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Introduction

Welcome to “Life in Rhythm”! We’re so glad you’ve joined us! Our goal is to have a heart like Jesus, so over the next 8 weeks we’ll be learning how to practice 7 “Rhythms” that can help us grow in our relationship with Him. We’ll also be discovering how the Holy Spirit uses the Rhythms to change us from the inside-out. This week, we’ll be introducing the 7 Rhythms and sharing more about this journey we'll take together. But first, we know that some groups have been on summer break and are just getting back together. If that’s you, welcome back! We know you’re excited to reconnect. Other groups are just getting started. If that’s your group, we’re praying you’ll enjoy getting connected as you begin growing together. But whether your group is brand new or glad to be back together, we’re convinced that God’s got some incredible growth steps for you to experience — both for you personally and as a group. So … welcome!

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Memory Verse

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30

Overview

A Heart Like Jesus

If you’re ready, let’s start learning how the 7 “Rhythms” can help us grow to have a heart like Jesus.   

But first, you might be wondering what it means to have a “heart like Jesus.” Or is that even possible?  

Max Lucado helps us imagine what that could look like: 

“What if, for one day and one night, Jesus lives your life with his heart? Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ. His priorities govern your actions. His passions drive your decisions. His love directs your behavior ... Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of Jesus leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the image. What you see is what God wants. He wants you to “think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NCV).  God's plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.  “But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God - made to be truly good and holy” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NCV).  God wants you to be just like Jesus. He wants you to have a heart like his” (Lucado, Just Like Jesus: Learning to Have a Heart Like His, p. 1-2)

Wouldn’t that be incredible?  For us to have a new heart - Jesus’ heart - living inside us! 

But before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand what the Bible means when it talks about our “heart” and why our heart is so important to God.  Dane Ortlund offers this helpful perspective: 

“When the Bible speaks of the heart, whether Old Testament or New, it is not speaking of our emotional life only but of the central animating center of all we do. It is what gets us out of bed in the morning … It is our motivation headquarters. The heart, in biblical terms, is not part of who we are but the center of who we are. Our heart is what defines and directs us. That is why Solomon tells us to “keep the heart with all vigilance for from it flows the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV). The heart is a matter of life. It is what makes us the human being each of us is. The heart drives all we do. It is who we are” (Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, p. 18-19)

So, if our heart is the “center of who we are,” what does the Bible tell us about Jesus’ heart?   

In Matthew 11:28-30, the only biblical reference where Jesus talks about his own heart, He simply describes himself as “gentle and lowly in heart.”  Again, Dane Ortlund comments:  

“And when Jesus tells us what animates him most deeply, what is most true of him - when he exposes the innermost recesses of his being - what we find there is this: gentle and lowly. Gentle … Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms. Lowly … He is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ. No prerequisites. No hoops to jump through ... The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with” (Ortlund, p. 19-20) 

So, after reading about Jesus’ “gentle and lowly” heart, you might be asking how your life would change if you had a heart like His?  To get a better idea, Ortlund presents these snapshots of Jesus’ heart in action: 

“Jesus’ life proves his heart. When the leper says, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,’ Jesus immediately stretches out his hand and touches him, with the words, ‘I will; be clean.’ (Matthew 8:2-3) ... Jesus revealed his deepest desire by healing him. 

Traveling from town to town, ‘he saw the crowds and he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless’ (Matthew 9:36) ... The Greek word for ‘compassion’ … refers most literally to the bowels or guts of a person. This compassion reflects the deepest heart of Christ. 

Twice in the gospels we were told that Jesus broke down and wept ... In both cases it is sorrow over another – in one case, Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and in the other, his deceased friend, Lazarus (John 11:35). What was his deepest anguish? The anguish of others.  What drew his heart out to the point of tears? The tears of others. 

The same Christ who wept at the tomb of Lazarus weeps with us in our lonely despair. The same one who reached out and touched lepers puts his arm around us today when we feel misunderstood and sidelined. The Jesus who reached out and cleansed messy sinners reaches into our souls and answers our half-hearted plea for mercy with the mighty invincible cleansing of one who cannot bear to do otherwise” (Ortlund, p. 25-26, 32). 

Question: Considering what we know about Jesus’ heart, how do you think your life would change with His heart “animating” how you live?    

So … if Jesus’ heart were to become your heart, how would that happen?  How do we go from reading about Jesus’ heart, to actually having a “heart like Jesus”?  

