I’ve been on a journey of developing a so-called “rhythm of life” for a while, now… some of you close to me, and those who read my blog “back in the day” might recall that I’ve struggled with prayer and piety over the years.
Mainly because my prayer life, from a young age, revolved around my guilt. Basically, before I could get to the point where I could come before God, I had to do my own version of spiritual and mental self-flagellation; I had to feel worthless before I could accept God’s grace. In the meantime, I would either ignore God or come to him on my own terms.
There’s a very thin thread of truth in that kind of spirituality (which I am certain I am not the only one to have learned this kind)… God is indeed much bigger and greater than we are, and does forgive us. But I was so dependent on that feeling of worthlessness, that I really DIDN’T understand God’s grace very well… I didn’t understand the “light yoke” of being a Christ-follower, the daily rhythm of trying to follow Him through the ups and downs of life, and so I lived enslaved to my own desires when I wasn’t really all that worthless, and enslaved to guilt when I did. And that’s not grace at all. Grace is about freedom.
Many of you know that I actually gave up personal prayer for nearly a year while I was in seminary, as I tried to “relearn” how to pray and come before God (it’s one thing to understand things cognitively, and an entirely other thing to have it seep into your being…). The result of that journey was a trip to Italy and a discovery of Tony Jones’ the Sacred Way, and a sermon at Warehouse by the same title, revealing my journey towards what prayer fundamentally WAS, and what it was about (namely, “tuning” into the Spirit of God that is constantly at work in us, and in the world— in other words, it’s about listening.) Spiritual Disciplines at that point became the new focus, and I gladly embraced many of them, and brought them into the corporate setting. I began moving towards a more contemplative approach to ministry in general, and that has become reflected in the youth ministry I do now…. also thanks to Mark Yaconelli and his book.
I have incorporated contemplative elements into virtually every phase of my corporate worship of which I have control: our youth do lectio divina, meditations, stations of the cross, etc; I made some of them prayer ropes when they became church members; I’ve led Taize worship at our church during the Lenten season. And I would do many of these things on my own as well.
But I still couldn’t get consistent with my own personal devotions, again.
Now I think this development is right; we learn to pray and worship in the context of a community FIRST, and then begin to take those communal practices into the “dark closet” and practice them on our own. But as a church leader, and as someone who has promoted and taught spiritual discipline; I have felt quite hypocritical at best, for not being more personally disciplined…. and in danger of abusing my calling as a pastor and church leader at worst… for while God does work in spite of me, over the long haul I cannot remain humble, loving, connected, present, or faithful… without first and foremost orienting myself to the spirit of God CONSTANTLY… I am convinced that there is a plethora of power-hungry, abusive, short-sighted and burnt-out pastors in our world precisely because of this. (this can never be separated from communal spirituality, either….)
What if instead our lives are structured around prayer? This is what the Daily Office of monastics is all about; Phyllis Tickle and others have promoted making this the goal of “common spirituality” as well… When I first began looking at Daily Office materials (mainly using the Book of Common Prayer and an Orthodox prayer book), I still could not get past the idea, or rather the sense, that I was fitting prayer INTO my schedule…. but really, having a “rhythm of life” is all about fitting LIFE into your prayer!!!!….. and that is a HUGE shift of priorities, one that does not make sense to the laborer, to the do-it-yourself, can-do, individualistic achievement-oriented culture in which we live and in which we try to be “spiritual.” Neither does it make sense to pastors, parachurch workers, missionaries (in the traditional sense—I believe we’re all missionaries), scholars, and other Christians in vocational ministry of some kind, who place their value, “worthiness,” aims, sense of connectedness and/or “spiritual feeling,” in their work….. for us, the lines are too easily blurred between what God is doing, and what we’re doing. Squeezing God into our schedules, just isn’t going to cut it.
If the Kingdom of God on earth is the crux of the Gospel, we cannot forget that it is precisely GOD’s KINGDOM, and NOT OURS.
All of this to say, I have begun to make “the shift.” Finally. Not perfectly, and not to toot my own horn, but I am sharing this because it’s making a big difference for me. In another entry, I’m gonna share the specifics of what has “worked,” and why. (At least so far.) Maybe you’ll find these things/thoughts helpful as well…..