Life’s Training Plan

The first marathon that I ran was the Chicago Marathon, which was on October 22, 2006. When I first considered the marathon, I could only run a mile. I worked up to five miles before I signed up. I told some fellow students, and they said with no small amount of incredulity, “And right now you can only run five miles?” But, I started a training program and slowly worked my way up to the full distance. I got up at 5:30 in the morning so that I had time to train. There were days I didn’t want to get up, but I said to myself, “You will die on October 22 if you don’t run today!” Maybe a little dramatic, but a good reminder of the goal!

At that time, my life and my day was structured around my training. It was structured around other things as well, but the point is that I had a goal, and I molded my time and energy around reaching that goal. As I’ve been learning about spiritual growth and different ways to worship God, one of the things that has come up many times is a “Rule of Life.” Similar to a training plan for running, it is a way of structuring your time and patterns around cultivating your relationship with God.

In order to grow spiritually, and especially over a lifetime of following God, it is important to be intentional about growing closer to God. It’s easy to structure our days around work, school, parenting, and a host of other things, and leave spirituality for a few moments in the morning, or even just to Sunday. A “Rule of Life” changes that by structuring the day around spiritual things. It becomes a rhythm that daily draws us closer to God – transforming the “daily” by reminding us of the spiritual “goal” to come. I like the way that Stephen Macchia describes it in his book Crafting a Rule of Life, “Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory.”

Wow! Doesn’t this sound amazing? Not to just have a relationship with God, but for that relationship to create, redeem, sustain, and transform all of life. I like that Macchia’s definition uses the word holistic because it shows that our relationship with God is part of every aspect of life. When the day is structured around the Spirit, it means that every action is designed to bring Him glory. Our days are intentional. Macchia also uses the phrase “the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory.” This speaks to our purpose. God created each one of us with a purpose to fulfill in His kingdom. When we structure our lives around His invitation to fulfill that purpose, it makes every moment meaningful.

So, how do we create a Rule of Life and live with intention and purpose? Think back to the marathon training plan. The plan had to have two parts – the days and times I devoted to running, and the types of exercise I did on each day. A Rule of Life is similar – it includes the times set aside for different disciplines, and then the types of spiritual disciplines themselves.

At the same time that I was training for the marathon, I was developing different spiritual disciplines. I practiced “breath prayer”, which was repeating the name of Jesus rather than letting my thoughts wander. I also memorized Bible verses while making copies at work (I had a job that involved making a LOT of copies). I paused at three different times of day to pray more intentionally. I also had a set time of studying the Bible every morning, and I put aside homework and other types of work on Sunday for a Sabbath rest.

Today, my Rule of Life looks a lot different since I am a parent and have a full-time job. I have three daily times to connect with God – one is focused on prayer, one on study, and one on examining my heart. I don’t have long periods of time, so each is only 15-30 minutes. I continue to have a Sabbath each week where I don’t do any work. I am building into my life some new practices as well, such as a monthly liturgical service, and some times of solitude and reflection each year. These meet new needs that I have identified in my spiritual life. But both then and now, these spiritual practices allow me to connect with God and reflect on His work in my life throughout each day.

You too can have this connection with God that transforms your daily rhythms into purposeful actions designed to deepen your relationship with God. The first step is to begin thinking about your spiritual desires. What do you long for from God? How is He teaching you and transforming you? Along with that, you can reflect on areas where you know you need transformation. What are areas where you want to grow? Are there sins you need to address? The next step is trying different spiritual disciplines to see how they speak to your spiritual needs and desires. What disciplines speak to your personality and bring you joy? What disciplines challenge you and cause you to grow? What disciplines help you to address areas of sin? Some excellent resources for learning about spiritual disciplines are Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

Once you have begun practicing different things and reflecting on them, you can formalize it in a “Rule of Life.” Your rule can include the days, times, and practical arrangements you need to do these disciplines, along with the disciplines you will practice. As you follow this Rule of Life, continue to evaluate how it is working and refine it as needed.

People like to say that life is a marathon not a sprint, and this is true of the Christian life. It is a long-term effort, filled with days of joy and days of pain. Let’s run it well by living with intention and purpose! As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Run in such a way as to win the prize.” Developing a Rule of Life will help to keep the end goal of “an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25) in mind as we run the race of life. May we run together into God’s kingdom!