What is the rhythm?
The moment we hear the word “rhythm” related to our spiritual life, we probably think about balancing work and rest, maintaining certain tempos in life, or perhaps liturgical practices. We think about balancing two compartmentalized aspects of the Christian life instead of infusing each aspect with the other. While all of those things are good to consider, there is still a more basic need for us to understand and take seriously: the rhythm of the Christian life.
In a sentence, the rhythm of the Christian life is a biblically-based, centuries-old belief that time alone with God and time together with others are intimately connected and work in tandem to glorify God.
Therefore, “the rhythm” is not some nebulous slot somewhere between spiritual disciplines and experiencing life seasonally. We are also not dealing with the individual muscles or bones in the body, but rather the connecting tissues and tendons and how the entire system works together in our Christian life. It is the awareness of how our daily time alone and time together relate to each other in an alternating way.
The Rhythm of the Christian Life
In the rhythm of the Christian life, individual desires to be served turn into Christlike desires to serve others (Mark 10:45). Individual goals and interests become secondary to the goals and interests of other believers (Phil. 2:3–4). Individual attitudes grow into joining attitudes (Heb. 10:24–25). Living in the rhythm of the Christian life means that personal prayer includes intercessory prayer for others. It means that individual Bible studies and communal Bible studies work in tandem. It means that solitude and fellowship are spiritually connected and supernaturally support each other.
Together, the two-beat rhythm of the Christian life fosters godliness, health, and love. If we do not have time alone, then we will eventually fail during our time together. If we do not have time together, then we will ultimately fail in our time alone.
How Can We Live in the Rhythm?
Many things will compete to defeat the rhythm in our lives. Even now, as we stop and look over our shoulder, we can see some of the things that are vying for our time, and if left unchecked, will throw us off balance. For instance, with the blessings of technology have come the curses of being unrhythmical. We can work in industries that require the tough work of shift work—throwing off our biological clocks. We can be on call from anywhere at any time—hindering our regular intervals of undistracted time alone. We can communicate with people we will never meet in person—preventing physical presence and authentic community.
How, then, do we do it? How do we follow God’s pattern for our life and resist the devil’s strategies to obstruct it? How can we possibly infuse this rhythm into our lives, especially if our life is already out of sync?
In Scripture, we see an effective plan played out in Ezra’s life: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10; italics added).
Therefore, let us get practical and intentional by following Ezra’s three-fold progression.
We must start with God’s word. Read and meditate on it. Examine our rhythms and the rhythm by it. Test our experiences with it—ensuring that our interactions with people are loving, our growth is increasing, our gifts are edifying the church, our light is shining before others, our teaching is accurate.
The inspired biblical accounts were written for our instruction, and they help us learn about the rhythm God designed for our life and how only Jesus can rescue us from our sin and restore us to complete harmony.
We should not just study about the rhythm but according to the rhythm. Meaning, we should not only study alone but also communally. Studying alone should certainly be a staple of our devotional life, at least for those of us blessed to live in literate societies. Yet the model of Christ, the missionary efforts of the early church, and the message of the New Testament authors all uphold corporate times of studying. As individualistic as we are, and as isolated as we are becoming, we need to seize upon more occasions and opportunities to come together and grow as communities.
As life pulls us this way and that, as we are constantly juggling relationships and responsibilities, now is the time for us to (re)calibrate our lives (2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 3:15; Rev. 3:11). We must prayerfully come up with a plan and, with God’s grace, execute it.
The hallmarks of accomplishing almost anything in life include creating a reasonable game plan, being intentionally committed, and acquiring appropriate accountability. Those common characteristics are no less necessary in the Christian life, but there is much more to consider regarding “the rhythm” as opposed to “rhythms” in general. That is why we are not discussing the ins and outs of time alone or time together. Rather, we are focusing on some of the best practices for cultivating the back-and-forth rhythm and for living with the rhythm mindset.
Living in the rhythm is more than just performing some spiritual activities consistently. It is not until we rightly remember others during our time alone, or apply our time alone to our time together, that we are “doing it.” Despite the differences between them, we must experience the interconnectedness and reciprocal effect at play between our time together with others and our time alone with God.
After we pray for someone’s sickness, we should go visit him or her. After we visit the sick, we should go pray for them. After we study the Word, we ought to counsel and strengthen someone accordingly. After we receive the Word communally, we should go back to search Scripture individually. After we have taken the log out of our eye, we must still go to our brother or sister and help them with the splinter that is in their eye. After someone helps us with the splinter in our eye, we should bring it to the Lord and repent.
In everything we do, we must glorify God and consider our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must gauge our souls before God and others. We must recognize our thought patterns and ask ourselves hard questions to uncover our motives. Are our thoughts largely others-focused, or mostly self-focused? What is the state of our soul right now, and who else knows and cares about it? Who is helping us endure to the end? Do we take the commands in passages like Hebrews 3:13 seriously, and determine ways we can “exhort one another every day” in our context? Are we imitating Jesus, who was in the habit of spending time alone with God, or are we like the Pharisees doing everything to be seen by man (Matt. 23:5)?
By studying about and living in the rhythm, we ought to realize that it is not just for us. We do not hide how God moves in our lives. We proclaim it to others, just as the Psalmist says, “I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” (Ps. 40:10).
Opportunities to teach others are not restricted to sacred spaces. Philip taught from Isaiah in a chariot. Paul read God’s Word in synagogues, taught it in lecture halls, and evangelized with it along riverbanks and in marketplaces. One way early Christians loved their neighbors was by reading, teaching, and discussing God’s truth with them.
In fact, our lives are meant to be a walking letter for everyone to examine and read (2 Cor. 3:2–3). We must maximize our opportunities to teach and encourage others. Sunday school, home Bible studies, or other face-to-face meetings throughout the week provide ample opportunities for us to teach and show others how to live in the rhythm God intended, while encouraging them to keep their loves and priorities straight. Whatever the context, we must pass along God’s truth to others.
Allowing the rhythm to regulate our lives will ensure that we never waste them. And there is no better way to follow Jesus on the narrow path of faithfulness in all seasons of our lives than to live in the rhythm of the Christian life.
[special]Note: This guest contribution by Brian J. Wright draws from his new book, The Rhythm of the Christian Life: Recapturing the Joy of Life Together.[/special]
[special]Brian J. Wright (PhD, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia) serves full-time in pastoral ministry as a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and teaches for several universities and seminaries as an adjunct professor. He is the author of Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices, and The Rhythm of the Christian Life: Recapturing the Joy of Life Together.[/special]