A Rule of Life

Bible, Prayer, Witness

(Quotations from Holy Scripture are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible).

I cannot ope my eyes, but thou art ready there to catch my morning soul and sacrifice….
(George Herbert)

Introduction

It is evident from Paul’s testimony that there was an expectation of Christ’s return and that his followers should be prepared.

Brothers….the time has become limited, and from now on those who have spouses should live as though they had none; and those who mourn as though they were not mourning; those who enjoy life should live as though they did not enjoy it; those who have been buying property as though they had no possessions; and those who are involved with the world as though they were people not engrossed in it. Because this world as we know it is passing away (1 Cor 7.29-31).

Well, my friends, now is the time to prepare. The writing is on the wall. The signs of the times point to a continual decline into conflict and chaos. Lines are being drawn in the sand, in the spiritual desert of minds captivated by worldly ambitions. The rhetoric intensifies, the air thickens with the fog of hatred and unreason. The die is cast and the compass is set to the East. We in the comfortable conditions of the West should not feel complacent, that somehow we are shielded from the conflagration that will begin in the Middle East as if it is something far away and will not impact on us.

Besides, degradation is happening in our midst. The decadence of western culture and society is filling the vacuum created by the lack of religion and by misguided liberal politics. And the malaise has spread into vital organs. Apostasy is now endemic in the church, the very institution that should stand aside from the pollution of evil to warn of its consequences. Many churches are aligning themselves with modern secular values, preaching falsehoods and leading their flocks astray.

But God will always ensure there will be a faithful remnant, those who have remained true to Christ, living in the light of his spirit and faithful to the Gospel. As disciples of Christ we hold the key to unlock the message of salvation. Those who are being called out of institutionalised apostasy are the scattered remnant.

So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were urging you through us, and in the name of Christ we appeal to you to be reconciled to God. For our sake he made the sinless one a victim of sin, so that in him we might become the uprightness of God (2 Cor 5.20-21).

Now is the favourable time not only for action but for spiritual renewal, for enhancing our spiritual awareness to prepare us for all eventualities – for our testimony and witness to the truth of the Gospel and, if necessary, to endure persecution. All of this is done in the certain knowledge that God’s judgement will come upon the earth.

At the time of my favour, I have answered you; on the day of salvation I have helped you. Well, now is the real time of favour; now the day of salvation is here.

We avoid putting obstacles in anyone’s way, so that no blame may attach to our work of service; but in everything we prove ourselves authentic servants of God; by resolute perseverance in times of hardships, difficulties and distress; when we are flogged or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving; in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness; in the Holy Spirit, in a love free of affectation; in the word of truth and in the power of God; by using the weapons of uprightness for attack and for defence: in times of honour or disgrace, blame or praise; taken for impostors and yet we are genuine; unknown and yet we are acknowledged; dying and yet here we are, alive; scourged but not executed; in pain yet always full of joy; poor and yet making many people rich; having nothing, and yet owning everything (2 Cor 6.2-10).

The NJB footnote for this passage elucidates the ‘day of salvation’ and its implications:

There is an intermediary period, Rom 13.11+, between the time of Christ’s coming, Rom 3.26+, and his return, 1 Cor 1.8+. This period is the ‘day of salvation’, a time allowed for conversion, Acts 3.20; it is granted to the ‘remnant’, Rom 11.5, and to the gentiles, Rom 11.25; Eph 2.12+; see Lk 21.24; Rev 6.11. Though the duration is uncertain, 1 Th 5.1+, this time of pilgrimage must be regarded as short, 1 Pet 1.17; 1 Cor 7.26-31; cf. Rev 10.6; 12.12; 20.3, and full of trials, Eph 5.16; 6.13, and sufferings which are a prelude to the glory to come, Rom 8.11. The end is at hand, 1 Pet 4.7; cf. Rev 1.3+ and 1 Cor 16.22; Phil 4.5; Jas 5.8, the Day approaches, Rom 13.11, and it is necessary to be on the watch, 1 Th 5.6; cf. Mk 13.33, and to use the time well that remains, Col 4.5; Eph 5.16, for one’s own salvation and that of others, Gal 6.10, leaving the final vindication to God, Rom 12.19; 1 Cor 4.5.

