024 A Simple Rhythm for a Profound Spiritual Life
I recently asked a group of 20-somethings to list all the things God calls us to do. ‘Have faith,’ said one person. ‘Pray’ said another. Go into the world, befriend the lonely, heal the sick, share the gospel and work for justice soon followed.
‘Those are all worthy things to do,’ I said. ‘But have you ever noticed that when Jesus called his earliest followers he didn’t call them to do any of those things? Instead, he called them to do two things and two things alone.’
Here are those two things. If we grasp this simple rhythm and live it wholeheartedly, it will result in a spiritual life that transforms us and the world.
What is The Rhythm?
Life is complicated. Spiritual life is complicated. And Christian life is complicated too. So it’s a relief to find Christ himself calling us to a rhythm of life that, while not easy in its implications, is simple in its approach.
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – calling them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:13-15)
‘That they might be with him.’ ‘That he might send them.’ Being with. Being sent. With-ness. Sent-ness. The call of Jesus is a call to a two-beat rhythm of life:
Being with him in prayer and devotion.
Being sent from him into the world in action.
Being with him provides space in our lives for prayer, solitude, contemplation on Scripture, rest. Being sent from him gives us a mission in life through daily tasks of love. In being with him we love God. In being sent we love our neighbour.
Being with, being sent – that’s Jesus’ rhythm of life.
The Rhythm in Jesus’ Life
Jesus passed on a Rhythm that was central to his own spiritual life. Consider these scenes from his own story:
1. After his baptism Jesus is led into the desert where he spends 40 days of focused time with God, praying and fasting. After this he is sent out, launching his mission to the world.
2. As news about Jesus spreads, crowds follow everywhere he goes, bringing the sick and needy. Who else could help them? And yet we’re told, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” He withdraws from the crowd and their pressing needs to be with the Father. Then, we find him back with the people, teaching, healing and befriending.
3. After an exhausting day before, we find Jesus rising before dawn to find a solitary place to be with God. “Everyone’s looking for you!” his followers say when they find him. “Let’s move on to the next village,” he replies. Jesus’ retreating to be with God kept him focussed on what he was next to do, rather than be driven by the pressures of popularity.
4. When it’s time to choose the 12 apostles, Jesus heads out to a mountainside, to do what? To be with God. He spends all night in prayer and in the morning is sent to call Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholemew and the rest to be his team.
Being with the Father to calibrate his heart and get directions.
Being sent out from the Father to heal and liberate the world.
Being with, being sent was Jesus’ own rhythm of life.
The Rhythm in the First Christians’ Lives
We then see Jesus teaching the Rhythm to his friends:
1. The time comes to send his team of 12 on a special assignment. They’ve been with Jesus, watching him work. Now they’re sent out. He calls them together, gives them authority to preach, heal and drive out evil spirits, then sends them off. Then look what happens:
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida… (Luke 9:1-10)
As it turns out, Jesus’ fans soon followed and there wasn’t a lot of retreat time. But do you see them stepping to the Rhythm? Being with, being sent, and being with Jesus again. Relating to God, responding to the world, then relating once more.
2. Jesus later sends a larger group of 72 on a mission. They return with great excitement: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” They’ve been with, they’ve been sent, then they return to be with Jesus again. And on their return Jesus teaches them a lesson. “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven.” Success would come and go; what really mattered was that they were God’s children.
That’s what happens when we dance to this Rhythm of life: as the rhythm repeats he teaches us another lesson.
Be with him and listen.
Be sent out and do.
Then be with him again to learn from the experience.
The Rhythm in Our Lives
In our work lives: relating to God and then responding to our competitive workplaces with fresh infusions of grace and tact.
I discovered this simple Rhythm of life ten years ago and judge my spiritual life by it today. When I’m running low spiritually I’ve normally slipped out of the Rhythm, either through busyness or laziness, and start living in my own strength and following my own ‘clever’ ideas instead of His. I (and others) soon feel the resulting poverty. But when I’m living by the Rhythm… God is my companion and the joy of joining his work is the reward.
So I’m convinced we need this Rhythm:
In our relationships: relating to God and then responding to our friends and marriage partners with love, patience, wisdom.
For our personal development: as we relate to the God we’re called to emulate, then go forth to act like him.
The Rhythm in Practice
But enough pontificating. What would it take for you to implement the being with, being sent Rhythm of life:
Into your day? What moment during the day can you put aside for unhurried time with God in prayer and reflection on Scripture? Mornings work best for me, but evenings or lunch times may work for you.
Into your week? A weekly church service or prayer gathering is a no brainer. What else can you incorporate into your week? A weekly ‘mini-pilgrimage’ to a local historic church has been helpful for me in the past.
Into each season? I know someone who takes two days retreat each quarter. He rents a shack in the forest, reads Scripture and prays, and reads through his journal to see where God has led him the previous season.
Into your year? An annual conference? A week of fasting? Something creative done on New Years Eve to see the new year in with God?
Into significant milestones? A friend of mine recently turned 50 and did the Camino pilgrimage trek to mark the occasion. He want to be alone with God (walking 300 miles in 3 weeks!) to discern how best to invest the rest of his life.
Praying, having faith, befriending the lonely, healing the sick and working for justice are all good things. But they are not the primary things Jesus calls us to. Instead he calls us into a rhythm of being with and being sent, from which all these activities and more spring forth. While it may not be easy, this Rhythm of life is simple. By living it out wholeheartedly, it can bring profound change to our lives and our world.
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