Come to Me – Take My Yoke 

Let’s return to Matthew 11:28-30 where we first learned about Jesus’ heart.  Listen to Jesus’ invitation to take up His “yoke”: 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John Mark Comer provides fascinating insights into Jesus’ offer of His “easy yoke” in Matthew 11.  He notes that since Jesus was a rabbi (Hebrew, meaning “teacher”), just like all rabbis, He had a “yoke” and He had some “apprentices.”  Comer explains the significance of a rabbi’s yoke: 

“A yoke was a common idiom in the first century for a rabbi's way of reading the Old Testament Torah. But it was much more: it was his set of teachings on how to be human. His way to shoulder the weight of life ... It's an odd image for those of us who don't live in an agrarian society. But imagine two oxen yoked together to pull a cart or plow a field.  A yoke is how you shoulder a load. What made Jesus unique wasn't that he had a yoke; all rabbis had a yoke. It was that he had an ‘easy yoke’ ... Jesus’ invitation (was) to take up his yoke – to travel through life at his side, learning from him how to shoulder the weight of life with ease (Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, p. 76-77, 80).

With our new understanding of what Jesus meant by “easy yoke,” listen again to His winsome invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 through Eugene Peterson’s delightful paraphrase in The Message: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Question: Considering all that Jesus is offering in this passage, which words or phrases in Peterson’s paraphrase are most intriguing or welcomed by you?  

Secondly, not only did Jesus have a yoke, He also had “apprentices.”  Comer comments:

In Hebrew the word is talmidim. It's usually translated as “disciples” … but I think an even better word to capture the idea behind talmidim is “apprentices.”  To be one of Jesus’ talmidim was to apprentice under Jesus.  Put simply, it's to organize your life around three basic goals: 

  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Become like Jesus. 
  3. Do what he would do if he were you. 

(Comer, p. 77)

 

Comer continues, “The whole point of apprenticeship is to model all of your life after Jesus … (to) take on his habits and practices … (his) life and teachings as your template, your model, your pattern.  This means the central question of your apprenticeship to Jesus is pretty straightforward: How would Jesus live if he were me?” (Comer, p. 77, 86, 93).

But Comer also recognizes how much easier it is to simply study and discuss Jesus’ teachings than to “model all of your life after Jesus.” He notes, “following Jesus has to make it onto your schedule and into your practices or it will simply never happen. Apprenticeship to Jesus will remain an idea, not a reality in your life … The hard truth is that following Jesus is something you do. It’s a practice, as much as a faith” (Comer, p. 95, 97).

 

Question: How could you become more intentional to live like Jesus and not just be content with studying and discussing His teachings? How could your group encourage one another to actively model your lives after Jesus?     

 

So, let’s review: If we’re going to be apprentices of Jesus, we’ll be committed to three things: 

1) Being with Jesus; 2) Becoming like Jesus; 3) Doing what Jesus would do if He were you.

 

Being with Jesus 

Jesus’ “Come to Me” invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 was compelling. In essence, He was offering people “front-row” access to His life saying … “Be with me.  Watch me.  Learn from me.  Train alongside me.  Observe how I depend on my Father.  See how I move in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  

It’s interesting to note the sequence in Jesus’ training strategy with his newly recruited followers.  Mark 3:14-15 tells us: “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”  It seems that before Jesus sent people into ministry settings, He simply invited them to “be with Him.”  It was a “being before doing” discipling plan.  

Robert Coleman confirms that Jesus’ top priority in His “training program” of the Twelve was “just letting his disciples follow him.”  He continues, “… all Jesus did to teach these men his way was to draw them close to himself. He was his own school and curriculum … In his presence they could learn all that they needed to know.” (Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, p. 41,43).      

For instance, as we’ll see in Week 3 when we focus on the Rhythm of Prayer, it was during those “front-row” observational moments that Jesus most impressed His disciples of the priority of prayer.  

Just look at Mark 1:35-38: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  

Imagine His disciples waking up, only to find Jesus gone, one more time.  And then the ensuing conversation: “Anybody seen Jesus?  Nope … probably off praying again.”  And that’s exactly what the disciples found him doing.  

Luke’s account of Jesus’ life observes that he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).  It’s no wonder that after watching Jesus constantly getting away to pray, that His disciples finally asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

Question: Describe an experience where you’ve watched someone display a skill or model a character quality that shaped your life in some way.  What did you observe in them that most impacted you?  How did that lead to a change in your thinking or behavior?      

 

Introducing the “7 Rhythms”

Imagine being one of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  What would it have been like to be with Him?  More importantly, what kind of relational rhythms would we have seen Jesus practicing to be with His Father?  

As Dallas Willard reminds us, “we can, through faith and grace, become like Christ … by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father” (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. ix).  

