The Discipline of Quiet Time Part 1

Quiet time porch

The importance and practice of a daily Quiet Time was drilled into my Christian consciousness from an early age. Called by many names, including “devotions,” “Jesus time” or “spiritual meditation,” quiet time can mean the difference between a stale, stunted, bored soul and a fresh, growing, engaged soul.

The exercise of spiritual discipline of daily reflection upon God and His Word is a theme splashed  throughout the canvass of the Bible. As Joshua assumed leadership of God’s people, God gave him the following counsel: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”   (Joshua 1:8) The book of Psalms is full of exhortations to meditation (PS 1:2), stillness (PS 4:4), seeking God (PS 63:1), and solitude with God (PS 23).  Daniel was known for his piety in prayer (Daniel 6:10).  Jesus often retreated into the mountains to pray.

The wisdom of solitude and meditation is recognized by business professionals as well. Some of the world’s best known leadership consultants, Steven Covey and Ken Blanchard, include quiet reflection as part of thier curricula. It seems Gods ways have been proven effective and beneficial.

If you struggle with establishing the discipline of a quiet time, you’re not alone.  Take heart. The struggle to maintain a healthy devotional life may be complicated by a number of factors.  For men in particular, sharing an intimate relationship with a God who has a male personality can be a turn-off if we think of spiritual intimacy in the same manner as physical intimacy.  Unfortunately, we tend to envision a husband wife relationship when we speak of intimacy.  This is a corrupted fruit of our concept of love.  But men hunger male bonding for what’s called “male bonding” when we “get together with the boys.”  This model for intimacy is more applicable to our spiritual life with God.

Another complicating factor is a hurried spirit. Hurriedness seldom leads to a profitible quiet time.  If we’re in a hurry when approaching our quiet time, it may be preferable to wait until we can dedicate a few relaxed minutes.

Still another complication to quiet time is focusing on the process and missing the purpose. If quiet time simply becomes something to check off our list of things to do, we should step back and reflect on the purpose of our quiet time.

Each time we slip into bad habits, it takes a toll on our authenticity and spiritual vitality. But when we take the time to pour our energy into knowing God and listening to Him, the experience enriches our lives and soul. So, what are some secrets to maintaining a deepening devotional life?

Cornerstone one is intentionality.  Quiet time must be purposefully scheduled. Gardens aren’t weeded, flowers aren’t quiet time planningplanted, vacations don’t happen, houses aren’t built, and meals aren’t prepared without planning.  Similarly, spiritual intimacy with God can’t happen without purpose. Be intentional about quiet time.

The second foundation stone in building a passionate devotional life is solitude.  Without solitude the remaining ingredients will not develop. Getting alone and quiet before our Creator and Redeemer removes us from physical distractions. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus described solitude as “entering your closet.”  Solitude allows us to be alone.  Many recoil at the thought of being alone. Boredom, guilt, shame, and regret, threaten us when we are left to ourselves. But spiritual intimacy is something between you and God alone.  Get alone so God can have your undivided attention.

This leads us to cornerstone three: focus. Jesus said enter your closet then “close the door.”  Solitude without focus leads to a frustrating waste of time.  Fruitful solitude means separating ourselves from distractions. The loudest distractions we have today are our phones and electronic devices.  I have found that having my cell phone or laptop with me during quiet time is a huge distraction. Since most of us are over saturated with social media, leaving it on the charger or turning it off quiet time readingduring quiet time may help with focus.  Disconnect from all soul-suckers.

The fourth cornerstone is openness to the voice of God. As we walk away from distractions and get alone, it’s important to expect God to speak to us. Invite God into your place of solitude. God’s presence is what sanctifies solitude.  As you approach your time with God, try to envision Him walking toward you with open arms.  In reality, He is always as near as the air we breathe, but He promises to come even closer to us when we step toward Him. (James 4:8)  He desires to open up to us.  He wants to fill us with His presence and life; He seeks to impart to us His wisdom; He is engaged to teach us how to apply His truth to real life. Be open to His voice.

Having laid a foundation for a meaningful quiet time with God, we need to address some of the ideas which comprise the superstructure.  But that will be a topic for next time. Until then, I hope these thoughts will be a help to someone trying to get to know God more intimately. I know just recording my thoughts has helped me clarify what a profitable quiet time is all about.

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Ideas: Windows to the Heart and Soul

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Proverbs 18:4 reads, “The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters, and the fountain of wisdom is like a flowing brook.” (NET version)  My ideas are the windows into my soul; And when I choose to open those windows, its a risk that can provide joy or lead to a great regret.

For that reason most are guarded to one degree or another, even with our life companion or best friend. But blessed is the person who has a confidant with whom they can share their ideas.

Merriam-Webster defines an idea as “an indefinite or unformed conception; an entity (as a thought, concept, sensation); a formulated thought or opinion; whatever is known or supposed about something.”  Ideas are the notions which shape what we are thinking about. Ideas are the tools we use to discuss topics of interest with other people.

