Rule of Life and Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
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This sermon is part of a Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.”
Rules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester
Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our Relationship with Self – Br. Mark Brown
Our Relationship with Others – Br. David Vryhof
Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson
Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig
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More information here: SSJE.org/growrule
Jer. 29:11-14 / Ps. 8:1-6 / Matt. 7:24-27
My sermon today is part of our Lenten preaching series on the theme of “growing a Rule of Life.” I want to explore how growing a personal rule of Life can transform our relationship with God.
At the age of 17 I went hitchhiking and backpacking through Europe with a friend of mine called Ian. We had amazing adventures, and several disasters. One of the disasters happened in Munich. We got to the Youth Hostel too late and they wouldn’t let us in, and suggested we put up our tent in the park opposite. We unpacked the tent, but we were so tired that we didn’t bother to bang in all the tent pegs. “That’ll do!” We got into our sleeping bags and fell asleep at once. And of course the worst happened. In the middle of the night there was a storm and terrific winds, and at 3:00 in the morning the tent fell on top of us, and we were soaked. That experience reminded me of the words from today’s Gospel – about the wise man who built his house on the rock – who put his roots deeply into the rock of faith. And when the wind and rain and storms came his house stood firm. Ian and I were like the foolish man who built his house on sand, and when the storm came it fell down – like our tent.
The theme of these Lenten sermons is how we might build strong foundations in our lives of faith – how we might bang in tent pegs, so that when the storms of life come we stay upright, and don’t collapse.
One of the great ways of doing that, is to create for ourselves what’s called a Rule of Life – certain practices which we choose to take on in order to strengthen our lives of faith. Each practice is like a tent peg, grounding and strengthening our life in Christ. Primarily a Rule of Life can, I believe, strengthen and deepen our relationship with God.
The word Rule doesn’t sound very appealing. But it’s not a legalistic thing. It comes from the Latin word regula – and it’s about taking on certain practices and disciplines which help me to regularize or order my life. To help me focus my time and my energy on what is most important to me.
So the first question to ask ourselves before we do anything else, is “what is most important to me?” It’s to do with vision. What sort of person do I want to become? How is God calling me to grow? Only then can you ask the question, “How can I order my life, how can I live out my daily life in such a way that I can grow into that person that I feel God wants me to be?”
So we need a vision first. That vision for ourselves comes from God – deepening our life with God in prayer, and listening to God’s vision for who we are meant to be. In our reading from Jeremiah God says, “I know the plans I have for you – to give you a future with hope”(29:11). God has a vision for us, and we can catch that vision if we listen. Proverbs says, “Without vision the people will perish”(29:18). A vision for where we are going is fundamental in creating a Rule of Life. That vision can help us see where my life is out of balance, where my life has taken some wrong directions, and where I believe I want to go. As Ella Fitzgerald put it, “It isn’t where you come from, it’s where you’re going the counts.”
Growing a Rule of Life for ourselves is rather like a gardener growing a garden. The first thing she does, is spend a long time simply gazing at the piece of land. What sort of land is it? What sort of soil? How might it become more beautiful? And slowly a vision begins to grow. Trees over there, flowerbeds here, a lake, a lawn. It will take a lot of work and a lot of time. There will be digging, and planting, and uprooting, cutting, tending, fertilizing. But slowly, rather wonderfully, her vision for a beautiful garden will take shape.
And so too, in our life with God. Once we have a vision for our Life – “this is the person I want to be” – it will take discipline and often hard work to grow. Our Rule of Life will be the description of the various disciplines we take on – the spiritual digging and planting and uprooting and tending and fertilizing, which will help us grow spiritually to become more Christ-like, so that we may better glorify God.
As our own monastic Rule puts it, “A Rule is there to strengthen our life in Christ by bringing rhythm, discipline and order to our discipleship. A Rule helps us to offer the whole of ourselves to God each day and keeps us open to God’s love and God’s will for us.”
