This is a guest post on my blog from my good friend Jack Shepherd. Jack is based in Skelmersdale, working as a missional priest in the Church of England pioneering fresh expressions of local church, passionate about church planting and leadership. For more about the ministry Jack is involved with check it out here, and follow Jack on Twitter. Enjoy! Dan.
“Abide”, Jesus invites us, “abide in me, and you will bear much fruit.” Did you know that this word, “abide”, is used passages such as Isaiah 40 (“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”), Romans 8 (“If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently”), and the Parable of the Sower (“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”) to call us to persistence and perseverance, with hope centred in Jesus, whatever our circumstances
Developing sustainable rhythms, or a ‘rule of life’, can support us in drawing near, in the middle of any situation, to Jesus. When the first lockdown was announced in March last year, I immediately created a rhythm, including things like morning and evening prayer, connecting with family and friends, and aspects of work, which I was confident I could sustain and which helped to provide a sense of stability in strange and unsettling times.
“Developing sustainable rhythms, or a ‘rule of life’, can support us in drawing near, in the middle of any situation, to Jesus.”Tweet
The Message by Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 as “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Let’s pray that God would teach us the unforced rhythms of his grace.
God’s mercies are new every morning, which means there is something fresh and amazing to discover about him every day. One way of reflecting on rhythms of life that I have found really meaningful, since I heard about it from a wise married couple about ten years ago, is to think about ‘daily devotionals’, ‘weekly wanderings’, ‘monthly meanderings’, and ‘annual abandonments’. Each of these, in different ways, can be a retreat into the presence of God.
“God’s mercies are new every morning, which means there is something fresh and amazing to discover about him every day.”Tweet
I find these are mutually enriching. If I am struggling with daily devotionals, or weekly wanderings, a monthly meandering or an annual abandonment is likely to result in refreshing these. A weekly wandering enables me to consider more deeply what God has been teaching me through daily devotionals, and to put monthly meanderings and annual abandonments in the diary.
With each of these, I have experienced that ‘variety is the spice of life’. This was highlighted to me when a mentor suggested to me at university that, having been taking time in daily devotionals to study the Bible without using additional materials, there might be benefit in trying Bible reading notes, such as Explore by The Good Book Company, for a while. Of course, there will be times when these practices do not feel particularly ‘spicy’. The warden at Cranmer Hall, where I trained for two years, described morning and evening prayer as being like the tide, transforming stones, as it washes over them.
Daily devotionals are what have become known by evangelical Christians since the middle of the twentieth century as the ‘quiet time’. Recently, I have found ‘The Chapter Summary Method’ from Rick Warren’s book Bible Study Methods really helpful. In this, you read a chapter from the Bible about five times, answering ten questions, including giving the chapter a short, descriptive caption, listing the chief characters and key words, and identifying a practical way it applies to your life.
In longer times, I like to start by writing the date on a page in my journal and, having invited the Holy Spirit to come, see where God leads me. Perhaps reflect (in what is known in Ignatian spirituality as ‘the examen’) on where God has seemed particularly close, or distant, during the preceding period of time, and what God might be wanting to say to you about that. You could also look at your diary for the upcoming period and bring to God in prayer any concerns or unresolved issues that raises. Visiting a café, church building, or retreat centre might allow you to overcome distractions, such as the endless chores, you might be exposed to at home, though, of course, in your own house you might have space to experience more privacy in prayer.
If you have the opportunity to retreat for a few days or a week, through which I have experienced rest and renewal, there are many retreat centres that will ask for donations, which can make this possible for those who would otherwise find this a significant financial challenge. Before an ‘annual abandonment’ a few years ago, I asked a friend, Luke, for advice and he provided the following ideas: “I would plan it but be flexible and be able to go with where the Spirit leads. Starting each day with “what do I need from you today, God” is a good practice. I would go for a mixture of: books, walking, listening to books, journaling, meeting people for extrovert time. Make a list of all the people you need to forgive. Make a list of all the people you need to say something positive to. Get to the sea at some point – it’s good for the soul to get to the end of what we can see or comprehend.”
What aspects of this rhythm of ‘daily devotionals’, ‘weekly wanderings’, ‘monthly meanderings’, and ‘annual abandonments’ do you think it would be helpful to have in place?
Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath explores, with fascinating discussion (including in the footnotes) of parts of the Bible, key concepts of Sabbath in which this is rooted.