I may embark upon a fresh idea that captures my imagination. Or I may adhere to a long-held idea that best describes why I have a certain opinion.  In either case, sharing with another person an idea I am considering requires that I trust them to suspend premature judgment and to give me an opportunity to make my case.  I want to know that I can have an intelligent and respectful dialogue with a friend about my idea.  I want to insure that my friend will listen to me and if he disagrees, he will allow me the same privilege and not lose respect for me. 

Who among us doesn’t enjoy that type of free and respectful exchange of ideas?  We have all experienced candid and passionate discussion of a mutually engaging idea with someone sitting around a table or in a living room.  Time stops as the ideas freely flow.  I believe we all long to be known on a more intimate level and long to share our deep thoughts and ideas.  Perhaps that’s also why we blog–to exchange our ideas with others.

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However, it is important to establish that not all ideas are created equal. Just because I have an idea doesn’t make it a good or correct idea. Is it an idea that is worthy to survive?  We can only begin to validate our idea as we learn to use filters.
  1. The first filter is the Word of God, the Bible. No greater source of truth exists by which we can measure our ideas and notions. It’s principles and truths are literally  eternal, transcending space as well as time.  No idea clearly contrary to the Holy Scriptures should be given a second consideration.

2. The second filter through which we should strain our ideas is common sense. There may be a great many ideas about which the Scriptures are unclear.  In such instances it is good to apply good common sense to measure the strength of an idea. Common sense is not necessarily as common as the term suggests. Common sense is often the derivitive of learning from my mistakes and the mistakes of others.

3. But sometimes our intuitive common sense isn’t helpful either so we need the third filter of counsel. Proverbs 20:5 says, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”  Here two people are presented in an exchange of ideas. One is drawing out the other man’s ideas which are described as deep waters. 

When I share my ideas with a friend I am want to affirm that idea, and contribute to my friend’s understanding of both the topic and me.  As we work through the idea in conversation, listening to one another, we find points of mutual agreement as well as difference. Correction and refinement of the notion develop and the idea begins to take shape. Ideally, both of us can contribute to the understanding of the other in a meaningful manner.

Preachers engage in the same process on a larger scale.  Our sermons are (hopefully) filled with ideas which God has presumably given to us as we have studied. The delivery of those ideas is the minister’s opportinty to open his soul to his people and allow them to see inside. As they listen, they encounter his beliefs, see his passions, connect with his faith and are asked to make a decision to embrace the idea. For that reason it is incumbent upon the minister when he speaks in Gods behalf to insure that he has good ideas, relevant ideas, worthy ideas, engaging ideas, in short, God’s ideas. 

So keep your mind and soul fresh by exploring the depths of your soul. Read. Meditate.  Keep engaging with others about your ideas and thoughts. Keep listening to the ideas of others and help them refine their notions as they help refine yours.

Mercy and Truth

    I’ve noticed in my life that one of the things I’ve always bent toward is venting on/exposing political moral and social worldviews which are wrong headed or non Christian. In many ways I can identify with the Old Testament prophets. I find the encroachments of darkness and evil too much to swallow in silence and feel compelled to stand up and speak up.  I enjoy Christian  apologetics because it defends and provides clear arguments for the truth.

    Recently, I have also made some observations however which trouble me. I’ve noticed that other believers are much more passive about the things which burn within me. They take a more laissez-faire approach to cultural issues. Thier posts are positive, affirming toward people generally but mute on cultural ideas.  What troubles me is the gracious spirit they are able to keep in the face of spiritual decay. On the surface it appears that they abandon the engagement of ideas for the pursuit of social congeniality.  I find this positive outlook in other believers to be nieve and unnecessarily easy on sin for the sake of protecting the fragile ego of the sinner. Is this due to a fear of offending the world or a call to a different cause?  Is it more Christian to avoid the cultural skirmishes of the age in order to be likeable? I cannot and perhaps should not determine the answer these questions.

      The troubling outcome of my prophetic approach to culture is that it is easy to become cynical, critical and negative. The prophetic perspective leads me to look for what’s wrong in the world instead of what’s good and right. I am uneasy with this natural outcome of the prophet’s role.

    Those who know me will find it difficult to accept that I am confrontational. They know me largely as a pleaser of people. I too hesitate to burn my bridges with relationships.  Actually I recoil from confronting people. It’s the confrontation of ideas which I draws me in. 
   
    All this analysis leads me to ask if the Old Testament prophets also struggled with these same inner conflicts. For instance, did Jeremiah ever feel cantankerous due to his consistent harranging against the sins of Jerusalem?  If not, how did he avoid this trap?  Since he was known as “the weeping prophet,” could his prayerful brokenness have kept him from ugly cynicism?  Perhaps what saved the prophets was their counterperspective of hope for renewal and restoration.

    Ultimately it is the testimony of dealing honestly with the culture without deteriorating into sour Christianity which best describes where I want to be. 
But the challenge to confront the twisted worldview of sin and maintain Christian graces remains.