The Importance of Rhythms


Fall is, without a doubt, my favorite season. It’s also a beautiful reminder of the importance of rhythms in our lives. Fall only makes sense if we also know the heat of seemingly endless summer days, the harsh beauty of winter, and the vibrancy of spring. If all we knew was fall, autumn would lose its wonder. Ultimately, it’s the rhythm of all the seasons that I really cherish.

When we look at creation, we realize rhythm is essential to God’s design for the world – from seasons, to ocean tides, to sunrise and sunset, there is a rhythmic interplay that permeates the natural world. The same is true for us, the very best of God’s creation. We need to live our lives with defined rhythms – daily, weekly, and seasonally – if we’re going to thrive.

Rhythm isn’t about wild fluctuation between extremes. It’s about a gentle, steady, and life-giving back and forth. Rhythms aren’t about compensating for the mistakes and excesseses of the past season. They are about being present to the possibilities of this season. Rhythms aren’t about forcing us to do what we don’t want to do. They’re about helping us find the life we’re longing to experience.

When I cooperate with three essential rhythms, I’m the best version of myself.

Work/Rest

In many ways, this is the foundational rhythm that shapes each of our days.

It’s about enjoying breakfast with my family before we head off into the world. It’s about working hard on things that really matter, fighting distraction, and leaning into the roles God is asking me to play in life. It’s about stewarding my time so that I can power down my computer, put my phone on do not disturb, and have dinner with my family. And it’s about Sabbath, voluntarily fasting from productivity for 24 hours each week.

The trick for me is remembering that rest isn’t just a productivity hack, it’s an essential rhythm to our life with God. Our minds, bodies, and souls need to power down so they can be renewed and replenished. Ultimately, rest is about trust. Do we trust God enough to turn our phones off and go for a hike?

We also need to remember that work isn’t a curse, it’s a gift. We are created to do meaningful work – a life of laziness or leisure is never going to bring joy either. We need to get our hands dirty, our minds engaged, and our bodies tired. Those are also essential elements for our thriving.

Community/Solitude

Here’s the key point on this one: We ALL need BOTH, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Yes, we all probably get more energy from one than the other but we ALL need BOTH. Community Groups are for introverts and silence and solitude is for extroverts!

At Restoration City, we talk a lot about community because spiritual formation is ultimately a relational process. We grow and change in community. In order to thrive, we need to be known by a close circle of friends and we need to invest the time in getting to know a close circle of friends. But we also need to be alone with God. There’s a reason Bonhoeffer devotes an entire chapter to silence and solitude in his classic book on community, Life Together. He begins the chapter with this thought:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.

Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Chapter 3

Being alone with God looks different for each of us in different seasons of life but we must learn to live in a rhythm of community and solitude.

Contemplation/Action

I know this sounds a lot like the work/rest rhythm but it’s not. This rhythm isn’t about how we organize our days, weeks, or months. It’s about how we make sense of major seasons of our lives.

For example, I think of 2019-2021 as an extended season of action in my life. I was pastoring a church, finishing up a degree, raising three small kids, and doing all of that in the upheaval of a global pandemic. While I tried to maintain rhythms of rest and solitude, I knew that I was in a season marked by a lot of activity. I wasn’t necessarily asking as many big picture questions. I was more tactical, trying to figure out what we needed to do to get through each fresh crisis.

But then in February of 2022, things began to shift. I was on a short retreat with a good friend and felt the Lord telling me I was headed into a season of contemplation. I needed to rethink some major things in my life – deeper clarity on vocation, fresh vision for the church, a new perspective on some key relationships, and a deeper trust in God. It’s only been very recently that I’ve felt the pendulum start to swing towards a season of action where I get to bring some of what I’ve learned over the past months to life.

Bottom line: you were created to live in rhythm. The goal is not to impose artificial rhythms on your life but rather to unearth the rhythms that are in your soul and cooperate with them. Rhythms ultimately shape our calendars but that’s not where they start. They start by listening to our souls.

So, what does your soul need in this season?

Tennessee Mornings

Ocoee

It’s pretty easy to spend time with Jesus in the morning when you wake up to this view.  At least that’s what I found last week when I got to spend a few days in East Tennessee speaking at a student summer camp.  I could hardly wait to wake up in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch, take in the majesty of God’s creation, read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer.  To make it even easier, the cabin I was staying in had no phone line, no internet and no cell signal and my nearest neighbor was miles away.  Just to complete the picture, Laura and the kids were at her parents, so there were no little voices asking me for juice or to telling me they had to go potty.

So, I would sit there in silence and solitude. Read a little.  Pray a little.  Talk to myself.  Talk to God.  Reflect.  It was all kind of surreal…kind of like I found my own Walden Pond, in a really good way!

And somewhere along the way, I found myself thinking, “this is the way life should be.” That’s an unsettling thing for a guy living in an apartment in the city with a family of five to be thinking.  But, I suspect all of us city dwellers think similar things when we get out of town for a bit, right?  If we had different jobs, more space, less traffic, and simpler lives we would have better relationships with Jesus.  In short, if we lived elsewhere, we’d be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something really good about getting out of our routines.  My friend Mark Batterson says it so clearly, “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective”  He’s totally right and I’m all for vacations, retreats trips out of town and speaking at any church retreat with a good view!

But blaming our spiritual apathy on our surroundings is a cop out.  That was a point the Lord drilled home one morning last week with a simple question in my spirit, “John, which are you enjoying more, me or the view?”  Ouch.  Was I reveling in Jesus or in a novel experience?

When it comes to spending time with God, we all have a tendency to put too much hope in the experience and too little hope in experiencing God.  We spend so much time getting ourselves comfortable and creating an experience that will look amazing on Instagram and so little time enjoying Jesus.  Any time we lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the best part of any experience, we’re headed for trouble.

What mattered last week wasn’t the view.  What mattered is that God was there.  He wanted to speak.  I wanted to hear.  And that’s transportable.  That’s available in DC.  That’s available everywhere.  To every one of us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And the next morning.

Don’t settle for an experience when God invites us to experience Himself!