Adopting a Rule of Life for Healthy Spirituality

In his many books on Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and Leadership, Peter Scazzaro recommends that Christians develop a “rule of life” or order for living that can give them the resources to continue to grow and maintain balance in the Christian life. [1] The word “rule” comes from the Latin “Regulus,” a word used for a trellis upon which grapes are grown. The idea is that a rule of life is like a trellis that allows our life of faith to thrive so that we can bear the fruit that Christ desires us to take (John 15:1-2). [2] It is part of remaining in Christ, constantly receiving the spiritual grace and life we need from God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just about the time Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire and the faith became less important to many people, serious Christians began to develop a monastic lifestyle, and from that lifestyle came various monastic rules. St. Pachomius (died 348) wrote the first rule in the East. St. Augustine (died 430) founded a community and authored a rule about 400 A.D. John Cassian (died 435) also wrote an important rule. Finally, St. Benedict (died 550) founded his order and created a rule about 530 A.D. that has endured throughout the ages as perhaps the greatest of the rules of life created by monastics.

I first became aware of various “monastic rules” in seminary. During an intensive personal study, I read for the first time Augustine’s rule, Benedict’s rule, the Rule of St. Francis, and other rules from the Christian tradition. [3] As a final project for the study, I created a rule that has been meaningful to me through the years. The rule I constructed was a version of the Rule of St. Augustine appropriate for a lay person who was married and had four small children.

This rule has an advantage over rules that are merely human preferences based upon my own life of faith. The historic rules were not for a person but for a community. They were not administered by an individual for his or herself but by a community for the benefit of all. Over the years, I have seen personal rules that I did not think would lead the person into a deeper faith but were designed to give them a good feeling about who they were and the spiritual life they found comfortable. Following a rule, such as the Rule of Augustine and St. Benedict, join a person with a long tradition of faith, stretching back to the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. All in all, it is best to join the great community of saints to create an orderly life of discipleship.

There are many fine books on the Benedictine way of life and the benefits of following Benedict’s rule. [4] I keep a copy of that rule in my briefcase and backpack, including a modern paraphrase by a lawyer in Memphis. [5] There are also benefits to the Rule of St. Francis, especially for those interested in simplicity of life and harmony with creation as a goal of the Christian life. Other rules can be helpful. Adopting a rule of life does not guarantee success in the Christian life, but it has proved its usefulness over the millennia as a help for Christians in following Christ.

I decided this week to publish my version of the Augustinian Rule created thirty years ago in 1993. It may be helpful to someone else. In any case, here it is for my readers:

Three Biblical Principles

Great Commandment:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).

Great Commission:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Jesus, they worshiped him, but some doubted.  And Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:16-20).

Primacy of Grace:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8=9).

The  Rule

The way to live out the Gospel can be found by adopting a Rule or way of life in response to the unmerited grace God has bestowed upon us. As Christians, we can model community for those secular communities we form and serve.

Principle One: Love God

To experience and show the wisdom and love of God, I will be regular in corporate worship, study, private prayer, silence, and other spiritual activities important to the Christian life. Daily prayer, at least three times a day (morning, noon, and evening), is important to maintain a connection with God and stability in the Christian life. I will read and study scripture daily, listening attentively to God speak through the witness of Scripture.

Principle Two: Love Other People

As a follower of Christ, I will love God and others. This love is the self-giving same love God showed in giving his Son to suffer for our sins and that the Son showed when he went to the Cross in obedience to the Father for the love of the world. No matter what else we accomplish, without love, it counts for nothing (I Corinthians 13). In particular, followers of Jesus are called to their neighbors by sharing faith in the wisdom and love of God.

Principle Three: Be a Good Steward of the Gifts of Life

Jesus calls me to be a wise steward of my time, treasure, and talents – material, physical, emotional, and spiritual. I will embrace this way of life through “lifestyle stewardship.” I will use my spiritual gifts for the good of others, returning a share of what I have to God’s work, focusing my life mission on concern for those in need, and sharing my resources with them. I will tithe my income.

Principle Four: Embrace Simplicity

I will focus on loving God and others by, among other things, living simply, rejecting materialism and consumerism. I will embrace moderation and simplicity of life, eating and drinking with restraint, fasting occasionally, and sacrificing consumption for the benefit of others. I will, in moderation, deny myself so far as health and circumstances permit.

Principle Five: Cultivate Humility

God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6). I will remember that there is no possibility of attaining Godly wisdom, love, or healthy relationships without humility. Pride, which lurks even in good works, is the beginning of much sin. In humility, I will remember that I can be self-centered and difficult when confronted with difficulties with others.

Social status, education, possessions, and high achievements do not make me a good Christian; they enable me to do more for others. Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly power to serve others on the cross as a symbol of God’s humility (Philippians 2:2-13). As Christ emptied himself, I will empty myself and guard against pride, which undermines good works and distort motivation.

Principle Six: Live Peacefully with Others

I will attempt to live at peace with others as far as possible (Romans 12:18). I will try to speak words of love and encouragement, even if correction is needed. When I need correction, I will graciously accept help given in love and truth.

Living in a community without some conflict is impossible. I will address differences and disputes maturely, directly, and with compassion. I will model open, forthright, wise, and loving communication and dialogue in pointing out what harms individuals and the community for the welfare of all. If offended, I will be ready to forgive from the heart.

Principle Seven: Seek the Common Good

The measure of my growth in wisdom and love will be found by seeking the common good and placing the interest of other people, our family, and community equal to or before my interests, whether in church, business, social organizations, neighborhood, the community or wherever I find myself with the opportunity to serve the common good.

Principle Eight: Be a Servant and Servant LeaderI will seek to serve others. If given a leadership position, I am not placed above others but remain a part of the community being served, with special responsibilities. If guiding a community, I will attempt to exemplify wise servant leadership in humility and with the spirit of Christ.

Principle Nine: Ongoing Evaluation

I will periodically look at the Word in Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and this Rule of Life to assess how I am doing along the journey of the life of Christian maturity.

Principle Ten: Freedom under Grace

While striving to live wisely and lovingly guided by this Rule of Life, I will remember that God gives the grace needed to succeed. Grace provides the freedom to choose to love God and one another as Jesus did and reject enslavement to the powers and principalities of this age.

Putting it to Work

To put this Rule of Life to work in a wholesome and life-affirming way, I will engage in the following:

Love God

Daily Devotion and Prayers

Weekly Worship

Times of Silence

Study of the Word

Sacrificial Giving


Love Self

Daily Exercise

Weekly Sabbath

Periodic Vacations

Periodic Retreat

Emotional Self-Care


Love Community 

Service to Marriage

Service to Family

Service to Friends

Service to Church


Love the World 

Honest Labor for Family and Person

Weekly Service to Community

Service to God, Nation, and World

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] See, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Updated Ed.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014); Emotionally Healthy Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003); The Emotionally Healthy Leader Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015); Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022).

[2] Emotionally Healthy Leader, at 135-141.

[3] St. Francis wrote his rule in about the year 1209, though it did not reach its final form until about 1221. Since this is after the split between the Eastern and Western churches, I have not included it above nor have I included other rules after the division of the East and West.

[4] See, Joan Chitteister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1990).

[5] John B. McQuistan, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1996). I also keep a copy of this more secular rule in my backpack.