So what tent pegs might we choose to hammer in, in order to deepen our relationship with God? Here are three suggestions.
First and foremost: Daily prayer.
There is the story of a monk who went to see his abbot, and asked him, “Father, can I pray while I’m smoking?” The abbot said, “Sure you can pray while you’re smoking, or while you’re doing anything. But – you can’t smoke while you are praying!”
He meant, that, if you want to grow your relationship with God, if you’re really serious about it, there should be a time each day when all you are doing is praying. Praying and nothing else. Even 5 minutes, where your attention is wholly on God. It can be quite difficult. Perhaps you might create a prayer corner, or light a candle, or simply sit quietly, or read from the Bible. Be with God. Decide when, and for how long. Then stick to it. That’s the tent peg.
Second: Honor your body.
There’s a great moment in the movie “Chariots of Fire” when Eric Liddell is trying to explain to his sister Jenny why running is so important to him. He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” God has created us body and soul. And deepening our relationship with God involves more than just what happens from the neck up! Our bodies are temples for God: God dwells within us. So our whole life can be a prayer. But that means we need to honor our bodies. Am I failing to look after my body? Do I overwork? Too much TV, alcohol? Food? Not enough sleep? These are all matters for a Rule of Life – for tending, planting, and maybe uprooting bad habits. We need to exercise our miraculous bodies, and glorify God by being healthy and fully alive. So in your Rule – when will you exercise your body? Run, swim, walk, garden? Be specific. Exactly when will I stop working? How much will I eat/drink? When will I exercise – and for how long? Decide, and stick to it. That’s another tent peg.
My third suggestion for deepening your relationship with God is getting in touch with wonder.
In our Psalm this evening we read, “When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars you have set in their courses.” Our lives are often so busy: we hurtle along from one thing to the next, that we rarely have time to simply stop and wonder. The poet William Davies wrote, “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” Jesus himself tells us to do this. “Consider the lilies of the field – consider the birds of the air”(Matt. 26-28). It’s a strong word – not glance, but gaze. You will draw close to God, their creator.
So part of a Rule of Life should include a time each day to “consider the works of your fingers.” Take a walk in the garden, listen to some music, look at a bird, a flower, a painting. And simply gaze. Say, “What a wonderful world you have created Lord.” Wonder, staring, gazing – they are the gateway to prayer.
And you might put in your Rule something like “once a week, a walk in the countryside, or by the ocean, or a visit to an art gallery.” Somewhere to inspire awe and wonder. Perhaps once or twice a year a day, or several days of retreat, to draw very close to God.
Decide when you are going to stop – to gaze and to wonder – daily, weekly, monthly – and stick to it. That’s another tent peg.
So three suggestions for deepening your relationship to God, as you consider growing a Rule of Life: daily prayer, honoring our bodies, and stopping, to gaze and wonder.
May your life in Christ grow like a beautiful garden, that you may glorify him and magnify his holy name.
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As I think about the verse in proverbs in the common English bible it says in verse 18.When there’s no vision, the people get out of control, but whoever obeys instruction is happy.
Proverbs 29:18 CEB
This verse reminds me how I unfortunately lived my life a lot of choas impulsive and destructive. I’m hoping this rule and better relationships medication and counseling with some discipline will help to bring more stability and happiness in my life.
I do great with wonder and prayer. It is structure I need. Since not working, I have no sense of time and responsibility.
I have also been in a tent where the stakes pulled out of the sandy soil in the midst of a bad storm, and it was necessary to go out into the storm to re-stake them. We came back into the tent soaked and cold, but re-staking, even in the midst of the storm, gave us shelter for the rest of the night and once we dried off, we could again get warm! Seems like this experience has spiritual truth in it as well. 😉 Sometimes life’s storms may threaten our stakes and we have to hammer them down deeper and in so doing, find protection and blessing.
