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Growth Exercises

January: Week 4

Writing your Rule of Life 

Now the fun part! By now, all of the usual ‘New Years Resolutions’ have faded away. This is different. This week we are recommending that you write out your own ‘Rule of Life’ (see Week 3). 

Don’t feel overwhelmed—this is simply a chance to intentionally write down a few guiding principles for the year. A common mistake with a Rule of Life is to aim too high, to include too many areas and to set unrealistic expectations in each area. This is not supposed to be your description of a perfectly pious life; this is meant to be a way to help you start examining your life and reflecting on it. What do you really want to focus on this year?

Don’t write too much—leave some room for improvement next year!

Consider whether there is someone you might like to share this with. Perhaps you could invite them, from time to time, to ask you how you’re going?

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Growth Exercises

January: Week 3

A Regula Vitae

In his essay, “We Live by Rhythms“, Chris Webb explains that most of us would benefit from the Christian tradition of intentionally structuring our lives through a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life.” Don’t panic, this is not a legalistic set of rules to follow. Rather, it’s an invitation to write down some of your thoughts and responses to the questions you have been thinking about already this month. 

Regula was the Latin word for a length of wood with markings, used for measuring and alignment—similar to our present-day workshop rulers. We hold things against a ruler to see if they are straight and if their proportions and measurements are right. In the same way a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life”—is an opportunity for us to mark out some of our intentions in advance and then to regularly hold it up to our life and see how our alignment and proportions are fairing. When we align our habits with our faith, we become people who actually love God and our neighbour– as opposed to just knowing about them.

The importance of planning and reflecting on the patterns and rhythms of our lives has been long established by Christians of all kinds– even St. Anthony of Egypt. Some patterns are weekly (sabbath, church, etc), some patterns are monthly (e.g., giving from our pay-cheque) and some patterns are seasonal, as we go through different seasons of life. For further reading about fruitfully navigating the different seasons of life, I warmly recommend Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.

Without committing yourself to anything at this stage, what worthwhile things might you commit yourself to this year? As you journal on this theme, try to describe what such a commitment would look like for you, and how it might benefit your relationship with Jesus Christ?

Some further thoughts on establishing a Regula Vitae for yourself:

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Growth Exercises

January: Week 2

Spiritual Disciplines – Introducing some intentionality 

If you are still on holiday—ENJOY! Re-read the section on Spiritual Disciplines: Rhythms and Rules of Life, and in particular, the questions: “What sort of life do I want to be living?” and therefore, “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?” 

Start to think about how you might answer these questions– don’t jump too quickly to shallow answers. Use your Journal. Perhaps a good first step might be to review, How you are living your life now? Some suggested steps for review:

  • Flick back over last year’s diary and notice how you spent much of your time. Resist the temptation to go back and fix things or complete things you missed! This is a review– just notice where you spent your time.
  • Do a quick financial review: where did you spend your money last year? You might have clever bank statements that analyse your spending by categories.
  • Which relationships do you think you invested most into this past year?

These simple assessments of the way you prioritised your time, money and passion. See if you can think of other ways to objectively look at how you are currently living your life.

Are there any things you might change? What would you leave the same? Why have you chosen those things? 

Try to find three separate occasions this week when you can spend 15 minutes reflecting prayerfully on your responses. 

Recommended Reading: The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley.

Extract from “The Common Rule”:

Exercise: Short Kneeling Prayer at Waking, Mid-workday and Bed.

Meditation:

Christmas is about the advent of love in a loveless world. We delighted in the fact that God came to the world because he loved us.

This love is worth celebrating, and any good celebrating takes practice. Framing our days in prayer is to frame them in love. This is an act of embrace, of celebration of God’s gift of life – our lives and the life of the world. 

So when we wake up in the morning, we don’t ask what do I have to do today? We don’t immediately begin scheming on how we can justify our existence today. What we do is we get down on our knees in prayer.

This is a keystone habit, by framing the day with times of kneeling prayer we punctuate the day like a sentence, ordering the syntax so that that it begins to have meaning. 

This meaning continues into midday. I often notice the point I need to pray midday because I have an urge for a second cup of coffee, my mind starts to repeatedly drift from work, or I have an urge to search the Internet for – What? – I don’t know. I just want to search. This is the point where I’m looking down the barrel of the afternoon and I see all the things I’m not going to get done, I see  condemnation, failure, and disappointment. 

