Jesus’s 12 Rules for Life (Part 3)
This three-part series comes to a close this week as we wrap up an all too brief and incomplete imagining of the Sermon on the Mount using the cipher of “rules” (see part 1 and part 2). As mentioned before, rules and guidance have become increasingly popular in a world becoming unmoored from any sort of moral foundation, as people from all walks of life seek some sort of teacher to point the way through the malaise. Our conclusion brings us to our final four rules, and the end of the greatest teaching of all time.
9. The most important things in life are things you can’t buy.
Everything you have will eventually be outdated, broken, or sold at someone’s garage sale. The irony of this is the amount of time you will spend trying to delay the inevitable by maintaining and caring for these things. The greater irony is that the time you spend doing this will keep you from maintaining and caring for the things that actually have a chance at lasting forever: faith, love, friendships, truth. These things can fall into disrepair as well, and the great tragedy of modern American life is that people have clean cars but junky souls.
What you spend your time on your heart gets attached to, and what your heart gets attached to you leads you to look at the world in a certain way. Things like power or popularity or status won’t ride shotgun too long before they’ve banished you to the back seat, and there’s no telling where they will take you. Usually not anywhere good. This is why you should put these things in the back seat, where they can’t touch the radio or the wheel. Ultimately, either Jesus rides shotgun or money does. No driver can get where they need to go with two navigators. You have to choose. Jesus or money.
10. Go outside more.
Look at the trees and see if you can tell what they’re stressed out about. See if you can find any flowers running around worried about the stock market or that rumor or that person who may or may not like them. The truth is that trees and flowers and grass are more exposed and vulnerable than you ever will be. Yet, God makes a place for them, gives them what they need, and makes them beautiful in ways that neither you nor I nor any human being ever will be. Even if you don’t realize it, this is something that soothes your soul.
There is enough goodness for all of us. Not to say that this is easy to believe or see. But that’s where faith comes in. Faith believes that whatever made me will protect me from what I need to be protected from, and will guide me through what I need to be guided through right now. That’s the secret of life, by the way—to be here in this moment with all its blessings, no matter how hard they are to see, and not in the past with your resentments or in the future with your worries. Practice being where you are. After all, that’s the only place you’ll ever actually be.
11. Step back for a minute.
There is always more going on than you think. Everyone you know or will ever meet carries more hurt, pain, and loneliness than they let on. If someone or something annoys you, practice imagining all the possible reasons they might have for acting the way that they do. Maybe that bully has parents who bully him. Maybe that girl who snapped at you just lost her grandmother. On one level, it doesn’t really even matter if what you imagine is true. What matters is that it could be. And when you learn to extend grace instead of judging others, you’ll realize that you, too, would like to be treated that way on your bad days. That you too would not like to be defined by the worst thing you’ve ever done or the worst day you’ve ever had. So when you find yourself wanting to put other people’s lives in order, ask yourself, “What needs to be put in order in my life?” What you will find is that there is almost always something you could work on.
A little aside here: even the craziest things people say to criticize you probably have a grain of truth in them. Practice learning to pull out that little truth while ignoring the rest, and you’ll find that literally everyone can be your teacher. Practicing this kind of humility will make you great. Do these things and you will be a more gracious person to others and to yourself.
Here is a great and terrible truth: the voice you use to judge others is the one you will use on yourself. And even if you hate it, the truth is that people really are doing the best they can. I believe that’s true because I hate it so much, but I know it’s true for me, and I suspect it is for most of us. On the flip side of that, some people aren’t ready for what you have to offer them. If you try to give someone something before they are ready for it, they may turn on you and see your gift as a threat. Ask yourself before you do something, why am I doing this? Some people try to control others by condemning them; some people try to control others by bribing them. Both are wrong. So practice stepping back and looking again at situations and at people. The word re-spect, when broken down, means this: “to look again.” It might be the best life skill you can have.
12. God is closer than you think.
Some people think of God as far away, and they even pray like they’re writing him a letter from camp: “Dear God, things are great here. Hope things in heaven are going okay. See you soon!” But the truth is much better and simpler. As Anne Lamott says, “To summon God and goodness and grace, just pray, ‘Help!’ and hold on.” And realize that God is good even when it doesn’t feel like it. We have such limited vision we often see bad things as good things and good things as bad things. God is a good Father, so he won’t slap you if you ask for a hug, give you a bomb when you ask for a cake, or make war on your soul if you ask for peace. God loves to give good things. Believing this, by the way, makes it possible to love other people the way you want to be loved, because you won’t see others as your competitors, but as your brothers and sisters.
To be clear, this sounds really nice, but is a hard path to stay on. That’s what church is for—to keep us all walking on this narrow path of loving our neighbors. If church ever quits being that, you’ll be able to tell by what sorts of things it celebrates. Love, peace, and truth are like healthy fruit from a healthy tree. Gossip, hate, and arrogance are like rotting fruit hanging off the vine.
The hard truth is that not everyone who claims to know Jesus follows him. Like someone who claims to have a favorite band but never actually listens to their music, or someone who claims to be on a diet but eats pizza every day, some people go to church but have no intention of following Jesus. This is ultimately an incredibly sad thing because Jesus wants to teach us how to do life. It would be like you saying you wanted to be better at basketball, and Lebron James shows up on your doorstep offering to teach you everything he knows, but you say, “Thanks for the offer. I’m good,” and shut the door. But we all have this compulsion to try things on our own. God is patient with us, but the sooner you realize he has the best in mind for you and listen to him, the better your life will be.
I hope you’ll consider adopting some of these rules in your life. Maybe not all of them; maybe just one. But whatever you do, make sure you’ve got some. I suggest these things here today as some things that might be worth following in a world gone mad. You’re free of course to ignore these. Many have, and many will. But what if we followed such rules? What would the world look like? Like it was under the rule of something different than hate and anger and fear? What an idea.