We are formed by practicing. Spiritual rhythms are regular recurrences of spiritual practices that exert their formative influence on our lives over longer periods of time.
Rhythms are intrinsic. We naturally, but frequently unintentionally, form rhythms that in turn necessarily form us. The way of Jesus is walked by integrating rhythms that are subordinate to His reign and by exiling rhythms that lead to a different god.
Spiritual rhythms have meaningful power in the lives of individuals but really come to life when pursued communally through the possibilities of wider impact, diverse perspective, and mutual accountability. As such, they are a critical component of spiritual friendship, which we will now explore.
The biblical model of spiritual community is of friends practicing spiritual rhythms together. In Acts we see the early church operating with an unprecedented level of unity in finances, assets, material resources, time, and way of life. The rabbinic call to the disciple–including the call of Jesus to the twelve–was to apprentice by imitating the features of their daily practice. Many of the exhortations in the epistles center on resisting the lifestyle of ambient culture and replacing it with a call to “train yourself for godliness”; as an athlete trains via rhythmic physical and mental discipline. The imperative is to adopt rhythmic spiritual disciplines that train us toward Christ-likeness.
Key skills for the Christian life are cultivated by developing and refining shared spiritual rhythms. Building effective rhythms involves activating our imaginations to consider what we have grace to press into. It involves contemplating what sacrifices we are being led to make. Two imaginations are better than one, and the practice of sharing imaginative visions is a powerful opportunity for intimacy and trust to grow. It involves assessment and iteration, adjusting existing rhythms to serve life’s changing seasons. External insight and critique from a trusted source have high value when change and growth are needed.
The communal practice of spiritual rhythms also serves to shape forward-looking friendships that seek to outwork and engage with new opportunities for shared mission. Developing spiritual rhythms creates structure and language for integration; ways of closing the gap between intent and realization. It is much easier to morph a set of rhythmic practices shared between two or more friends to accommodate the next season than to start from scratch. Conversation around spiritual rhythms can guide past reflection and future vision, naturally prompting proactive questions of the form: “what do I need to support me in the next season? how will my priorities be realized through my way of life? how can I invite spiritual friends into what God has for me next?”.
In my own life, spiritual rhythms shared with others have been a source of great encouragement and growth. Practicing a weekly Sabbath brings refreshing to my marriage and promotes times of unhurried connection with friends who are also carving out space for rest. I recently joined with a group of several friends to rhythmically fast from various things together for a year — hearing their ideas for how to restructure aspects of our lives to honor the fasts (including some unusual challenges like abstaining from single-use plastic!) broadened my sense of God’s ambition for fasting and for sustainable living in a communal context.
I’ve also found that shared spiritual practices can shore up areas in which I experience weakness. I often find it difficult to operate as an intercessor, regularly creating moments of intercessory prayer on behalf of others or into particular themes. For the last two years I’ve been a part of a group meeting biweekly to pray for greater depths of discipleship across the American church. I typically find it hard to muster time and energy to press into this alone, but the rhythm of gathering together and joining with others’ prayers encourages and exhorts me to engage in intercession.
Spiritual rhythms enable spiritual friends to act as partners in engaging the specific opportunities of grace that God offers in each season. They are relational pursuits that strengthen relationships between individuals and between Christ in their midst.