That is when I close the laptop, close the door, and get to my knees again to pray, usually, no more than 60 seconds, and this is the semicolon in the day that turns the sentence away from my failure and back towards God’s love

And then as the evening approaches we think, how I going to end this thing? By lying awake in bed letting all the replay tapes go? By browsing my phone for some current event scandal to bounce meaninglessly around my brains like an angry pinball? Am I going to spend it searching for one last bit of pleasure from God knows where on the internet? No. 

We place the period of God’s mercy and care for us at the end, on our knees beside the bed.  We made it through another one. Doesn’t matter whether you feel spiritual or not, it is just habit.

Practice:

The first question that may come to your mind as you kneel, “What do I pray?” If you’re not sure, try these Advent prayers. If you are prevented from kneeling because of health or because perhaps you don’t have a private place at work to kneel, try gently turning your palms upwards where you are.

MORNING:

  • Father, I pray that I would enter this day as your Son entered the world, full of love and hope. Amen.

AT WORK:

  • Jesus, I pray that I would be present in my work as you were present in this world, full of humility and service. Amen.

AT BED:

  • Holy Spirit, I pray that I would be at peace in my rest knowing that you came to bring peace to the world, and will one day bring rest to all things. Amen. 
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Growth Exercises

January: Week 1

New Beginnings

Socrates declared at least 400 years before Christ, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Although it’s unlikely he was setting out to make a theological statement, there is plenty of biblical evidence to suggest that he was on to something. It may not be said in exactly those terms, but many of the psalms, proverbs, letters and examples in Scripture extol the benefits of self-evaluation. Why then do we do so little of it?

We are all creatures of habit. We prefer to live with some level of routine than with absolute chaos. We follow patterns; we build structure; we create shorter-term rituals and longer-term traditions. We live by rhythms. 

Unfortunately, however, we seldom make a habit of examining our habits. Our schedules, our routines and our habits are for the most part passively acquired. We work “X” number of hours because our job (or our debt!) demands that we do. We commute for as long as is required to make those work hours happen. We gather in groups as our beliefs and pastimes require. We catch up with friends and family when we want to, remember to, or have to—depending on the enjoyment we derive from their company. In the time left over we squeeze in our shopping, our eating, our banking, our cleaning, our mowing, our sleeping, etc. With all of this going on, it is not surprising that most of our decisions are reactive rather than proactive. It’s not that we avoid decisions, we just make most of them on the fly. They lack intentionality. The resulting problem is that, for many of us, how we live our day-to-day lives has little connection to what we think life is actually all about. As John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy” warned us: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

This week, at the start of a new year, I want to encourage you to pause and ask: “What sort of life do I want to be living?” and therefore, “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?” Chances are that we haven’t considered these sorts of questions for a while, if ever. Chances are, also, that our answers will look quite different from our current trajectory of activity. 

I’m not talking here about hyped-up goal setting. The corporate world is awash with such motivational material and I think its usefulness here is limited. Perhaps we should have realised that focusing on Key Performance Indicators might produce a generation of Christians obsessed with performance. Appropriate goal-setting can be very helpful and there are moments in this book when we will recommend it. But it can also encourage an overemphasis on achievement and end results. We are more interested here in how well we know and imitate Christ along the way—and how well our actual day-to-day practices fit with this vision of what life is about. 

Chris Webb from Renovare—an organisation that works to help Christians live more intentional lives—suggests our daily practices not only reflect our vision of life, they can change it. “We make some choices because of who we are, but others because of who we wish to become.” This is a crucial insight behind this calendar—how we live shapes who we are

“Human Becomings” is probably quite a helpful way to think of ourselves—for we are all in the process of becoming. The crucial question is What or Like whom are we becoming? Our hope is that the simple suggestions and discussions to come will assist you in building some intentionality and faithfulness into your own rhythms of life. 

In this first week of the New Year, our first exercise is go out and buy ourselves a Journal– a personal note book that we are going to use throughout the course. If you wish, you journal may be as simple as a MSWord document. Or perhaps you prefer a leather-bound folio, elegantly lettered with a quill. Whatever your choice, get a Journal. And then, jot a few notes to yourself about the key questions raised here:

  • “What sort of life do I want to be living?”
  • “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?”
  • What, or like whom, do I want to become?

