Bill closed his Bible with a sigh. He’d just read a passage out of Judges, said a prayer with “the right” elements in in it (praise, confession, intercession, etc.) and now was done with his devotional time for Monday. But what had he accomplished? It had been a long, boring fifteen minutes. He’d felt no spiritual boost nor gained fresh insights. His prayers seemed to bounce off of the ceiling; like he was just talking to himself.
This “quiet time” was supposed to be crucial to a growing believer’s life according everything he’d been told growing up in the church; a sort of “silver bullet” in the Christian’s arsenal. Yet often Bill came away from these experiences feeling flat. Was he doing something wrong? Others spoke of their quiet times with more awe and reverence.
Ever had Bill’s experience? I often have. Once in a while, I get what feels like a “holy jolt”, but it’s not common. I walk early every morning, meditating and praying and usually come back feeling about the same as when I left. And I’ve been a “quiet time” kind of guy for decades. In addition, I’ve read a number of books on the “spiritual disciplines” and experimented with their suggestions. Yet, this morning, once again, I got up in the dark, dressed, headed out on a country road and spent my “Jesus time”. And I likely will do the same tomorrow. Some believers, like me, are pretty consistent with their devotions, while others tire of it, and seldom take the time, or it they do, rush through it quickly – like popping their Bible vitamin on the way out the door. This leads to our first question:
Why do we not seem to get much out of our quiet time?
1. We don’t seem to get much out of our quiet time because we don’t expect much to begin with
It’s easy, as with many regular activities in life, to lose the wonder of the deed through sheer repetition. It’s novel and fun at first, but after a while, it becomes old hat. That’s pretty normal. We’re reading the same book over and over, saying a lot of the same prayers and we get used to it. It can feel more like work after a while; like doing our duty, rather than an exciting meeting with our best Friend. It’s not that we don’t wish it were different, it just isn’t.
2. We don’t get much out of our quiet time because we don’t put much into it
A quality quiet time does take some work. It requires focus and energy. Does that sound heretical? Marriage takes work too, doesn’t it? Every worthwhile relationship does. We invest a lot of ourselves in other activities, why do we sometimes think that time with God will be successful if it’s half-hearted and desultory?
3. We don’t get much out of our quiet time because we don’t give it our prime time
When are you most alert, energetic, motivated, free to think? If it’s possible, use some of that time for devotions. Don’t wait till you’re exhausted or distracted and try to cram in devotions. This makes it even harder to focus or to feel than it already is. In fact, don’t just hope it will happen. Schedule it. Make it, within reason, a non-optional event. Which leads to the next point.
4. We don’t get much out of our quiet time because we think it should come easily
Sometimes, our times alone with God just flow, but, often, they’re a battle. The last thing Satan wants is for you and I to stay closely in touch with God and His power. We sit down and our minds are already whirring; easily distracted Plus, we live in a world full of sinful enticements. A major part of our spiritual battle is precisely not giving up on having quality time alone with God. It’s not easy sticking with our commitment. Don’t feel bad if you have to push yourself sometimes. That’s normal.
5. We don’t get much out of our quiet times because we don’t comprehend their incredible value
I have said, many times to our congregation; the majority of spiritual victories are won before the battle even starts. It’s in these quiet moments alone with God that crucial preparation occurs. Our perspective, easily twisted by the world, gets re-aligned. Our emotional connection with God gets strengthened, and so on. Like a well-trained athlete, our instincts get sharpened before the actual game starts.
6. We don’t get much out of our quiet times because we go too fast
Tozer, I’m told, spent four hours a day in devotional exercises. That’s too much for most of us. The point is not how long we spend. It’s that we spend enough time to be effective. Usually a lot can be done in fifteen to thirty minutes, though more is nice. The main emphasis I’m making here though, is not primarily about minutes. If I could give two words of advice about devotions they would be this: “Slow down”. The richest truths of Scripture, the strongest spiritual interactions are hard to notice if we’re doing a fly-by. Read a verse five or six times. Stare out the window. Just sit and listen. This is one reason I memorize. After I’ve been over a verse dozens of times it starts to reveal itself in new ways. So relax, give God room to speak.
7. We get more out of our quiet times by varying them
Read a book or two on spiritual disciplines. There are a variety of ways to reach to God and it doesn’t hurt to vary them. Take a walk. Sing. Journal. Sit in silence. What’s been slowly awakening my emotions recently has been doing more visualizing and less intellectualizing. I try to visualize the truths I’m meditating on; to feel them better – I picture Jesus holding me in His hand, or the bright Spirit flowing throughout my being.
8. We get more out of our quiet times by realizing that God is using them regardless of how we feel
I’m not a person who gushes with a lot of strong positive emotions. At least part of this, I think, is my genetics. But, I can still detect, in my behavior, in my thinking, in the hidden parts of my soul, the slow deepening and solidifying to which years of seeking God have brought me. God has used devotional exercises to transform me more into the likeness of His Son. Deliberately chosen, sometimes self-forced godly behavior, is becoming more of an instinct. So even if it feels like your time with God is a waste, the Vine is Christ’s holy sap flowing into His branches.
9. We get more out of our quiet times by changing the focus from ourselves to God
Actually, the main purpose of quiet times, isn’t about us. It’s about God. It’s our chance to glorify and worship Him. He is meant to be the focus. If all we do is humble ourselves in His presence in worship and praise, our quiet time has accomplished its primary goal. Yes, quiet times should also include confession, intercession, petitions, and so on. But in the end, if God gets something out of it, we’ve succeeded.