conversation with Jesus, and read for a while.

I’m not perfect. I’ve already messed up a few items along the way. I’ll probably mess up more this week. But I’m different.

This is the Way…

Not many days after I got started, I took a few minutes to be silent before the Lord and just listen, practices that had been almost anathema just a week prior in my hustle-style spirituality. In my heart I heard the Spirit whisper a verse that I hadn’t really thought about in a long while:

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”

–Isaiah 30:21

And then:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the way…'”

–John 14:6

And there it was. I realized that I was being wooed to be more in-line with Jesus’ way of life. I had spent so much time dissecting the theological and missiological minutiae that I had neglected His way of being. I couldn’t settle for that kind of life any longer.

Why Another Blog?

This is somewhat of a form of accountability for me. I’m serious about putting into action the things I firmly believe the Lord has impressed on my heart. I’m serious about being done with hustle-style spirituality. I’m serious about learning how to live in child-like obedience and simplicity. I’m serious about wanting to learn how to follow Jesus’ way of life.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation. Maybe you find yourself pushing similar nagging feelings to the back of your mind. Either way, I hope I can be an encouragement to you.

I’ve done it my way. Now, I’m going to try to walk in the way.

Influential Works

Along with the author of Ecclesiastes, I subscribe to the notion that “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9) While I’ve striven to adapt thought and contextualize principles and suggestions to my own life and faith, I can’t deny that I’ve been greatly influenced by several works in recent years. These authors and thinkers deserve credit for doing much of the heavy-lifting. If you find yourself resonating with my story, you would do well to explore their work, too.

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith got the ball rolling a few years ago. Smith’s work opened by eyes to the reality that all activity is formational. We don’t participate in anything without it influencing who we are becoming. This is especially true when we consider our habits, which are really nothing more than a celebration of the things we truly value and deem important.

The Common Rule was my introduction to the concept of a rule of life. I found commonality with the generalities of many of Earley’s personal struggles. The rule of life he adopted for himself was broad enough to apply to most, so I made a small attempt at organizing my life around similar guidelines. Like many of my attempts at growth in my hustle-style spirituality phase, it didn’t last long. My failure was definitely not Earley’s fault. I would not have gotten to the place I am now without the encouragement of his work and story.

Warren described her own book in contrast to Smith’s as a view at habits from a 5,000 foot perspective as compared to and view from 50,000 feet. Her down-to-earth understanding of how daily practices form and shape our faith was challenging and incredibly helpful as I later examined practices like potty-training and Quickbooks.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry was the final kick in the pants it took for me to make some lasting change. Comer’s examination of our tendency to “distract ourselves to death” hit the nail on the head for my particular struggle. His personal plan for how he set about to organize his life around simple pursuit of Jesus was inspirational and gave me a great framework from which to operate as I set a personal plan into place.

You Should Have a Rule of Life

Over a period of two years, I made various attempts to simplify my life, eliminate distractions, and focus my pursuit of Jesus around things I deemed important. I failed.

Every.

Single

Time.

Sound familiar? We often resist taking the time to sit down with a pen and paper, inviting the Lord to have a conversation with how we spend our time, and then writing down some decisions because it’s so… final. If we took those steps, we might actually follow-through and the only thing we want more than to be closer to Jesus is to act like we want to be closer to Jesus without actually doing anything to be closer to Jesus.

The only thing we want more than to be closer to Jesus is to act like we want to be closer to Jesus without actually doing anything to be closer to Jesus.

Sorry, sometimes I get to toe-stepping. I’m sure that last paragraph only describes me.

But, just in case I’ve accurately described your spiritual pursuits, actually taking the step of inviting the Lord into a conversation about how you want to prioritize and organize your life is a terrible decision. All kinds of change follows.

And if you’re like me, the only thing you hate more than feeling frustrated over the idea that you may be missing something in your pursuit of Jesus is actually making changes to more intentionally pursue Jesus.

See? There I go. Toe-stepping again. Again, I’m sure that’s just me.

So, how do you do it? I’ve found it helpful to think about a life rule in terms of categories of behaviors. Some are proactive, practices that you intentionally take up for their value, others are reactive, practices that you either take or give up in response to how they form and shape you, perhaps unwittingly.

Here are a few helpful categories to help you get started:

  • Spiritual Disciplines— those age old practices that have contributed to the faith formation of countless saints before you. Reading/studying the Bible, prayer, Sabbath, community, etc. My rule includes utilizing The Daily Office, praying psalms, taking a Sabbath, etc.
  • Presence– Evaluate your relationship to technology, specifically your use of your phone, your availability for work, etc. Consider what kinds of relationships you want to prioritize and what that will look like. My rule includes limiting my phone use between certain hours, eliminating social media and email from my phone, and creating guidelines for prioritizing time with my wife, kids, and friends.
  • Rebellions– No activity is neutral. Evaluate your time and habits. Consider how the things that you spend time/money on are forming you. Sometimes you may find that you’re just going along with the course of culture or a path you’ve never seriously considered. These might not necessarily even be bad things against you want to rebel. But they might be less good things against which you can rebel for something greater. For instance, I’ve never seriously considered from where my clothing came. As I’ve learned more about the unjust processes through which many clothing companies manufactor clothing, I’ve determined that I will do my best to consider the working conditions of the people who make my clothing in the future.
  • Railings– Maybe you need a little guidance or motivation on a specific step. For instance, your rule may include reading the Bible every day. That’s all well and good, but what if you add “No phone until I read my Bible and pray”? You’ve got a pretty good railing there, huh? I’m discipling a student who’s struggling to get out of bed and pray. We decided that if he wasn’t up by a specific time (the time he identified as necessary to spend at least 5 minutes in prayer in the morning), he would have to do 50 burpees. In three weeks, he’s only overslept twice.
  • Simplify– We tend to make things overly complicated. Where have you made it difficult to give your attention because of distractions or entrapments? Where have you accumulated too much? As part of my rule, I cleaned out my closest and am attempting to limit myself to a specific number of seasonal outfits. I also deleted all apps on my phone I deemed as “time-wasting” or specific to work that I could access on my computer, you know, while I was working.

I’m sure you can find more. And if you read through the books I listed on the Influential Posts page, you’ll find a variety of other categorizations. Don’t get too hung up on the categories. Just get to work.

Get that pen paper. Get alone for half an hour. Ask God to show you how to help you simplify your pursuit of Him.