Happy New Year!—Here’s to examined lives that are worth living! 

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 6. Luke 23:44-54

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 5. John 19:25-30

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 4. Mark 15:33-34

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 3. Luke 23:32-43

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 2. John 19:19-22

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 1. Mark 14:15-24

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

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Growth Exercises

June Exercises: Fasting and Lament

Throughout Scripture we see the people of God repeatedly caught up in circumstances that are tragic. Indeed, since the fall the introduction of sin in Genesis 3 suffering and death have been an inescapable part of life. The world is broken and we are broken. Even Christ’s own resurrection, and its promise that one day all things will be revived and restored, does not shelter us from the current realities of pain and loss. Lament – the profound feeling and expression of grief and sorrow – is the right response to that pain and loss. This month we offer some suggestions that might help us grow a healthy view of life in a fallen world.

First we recognise that we have permission to lament as individuals and as communities. God does not consider it a sign of lack of faith for us to feel sorrow and grief. A large portion of the Psalms is dedicated to expressing grief and frustration. The Psalmists knew claims of injury and injustice could confidently be brought to God; only he could ultimately put things right. Lament – crying out to God in our distress – is actually a sign of faith, a statement that God is big enough to handle the world’s problems. It is a commitment to living out our faith in a fallen world, rather than our fantasy of a perfect utopia. Given the natural and personal disasters that take place in our world every day, it seems right to allow space in our lives for appropriate responses to be expressed.

Those who have learned to lament well tend to carry authenticity. That’s often why the Psalms surprise us with their honesty. When the writer is overjoyed, they tells us. When they are distraught, we read about it. There is no stiff upper lip. Instead we see evidence of a refreshing transparency. 

Theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff, after his son Eric was tragically killed in the climbing accident, wrote, “So I own my own grief. I do not try to pull it behind me, to get over it, to forget it. I do not try to disown it.” (Lament for a Son, 1987. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ) And so, our pain and grief can be fully expressed to God. We try to ‘own it’ in our prayers of lament.

Such prayers bring our pain before the only person who can make an ultimate difference – God. He does not promise us freedom from grief or suffering yet, but he does promise to meet us in the midst of them. And sometimes, in his timing, this may only be after a time of feeling very alone. It takes time for the initial shock of what has happened to sink in, time for our default protestations of disbelief and anger to subside, time for us to believe again Mr Beaver’s description of Aslan (representing Jesus): “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Corse he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (from C.S.Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

With that belief that God is good, in spite of the circumstances, comes a glimpse of hope. Almost all the Psalms of lament have, by the end, declared the goodness of God. He has met the writers in their trouble, or they rest in the knowledge that he is working to overcome evil – their cries have been heard.

Christian hope is unique and it can be held even through long seasons of lament. Through each of the weeks of this month I encourage you to try the following exercises in lament and fasting– click on the buttons below.

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Growth Exercises

The power of submission

Week 3: Choosing to Submit.

Somehow we have concluded that submission is weakness, that it is somehow a sign of inferiority and incapacity. Perhaps this stems from childhood visions of surrendering to the local bully. We’d better submit to him or he’ll hurt us.

The willingness of Jesus to submit himself to his Heavenly Father subverts this distorted view. In the Garden of Gethsemanie, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:41-43). Jesus the Son submits to his Heavenly Father, and yet he remains equally a member of the Trinity, fully God, worthy of all praise. He chooses to submit but that does not mean he is without power. Indeed he says elsewhere in the Garden on that same night, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Mt 26:52-54). In other words, he has the capacity to remove himself from the Garden but he chooses to submit himself to the carriage of the Father’s will.

We see, therefore, that submission chooses to set aside one’s own will and power, in order that another’s may prevail. It need not imply powerlessness, but rather it requires that we have control over our power (rather than it over us) in order that we may set it aside. Our culture sells us the notion of ‘freedom’ as essential right, instead of willing submission to the authority of another– and yet such freedom ultimately enslaves us to our own whims. J.I. Packer explores this topic in depth in this linked article.

Look for opportunities this week to choose submission. Willingly decide to give heed to another person’s wishes or desires. You will need to exercise both wisdom and grace as you do so. Consider how you might bless that person in the very act of your submission. As you do, recognise that you are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Record your experiences of submission in your journal.