I love back-stories. I love knowing how a character got to where they are, or how something came into being. I’d like to share with you where this came from, the reasons for the different bits and pieces, and what it looks like to use The Rhythm Journal. Imagine that you and I are sitting in a coffee shop, each of us with a copy of the journal. In fact, go grab a cup of coffee, tea, whatever. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Ready? Let’s have a chat.
I didn’t set out to make a product. I set out to refine a process in my own life. I needed something.
It all started with a re-discovery
On the cusp of my 43rd birthday I was let go from a position that I thought was going to be the culmination of my life’s experiences thus far. Instead it was simply another life experience. A valuable one, to be sure, but not what I expected. As has been said, everything is preparation for something else. I’ll be honest; the scenario I found myself in was sucky. Very sucky. I could have easily spiraled into depression. It wouldn’t have been the first time. (Depression is not a sin, by the way.)
Just before things changed for me I had started reading a book written by a ministry friend named Paul Gibbs called, “The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction.” Coincidence? I think not. In it Paul asks,
“Have you ever felt that God was not where you expected Him to be? Have you ever lost a sense of connection and therefore a sense of purpose? Have you ever lost track of His direction in your life?” (1)
Um, let me think. Yes, yes, and for sure yes. Yes for the win! As Paul went on to explain what most people do in this situation, and shouldn’t, he also explained what all people should do which is to ask this question:
“What is the most effective thing I could do for God’s Kingdom?” (2)
Seeking the answer to this question can and should be a radical, life-altering process. It’s the question every follower of Jesus should ask before making any decision or when facing any kind of life crisis. If you are curious how I processed through it, check out the “Mile Posts” on my blog that are linked at the end of this post.
After examining my own life and looking for what it was that I have done that was the most effective in building God’s kingdom, I made a rediscovery; helping people connect God’s word to their everyday lives. It was creating resources, teaching people how to ask the right questions, and helping them hear the Holy Spirit for themselves amongst the noise of life. I never lost sight of this, it just got overwhelmed with other things. Now it was back. And I missed it.
Reality Bites. Hard.
After a season of redeveloping my blog and podcast I noticed something; I wasn’t doing a good job of connecting God’s word into my own daily experiences.
Ugh. This brings me back to what I said earlier. I needed something; something for myself.
Like a lot of followers of Jesus, I tried to have a habit of some kind of devotions or quiet times in the morning, though not very consistently. But even when I would do them and finish that time, my brain would change gears for the rest of the day. What I had done in the morning became compartmentalized from the hours and events of my day. I wanted to help others connect God’s word into their daily experiences, but I felt I had to figure out how to do that for myself first.
What could I do to fix this?
On Purpose, With Purpose
Then I read this quote from Michael Hyatt:
“Whenever we want to produce intentional change in our life, we need to start with the end and work our way back. If we’re clear on where we’re going, it’s easier to chart the course.”
What does it look like for me to connect God’s word into my own daily experiences? What does that “end” look like? How can I plan for that? How can I track that? I want “intentional change” in my life. How do I start there and work my way back?
The key to doing anything well is to be intentional. My favorite definition of “intentional” is to do something on purpose, with purpose. It’s not just doing the right actions, it’s doing them with the right mindset. Ironically it’s very similar to the definition of “repent” which is to change the way you think in order to change the way you act.
In other words, I needed a new mindset along with some new habits. As I thought and prayed about this, a few things bubbled to the surface.
In his book, “Building A Discipling Culture,” Mike Breen writes about what he calls The Two Questions. They create a mindset that a disciple of Jesus should have as they go through experiences in life. They are:
- What is God saying to me?
- What am I going to do about it?
If I could come up with a way to integrate this mindset into my days I would be off to a good start.
There is a daily bible reading devotional process called SOAP. It stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. I first learned about it from a book called, “The Divine Mentor” by Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. Having done it before on my own and in a group, I know that it is a simple and powerful way to engage God’s word. But I wanted something that would take it a bit farther.
Daily With The Lord.
- “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny Himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
- In what is called The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus includes, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Bread itself is a picture of God’s word and of Jesus Himself. The Israelites gathered manna, bread from Heaven, in the wilderness daily.
- Evening and morning are coupled together in creation, temple offerings, David seeking the Lord and meditation on His word in the Psalms.
- We are meant to have daily experiences with God. Not, “we should” or “we’re supposed to” out of guilt or obligation. God created us this way. It’s meant to be a relationship.
