Spiritual Practice

Three Simple Rules

Sarah Arthur

Knowing what God wants us to do is rarely easy, even when the Bible offers clear rules. For example, one of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13, NRSV). Does the rule apply to people in the military? to states that sentence convicted criminals to death? Another commandment is “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12, NRSV). How do we honor our parents if they are absent, non-functional, or abusive? The Bible tells us to care for the poor. We make choices every day about how to spend our extra money. Should we spend it on ourselves or help someone else?

Our lives would be easier if the Bible would flat-out tell us what to do; but there isn’t always a clear, black-or-white answer. Sometimes, we live in the gray areas.

Practice Makes Perfect

3-wick wood candle2 iStock_000062982573_Large copyWhen I’m faced with a tricky decision, I remember the advice of John Wesley. More than 200 years ago, Wesley gathered together small groups of Christians who desired to grow closer to God and to make wiser choices. They eventually came to be known as “Methodists” because of their methodical approach to living the Christian life. Wesley gave the small groups Three Simple Rules: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Stay in love with God (by spending time with God through prayer, Bible study, worship, and service). The basic idea was Practice makes perfect. Practicing the Three Simple Rules every day would help people make difficult decisions when they came along.

Grace in the Gray Areas

Wesley was known for his financial simplicity, basic dress code, and aversion to expensive jewelry. He was having dinner with a fellow preacher at the home of a gentleman and his daughter, a fashionable young woman decked out in jewels. During the meal, the other preacher rather tactlessly lifted the young woman’s hand to show Wesley her many rings. “What do you think of this, sir, for a Methodist’s hand?” The girl was mortified and turned bright red. But Wesley simply smiled and said gently, “The hand is very beautiful.” *

Was it wrong for the young woman to wear expensive jewelry? A lot depends on what was going on in her heart. Was she flaunting her social status? celebrating beauty? keeping artisans employed? Certainly, the money could have been used to help the poor. Wesley didn’t presume to know what she was thinking, nor did he lay down black-and-white rules about whether or not Christians should wear jewelry. Instead, he showed her God’s love. He had spent enough time in God’s presence (rule #3 of the Three Simple Rules) that he could respond with grace and wisdom in a gray area.

At the worship service Wesley led later in the day, the young woman showed up—without her jewels—and became a devoted follower of Jesus.

If you practice the Three Simple Rules, you’ll get so good at them you won’t even notice you’re doing them. Then when you stumble into a gray area, a tough or unclear decision, you’ll have lots of practice listening to God and loving others.



For the next 30 days, try an experiment: Pick one of the Three Simple Rules. Focus on following it, as best you can, in every situation. When you face a decision in which the right choice is unclear, pray and consider how that simple rule will guide you.

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Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of numerous books, including the year-long devotional The One Year Coffee With God. Help her decide what to do with the money she makes for writing this article at

—from devozine (November/December 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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