Peter reiterates that the revelation of Christ is close:

The end of all things is near, so keep your minds calm and sober for prayer. Above all preserve an intense love for each other, since love covers over many a sin. Welcome each other into your houses without grumbling. Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these varied graces of God, put it at the service of others. If anyone is a speaker, let it be as the words of God, if anyone serves, let it be as in strength granted by God; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet 4.7-11).

Helmut Thielicke puts it like this:

Quite obviously we are not sailing into peaceful harbours; on the contrary, we are ourselves becoming ensnared in deadly adventures and nobody knows how it will turn out. If at this moment we are not exactly saying, ‘Tarry a while (hold up the future for a moment longer!) thou art so fair,’ we will live by the motto, ‘If the world ends tomorrow, today is today.’

What we need and what we yearn for is something that will liberate us from paralysis and help us gain a new attitude toward what lies behind us and ahead of us.

This yearning for some real help with which to face life is met by the Sermon on the Mount, or better, by the Proclaimer of the Sermon of the Mount himself. Only at first glance could it appear that here we are being pelted with a great profusion of directions and imperatives, often piercingly radical in their demands. And yet I must immediately correct myself: it is perfectly true to say they are ‘piercingly radical.’ Here there is no talk of half measures and compromises, and anybody who merely wants to play around with it had better let it alone. Here it is all or nothing.

(Helmut Thielicke, Life can begin again: sermons on the Sermon on the Mount.
James Clarke, 1966, p.xii).

A Rule of Life

As a way of deepening and consolidating our faith and spirituality, a Rule of Life may be considered. What I am proposing is a simple Rule that can be adhered to by people who are engaged with the world at different levels – for instance, a working life compared to the life of a retired person. Even the busiest lifestyle can integrate a simple Rule.

A Rule of Life can be an invaluable aid to deepening and sustaining one’s spirituality. However, the subject needs to be approached with a degree of sensitivity, mindful of the spiritual depth of Christ’s message. His teachings drew people away from the rigid legalism which sought to structure the lives of His contemporaries. The teachings of Jesus are designed to expand mind and soul, not instil rules and regulations. Laws have now given way to the ethics of the Kingdom of God. The minute strictures of the Law are replaced by something implanted in the believer’s heart. The guiding light is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Properly understood and absorbed, that guiding light becomes an infusion of moral and spiritual regeneration governing all areas of a person’s life. We are reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit and live in the grace of God.

First principles

A complex Rule will demand too much attention to detail, distracting from the principle of simplicity which it is designed to safeguard. I have looked at various schemes proposed by both Catholic and Protestant writers. They seem excessively complicated, with a string of headings and sub-headings that create a burden on the disciple. None of them acknowledge the extent to which the Holy Spirit powerfully works on the interior life of a Christian, generating self-giving love as a natural outflow of faith.

Jesus said to Martha: ‘You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one’ (Lk 10.41-42). The honoured place of a disciple, as portrayed in this incident, is to sit at Jesus’ feet. Love for God is expressed best in listening and responding to Jesus’ words. Everything in the life of a disciple flows from this central focus. A Rule of Life instils a discipline that meets the spiritual needs of Christ’s followers, keeping them rooted in the faith.

So the primary consideration is creating a Rule that it is simple to follow but succeeds in stabilising one’s spiritual life. The Rule needs to be built on concrete principles.

  1. The first of these is the Great Commandment to love God and love one’s neighbour (Mk 12.28-34). This is a synthesis of the Decalogue, which is an exposition of God’s decrees for right behaviour, sometimes called the moral law (Ex 20 and Dt 5).
  1. The spirit in which the Decalogue is to be interpreted is described in the Sermon on the Mount, summarised in the Beatitudes (Mt 5 to 7; 5.1-12). This is Christ’s radical working out of Judaic moral teachings, pointing to a new way that is enshrined in the human heart, not on tablets of stone. Here is Christ as the Logos (Word = knowledge) of God, as distinct from Moses and the words of God handed down to the people as a code of laws. Christ’s teachings transform a legal code into an ethic of love, not an adherence to the written word which does not of itself possess the power to save. Only an immense spiritual force can work such saving goodness into the human psyche: the power of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 12.1 – 13.13; 1 Jn 4.7-21).