Redeeming the time.
This is specifically mentioned in Ephesians 5, but the idea that the days are short and the hour is late is, ironically, ever-present in the Bible. Our time is short on this earth and we should use it wisely. As a certified 80s kid TV junkie, I have wasted and do still waste a lot of time. I don’t want to anymore.
Right about now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Corby. Aren’t you overthinking this? What’s wrong with just reading your Bible and praying? The Lord shows me stuff all the time every day.” There is nothing wrong with that. God bless you. If that works for you, fantastic. I hope you don’t think that I think everyone should operate this way. Different people are wired differently. This is just how myself and many others happen to be wired. Back to the story.
I now had a sense of what the end mindset and habits for me looked like. It was time to take these things, along with some late-night conversations and life experiences, mix them up, put them into the oven, and see what comes out.
Ask And You Will Receive
I started simple by sketching out The Two Questions, SOAP, along with a task list and daily schedule. I did this almost every day for a week or so. Since I had to refer back to the task list and schedule throughout my day I was also seeing The Two Questions and my SOAP throughout my day.
As I did this two things quickly became apparent.
- It was working. I was more mindful of God’s presence with me. I found myself chewing on His word and actively looking for ways and opportunities to share it with others.
- Drawing up this layout by hand everyday was actually going to be a hinderance for me. I could see myself quitting soon.
It was time to go digital, but not entirely. Research shows that when we write things out by hand it sticks better in our brains. So I decided to make a template I could print and fill in everyday. This would also make it easy to modify the layout as new ideas came my way.
After a couple of weeks something else became apparent; while this process was more intentional, it was still a reactive approach. It was a “wait and see what God might do” approach. While there are times when we need to do that, I think that more often than not what God wants for us is a “be ready to be a part of what I might do” approach. A proactive approach.
Two Verses And A Commission
I wish I could describe what happened next. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short and simple. Two verses and a commission landed on top of me.
First Verse – Matthew 11:28-30, Take My Yoke
In these verses Jesus uses a very culturally relevant and Rabbinic word picture contrasting what the religious leaders wanted from their followers compared to what He wanted for His. A traditional translation like the NKJV gives us a solid, literal translation of the words Jesus said.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Jesus’ hearers would have understood exactly what He meant. More than that they would have experienced His words on a heart and soul level. Someone today reading that for the first time won’t really get what Jesus is saying. I’m not going to break it down for you here but I encourage you to study this passage. You will see the same thing I’m about to share with you from The Message which is a paraphrase of the Bible (see note at the end).
“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.”
For me, this communicates the heart and soul behind the word picture Jesus is using. Put the two together and you will have the whole picture. This communicates a proactive approach to following Jesus. Getting away with Him. Walking and working with Him, watching how He does things. Learning a natural or “unforced” rhythm of life based on God’s grace. Participating in life with Jesus.
This is intentional change. This is proactive. This is what I want.
Second Verse – Romans 12:1-2, Present Yourselves
The Apostle Paul’s writings are like an onion (or a cake, or a parfait); there are many layers to it in terms of what it means and what to do with it. These two verses are one giant Walla Walla onion.
In this onion, Paul is telling us, in big picture terms, how to live our lives for The Lord. It isn’t a one-time instruction, it’s a lifelong one.
Present your bodies a living sacrifice.
To present means not just once, but in an ongoing way. Present and keep on presenting your bodies, yourselves. When you go to work or school every day you are presenting yourself. “Here I am.” But what is a living sacrifice? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Yes, and no. Jesus presenting Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He died on the cross, but rose again three days later. He is alive. He is living. A living sacrifice. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul talks about followers of Jesus as being “in” Christ and therefore a “new creation.” In John 17 Jesus Himself is praying to The Father and refers to us as being in Him. In Galatians 2:20 Paul tells us that he has been crucified with Christ, and no longer lived but Christ lives in Him. If we are in Christ, we are also living sacrifices.
The trouble is that sometimes we hold ourselves back. We don’t present and keep on presenting ourselves. We do it when we feel like it. We do it when it’s convenient. We do it at church when the music is right and the preacher is preachin’. No, we need to intentionally (on purpose with purpose) present and keep on presenting ourselves to God. “Here I am. How do you want me to build your Kingdom today?”
Don’t be conformed, be transformed, and demonstrate.
