My forty–first birthday was one I would rather forget.
I spent it flat on my back in a hospital thinking I was dying. During my long recovery, I wondered: “Could I have avoided this?” My body was rebelling at the abuses of my fast paced, high stressed lifestyle. My life was out of sync with God’s rhythm and I hadn’t noticed.
Unfortunately, I am not alone. Our world is full of stressed-out, burnt-out church leaders who don’t know when to stop. Our culture ratchets up the pace constantly and we think we need to follow. Many Christian leaders I speak to have little personal space for God. They only pray when working on a sermon.
Exploring Jesus’ Four Rhythms
So what rhythms did Jesus live by? If he truly offers abundant life, then his life rhythms must provide the best model for church leaders to follow. He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders yet rarely seemed overloaded.
Missionary statesman E. Stanley Jones calls Jesus the “revealer of the nature of life.” He believed the way of Christ is written into our blood, nerves, tissues and relationships so life “works in his way and only in his way. If we are not in step with God then we are working our own ruin.”
Jesus modeled four basic life rhythms – sacred rhythms – for us. At the center was his spiritual life, rooted in an intimate, personal relationship to God, and providing the focus for all else he did. Jesus’ prayer pattern resembled that of Muslims more than that of most Christians. He stopped throughout the day to listen to God and directed his actions according to God’s instructions.He never made major decisions without at least a night listening through prayer.
How much less stress would we suffer if we gave prayer this kind of priority and allowed our times with God to shape our other commitments?
Pausing for prayer throughout the day reconnects us to God and renews our spiritual energy. Listening to God as part of our decision making proces, and taking regular prayer retreats to refocus, periodically brings us closer to God and to God’s purposes for us.
Matthew, a Seattle pastor, reordered his life to set aside five minutes five times a day for prayer and reflection. His day begins with a short prayer and psalm. On arrival at work he prays for God’s love and compassion to flow through him to those he meets. At lunch he reads from an epistle and recites a breath prayer to refresh himself. Homeward bound, Matthew stops at a viewpoint to decompress. He says a prayer commits his work to God and refocuses on family. At night he reads a gospel portion, briefly reviews the day’s activities, and offers prayers of gratitude for where he has glimpsed God’s kingdom. He ends with brief intercessory prayers and then releases the day to God. Matthew said this practice has revolutionized his life. “Now everything I do connects to God’s purposes. I enter each day excited by what God can accomplish in and through my life.”
Jesus’ second priority was community.
He spent more time with his disciples than in a crowd preaching and healing. Christianity invites us into community – first with God, but also with God’s people. We are invited into community with sisters and brothers from every tribe and culture, with the poor, the disabled, the abandoned and the marginalized.
Jesus’ community time revolved around food, fellowship and celebration. According to theologian N.T. Wright, wherever Jesus went there was a party. Making time for friends and family, encouraging co-workers and fellow believers, getting involved in ministry amongst the poor, and celebrating faith with lots of fun and fellowship should all be part of our sacred rhythms.
The third rhythm that paced Jesus’ life was work, but not for daily food, which he encouraged us to trust God for. Nor did he work to accumulate wealth for himself. He had some rather scathing things to say about those who did. Jesus’ work focused on God’s kingdom purposes and he suggested that our work should, too.
We are meant to be bringers of hope, healing and salvation, journeying with our followers towards a world where there is no more crying or hunger or pain. God’s priorities should be ours and we should teach our congregations to make them theirs. This can be as simple as encouraging a friend or offering a helping hand to an elderly person in your neighborhood.
It was a relief to realize Jesus also believed in rest. He said: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give your rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Regular sleep and Sabbath reconnect us to this refreshing and renewing rhythm. Surprisingly, recent medical research suggests an afternoon siesta increases our productivity so much that we actually accomplish more than when we work all day. A good night’s rest seems to boost our immune system.
Modeling a Different Way of Life
If Jesus doesn’t give us heavy burdens to carry, where do our stressed out lifestyles come from?
John, a young pastor in Denver was asked recently: “Why are you always so busy?” John related all the activities that kept him on the run – church, committee meetings, hospital visits, family and friends. The list was endless. “No,” his questioner exclaimed. “That’s not what I meant. Why are you so busy? Don’t you think God wants you to model a different life?” John rethought his priorities and the pattern of his life. Perhaps you too would like to reflect on this question. Get away with a friend or your spouse for a prayer retreat and examine how you prioritize your time.
Jesus’ life rhythm is not just for the distant part. People still look for evidence that Jesus’ disciples invest their time and energy in a different range of priorities from the culture around them. They still reach out for sacred rhythms that are fulfilling and not exhausting.
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