Stability and balance

The Rule provides a structure and direction to underpin ethical and moral decisions, helping us to penetrate to the heart of the challenge posed by Christ’s teachings. By the regular practise of prayer, meditation and the study of God’s word, the Christian conscience is primed for Godly service.

The advice I want to give you at this moment, is to keep your mind more at rest. You do not realise what clarity and strength derive from peace, and you have need of it. I long for you to taste something of this serenity of the soul, which allows it all the freedom and simplicity of action and permits it to act truly and efficiently where others merely bustle about; do not confuse these two; action and bustling. Rest and be calm and you will discover what full, calm and strong activity will emerge from this rest. (Abbé de Tourville, Light and life. Dacre Press, 1961, pp.72-73).

It is important to remember that a Rule of Life is a servant, not a master. It is not a task but a tool. Christ is our Master, our teacher, and we are his servants. The Rule is there as a framework around which the spiritual and moral life of the disciple can be ordered. But for the Rule to succeed it has to be adhered to faithfully, which is why achieving a balance is so important. A Rule that is too simple will be regarded as of little value and discarded. A Rule that is too complex will become irksome and we are likely to not only lose focus of the goal, serving Jesus Christ, but also run out of patience with it, or else it becomes merely a daily chore devoid of any meaningful spiritual connection.

The Rule needs to be regarded as something that supports a Christian disciple, a natural element of life, enhancing and deepening his or her spirituality. For this, we have to co-operate with the Holy Spirit who is in essence the driving force, the power, the ongoing guide in the life of a disciple. The object of the written Rule outlined here is to provide an accessible framework within which daily spiritual practices can be harmonised.

Essential components

These can be grouped under three headings, which correspond to the ethos of the Fellowship of St. Peter. These are the three overarching principles in the life of a disciple.

Bible, Prayer, Witness.

1. The Bible

The power of God’s word is described masterfully by the author of Hebrews: The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts more incisively than any two-edged sword: it can seek out the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from marrow; it can pass judgement on secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing is hidden from him; everything is uncovered and stretched fully open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves (Heb 4.12-13).

The Bible is the primary source of divine revelation, detailing God’s mighty acts in salvation history. Reading and absorbing the word of God is a crucial first step in maintaining a Rule of Life. It is a daily exercise. We read and study the Bible in the light of the Holy Spirit, centering on the readings designated for the day. Study of particular books and themes will also be a regular feature and crucial in gaining a broad under-standing of the word of God. The tools necessary are an annotated Bible and a good one-volume commentary.

There are a number of distance learning courses on the Bible and Christian theology. The Bible Society and the Bible Reading Fellowship run online courses for church groups and individuals. Your church may have a Bible study group.

If you are new to the Bible, here are some essentials:

(a) Get to know the psalms and use them prayerfully. Find out their purpose, style and various categories. Come to love their lyricism and their different spiritual messages, how essential they are to Christian spirituality.

(b) The Sermon on the Mount is an ideal entry point for a reading of the whole Gospel message. Moving on from there, read all of Matthew and Luke and the first five chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Go on to read the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John. Then read Ephesians and the First Letter of Peter. These readings will provide a solid introduction to the New Testament. After this you need to follow a Bible reading plan covering the whole of the Bible, of which there are a number available, or read through the Bible with a handbook, such as the Lion handbook to the Bible (Lion, 5th edition, 2017).

Recommended study Bibles:

The Life Application Bible. This is available with the NIV or NKJV texts (published by Hodder & Stoughton and Tyndale respectively).

The NIV Study Bible (published by Hodder & Stoughton).

The ESV Study Bible or the less detailed ESV Student Study Bible (both published by Collins).

Paraphrased and simplified versions of the Bible should be avoided.

(c) Our daily reading of the Bible can be organised in three stages: 1) a straight reading of the passages; 2) a second reading, delving into the language and technicalities it contains, such as symbolism, metaphor and hyperbole, as well as the theological, historical and cultural issues raised; 3) draw spiritual nourishment from the readings to increase your understanding and appreciation of the message contained therein, both as a heightened awareness of the theological aspects of God’s purpose and as a way of deepening your spiritual life.

For everyday use, The Bible reader’s companion by Lawrence Richards is excellent (David C. Cook, new edition, 2002). There are more detailed commentaries for study purposes.

Apart from a good one-volume commentary, if you wish to go deeper into Bible study you could invest in a series of more in-depth commentaries, each one covering different books of the Bible.