These three instructions are wrapped up inside the first instruction to present and keep on presenting. They are what is involved in presenting yourself as a living sacrifice.
- “Don’t be conformed to this world.” If you have ever played with Play-Doh you know what it means to conform something. It means to press it into the shape of something else, thereby taking on that shape. Don’t press yourself into the world, or let the world press it’s shape on to you. You have control over that. It’s up to you whether that happens or not.
- “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Instead of being made into the shape of the world, transform into a new shape entirely. Like a caterpillar into a butterfly. Or a semi-truck into Optimus Prime (insert Transformers sound effect here). How does this happen? By changing the way you think and process life. By getting rid of the old way of thinking and adopting a new one, specifically God’s way of thinking. Remember the definition of repent; change the way you think to change the way you act. This is done primarily by learning God’s word.
- “That you may prove the will of God.” This is a tricky one to translate. But it means to demonstrate to others the truth of God’s will which is everything that is good, acceptable, and perfect (complete). Paul goes on to clarify more about what those look like. “Prove” does not mean that you put something through a test to see if it’s true or not. You put it to the test to show that it’s true. You demonstrate it. You live it out for others to see. You representing to others God’s best intentions as one of His followers
Again, this is intentional change. This is proactive. This is what I want.
All at once it fell into place in my imagination. Walking and working with Jesus, pace, rhythms of life, rhythms of character, presenting yourself, transformation, renewing the mind, redeeming the time, demonstrating to others, daily experiences with God, praying, empowered by the Spirit. The template layouts, the schedule, the tracking, all of it. Boom!
This would produce the intentional change I wanted to see in my life. More than that, this was the answer to Paul Gibbs’ question about what I could do to build God’s Kingdom.
My commission from God was to create The Rhythm Journal.
The Rhythm Journal isn’t a planner. It isn’t an organizer. It isn’t a task tracker or a goal setter as such. There are many great resources out there specially designed to do those things. This can and should be used along side of those tools.
The result of unexpected life changes, years of learning from people and experiences, seeking the Lord, seeking to be intentional, listening to and learning how to obey God’s voice, is this;
The Rhythm Journal: a guided journal to help you walk with God at His pace.
I hope you enjoyed our coffee shop chat and the cup of whatever we shared together!
Now that you know The Story behind The Rhythm Journal, it’s time to learn about The Rhythms themselves and the “beats” that make them up. The next section will explain the origins of The Rhythms and what they look like in action.
1) Gibbs, Paul. The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction: The Kingdom Patterns (The Kingdom Trilogy Book 3) (Kindle Locations 188-190). Harris House Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2) Gibbs, Paul. The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction: The Kingdom Patterns (The Kingdom Trilogy Book 3) (Kindle Location 245). Harris House Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“Seek First? I Finally Get It – Learning what it means to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.” https://www.corbystephens.com/seek-first-i-finally-get-it/
“Hidden In Hindsight – A lesson in seeing the obvious after the fact.” https://www.corbystephens.com/hidden-in-hindsight/
“Directs My Steps; I’m Starting to Get It – Learning how to differentiate my long-term plans vs. God’s short-term steps.” https://www.corbystephens.com/directs-my-steps-im-starting-to-get-it/
Comments on The Message
The Message is not a translation of The Bible; it is a paraphrase. This means that it isn’t intended to be an authoritative source like a literal transitions such as the NKJV, ESV, or NASB. When we want to study the Bible we need to use a more literal translation.
The purpose of a paraphrase is to add some “color” to what is otherwise an empty coloring book which is what a literal translation tends to be. You get the picture, but sometimes the fullness of it is missing from the text. Every time you hear a Bible teacher read from The Bible and say, “In other words…” and then use words other than the literal translation from which they just read, they are paraphrasing. They are adding some color. There is nothing wrong with this and it is very helpful to understand the text. Hopefully the colors they add don’t clash with the rest of the Bible.
The potential side effect of an entire Bible that is a paraphrase, like The Message, is that some clashing and even misleading colors can find their way in. After all, you are getting a text influenced by the theology and experience of the one making the paraphrase. There are plenty of examples of seriously clashing colors in specific parts of The Message that are just flat out wrong. However, there are also some beautiful colors that bring out the beauty of the passage, as is the case with Matthew 11:28-30.
I quoted The Message fully aware of its clashing colors. I would encourage anyone who reads The Message to never read it without a literal translation along side of it so as to get the whole picture.
Next: Things To Know