or Frequently Asked Questions and Often Heard Excuses for a Quiet Time (randomly assembled)
or Don’t Quit on Your Quiet Time (Part II)
What do I need?
You need a Bible, a journal, and a pen or pencil. That’s it. Keep these things in a specific place so that you don’t have to search every morning. Use the journal to record what your Father shows you in His Word and how you intend to respond. Every week or so, look back through what you’ve written. Often, a bigger pattern emerges.
Does it HAVE to be first thing in the morning?
No. In my experience, God’s expectation is that my q.t. become my number-one priority. That means I put “time with God” on my daily schedule first, then I plan everything else around it. People reference Mark 1:35 as a directive for an early-morning q.t. because it says,“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. But Jesus did lots of things that I don’t do, like sleep outside and drive businessmen out of the temple, so I don’t think we can use this as a command. For most people though, it’s simplest to do the q.t. first so that (1) it doesn’t get overlooked or squeezed out in the busy-ness of the day and (2) you can orient the rest of your day around what you hear from Him. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I don’t know any strong Christian who doesn’t do his or her quiet time early in the day. Please comment if you have a different opinion.
But I have a hard time getting up in the morning!
Yeah. We all do. Try going to bed earlier. If time with the Lord is your number-one priority, then it’s worth adjusting your evening so that you get more sleep. It will take a few days for your body to become accustomed to the new routine, so give yourself a goal such as, “I will go to bed at ____pm every night for a week and see if that helps.”
Secondly, ask God to help. The Bible says that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Certainly, He is stronger than the pull of your warm bed.
Thirdly, as you begin to delight in your time with Him, you will look forward to it, even desire it above all else. If you hunt or golf, you know the feeling of waking up with excitement. No, I am not joking. It IS possible to feel that way about spending time with God.
What about prayer? How does that fit into a Quiet Time?
You should definitely do it. Prayer is a high and holy calling, and when you are setting aside time to be exclusively with God, include time for straight-up prayer. I’ve written a bit about prayer previously. We just can’t get into this here or it will be the never-ending blog post!
But I like to use a devotional. What’s wrong with that?
There’s nothing wrong with it. Many mature Christians use a devotion book ALONGSIDE their personal time in the Bible but not in place of it. Devotionals and most Bible study books tell you what someone else heard from the Lord through His Word and/or their experiences, and it may be very meaningful to you as well, but it is second-hand. God can and will reveal the same things to you directly through His Word. Let the pattern of your life become one of intimate times alone with the Father. Use other books as supplements or short-term substitutes. (Since I’m currently writing a Bible study for publication, I’m certainly not saying you should never use one!) Look at:
- Exodus 20:18-21. How much did the Hebrews miss because they refused to speak to God themselves?!? (Thanks, T.A.!)
- 1 Peter 2:9. We are the priesthood. We don’t need another intermediary!
- Hebrews 4:14-16. Jesus, Who is God, serves as our High Priest. We don’t need anyone else. And look at that last part: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (emphasis added).
How can I actually hear from God? That sounds weird.
God can and does “speak” to His Followers. In fact, if you are a Christ-follower (and possibly if you aren’t), He has shown you your lostness and convicted you of Truth. No, you couldn’t hear it in your physical ear, but you know what I’m talking about. Probably, He has reached out to you at other times as well, but maybe you were talking . . . or playing a game on your smartphone . . . or listening to the radio. Maybe you heard it but you just passed it off as your conscience or your own mind. The Holy Spirit does something just short of miraculous when, with humility, we open God’s Word in God’s presence. For one thing, we learn to recognize His “voice.” For another, we can hear Him more clearly because the other distractions are gone.
But I always get distracted or my mind wanders.
If you have a hard time focusing (like most of us in 2015), read Hearing God by Peter Lord. I’m not the only one who will vouch for the practical helpfulness and encouragement of this easy-to-read book. Also, if you begin your q.t. by prayerfully devoting that time to God, He will help you stay focused (see Don’t Quit . . . Part I).
Am I a failure if I don’t “hear God” one day?
Absolutely not! Some days are just “duds” and many days are good but not earth-shattering. Make sure there’s no unconfessed sin in your life, consider what section of the Bible you are reading (Leviticus? Matthew’s genealogy?), and try to find something to know or remember even if it isn’t super-significant. For example, Joseph’s father’s name was Jacob (Matt 1:16). That’s interesting. As you get closer to God, you can expect fewer and fewer “dud” days. Remember that one of the purposes of your quiet time is to reconnect with God through His Word. That entire, big book is His Word, so you are connecting as long as you are engaged in reading it and thinking about it.
