A Trellis for Transformation
I have a confession: I’ve never been one to like rules. While I know they’re necessary for an orderly and safe life, both in society and as an individual, I often felt that rules restricted rather than liberated me while growing up. For others, rules tend to provide a sense of safety and certainty. Yet I have come to realize more in recent years that everyone has rules that govern the way they live. Whether they are explicitly communicated or not, each person, family, or community has certain principles or values that determine their way of being in the world.
Reframing a Rule
From the beginning stages of the Church, followers of Jesus have had what has been called a “rule for life” that has shaped the way they live as Kingdom citizens in the world. Author and pastor Pete Scazzero once observed that the word “rule” actually comes from the Latin word for trellis, which is a frame or structure used for growing plants or vines. He goes on to define a rule for life as a “structure or a rhythm for our lives that enables us to pay attention to God in everything we do.” Another Christian author states that “developing a rule for life is a way of being intentional about the personal rhythms and guidelines that shape our days.” Additionally, each “rhythm or rule is a way we partner with God for the transformation only He can bring.”
Developing a rule for life is a way of being intentional about the personal rhythms and guidelines that shape our days.
These rules or rhythms are not meant to be legalistic lists, but rather a set of commitments that liberate us to operate from a place of receiving and giving the supernatural love of God. A rule for life releases us from the tyranny of the urgent and equips us to have a balanced life with God’s presence seated at the center of our being. To put it another way, a rule of life is like a trellis of transformation, a set of rhythms that help us abide in Christ and to grow the enduring fruit of the Spirit. Now, these are some rules that I could grab onto!
A rule for life releases us from the tyranny of the urgent and equips us to have a balanced life with God’s presence seated at the center of our being.
Rule of Life Over Resolutions
I have another confession—I have not yet made any New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t plan to. I have nothing against resolutions, but I do think our current strategy of employing them is broken. Author and pastor Rich Villodas recently put it this way: “Resolutions are good, but a Rule of Life is better. Resolutions are often about goals that require lots of willpower. A Rule is about submitting to the Spirit-empowered rhythms, practices, and relationships that reorder our hearts and form our wills.” Resolutions often focus on what we want or need to do (which again is good and necessary), but a rule of life focuses on the type of person we want to become. In essence, these rules help us to rightly order our being before our doing so that all of our life’s activity flows from a deep rootedness in the love of God.
Resolutions often focus on what we want or need to do (which again is good and necessary), but a rule of life focuses on the type of person we want to become. In essence, these rules help us to rightly order our being before our doing so that all of our life’s activity flows from a deep rootedness in the love of God.
A rule of life has a rich history in Christian tradition and was central in forming the monastic way of life in the early centuries of the Church. But even before these moments, we see this practice displayed in the life of Christ and the early Church. It was often said of Jesus, in the gospels, that “he would withdraw to desolate places to pray,” and that “he came out and went [to pray], as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives” (see Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 22:39). In the beginning stages of the Church the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Apostle Paul wrote to his pastoral protege Timothy about his “rule of life” when he said, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness…(2 Timothy 3:10).
Later on, in the sixth century, the Rule of Saint Benedict was formed as a guide to monasteries, yet has continued to influence the Eastern and Western Church for the past 1,500 years. Even many of the Reformers and other evangelical patriarchs and matriarchs have a life of similar practices without the title of a “rule.” Today, many Christian traditions have been returning to the rule for life as an antidote to the lonely and fragmented lives we find in our Western culture.
Developing a Trellis for Transformation
Writing about a rule of life, or trellis for transformation, Pastor Jeremy Linneman said, “My experience as a pastor has shown me that many of my friends and church members aren’t undone by poor theology or a lack of biblical information. Instead, we often fail to grow spiritually because we haven’t planned and made space for a deep, abiding fellowship with God.”
We often fail to grow spiritually because we haven’t planned and made space for a deep, abiding fellowship with God.
So how could we begin to develop a rule of life—a trellis for Spirit-empowered rhythms—to participate in the transformative work that only God can do in, through, and around us? While this practice has taken on many forms, here are four core questions to prayerfully reflect on to get started. These central questions are formed around the themes of prayer, self-care, community, and mission.
- What are the spiritual disciplines you need to anchor you for a life marked by intimacy with God?
- What self-care practices do you need to care for your body and nurture your soul?
- What core relationships do you need to invest in to help you in this current season of life?
- What are the gifts, passions, and burdens within you that God wants you to express for the blessing of others?
One last way to think of this trellis for transformation is as a set of strategies for daily renewal. To go deeper into this practice I encourage you to explore the resources and coaching we offer on how we can live the abundant life that only Christ can provide.
May this next year be marked by a renewed intention to live from the deep well of the Father’s love so that our abiding in Him will produce lasting fruit for His glory.
Copyright © 2023 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved
 Calhoun, Ahlberg Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. IVP Books, November, 2015. p. 38