CHAPTER ONE A Rule of Life
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult and left untried.
—G. K. CHESTERTON
The knock on the passenger-side window was so loud and unexpected it startled them both—father and son. That the father had been in the middle of an ATM withdrawal, cash in hand, only heightened his anxiety. But when he turned toward the sound of the knocking, his reflexes now on full alert, heart pounding, there was only a frail old woman standing at the passenger window, her nose nearly touching it, looking timid and more frightened than he was. The father almost laughed out loud. She’d scared the wits out of both of them! “Son, roll down your window, please,” he said. For his son’s sake he tried to sound more confident than he felt.
“Is there any way you could help me get some food for my grandchildren?” the old woman asked.
The father, a former lawyer recently turned pastor, was skeptical. He saw no reason to be afraid of this woman, but neither did he see any reason to trust that she was telling the truth. Was this a scam? It didn’t help that his son, his face turned away from the woman only two feet behind him, pled desperately with his eyes: No!
The father recalled a conversation he and I had had only weeks before about why we’re often so reluctant to simply obey God when he offers us unexpected or inconvenient assignments. This one seemed to qualify on both counts.
Nevertheless, he invited her to get in the car and they went off to the grocery store. As they were loading the bags in the trunk, the father made the mistake of asking if there was anything else she needed. Reluctantly, the woman mentioned that she also had a prescription for medication she couldn’t afford. So of course more of the ATM cash disappeared at the pharmacy.
When the father offered to drive her and her groceries home, she was both surprised and grateful. She sat quietly in the backseat for most of the trip, but as they neared her home, she asked, “You’re Christians, aren’t you?”
“We are,” he said.
“I thought so. Just before I saw your car at the ATM, I was sitting on the bench at the bus stop and I asked Jesus to send me a Christian.”
As father and son pulled away from the old woman’s house, the son asked a million questions, and the father realized that more had gone on than simply meeting another person’s needs. His obedience had created a teachable moment. The son wasn’t convinced that this had been the smartest thing his dad had ever done, but he was at least impressed with his father’s spontaneous generosity and willingness to obey God.
Almost all of us have done similar things from time to time: random acts of grace and generosity. They make us feel alive, don’t they? That’s because they give us a taste, a glimpse, of what we were really created for.
It’s like one of those ads on TV for a new car that they’ve not yet released. They’re teasing us, tempting us with flashing images as the new model passes through stands of trees, reflected in mirror-smooth lakes. The maker wants to whet our appetites.
Your maker does, too. And if you ignore your comfort zone long enough to jump at the chance to be spontaneously generous and kind when God throws those opportunities your way, you may be prompted to ask, What if I could actually live like this every day? Not just giving away money, but giving myself away? What if these spontaneous acts of kindness and obedience happened so frequently, maybe a dozen times a week, that they become as natural and habitual as brushing my teeth or checking my email?
The answer is that you’d be experiencing the natural consequence of a surrendered life. And in the divine math of the kingdom, when we give ourselves away, we actually discover our true purpose for life—the normal Christian life.
If you do, your legacy will be a string of a thousand stories, just like these:
A woman stood in the checkout line at the supermarket. The poor woman right in front of her, the one trying to corral three small children, was having a meltdown. It was every young mother’s nightmare and then some.
One of her children was standing, runny nose and all, in the now-empty shopping cart; another was wailing at around a hundred decibels and hugging mom’s leg like it was a tree in a hurricane; a third had run off somewhere. Meanwhile, the frantic young mom’s only credit card had been denied. She’d dumped half the contents of her purse onto the grocery belt and was desperately pawing through the clutter of keys, crumpled receipts, makeup, and baby gear, trying to find enough cash to pay for the groceries, now bagged and ready. Like any good mother, she was also scanning the area for her missing son, in full panic mode.
The unfortunate mom appeared to be in her early thirties, but time and life had not been gentle. The lines on her face, the limp strands of hair now straggling across it, and the cheap clothes she wore screamed poor—poor financially and poor in spirit. If to such belongs the kingdom of heaven, in the next life she might be queen. But right now, hope for anything other than day-to-day survival had fled; hers was the face of desperation. Suddenly she slowed and stopped, both hands in the pile of purse contents on the checkout counter, eyes staring blankly downward at nothing, as if she had reached the end of her energy and of whatever momentum had been carrying her forward.
The woman behind her who’d been watching quietly spoke. “Here, this ought to take care of it.” She handed the clerk her credit card. The clerk looked from the credit card to the startled young mother. Neither seemed to know what to do next.
“You don’t have to do that,” the mother said, swiping the hair out of her face. She looked even more embarrassed than before. Finding her drive once again, she resumed clawing through the pile from her purse.
“No, I’m serious,” said the woman in line, discreetly enough to preserve what little was left of the mother’s dignity. “Please let me do this for you—and for your children.” She motioned for the clerk to complete the transaction. “I’ll watch your groceries if you want to go find your son.”
The young mother was clearly struggling to understand what had just happened, but with that reminder, her mothering instincts kicked in. After a quick, embarrassed “Thanks,” she hurriedly dumped her stuff back into her purse and, with one child in her arms and the other clasped tightly by the hand, rushed off in search of her lost lamb.
A few moments later, when the Good Samaritan saw the mother returning, family restored, she turned to leave.
“Stop, please,” called the young mother. Dragging her three still-squabbling children up to the cart of bagged groceries, she said to the woman standing next to them, “Thank you so much, but have we met?”