Why is it called a “quiet time”? And what’s the difference between q.t. and Bible study?
Some people will say it’s simply a matter of semantics, but for me, the quiet time means I am quiet before the Lord. I am prayerfully listening, responding, obeying. The focus is on my interaction with God. Bible study, on the other hand, often prompts obedience, but the focus is on what I gain from the Word. Again, I wouldn’t debate anyone on this point.
How long do I have to do this before it’s effective?
The first time you shoot a basketball, even if you are right beside the basket, you probably aren’t going to score. It takes practice and a sense of the rhythm. Don’t worry if your first few days of paring down your quiet time are meager. Neither your brain nor your spirit are accustomed to working this way. As long as the Holy Spirit affirms your process, keep at it. Ask a couple of trusted friends to pray for you. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m sure it took me probably two weeks before I felt like the time was productive, but because I knew God was calling me to this discipline, I kept at it. You can, too.
What if I come upon something that I don’t understand?
This can happen to any of us (more in some books of the Bible than others). After presenting your dilemma to the Lord through prayer, start by looking at cross-references. The Bible is the best commentary on the Bible. Check the study notes if you are using a study Bible. Beyond that, ask yourself how important it is for you to understand this verse. Does the Father want you to pursue it right now? Perhaps you need to put this question in your pocket and save it for later. If so, make a note in your journal. Often, once you finish the chapter or the book, you will be able to understand the confusing verse better. If the question continues to bother you, ask your pastor or another trusted Believer. I love to dig in the Scripture; I love to solve puzzles and untangle knots, so I will never dismiss a question flippantly, but there are some things of God which we are not meant to understand—things that He has organized which are beyond us. As you grow in trust, you can become . . . at least ‘okay’ . . . with releasing those things to Him. In fact, I’ve come to delight in those unanswerable questions because I know that He has never been stumped or puzzled or surprised. Just read Job 38-41.
But my young children invariably interrupt me.
In my experience, this is the toughest life stage in which to maintain a regular quiet time, so know that you are not alone and that God sees your effort. I am confident that He honors a heart that is set on Him even when very few minutes belong exclusively to Him. HOWEVER you cannot use your children as an excuse to slack off. Talk to your spouse about giving you the gift of half-an-hour alone at some point in the day. Call it a gift or an act of service (I’m thinking about the Five Love Languages here.). When the children are a bit older, train them to sit and watch a half-hour video. If you are anti-TV, pray and ask God to show you an alternative. This is the one situation in which I would not push you toward first-thing-in-the-morning. Just keep it as your number-one priority! Yes, it is more important than playing patty-cake or reading board books out loud. It is even more important than taking a shower, honestly.
Furthermore, separate your expectations from God’s. Relax. He sees the sincerity of your heart. He loves you, and He loves your child(ren). Get into the pattern of praying while you change diapers, meditating on the Word while you brush your teeth, singing praise songs while you bathe your baby. This stage of life is really a fantastic opportunity to integrate your relationship with the Lord into your daily habits!
Man, I do a quiet time, but I just cannot remember it later in the day, so what good is it?
We all have the occasional day like that, but as God plants the desire for His presence more deeply in your soul, you will find it happening less often. There is a very short, old book that has inspired me in this area. It is Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. As I wrote in the previous post, schedule reminders for yourself throughout the day until recollection becomes natural . . . or at least a habit. Again, as you increasingly delight in your time with Him, remembering will occur more effortlessly.
Where should I start?
Philippians and John are excellent choices, but anywhere in the New Testament would be good. Ask God to show you which book He wants you to read.
To get you started, I’ve made a schedule using Philippians below. You can see how long it might take and how much each day covers. Believe it or not, sometimes you may feel like you didn’t plunge the full depths of that day’s selection (Romans 11:33)—like you know there has to be more but you are already full-to-overflowing with what you have “eaten”. Return to it the next day. “Leftovers” in God’s Word aren’t the same as last night’s congealed spaghetti. Remember, the goal is not to finish reading the book; it’s to become more like Jesus through the transforming power of His Word.
Daily Schedule – Philippians
or How to Spend More Than a Month in One Small Book of the Bible and Not Get Bored
- 1:1-2 Think about servants, holy people, grace and peace.
- 1:3-6 What is God saying to you in these verses?
- 1:9-11 Can you see how this is just the NIV paragraphs?
- 1:15-18a You might spend two days here—good stuff!
- 2:9-11 Read back through verses 5-8 to understand this poem as a whole.
- 3:3-7 These three days overlap because they are so interconnected.
What if I have a question that you haven’t answered?
Please ask it in the comments. I would love to answer you or find an answer for you!