Wow – wonderful words -last night I went to bed discouraged but your tent pegs focus thoughts and give me hope. Thank you
This sermon speaks to me, an avid backpacker and gardener. I know the importance of tent pegs and the joy of transforming a barren yard into a thriving wildlife-friendly garden. Thank you, Br. Geoffrey, for your guidance and excellent metaphors.
Thank you for this reminder. By the grace of God I lived this in my troubled younger years with many rewards. I had forgotten about keeping my eyes on the prize after raising a family to be proud of. Now I am facing the last twenty or so years of life. I need a rule to clarify how I want to live and care for my body and soul.
This is really, really helpful for me, Brother Geoffrey- thank you for being so practical and clear about HOW to set up our Rule.
This is one of the most practical and meaningful pieces of advice I have ever read, Lent or otherwise.
What a blessing this Lenten Gift has been to me. Each day you have shared wisdom and given me a renewed love and longing for God, as I read your messges and see each of you expound and share the truths though these lovely metaphors of gardening, tent pegs and more. Each of the Brothers reveal their dedication and love for God so clearly. In the busyness of our lives, it makes me wonder why we cannot all achieve this level of spirituality. I loved the challenge of ” offering up an intention” as one of the Brothers suggested and that is what I am trying to do. I love the format of your website, the pleasant demeanour of each Brother and the spiritual wisdom shared each day through your talks. Thank you so much. I continue to look forward to growing in my love for God.
I like the tent peg image. I’m always taking short-cuts, or skimming surface. I need to be faithful in commitment – to daily prayer and quiet, to exercise, to focus on the task at hand.
These were words I seriously needed to hear today, particularly the body part of it. I’m really sruggling to ‘honour’ my body at the moment and last night felt a bit desperate about it. But today is a new day and as I sit, looking out of the window at the sun on the wall of the house across the road, birds flying in and out and what looks like the patten of a cross in brick on the cream paint, I have hope. Hope that every day can be a new beginning, a new chance to move ever closer to God. Thank you Brother Geoffrey.
Yes, honor our bodies, flesh and blood, part of God’s creation, created in His/Hers/Their image. We are connected to and know God through our bodies as much as anything else!
I appreciate also the tent peg of “wonder”. I understand the necessity of prayer, honoring my body but “wonder” allows me to see and experience the Lord in new ways. Those are crucial to new growth in Him! Thank you.
Thank you so much for these three “Tent pegs” and for the command to stick to them. Please pray that I may do this, and also dream up a vision of who I want to become.
I have the prayer part where I want it, but I am seriously lacking in attention to the body and the wonder — which aren’t even on my radar. Which leads me to wonder: Is my prayer life really where I want it to be, or growing in ways that I long for? Hmmm.
Thank you for this practical, explicit set of guidelines. I can do this!
I am reminded of the thorton wilder play… “Our
town” the words are so beautiful… that a Kindergarten class could put on the play and we all will feel joy, and weep with missed opportunities to “Wonder”.
The third act is brilliant… and a slammer.
Ironically TW was super arrogant. He said he wrote the play, because all the plays of that time period sucked… Another great TW book… is “The Bridge of San Luis Ray.”
The message I want to get across… is that life is a series of crisis. Some small, some large… but I had prostate cancer… actually was a blessing… today, I enjoy each day… We talk about depressing cloudy days… But look again… closely, at green grass… a flower, a bare winter tree and all it intricate branches… almost a beautifully asymmetry…that has symmetry in its asymmetry.” Ahhh, The Wonder.”. ,
Thank you Br. Geoffrey for the excellent advice! I like the idea of stepping back again to consider the bigger picture, the forest if you will — before I start into the trees that make up my (proposed) seeds of a Rule. What do I really want? What does God want for me?
I also like your reiteration of the definition of Rule as something to help order & regulate, rather than a checklist to hinder or enclose. There were many comments about this when we first started & you address them all.
Finally, thank you for the very concrete suggestions for “tent pegs.” I can do those things, or already do them to some extent. It’s the “sticking to it” part that gets complicated, and there is no time for remedying that than the present.