Sunday 8th March 2015, Lent 3, morning

A Rule of Life

by Revd Chris Palmer

Diane is in her mid 50s, works in the city, and has been a member of her local church for years. During this time she’s done lots of helping out jobs around church – making coffee, cleaning, reading – and she’s been to a few Lent groups. She’s always had a sense that her faith was important to her, and for years she’s put 10 minutes aside each day to read the bible and pray, but she has a growing sense that there may be a deeper depth to pray she could find. She’s actually got quite a lot of leisure time, so giving a bit more of it to her spiritual life would be possible, but she doesn’t know where to start. When she was younger, money was tight, but she’s got spare money too now – and has some niggling guilt that she could give more of it to charity and church. Recently her vicar suggested she might talk to a spiritual director, and having searched someone out, she’s been encouraged to write out a simple Rule of Life, a brief statement of her intentions for living her life well.

David is 35 and works three days a week and stays home to look after this children on other days. Actually the days he stays home are busier and more tiring than the days he goes to work, but more rewarding too. He went to Sunday School as a child, but then hadn’t been to church for years until he and his wife wanted to get their children baptised. He used that occasion as a chance to think about his own faith, and a year or so later he was confirmed. He enjoyed the Confirmation preparation, liked having other people to talk with about faith – something that really never happened in the rest of life – and felt that the Confirmation Service was a moment of joy and hope. After the Confirmation was a bit of a let down, though. The preparation sessions ended and life just returned to normal. He’d got into praying a bit, but sometimes it was dry and sometimes he found he was avoiding it. At a Confirmation reunion, the leader suggested that all those recently Confirmed plan a Rule of Life, to help them move from their moment of commitment into a lifetime of discipleship.

Today we are launching our Rule of Life project, encouraging everyone in our congregation to choose those daily, weekly, yearly actions that make for living well as Jesus’ followers. The concept of having a Rule of Life is very ancient.  And that’s one reason we use the word ‘Rule’, because we’ve inherited it.  A rule isn’t meant to be a set of laws we’re forced to live by. A rule just means a straight line, to help us measure when we’re going off course. One writer I was reading suggests saying ‘Path of life’ instead of ‘Rule of Life’ – the path shows where we intend to go, so that we can see if we’re going astray.

So what does a Rule of Life look like? At its simplest it is simply noting down the actions we will take on a regular basis to live a Christian life in a full and joyful way.  It will include worship, prayer, and bible-reading, but it might also include things that aren’t religious at all – like exercise, time with friends, or healthy eating.  And it will embrace issues of stewardship – how we use our money and time.

But to get there some introductory questions might help. Please would you get out the sheet you’ve been given and turn to p2. There are lots of questions here, but I suggest you look at three of them now:

(from the top) Write down some things that are healthy and life-giving for you

(from the middle) Choose one of the triads and judge how balance your life is

(from the bottom) What one thing could you change to make your life more whole?

Take a few minutes. (3-4 minutes pause)

I’d like to encourage you to complete this sheet and develop your own Rule of Life over the coming days. Everyone’s will be different. A Rule of Life is your own document. No one is telling you what to put into it. 

Diana was wondering about adding lots of things to her Rule of Life about praying, volunteering, giving, and doing more at church. Her spiritual director had a little laugh at her zeal, and said they were all good ideas, but asked her what would be the priorities. In the end she added a few things for now: she was going to get out of the office for half an hour at lunch time and just enjoy the open hour, she was going to take a further 10 minutes to pray at the end of the day to review her day with God, and she was going to make an active point of contacts good friends she’d lost touch with. She’d tell her spiritual director in a couple of months’ time how she’d got on.

David started by writing down what he did already. He tried to go to church on Sundays – though probably only made it half the time. He prayed sometimes.  Apart from that life was full or chores, work, and tiredness. He also knew that he missed the conversations in Confirmation classes. He decided that his Rule of Life should start by firming up what he already hoped to do. He’d go to church every Sunday he could, and if he couldn’t he’d find another chance to get to worship that week; he’d pray each day – every day was different – but he reckoned there was usually space to find ten minutes after eating lunch whether at home or the office – he’d explore some of the ways of prayer they’d used on the Confirmation class and he’d accept that interruptions might happen and welcome them. And he knew there was a Christian group at work – he’d find out about that, to see if it would give him some of the fellowship he was missing after the Confirmation classes finished.

To help you with your own Rule of Life, there are some additional resources on the display in the hall – and all on our website. These include suggestion for older people, for working people, and for parents at home with children. There's also a fuller workbook for developing a Rule of Life, if you'd like a more thorough version.

And the other main thing I want to say is that it’s really good to have a conversation about this – in fact pretty essential if it’s not going simply to fall flat.  If you’ve got a friend you trust and who is a Christian talk to them. But we are offering you the chance for a conversations.  On the back of the sheet are the names of people who’d be pleased to have a talk with you. We won’t be giving you the answers, but offering encouragement from those who have some experience of doing this. Importantly, they are not offering to become your spiritual director, but to have one conversation to help you.  Please don’t be frightened to ask.  And have a go at adopting your own Rule of Life – to bring the joy, love, and hope that God desires for you.