The woman smiled. “No, I don’t recall seeing you before.”
“But then why did you offer to pay for my groceries?”
“I’m a Christian,” the woman said simply. “As I stood behind you, I sensed that God was telling me to pay for your groceries, so I did. Simple as that. Since everything I have belongs to God anyway, he paid your bill—not me. Just thank him, if you’d like. I hope you have a great day.” And with one last smile, the woman turned and left.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Simple Obedience Isn’t Always
In the two stories I’ve shared, God gave directions to his children—and they listened and obeyed. Simple as that. But it’s not really that simple, is it?
At least, it never has been for me.
Even though I’ve been serious about following Jesus for more than thirty years now, there have been times when I’ve been just plain worn-out from life, difficult relationships, even from ministry, from being handed one more “opportunity to serve” because “you’re so good at it.” And worn-out from trying desperately, at the same time, to stomp out these little brushfires of sin that I knew were holding me back, denying me the joy of my salvation. So, periodically, I would give myself a breather and take a break from serious obedience. I just wanted to veg!
Using some internal moral-actuarial table, I would credit myself for church attendance, having personal devotions, giving, and generally being a good guy—with offsetting debits for sin. In my mind, and my arrogance, I assumed I had a positive balance compared to most other Christians I knew. I figured I had plenty of carry-forwards.
So I’d spend a few months waiting around for the Holy Spirit to do what I couldn’t (and maybe didn’t even really want to, at that time), ignite the fire once again. And that was fine with me. That way I could lay the responsibility for my lukewarm spirituality at his feet; it’s up to God to jump-start my spiritual life. I wanted a Road to Damascus experience. Until I got it, I was content to sit out a few innings—just happy to be on the team.
Those grand epiphanies rarely came. What frightened me more than anything was being spiritually flat for so long that after a while I’d get used to it. It scared me to think that I might end up like so many I’d known, whose central purposes in life appeared to be killing time pleasantly in warm places, doing a little volunteer work, oh, and of course going to church.
Nobody wakes up one morning and makes the decision to be a lukewarm, religious Christian. So, I have a theory. I think we Christians who were once on fire for God often slowly and unconsciously drift toward religious activities, even good ones, because they’re relatively convenient and culturally acceptable forms of obedience. It’s a faith we can schedule into our busy lives—worship at 10:00 a.m., drop our offerings in the plate, Bible study on Tuesdays, volunteer on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. It’s a spirituality that we can measure ourselves and others by—familiar and predictable, and it still leaves 95 percent of our waking hours for ourselves. Just the ticket for a user-friendly religion.
Eventually I would come to my senses and spend a few days alone doing serious business with God, crying out to him to forgive my spiritual laziness. And he would, of course. But it troubled me that he had to. Was this a cycle to which I had to simply resign myself?
A Rule of Life
Then a dozen years ago I was introduced to a rule of life so stunningly simple it was almost embarrassing. It gave me a place to begin again when I found myself spiritually on the bench. Its power is in its simplicity, and yet it gets straight to the heart of what it means to actually follow Jesus. It has become the rule for my life, just as it had for the followers of Jesus you met in the preceding stories.
A rule of life is just what it sounds like: a motto, vow, or promise which, if lived out courageously and consistently, at some point changes us from who we are to the men and women we truly long to become. Rules of life have been around as long as there have been people who longed to live lives pleasing to God. Samson, St. Francis of Assisi, the Moravians, Billy Graham, and others have all adopted them—simple statements of how they believe God intends them to live. Those rules become a compass, helping guide those who follow them to true spiritual north.
The 10-Second Rule is a rule of life. In living by it, you’ll either become a far more serious follower of Jesus or realize fairly quickly that you just don’t have much interest.
Obviously, I have no idea where you are on your faith journey. You may still be kicking tires spiritually, still checking Jesus out. Or maybe you’re disappointed with God right now because he hasn’t yet delivered you from the wreckage you or others have made of your life. Perhaps you’ve been a Christian all your life but have resigned yourself to “this is as good as it’s going to get.” Please don’t!
What is it that causes one believer in Jesus to become a passionate follower, someone whose life significantly impacts other lives, and another to settle for a life of beige Christianity?
A personal decision to be far more serious about being like Jesus, whether anyone else in your life is or not.
Jesus’ call to come follow me hasn’t changed in two thousand years. The Rule isn’t a new command. It’s simply an easy-to-understand, to-the-point reminder of what it actually means to be on this journey with Jesus, to be led by him day by day, minute by minute—or even in the next ten seconds!
Following Jesus Made Simple
The 10-Second Rule
Following Jesus Made Simple
You pass a car with its hood up or gas cap open, and by the time you decide to stop and help, you’re a mile away . . . so you don’t.
You see a woman crying in a grocery store aisle and you are prompted to stop and ask if you can help . . . but you keep walking.
You hope that you’ll do better next time . . . but will you?
In this powerful book, you’ll discover a memorable, simple way to be attentive to the voice of God and courageously obedient to the promptings of the Spirit. You’ll find practical ideas for discerning God’s will, and you’ll read stories of ordinary men and women—just like you—who are living by the Rule and how it has transformed their lives and the lives of those they reach out to.
The 10-Second Rule is a call to rediscover the revolutionary power of simple obedience as Jesus taught it and the early church lived it, before religious Christianity tamed it! It’s following Jesus made simple. Previously self-published, this new edition has been revised extensively with more stories, expanded teachings, and a study guide.
Finally, a rule you’ll love keeping!