You all better hold on because I’ve been thinking about this one for a while! In fact, I had to divide it into two parts. The F.A.Q. section will post in a couple of days.
Do you remember those offering envelopes from the 1970s and 80s? I know some of my readers weren’t even born then, but if you’re of a certain age and you grew up in church, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes they were pink, of all things! They had these little squares at the bottom or on the side where you checked off things you had done that week: present (Wait, what?), on time, attended Sunday School, brought Bible, read Sunday School lesson, tithed, read Bible daily . . . things like that. Anyway, you got a score based on how many boxes you could mark. Can you imagine? “Mom, I made a 70 in Sunday School this week because I forgot to take my Bible!” But that’s how it was.
Somewhere along the way, shortly after we quit using those envelopes, we shifted from “read Bible daily” to “had a quiet time.” No, we didn’t check off a box any more, but it became one of the, umm, qualifications of a good Christian. But many of us didn’t change what we actually did. We just kept reading the Bible every day.
And then, one day we thought (although we would never admit it), “I have been reading this same book since I was eight years old. It’s getting kinda old. If I miss this one day, it won’t matter. No one will know anyway.” One day turned into two, then a week, then a month, until finally, our daily Bible reading (a.k.a. quiet time) could be described as ‘sporadic’ at best.
At a certain point in that “somewhere along the way”—a point that would take me pages to explain, so just trust me—someone showed me that daily Bible reading and having a quiet time are not the same thing. A quiet time involves three things:
- Resetting your focus on the Lord
- Hearing from the Lord (usually through His Word plus the Holy Spirit)
- Responding in obedience.
But you can’t just check these three things off on your mental Sunday School envelope each morning and be done with it. Actually, if you are really focusing on Him, you’ll find it so much more fulfilling than getting 100% in Sunday School ever thought about being!
People say, “I don’t know how to do a good quiet time.” We try to complicate everything, to think there’s a specific process–almost a formula or incantation–that we must perform in order to have a “good” quiet time. A good quiet time is any moment in which we reconnect with God. A great quiet time is when the repercussions of that moment stretch throughout the day.
That being said, allow me to offer a few principles based loosely on Hebrews 5:13-14. And if you didn’t grow up with those church envelopes, it will still be good “food for thought” (haha!). But first, consider this:
“The Jewish approach to Scripture is that we don’t read the Bible but rather that it reads us! . . . Mere exposure to [the Word] does not change us into agents of the kingdom.” –Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford in Right Here, Right Now
Sit down at the dining room table.
Come to your quiet time expecting to hear from Him.
What do you do at the dining room table? Or rather, what are you supposed to do? (We use our dining room table for an office, art desk, and Lego-building space; that means we have to eat at the kitchen table, but just go with me here.) The point is, when you sit down at the table, you expect to eat.
Quoting John Piper, Jonathan Parnell (at desiringgod.org) encourages us to bring our minds and hearts into a “hungry readiness to hear the Lord himself speak kindly and deeply and powerfully to our souls.” (See, he said “hungry.” I knew this analogy was good! Just kidding.)
Say the blessing.
Center your focus on him through prayer.
Thank God for His Word. Praise Him for being a revelatory God, which means He wants to be known by His people. Ask the Holy Spirit to meet you there. Ask Him to show you something of Himself as you study. Ask Him to change you as a result of the time you spend exclusively with Him.
Cut off small bites and chew.
Slow down in your reading.
Treat the Scripture like your favorite meal, enjoyed rarely and savored. Again, this is not just “daily Bible reading.” There is no prize for completing more chapters than anyone else, as if we were in a hot dog eating contest. You don’t pick up a whole steak and stuff it in your mouth then try to chew (forgive me for that analogy, vegetarians). You cut off bites—preferably small bites—and you chew them thoroughly before you swallow. Approach the Scriptures with the idea that every paragraph has value, that every sentence was intentionally included. Take a couple of sentences and see what the Holy Spirit can show you. This works best (especially if it’s new to you) in the letters of Paul or Peter.
Perhaps it’s left over from those years of “daily Bible reading,” but we tend to fill our quiet time minutes with reading the Word so that we don’t have to do the actual work of hearing Him and obeying! Plus, if you read too much, you are just going to forget most of it anyway. James (1:23-24) said, Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. We are to look intently and continue in that state of having looked so that we don’t forget but instead, we do/act/obey (James 1:25).
Read a few verses or as much as a paragraph. Think about what it means. You probably know the context, and that helps. If nothing strikes you, check the cross-references for other related verses. After you consider what it meant to the author and to his first audience, focus on what it means for you. This second ‘level’ of meaning is directly related to the first, but we live in a very different culture and a very different century. Let the Holy Spirit guide you in this, and test any understanding against Scripture as a whole.
Let the Holy Spirit use God’s Word to change you.
In eating, this is where your body really goes to work. It takes awhile, and it often affects you for hours (sometimes in a negative way, like if you ate beans & rice!).
“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.” –e.l. konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Is this not what we often do with the Word of God? We accumulate knowledge, then let it rattle around inside us, doing nothing but creating noise. So let what you have come to understand sink into your mind and heart. Paul said, Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you . . . (Colossians 3:16 NASB). Toward the end of your set-aside time with the Lord, give yourself a few minutes to sit and ponder. Think of Mary (Luke 10:39), just sitting at Jesus’ feet, soaking in everything He says without any agenda of her own. This is meditation.
If you are at a loss, ask yourself any or all of these questions.
- What does God want you to do with what you’ve learned? (James 1:22-25)
- What change do you need to make in your life in response to what you’ve studied? How, specifically, are you going to make this change? (Write it in your journal.)
- How does this thought or information apply to your day?
- Is there anyone specific with whom God wants you to share these thoughts?
Then, before you close your Bible, put your thought(s) in that part of your mind where you store things you seriously need to remember for today, things like “pick up kids at 3pm.” As a matter of discipline, remind yourself of what you studied as you go through your day. I’ve heard of people setting their watches to beep every hour, taking a moment before opening Facebook, writing something on the bathroom mirror, and other similar reminders. It’s up to you.
Remember, “You are what you eat!”
My husband likes to brush his teeth just before he goes out the door: after coffee, breakfast, shower, everything. So more than a few times, the rest of us stand at the door, waiting on him while he runs back to brush his teeth. It’s become a joke. As we open the door, someone will ask, “Dad, have you brushed your teeth?” When your quiet time takes on value and affects the rest of your day, it will become an absolutely essential part of your routine. Just as you would NEVER leave the house without brushing your teeth, you will think it entirely unacceptable to walk out the door before you spend some quiet, alone time with God.