A Bible concordance is very useful as an aid to Bible study. A good general-purpose concordance is Find what you believe (Thomas Nelson, 2013). A Bible dictionary is also a useful addition to your biblical toolbox.

2. Prayer

Personal Prayers

Keep personal prayers as simple, direct and heartfelt as possible. Personal prayer is a natural and spontaneous dialogue with God. When we pray we speak to God in our own words; when we read Scripture He speaks to us.

If you use a prayer book, an interval can be set aside for quietness and personal prayer. A prayer book is not essential but if you want to use one I recommend that it is not overly formal and wordy. The aim is to avoid long-winded and pompous language, prayers spoken from a script. However, I am not decrying the use of prayer books. Far be it from me to discourage their use if they help people in their daily devotions.

May the words of my mouth always find favour, and the whispering of my heart, in your presence, Lord, my rock, my redeemer! (Ps 19.14).

I strongly recommend praying twice in the day: morning and evening. Begin the day with a prayer to praise God and to ask Him to guide and protect you in all your endeavours, placing before Him any cares and concerns for yourself and for others and for issues outside your immediate sphere. At the end of the day, carve out time for recollection, to confess your sins, to ask forgiveness and to thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed on you. Ask Him to bless you and carry you through the night in peace – for others too. Ask Him to strengthen you and others that you name regarding particular worries and tasks so that the new day will bring God’s grace to face whatever trials lay ahead. Do not clutter your prayer time with trivial everyday matters that are well within your ability to cope with. Our prayer times should also include recollection.

Although we cannot always preserve our recollection, yet we must do so from time to time, and at the least once a day, either in the morning or in the evening. In the morning form your intention, and at night examine your conduct….(Thomas a Kempis, The imitation of Christ, ch. 19).

What are the ideal conditions for prayer time?

(a) Make sure you are in a quiet place with no distractions, that you are seated in a comfortable position and relaxed. Many people light a candle and place a cross or crucifix on the table. The flickering candle symbolises the presence of the Holy Spirit.

When you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. (Mt 6.6).

My personal preference is to incorporate the daily Bible readings, thus creating an enriching and refreshing spiritual experience, a complete package. This is optional. You may wish to keep the Bible readings detached from your prayer time and as a prelude to Bible study. Either way, this element is called ‘spiritual reading’ because God’s word is read in the light of the Holy Spirit

(b) Begin and end your prayer time with, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’, and if preferred make the sign of the cross as you say these words.

(c) Slowly read the Bible passage(s) and psalm designated for that day, within your prayer time or after it. Afterwards, pause and reflect on what you have just read. The reading may be a long one. If so, focus on a particular verse or passage that raises an interesting topic for meditation and research. The psalm may be particularly inspiring, some of the phrases remaining in your mind. The psalm and readings may usefully relate to something happening in your life. If that is the case, draw from the riches of the spiritual moment….Be still and acknowledge that I am God (Ps 46.10).

When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart; for I was called by your Name, Lord…. (Jer 15.16).

(d) The mnemonic ACTS is a useful guide to structure your prayer time – Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication. You do not need to arrange your prayer time in that order, but these ingredients must certainly be present. Praise God and thank him for all the gifts you have received from his hands. Pray for your own needs and those of others (supplication or intercession), including health issues, combatting anger, strength to resist temptation and endure trials, safety in travel, good judgement, guidance in making crucial decisions, and any other issues you are concerned about. Pray for peace and to be channels of God’s peace. End a prayer with ‘in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’ or ‘I ask this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.’

For thus says the High and Exalted One who lives eternally and whose name is holy, ‘I live in the holy heights but I am with the contrite and humble, to revive the spirit of the humble, to revive the heart of the contrite’ (Is 57.15).

(e) In any prayer regime there must be a time of silence so that you can garner the leadings of the Spirit. With your eyes closed and your hands either held together in an attitude of prayer or resting on the table, sit in silence to await the touch of the Spirit. Take as much time as you wish. When other thoughts intrude ask God for peace and repose. This part of your prayer time may be called ‘silent waiting’.

Let all people be silent before the Lord, now that he is stirring from his holy Dwelling! (Zech 2.13).

(f) End with the Lord’s Prayer…. ‘Our Father….’. This greatest of prayers should be said slowly and reverently.

