Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Thoughts on Quiet Times

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the Christian practice and/or idea of a “Quiet Time”. This is supposed to be that time during the day when you are quiet before the Lord and study His Word. My own perception of what that time looks like in practice has been challenged in the last several months.

A Quiet Time (or Devotional Time) has always seemed to have a pretty standard structure for me. It may include a time of prayer in the beginning (especially inclusive of a request for wisdom and open eyes and ears), a time of Bible reading or study using a curriculum of sorts, and then a time of closing prayer (mostly filled with requests). This is a fairly shallow and narrow depiction of what a quiet time could consist of, but I think it is fairly representative of the way we are taught to have these times. In the past few months, and in my processing of them this morning, I have come to see Quiet Times in a new light.

As I was discussing the idea of a quiet time (via email) with a friend this morning, I realized that it is often seen as a time of Bible Study…something academic. Prior to today, I think I would have agreed that it should be a time of study. But, something about phrasing that way rang terribly untrue within me. Should we study the Bible? Of course we should…there is no doubt about that. Should our daily time with the Lord be focused on Bible study? I don’t think so.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again…people getting burnt out in trying to maintain a quiet time. It’s seemed like the impossible task in my own life at times - a duty, even drudgery at times. How often do we set out with renewed verve and believe we will actually have a daily time of study only to fall short and lose interest? Why does that happen? What’s missing? I think I’ve begun to understand, in the last several months, where the disconnect happens.

It’s truly about relationship.

In thinking of some of my relationships, I have learned what works to make them stronger. First of all, it’s important to spend time together. Talking to and listening to a friend builds understanding of one another. In the time that we spend discussing things or just in conversation, we come to understand each other’s character and personality. It’s in the back and forth that we truly see who the other person is.

The same is true with our relationship with God. That daily quiet time should be as simple as a visit with a friend. Just as we interact in different ways with our friends, so we can interact in different ways with God. We can learn and understand His character through time spent getting to know Him.

How do we do that?

Conversation – Just as we converse with our friends, so we can converse with God. In the language of the church, we call this Prayer, but it’s really as simple as talking to a friend. I have some friends who speak so easily with God, it’s easy to imagine Him sitting with us in the car or as a 3rd party on a phone call. I love those moments when one of them invites Him into a conversation without a second thought. Prayer can be intimidating or seem like it has to be formal or spoken perfectly. But, it’s just as easy as picking up a phone – more so, actually because God is never too busy to listen or speak.

Letters – Have you ever gotten a love letter? I have. What a treasure they are! What I love about letters is that they can be kept and treasured and pulled out whenever you need a reminder of someone’s love or encouraging words. And, although we don’t often think of it as such, the Bible is God’s love letter to us. We have, in writing, His promises and stories of His enduring faithfulness. Anytime we want, we can pull out writings that tell us how much we are loved and treasured. And, these writings also teach us about the One we love. They show us His heart and His character. (Journaling is a great way to write love letters back to God, keep track of what you’re learning, and revisit those lessons time and time again).

Acts of Service – Have you ever done something to help out a friend? Maybe it was a surprise or maybe you just jumped in and helped where you saw a need. I had someone do that for me a few months ago. I was overwhelmed and stressed out and couldn’t take the time to get everything done I needed done. Then, without being asked, simply as an expression of love, my blessed cousin stepped in and took care of a big need for me. You would have thought she had just bought me a new car for all the joy it brought me! She was truly an answer to prayer to me that day. And, scripture tells us that when we’ve done anything even unto the least of those around us, we have done it for the Lord. You can bless the heart of the Father by meeting the needs of His children.

Giving of Gifts – I LOVE to give gifts. Gift giving is one of my primary love languages. I have a terrible time keeping them secret. I love making someone feel important to me by giving them something, whether it’s something I’ve made (mmm…chocolate chip cookies) or something I purchase because I know they’d love it. In the same way, our tithe is a gift to the Lord and a way we can bless His heart.

Now, not all of these things can take place in a “quiet time”, but that’s where the relationship is cultivated. It’s in those times of connection with the Lord that we learn who He is and begin to become more like Him.

In close friendships, have you ever noticed how you pick up the character traits, quirks, and even silly habits of your friends? It seems the more time you spend with someone, the more you become like them. I know I’ve found that to be true in my own life. How amazing would it be if we spent so much time with the Lord that we began to take on HIS character traits? Imagine if we saw with the Lord’s eyes. What if you came across someone who was angry and bitter, but instead of seeing the meanness you saw the wounds that caused it? How much more compassion and grace would you have for that person? How much more patience and tolerance? What if we truly became His hands and feet? What if we filtered everything and everyone through His heart? How would our families be different? Our friendships? Our relationships? Our churches?

In addition to learning to treat my devotion time as time spent with a friend, I’ve also learned (and have been learning for quite some time now) how important it is that it is the MOST IMPORTANT friendship I have. When I’m taking that time first, everything else feels in it’s proper perspective and place. If I’m in right relationship with the Lord, I hear that “still small voice” more quickly and clearly throughout the day and in my decisions. My days are less stressful, my outlook is brighter, and my worries are nearly gone when I take the time to connect with the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.

I haven’t written in a while, so I know this is a lot. I have more to share, but I think it will wait for another time. I challenge you to make this a year of getting to know the One who made you and develop a hunger for time together with Him.

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