Last Sunday night at Element, as part of our Coffee Shop Theology series, I answered the submitted question, "How do I die to myself and 'put on Christ'?" I cast the question in the context of rhythms, saying that before Christ (and often after), we live according to the rhythm of the world, we follow the world's patterns and live by the paths laid out for us by whatever culture we find ourselves in. But to be born again means to commence a new life, and to live a life of repentance means to constantly be turning away from old patterns ("be not conformed to the world") and constantly walking into the way of Jesus ("walking in the Spirit," as Paul says).
So I came up with a list of what I called "kingdom rhythms," things that should characterize our life of discipleship to Jesus, and looking at the kingdom of God as a countercultural way to live, these kingdom rhythms actively subvert the world's rhythms that too often hold sway over us.
We begin by acknowledging that our day does not belong to us; it belongs to God. And that truth alone should transform the rhythms we move to.
Here are the 5 rhythms of the kingdom:
1. Intentional Prayer
Many of us "pray without ceasing," often working prayerful thoughts into whatever else we're doing. This is multitasking prayer, and it is a good and valuable thing. But Luke tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray, and as I get older (and more busy and stressed), the more I am seeing that that whole "quiet time" concept is more valuable than I once assumed. Focused time in solitude and prayer is important, even vital. It is a posture of reverence and dedication to God. While multitasking prayer seeks to make God part of our day, intentional prayer acknowledges that the day is God's, and we're supposed to fit ourselves in it, not the other way around. Intentional prayer grounds us, focuses us, teaches us to turn off the noise of the world and its hurry. Intentional prayer is as important to the believer's day as corporate worship is to the believer's week.
2. Devotional Scripture Reading
Word choice is important here, because many of us read lots of Scripture (and many of us don't read any at all). The keys are "What are you reading it for?" and "How are you reading it?" Many of us go into Bible reading looking for anything but transformation, which is the primary reason the written word of God exists. Devotional Scripture reading requires discipline and consistency, but its aim is the treasuring of God's word in our hearts and the delighting of ourselves in God's statutes. We have at our fingertips the very revelation of God to us, and yet we treat Scripture like a blunt instrument, like a reference book, like a prop for our propaganda, etc., anything but the wellspring of God's truth to be drunk deeply from. Devotional Scripture reading means meditating on Scripture, chewing on it, savoring it, learning not just how to read Scripture, but how to feel it.
3. Joyful Fasting
We do not naturally avoid consumption. Our society's emphasis (and the emphasis of our churches!) on bigger/better/more is the symptom of the human disease of self-idolatry. But following Jesus means being willing to give up everything for his sake.
This isn't just about food, this is about giving up things by choice. We are not a people who often go without. And the things we often think of having to go without are not necessities. When we go without something it is typically the latest gadget or trinket that we just can't afford. But with Christ as our model, joyful fasting means willingly and intentionally giving up something we could have in order to give more to others. And it means doing so out of gratitude, for "the joy set before" us. This is generally about living more simply. (Musician and Compassion spokesman Shaun Groves has a lot of good stuff to say about living simply here and here. He and his family sold their big house and downsized, not because their income decreased or because their family shrunk, but simply because they wanted to have more to give away.)
Joyful fasting leads to . . .
4. Generosity and Service
We are selfish people, all of us. Some of us are more or less selfish than others, but all of us are turned in ourselves, ultimately "puffed up" with self-regard and self-concern. The kingdom calls us to lose our lives in order to find them, and the rhythms of generosity and service go hand and hand and flow naturally from the penitent acknowledgment that a) God has lavished the riches of his grace upon us, and b) God owns everything anyway. This is beyond being nice. This is the sacrificial and submissive emptying highlighted by Paul in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 and expounded upon by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and embodied by him in his very ministry and atoning work. For good works to be a light that glorifies God, generosity must be astonishing and service must be humble. And these must be the quality of our lives, not just projects we do from time to time to check off the "service" portion of our Christian walk checklist.
5. Christian Community
None of the above rhythms can be sustained independently. The gospel supposed reconciliation between creatures. We need each other, and the Church is God's design for discipleship. The Christian life must be walked within the encouragement, edification, and accountability of Christian community. We need teachers to teach us how to do it, encouragers to inspire and sustain us, givers to remind us to give, helpers to help us embrace servitude, etc. To "put on Christ" necessitates embracing the Body of Christ as God's plan for the Christian life. Embracing kingdom rhythms becomes easier and more sustainable when it is done collectively.