Through the lens of the four Gospels, we’re able to observe a set of practices or “rhythms” that Jesus used to relate to His Father.  And as we’ll soon discover, those rhythms aren’t just for Jesus, they’re for us, too!  

Over the next 7 weeks, we’ll have an opportunity to take a deeper dive into 7 Rhythms. In both our weekend services and our “Life in Rhythm” group curriculum, we’ll explore biblical passages where we can: 

 

  1. Observe Jesus practicing the Rhythms
  2. Study Jesus’ teaching on the Rhythms
  3. Gain a biblical writer’s insights on living out the Rhythms  

 

Here are the 7 Rhythms:

 

Session Two: Daily Bible Engagement – Scripture is the Word of God; equipping us to know Him and learn how to live as authentic Christ-followers.  Reading, meditating on, and applying God’s Word each day is essential for our spiritual growth.  

Session Three: Prayer – Prayer is our communication with God; acknowledging Him as our Lord, sharing our heart with Him, asking for His help, and listening to His voice, both individually and in community.

Session Four: Repentance – As the Spirit helps us take inventory of our lives, we choose to honestly confess and then turn away from our sin in humble surrender to Jesus.  By receiving His gracious offer of forgiveness, we can find the freedom and power we need to live in obedience to Him.  

Session Five: Serve the Community – Being called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ love compels us to be difference-makers by serving Him in our church and in our world, both locally and globally.   

Session Six: Sacrificial Generosity – Recognizing that all our resources are owned by God and entrusted to us for His Kingdom purposes, we generously give out of gratitude to partner with Him in His work around us and around the world.   

Session Seven: Share Your Stories – We seek opportunities to introduce others to Jesus by sharing personal stories of our salvation and His transforming power in our lives.  

Session Eight: Worship – Both in our personal lives and as a church family, we intentionally praise God as our King, expressing our gratefulness for all He has done and giving Him all glory as we worship and celebrate all that He is.   

 

Question: Reviewing the 7 Rhythms, which one prompts the most questions in you?  Which one feels the most challenging?  Which one has been most helpful in your growth as a “Christ-follower”?  

 

Becoming Like Jesus – The Rhythms and The Spirit  

Whenever we practice one of the Rhythms, the Holy Spirit is at work to help us become more like Jesus.    

Richard Foster, who shares our Friends’ heritage, explains the Spirit’s transformational work in us by noting the apostle Paul’s farming metaphor in Galatians 6:7-8. He writes:

“The needed change within us is God's work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside ... Paul's analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the spiritual disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace … God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us ... Spiritual growth is the purpose of the Disciplines” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, p. 7-8).


Did you catch that?  Foster is saying that the Rhythms (what he calls the “Spiritual Disciplines”) are “God’s way of getting us into the ground where he can work within us and transform us.”  And as we continue practicing the Rhythms, it’s the Spirit who creates real change inside us where … 

“… (suddenly) we discover that the spirit of compassion we once found so hard to exhibit is now easy.  In fact, to be full of bitterness would be the hard thing … In the unguarded moments there is a spontaneous flow from the inner sanctuary of our lives of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  There is no longer the tiring need to hide our inner selves from others. We do not have to work hard at being good and kind; we are good and kind. To refrain from being good and kind would be the hard work because goodness and kindness are part of our nature (Foster, p. 8-9) 

Question: Describe a season in your life where you experienced “real” spiritual transformation.  How did you see yourself changing?  How did you grow in the character qualities that Paul outlines in Galatians 5:22-23? (“Fruit of the Spirit”)?  How did others notice those changes in you?  

 

To Catch the Spirit’s Wind - Hoist Your Sails!

Since we know it’s the Holy Spirit who transforms us, you might be wondering how “automatically” that change can happen.  Can we simply practice the Rhythms and expect spiritual renewal to be a predictable result?  John Ortberg offers these instructive insights: 

“The Bible speaks of transformation as the work of God. It's always a miracle when it happens.  To speak of spiritual growth only as the product of training (i.e., practicing the Rhythms) could make it sound like something we can engineer ... (but) there is always something mysterious and awesome at work.  In spiritual growth, that ‘something mysterious’ is the work of the Spirit” (Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People p.50-51).  

