Have Christians forgotten how to live well? Do we approach life with a different mindset than that of an unbeliever, or do we get caught in the chaos and stress of life? It is crucial to examine our lives in the light of Scripture and understand who God made us to be and how he made us to function. If you are looking for a resource that gives helpful ways to reduce stress and live thoughtfully, Rebekah Lyons’, Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose is a useful tool. The book is divided into four sections corresponding to the Lyons’ four rhythms of renewal — Rest, Restore, Connect, and Create. The main idea is “God makes a way of escape” from what she calls “negative cycles” through the practice of the four rhythms. She writes, “My prayer is that you’ll see how these spiritual rhythms enabled you to live a life of peace, passion and purpose,” (19, 22). According to Lyons, a life of abundance is promised to us by God and we should prepare ourselves through these rhythms so God can do his work in our lives.
The abundant life—living in light of our God-given purpose with the peace we receive from Christ—is contrasted to a life of fear. She describes a fearful life as one that is crippled: “We would shortchange the plans and purposes destined for us from the womb,” (21). This sense of purpose comes from God who has “ordered our lives with purpose and intention,”(76). For Lyons, the four rhythms are the tools we use to go from fearful living to peace and purposeful living: “With a little intention and a lot of perseverance, stress and anxiety can be transformed into peace and purpose. Boredom and depression can become excitement and engagement,” (21).
While her zeal for encouraging Christians to live abundantly is praiseworthy, the above quote implies that Christians receive this abundant life in some sense through their own effort, making God’s work dependent upon man’s actions. Her tone and choice of words convey the impression that there is some kind of distance between Christians and God, with the rhythms of renewal serving as the bridge by which God’s peace crosses over: “They [the rhythms] can help us cultivate the spiritual and mental space needed to allow God to bring us through complacency and fear and into freedom,” (21). In a similar vein, she writes, “God promises to be our comforter and help, but we have to give him an opportunity to do just that. If we don’t make space for him, if we don’t build it into our routine, how will he meet us where we need him most?”(70). Here it seems God is portrayed as someone who is limited in what he can do. Are we building the bridge of the rhythms of renewal so God can bless us?
Lyons points out that the rhythms of renewal are good practices that can aid the spiritual and mental life of a person, and the rhythms certainly do contribute to a well ordered, thoughtful, and balanced approach to life. My concern is that God is pictured in this case as apart and distant from his children, while they must work to make the conditions of healing more optimal. The Scriptures speak of God as active and close, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Ps. 46:1). God did not wait for us to have rhythms of renewal to save us—he reached into our terrible condition of sin and death and rescued us. He was there when we needed him most, and he is still there working in our lives when we need him most (which is all the time).
Lyons also writes, “The first two—Rest and Restore—are ‘input rhythms,’ rhythms that allow the peace of Jesus to fill us,” (22). Here she portrays the Christian life as working from a deficit rather than a surplus. Jesus leaves his disciples his peace in John 14:27. All believers (whether they feel it or not) possess his peace. Christians live out of the fullness of Christ’s peace, desiring to experience it more, but not striving as if they don’t possess it.
Other times, Lyons helpfully speaks of the rhythms as tools which God uses, and narrates how she prays for God’s help to overcome fear. However, she also writes: “My prayer is that you’ll see how these spiritual rhythms enabled you to live a life of peace, passion, and purpose,” (22). God does indeed use things in our lives to draw us closer to him. He has made us in such a way that when we order our lives according to our spiritual, mental, and physical needs, there will generally be positive side effects. However, it is important to note that it is the Holy Spirit who enables Believers to experience the peace of Christ, passion to live for Christ in our calling, and a sense of our God given purpose—not the tools. We must be careful not to lose sight of the distinction and priority of the craftsman over the instrument.
What Lyons does very well is present life in four ways that correspond to how our bodies work and what they need to function well—Rest, Renewal, Connect and Create. She demonstrates how practicing the rhythms gives us the opportunity to care for God’s gifts of body and mind and provides time to tend to the spiritual concerns of our soul. She recognizes that each person has worth because of who they are in God’s eyes and that each person has a God given purpose.
In Lyons’s first rhythm, Rest, she explains the importance of rest referencing the creation account and God’s Sabbath. Each aspect of rest has the component of slowing down, which is counter-cultural. Lyons writes, “We live in a society that is over-stressed, over-anxious, and burned out. What’s the remedy? Rest. God-blessed rest,” (24).
‘Restore’ discusses the practices that we do with our bodies, mind, and heart that, “pull us out of the world’s churning,” (84). The section about identity is very refreshing—rather than looking inward like the culture, Lyons directs Christians outward to their Father as she writes, “When our identity is found in who God says we are rather than in our highs and lows, our successes and failures, or our desires, affections, or shortcomings, we experience the freedom we were meant to enjoy,” (113). In addressing the rhythms of Connect and Create she provides ways that we can interact with others as we bless them. She rightly points out, “Being filled up isn’t just for your benefit, but for the benefit of those around you,” (155-156). She writes, “I’m talking about using your specific talents, skills and callings to live deeper into your God-given purpose, to create something that blesses him and the world around you,” (221).
It is interesting that for a book encouraging Christians to live in a way to experience Jesus’ peace and our purpose ordained by God, that there is no emphasis on Christians partaking in the Spirit-filled event of public worship. This is the occasion where God speaks to his people, blesses his people and ministers to them by his Spirit through the Lord’s Supper. Public worship is the place where God’s presence among his saints is experienced on this earth in a special way, and they are reminded why as those bought by the blood of Christ they can truly rest, be restored, connect and create.
Nevertheless, Rhythms of Renewal is a very encouraging and eye-opening read. Helping Christians take time to address their spiritual, mental and physical needs is what Rebecca Lyons does through the Rhythms of Renewal, and she does this in a conversational and winsome style while outlining practical ways to order life that are both convicting and wise. Her concern for others is evident and the realization that Christians are to approach life differently based on God’s purpose, plan and love is refreshing. While sometimes her emphasis focuses more on the means of change rather than on God behind the change, she does rightly recognizes that the patterns we live by affect our stress levels and anxiety, and often using the tools God has provided to care for our bodies and souls will relieve our mental chaos—these rhythms are a form of God’s deliverance. If you are looking for a pleasant read that will teach you patterns that God may use to help cultivate his peace and purpose in your life, this is a useful resource.
Ayrian Yasar holds an MA in biblical studies from Westminster Seminary California and is an associate editor at www.beautifulchristianlife.com. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Z. Bulut Yasar, a pastor at New Life OPC, and their son Quinn.