(g) You may wish to add a doxology, from 2 Corinthians 13.13 or Numbers 6.24-26:

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.’

‘May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord let his face shine on us and be gracious to us. May the Lord show us his face and bring us peace. Amen.’

(h) Proceed to Bible study, preferably straight after morning prayer as the spiritual import of the readings will stay with you for the rest of the day and may feed into your activities. Evening prayer can be used as a recapitulation in that you read the passage(s) and psalm again in their entirety, or an extract from each, concentrating on words, phrases and themes that the Spirit has drawn your attention to and which you have subjected to study and meditation. In this way your knowledge of God’s word is deepened and your spiritual life enhanced. You are drawn closer to God through your prayers and through the spiritual dimensions of the Bible readings.

Dryness in prayer

From time to time the cares of life overwhelm us and we become distracted from our normal course. At such times finding words for prayer can be difficult. As a remedy, place yourself before God in solitude, asking for healing and peace with a simple direct request, or just rest in His enfolding arms in silence and abandon yourself in His love. End with ‘Amen’ (‘so be it’). I suggest you also read a well-chosen psalm that conveys your dilemma. This in itself is a form of prayer.

The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God (Rom 8.26-27).

Worship

Since there are so many forms and traditions in Christian worship, according to the various denominations, it is impossible to be prescriptive. In essence, all that a Christian does in the name of Christ is worship of God because it is an acknowledgement of the power of God and our need of Him. In prayer we praise and thank God and ask Him to help us and others. This, and the many ways we work for the Kingdom of God, both within the church and in our daily lives, and in all our efforts to assist those who need our help, we worship Him in our hearts.

Conclusion

There are inward and outward aspects to the Christian life. In our reading of the Bible we feed our minds with rich nourishment from God’s store of wisdom. We hear God’s voice spoken through Jesus Christ, the prophets, the apostles and others who were inspired by His will to convey His words. In prayer we commune with God. In both cases there is a continuous dialogue – God speaks to us through his word, we speak to Him through prayer. When we carve out a space for silence, we await the leading of the Spirit so that God can come to us through our deepest longings.

Word and Spirit – mind and prayer – are carried forward in our everyday activities, whatever they may be, whether in the service of the church or in our encounters with all kinds and conditions of humanity. Either way we demonstrate that we are faithful companions of Christ, witnesses to the person and work of the world’s Saviour.

Christ is our redeemer, our teacher, our guide, our consoler, our light, our shepherd. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14.6).

Recommended reading:

Douglas V. Steere Dimensions of prayer: cultivating a relationship with God. Upper Room Books, revised edition, 1997.

3. Witness

I define Witness as any act or declaration that proclaims and mediates Christ. Witnessing is integral to the life of a disciple. The manner in which we witness, or testify, to the truth of the Gospel is indicative of the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. Christians should aim to be men and women of peace. An attitude of peace conveys the spirit of Christ – Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God (Mt 5.9).

The objects of Christ’s own witness are: (a) His resurrection (Acts 2.32); (b) His saviourhood (Acts 5.31-32); (c) His mission (Acts 10.40-42); (d) His sufferings (1 Pet 5.1).

The deeds my Father has given me to perform, these same deeds of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself. (Jn 5.36-37).

Christ is the Witness par excellence, testifying to his Father’s purpose and carrying out His plan of salvation. He and the Father are indivisible, and the Father is glorified in the Son (Jn 14.13).

The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from my hand. The Father, for what he has given me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal anything from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one (Jn 10.27-30)

On another occasion, Jesus said to his disciples:

I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. My command to you is to love one another….When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning (Jn 15.16-17; 26-27).

Christ initiates a transforming friendship. The love of Christ is engraved on our hearts and it is He who judges the secrets of mankind (cf. Rom 2.15-16 – see also 1 Jn 3.18-22). Our conscience is a witness, it is our accuser and defender, drawing us back from the brink of evil or strengthening our resolve to do good. It is our own inner mental dialogue, given new purpose by the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22-23).

