Tuesday 8 January 2013

Five Rules for Life

If I were not a follower of Jesus Christ, I would be glad to have Jonathan Sacks as my rabbi!  Once again, I find myself nodding in agreement, this time with his ‘Five Rules for Life’ as published in the Times (5/1/13). 

Here are the five rules, in speech marks with my own brief comments added.

1.     ‘The first thing to do is dream…. Dreams are where we visit the many lands and landscapes of human possibility and discover the one where we feel at home. The great religious leaders were all dreamers.’

I am currently encouraging my church to dream dreams for ‘Vision 20/21’, based upon John 20:21 (‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’).  We are asking what are our dreams for the year 2021?  Why 2021?  Well, it’s not so close that we feel those dreams unattainable, nor so far away that they mean nothing for our generation.  If we aim low, we are likely to hit the mark.  If we dream large, we may not attain it but we are likely to achieve so much more for Jesus!

2.     ‘The second rule is, follow your passion. People who follow their passion tend to lead blessed lives. Happy in what they do, they tend to spread happiness to those whose lives they touch. That is a life worth living.’

Sixteen years as a Baptist minister have taught me that I am a ‘big picture’ person rather than a ‘details’ person.  Where it is possible I am happy to delegate the latter.  Some people may be passionate about the detail, but I am not!  Sixteen years has also taught me to say ‘No’ to things that do not appeal to me.  For example, I had a passion to see the Street Pastors’ Scheme set up in my former city of Peterborough, so I took steps to help it happen.  I turned down the opportunity of store chaplaincy because it did not excite me, important though it may be.

3.     ‘The third rule I learnt from the psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most widely read books of our time. Frankl used to say: Don’t ask what you want from life. Ask what life wants from you.’

Before I trained as a Baptist minister, I had a career in the building society world.  For a long time, I found great fulfillment in it.  I moved to another building society for a substantial pay increase and a company car, only to find that the job satisfaction vanished.  I had had a sense of calling to pastoral ministry for some time; now was the time to pursue it.  This was what life – or God – wanted from me.  I believe He still does!

4.     ‘The fourth rule is: make space in your life for the things that matter, for family and friends, love and generosity, fun and joy.’

Early in my time as a Baptist minister, I became a bit of a workaholic.  This was what I had been called to and I was enjoying it so much that my working week was closer to 80 hours than the 35-40 that is the norm in other walks of life.  I tended to wait until the end of the week to see what time was left for leisure.

I came to realize that overwork is not a virtue.  It is a denial of the Sabbath rest that God has built into his plan for us. I now try to build leisure into my week, irrespective of how much there is to do.  I work from rest, rather than the other way around.  I feel much better for it and, strangely, the ministry is usually still done and is probably more effective.  Oh, and I still enjoy the ministry – most of the time!

5.     ‘The fifth rule is work hard, the way an athlete or concert pianist or cutting-edge scientist works hard. The American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls this the principle of “flow”. By this he means the peak experience you have when you are working so hard at a task that you are unaware of the passing of time.’

Whilst overwork is not a virtue, hard work is!  It is quite possible for clergy to ‘underwork’, since a lot of the time no one knows what we do!  Sacks reminds that the Hebrew word for serving God – ‘avodah’ – also means hard work.  Whilst ministry can be a slog, I often find that there is fulfillment in working hard especially when following a passion.

Sacks concludes:

There are many other rules but these are some of the most important. Try them and you will be surprised by joy.’

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