Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Rules of Discipline

It's about redeeming the time God gives us.

The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (6)

Now after learning the canon of the Old and New Testaments, Brendan wished to write out and learn the rules of the saints of Erin. Bishop Erc gave him leave to go and learn this rule, for he knew that it was of God that this counsel had come to him.

  - Vita Brendani (Anonymous, 9th-12th century)[1]  

And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

  - 2 Timothy 2.5-7

Imagine: It’s the middle of the 6th century. You are a young man in what is still a largely pagan country, where you were brought up by Christian parents. You attended the medieval equivalent of a Christian prep school. You have come to believe that God is calling you to the ministry of the Word, so you go off to Bible college and seminary, or, at least, what were then the equivalent of those. One of the greatest Christian leaders of the day becomes your soul friend and father in the faith. He has taught you Scripture, theology, and the practice of ministry.

And now you want to make sure everything’s in place for you to take up the Lord’s calling. What’s the next step?

Make a good plan.

Celtic Christian leaders formulated their plans as rules of discipline. They understood the benefit to be gained by committing to a specific plan to guide their lives and ministries. Each monastery developed a rule of discipline which spelled out the expectations and requirements for the members of the community and gave order and shape to their common life. Before Brendan would be ready to leave the tutelage of Bishop Erc, and launch into his own ministry and community, he would need to be familiar with how other monasteries organized their days and work. So he studied the rules of discipline from nearby monasteries of the day.

Several of these monastic rules have survived from the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD), and they give us a glimpse into a way of life that had a profound impact on culture and society.

The fact is, everybody lives by some set of rules or disciplines or routines that guide and shape their life. You do; I do; we all do. For most of us, however, these “rules” are not written down. They may not even be well thought out. We’ve merely picked them up as we’ve gone along and followed them unconsciously. We couldn’t list them all, but these unwritten rules determine how we use our time each day.

The problem with such unwritten rules of life, is twofold: First, they don’t include enough guidance for the strengthening of our souls, so that we may do all things for the Kingdom and glory of God. They’re never quite as complete or thorough as our soul requires.

And, second, we have little incentive to do anything other than bend them, since they aren’t written down anyway, when its suits our whims or convenience.

These unwritten “rules” are at best descriptions of how we pass our time each week. They’re not prescriptions for how to ensure that our use of God’s time will be always and increasingly for His glory (Eph. 5.15-17).

Bishop Erc was pleased when Brendan went to study how the saints of Ireland structured their lives. He believed God had put this in Brendan’s heart, because both the young man and his mentor understood a very basic principle of effective life and ministry: When you covenant with God, and with others who care for your soul, concerning a specific plan for growth and ministry, you will be more likely to realize fruitfulness in every area of your life.

This is what we mean by living to rule. We assess our needs and opportunities, in the light of our specific calling from God. Then we establish a rule of disciplines – a plan for growth and service – and make a covenant with God, share it with others, and invite them to support, encourage, and hold us accountable along the way. That rule doesn’t have to be elaborate; it can be as simple as a daily list of things to do or read and a fixed schedule for time with the Lord and daily work. The point is to redeem our time, and whatever works for you is what you need to do.

Over the next several installments in this series, we’ll be looking into some of those ancient monastic rules of discipline, to see how Celtic Christians organized their time and helped one another in their walk with and work for the Lord. Hopefully, we’ll discover some ways to improve our own personal rules – whether we write them out or not – and therefore our use of the time God allots us each day.

For Reflection
1. What “rule of disciplines” governs your life?

2. Do you have an accountability partner or soul friend to help you in redeeming the time of your life?

Psalm 25.4, 5, 10 (Festal Song: Revive Thy Work, O Lord)
Make me to know Your ways, teach me Your paths, O Lord!
My Savior, all day long I wait and seek You in Your Word.

The paths of God are all of love and faithfulness.
All they who keep His covenant the Lord will surely bless.

Lord, how complete are my disciplines to help me grow in You and serve others? Show me how I can…

The Disciplined Life
We are called to redeem all the time of our lives for knowing, loving, and serving the Lord. It takes discipline to do this, and our ReVision study on “The Disciplined Life” can help. If you’d like to receive this seven-part study, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll send the PDFs along to you right away. To begin making better use of the time of your life, order a free copy of our book, Vantage Point, which provides a Christian perspective on time, by clicking here.

Thank you
Thanks so much to those of you who faithfully support the work of The Fellowship of Ailbe. God uses your gifts and prayers to reach thousands of people every day in over 160 countries. We praise the Lord for His having moved and enabled you to share with us in this ministry.

If you’re not a supporter of this ministry, won’t you please prayerfully consider making a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe? Only God can move you to do this, and we believe He intends to support this ministry from within the ranks of those who are served by it. If this includes you, please seek the Lord in this matter. You can click here to donate online with your credit card or through Anedot or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Plummer, Lives of Irish Saints


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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