One of the common prayer requests I hear, and issues brought up to me as a pastor, concerns a person's "quiet time." This is the time a Christian spends alone with God (often in the morning) reading Scripture and praying. People call this a "quiet time," or "devotions;" the puritans called it "private worship." I wanted to share a few thoughts on the subject, but this turned out to be a bit longer than I thought, so I will blog on it in a few different parts.
Before we get into the common questions I get, the how-to of beginning, reclaiming and maintaining a quiet time, I want to issue a warning. Not only do many struggle with making this a consistent part of their lives, even more have an unhealthy perspective on this habit that can erode one's walk with Christ. As important as this sort of formative discipline is, your quiet time is not the measure of your spiritual life, nor is it the measure of your standing before God. We need to be careful to avoid these false assessments by keeping the cross at the center of our lives. God loves us and accepts us because of Christ alone. Jesus is our confidence before God, not our performance. And yet, it seems that on some level, at least some of the time, we do not believe this. To put it plainly, many Christians have bought into a cleansing rite they believe washes away sin and guilt and enables them to approach God. Let me explain.
Sometimes we fall into the habit of evaluating "how we're doing" spiritually based on the consistency of our daily devotions. It is not uncommon to place such an emphasis on this private aspect of our faith that it trumps everything else God requires of us. It's not that we intend to view the Christian life this way, but sometimes a portion of an hour in the morning carries more weight than does a demonstrable love for neighbor, forgiving those who have sinned against us, or doing justice. For many of us our quiet time can become a point of pride that provides a false sense of confidence with which we try to approach God.
On the other end of this warped perspective I have found that many Christians (including myself) have no confidence to approach God after a time of rebellion, disobedience, inconsistency or even complacency. It is as if we think, "I have been so far from God, so cold, so selfish, so sinful I cannot now approach him. I first need to get my performance back up. 'Get back to reading my Bible in the morning. Just give me a few days of consistency, then I will feel better about myself and then I can approach God. I just have to clean up first." This, my friends, is not dependence on God's grace, but trust in our own performance, in a cleansing rite. This is a form of works righteousness that insults the gift of God's grace in Jesus.
The truth is when we find ourselves in rebellion, disobedience, or even just a place of spiritual idleness it should compel us to run to Christ not from him! Jesus himself is the measure of our spiritual life and our hope and confidence before God. Nothing more, and nothing less. Our poor performance itself should move us to returning - to repentance and faith. This is not to say that what we do is irrelevant. Jesus calls us to love God and neighbor, to deny ourselves for others, to make peace, to serve. And yes, praying and meditating on Scripture daily is also important. All of this matters, but none of it is the measure of our spiritual life. Though such things are components of our spiritual lives, in the final analysis we fail in all of these areas. Even as we grow and are sanctified we will see more of our sin and increasingly desire our final redemption. So as we progress in godliness, we become more aware of our sinfulness and the need for Jesus only intensifies.
So let me assure you, those who regularly spend time alone with God, not just time with their Bibles, but time alone with God, will have a greater awareness of their inherent weakness and dependency on Jesus for everything. Regularly meeting with God does not promote confidence in self or create pride. Rather, it humbles a man and forces us to boast in Christ alone.
In these posts I want to flush the cleansing rite mentality while laying out what a quiet time really is, why it is important, how it fits into a Christian's life and then give practical suggestions for beginning and maintaining this very important set of morning disciplines. Along the way, please feel free to share what you have learned, tools you use, books that have helped you in the area of spiritual disciplines.