Ortberg continues to explain the Spirit’s work in our spiritual growth by referencing Jesus’ metaphor about the wind in John 3:8 – “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”: 

“Consider the difference between piloting a motorboat or a sailboat. We can run a motorboat all by ourselves. We can fill the tank and start the engine. We are in control. But a sailboat is a different story. We can hoist the sails and steer the rudder, but we are utterly dependent on the wind. The wind does the work.   If the wind doesn't blow - and sometimes it doesn't - we sit still in the water no matter how frantic we act. Our task is to do whatever enables us to catch the wind. Spiritual transformation is that way. We may be aggressively pursuing it, but we cannot turn it on and off. We can open ourselves to transformation through certain practices, but we cannot engineer it.  We can take no credit for it …  A wise sailor knows when to raise and lower which sails to catch the wind most effectively.  Spiritual growth requires discernment.  We must learn to respond to the fresh wind of the Spirit ... The disciplines simply put us in a place where transformation can happen … Our primary task is not to calculate how many verses of Scripture we read or how many minutes we spend in prayer.  Our task is to use these activities to create opportunities for God to work.  Then what happens is up to him.  We just put up the sails: “the wind blows where it pleases ...” (Ortberg, p. 51-52)

 

Question: How does Ortberg’s analogy of the sailboat being dependent on the wind give you greater perspective on how the Holy Spirit can use the Rhythms to work in your life?  

 

Training vs. Trying

John Ortberg also reminds us that “spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.”  Referencing the apostle Paul’s encouragement to young Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7), he goes on to note, “this thought (about spiritual training) also lies behind (Paul’s) advice in 1 Corinthians 9:25: ‘Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever’” (Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, p. 43).  

Many of us can readily identify with Ortberg’s attempts to keep “trying harder”: 

“For much of my life, when I heard messages about following Jesus, I thought in terms of trying hard to be like him ... (but) I would end up exhausted and defeated … Trying hard can accomplish only so much. If you're serious about seizing this chance of a lifetime, you will have to enter into a life of training.  You must arrange your life around certain practices (“Rhythms”) that will enable you to do what you cannot do now by willpower alone. When it comes to running a marathon, you must train, not merely try. This need for training is not confined only to athletics.  Indeed, it is required for any significant challenge in life - including spiritual growth” (Ortberg, p. 42-43).  

 

Question: How do you relate to Ortberg’s tendency to keep “trying harder” to be like Jesus?  How could you envision using the Rhythms to “train yourself to be godly” as opposed to simply “trying harder”?     

 

A Means – Not an End 

As we’re learning, the Rhythms are a relational “means” for drawing nearer to Jesus. But John Mark Comer wisely warns us that if they ever do “become an end in and of themselves, you've arrived at legalism. Therein lies death, not life” (Comer, p. 107). 

While practicing the Rhythms, it’s often easy to be motivated by a sense of religious duty or obligation, as if we’re trying to earn something from God by checking the right “spiritual boxes.”  But Ortberg reminds us: 

“Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favor with God. They're not about trying to be good enough to merit God's forgiveness and goodwill.  They are not ways to get extra credit, or to demonstrate to God how deeply we are committed to him. They exist for our sake, not God’s. They have value only insofar as they help us morph ... in growing toward the life that God graciously offers. This is why they are sometimes called a ‘means of grace’” (Ortberg, p. 46).  

 

Question: Have you ever struggled with relating to God out of religious duty or obligation?  Could you ever be tempted to practice the Rhythms to earn God’s favor instead of as a means to be with Him?   

 

Slow Down … to Go Deep! 

It’s essential to remember that whenever we practice the Rhythms to draw closer to Jesus … that we need to “s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.”  

Near the end of the apostle Paul’s life, he talked about his longing to “know Christ” in a deeper, richer way.  He said, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead.”  He was absolutely convinced that everything else in life was “worthless” in comparison to the “infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus … and becoming one with Him” (Philippians 3:8-10 NLT).

Over the next 8 weeks, we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy our relationship with Christ so that ultimately, we can experience His resurrection power.  

But for that to happen … we need to slow down!  

Earlier this year, Pastor Chris referenced these powerful insights from Chuck Swindoll:     

“If you move too fast, you’ll stay too shallow. Like a speedboat skipping across the surface of the water, it’s impossible to go deep when you’re moving as fast as you can through life. In my experience, God doesn’t hurry to catch up with us; we slow down to walk with Him. The Lord wants us to go deeper. He wants us to think more deeply. He wants us to be men and women who think His thoughts, and that doesn’t come by skimming the surface of the Bible, or rushing through our quiet times, or hurrying through our prayer lists. So slow down to go deep” (Insights on Matthew 16-28, Swindoll's Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Book 2) 


Here at Friends, our mission is to “become a community of authentic Christ-followers, compelled to change our world.”  But to “authentically” follow Jesus, we’ve got to “slow down to walk with Him.”  For as Swindoll reminds us, “God doesn’t hurry to catch up with us.”

That’s our opportunity!  Let’s go for it … TOGETHER!!


Daily Reflections

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