As all the patriarchs and prophets, and countless others, bore witness to God in ages past, so we in our own times bear witness to Him in various ways through Christ. God has appointed Him to judge everyone, alive or dead (Acts 10.41-42). God confirmed the first witnesses of Christ with signs and marvels and miracles of all kinds and by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Heb 2.4). Christians are commissioned and empowered to be witnesses (Acts 1.8; 4.33). Our Christian journey will be subject to opposition, the criticism of sceptics and non-believers, those who deny that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God and Saviour of the world. The road to salvation is strewn with the snares and pitfalls of persecution, all of which we must bear with patience and fortitude (1 Cor 4.11-13). Christ warned us that this would be our lot (Mt 5.10-12; 10.17-42), but we are given strength to endure adversity (1 Cor 10.13) and gifted with words to refute the accusations of our enemies (Mk 13.11).

The desire to witness, to give testimony, to Christ is ingrained in the Christian heart. We live, breathe and move in Christ, witnessing to Him in the daily grind. This manifests itself in small deeds of kindness and sometimes in significant ways. All of these deeds carry equal merit in the eyes of the Lord. We are justified by our faith, not our works. We will be not be judged on our good works but on how much we have loved. As we make our way through the ups and downs of our daily existence we encounter people experiencing all kinds of difficulties and we are moved by pity to find solutions, or at least mitigate the effects. In all that we do and say throughout a typical day, we strive to follow Christ, showing compassionate concern for the intolerable burdens that modern life places on our fellow human beings or the stress and anxiety that comes with illness and grief. It is in these everyday events that we mediate Christ in the world. When we are struck down by misfortune, Christ responds to us wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Mt 11.28-30).

Our discipleship is communion with Christ. This is communion unconstrained by human inventions and liturgical traditions. Christ sets us free to serve Him in love. He releases us not only from the folly of our own iniquity but also from the chains of ritualism. We are to be living, walking temples of the Spirit, a reflection of the divine. That is our life and our calling, that is the Christian imperative. The psalms refer to this sense of divinely-empowered freedom: In my distress you have set me at large (Ps 4.1); You who have seen the miseries of my soul, you have not handed me over to the enemy, but have given me freedom to roam at large (Ps 31.8). Christ himself assured us of the spiritual blessings He would bestow on us: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free (Jn 8.31-32).

None of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself; while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord (Rom 14.7-8).

Spiritual gifts

A Christian is one who demonstrates his belief in the Gospel by spiritual sacrifices. These sacrifices are many and varied, often small gestures of kindness that reveal the healing light of the Spirit. Disciples serve Christ in various ministries as a natural outflow of self-giving love, according to the particular gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon each of them. These gifts cover a wide range of activities, all of them mediating Christ in the world.

Romans 12.6-8: prophecy, administration, teaching, almsgiving, works of mercy.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11, 27-30: preaching, teaching, healing, power of miracles, prophecy, gift of tongues, gift of interpreting tongues, leaders, helpers.

Ephesians 4.7-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.

A community of Christians constitute the body of Christ, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it is through the same Spirit that each member conveys Christ’s power among us.

I urge you therefore to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you were called. With all humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all (Eph 4.2-6).

Simplicity

Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice….You cannot be the slave both of God and money (Mt 6.33, 24; cf. 1 Tim 6.6-10, 17-19).

Most of us desire wealth, or at least financial security, yet we know in our hearts that money does not of itself bring happiness or security. Christians should lead by example in pursuing a modest lifestyle.

Simplicity is not so much about what we own, but what owns us. If we need lots of possessions to maintain our self-esteem and create our self-image and to look good to our neighbours, then we have forgotten or neglected that which is real and inward. If our time, money and energy are consumed in selecting, acquiring, maintaining, cleaning, moving, improving, replacing, dusting, storing, using, showing off and talking about our possessions, then there is little time, money and energy left for our other pursuits, such as the work we do to further the Community of God.
(Christine Hadley Snyder, Plain living: a Quaker path to simplicity, Sorin Books, 2001, p.24).

A mind preoccupied with material gain and the craving for luxuries is too distracted to dwell on the things of God or hear the cries of those less fortunate in this world. Simplicity and restraint in daily living lead to a healthier outlook and the time and space for spiritual goals, as well as producing a surplus for charitable giving.

Further reading:

John Stott The contemporary Christian: an urgent plea for double listening. IVP, 1992.
(Reissued by IVP in 2019 in five volumes: The Gospel; The Disciple; The Bible; The Church; The World.)

John Stott The radical disciple: wholehearted Christian living. IVP, 2010.