Quiet Time. Devotions. Personal Bible study. The concept has a lot of names, but it all boils down to spending time with God.
When you consider who God is… all powerful, all loving, the Creator of the universe, faithful, merciful, gracious, (the list could go on and on), one would think that spending time with Him would be our first priority.
Most of us would jump at the opportunity to spend time with the president, whether or not we approve of his policies. Who would turn down an evening with their favorite movie star, or musician? And what about those people closest to us? I know I’m happiest when I’m spending time with those I love most.
Why is it that so many people who claim to love Jesus, and call themselves Christians, find it a chore to set aside time to focus on Him? It really makes no sense, yet I am among those who have struggled with this for years.
Why is this, and what can we do about it?
I believe there are several reasons we have a hard time sitting down for some one-on-one time with God. I’ll talk about some of these issues later, but in my case, the biggest roadblock was my busy schedule. Days that are booked solid, morning through evening, leave little time for building relationships, even important ones. It seems our lives are crammed to the breaking point. It’s time to sit down and take stock of our priorities.
Since there are only so many hours in a day, adding time spent focusing on God means eliminating something else. This is where we learn how serious we are about our faith. Consider—is God more important than TV or movies? How about video games? If we find it difficult to give up some activity to make room for God, perhaps it has become an idol in our life.
TV and games are clearly discretionary, but what about all the “good” things we do? How many church-related meetings do we attend every week? How many hours do we work? Remember, Jesus told us to seek His kingdom first, and God would supply our needs. Making time for him may involve some personal sacrifice on our part.
I’m a morning person, so I meet with God first thing, usually over breakfast. I leave my Bible and journal on the table to remind myself that He is expecting me. Sometimes it’s tempting to read the newspaper instead, or the next chapter in a book I started the night before. This is where a bit of self-discipline comes in. I make it a personal “rule” not to read anything else that day until I’ve read God’s word. Since I’m a compulsive reader, this is helpful motivation to put God first.
How much is enough? There’s no stock answer. Sometimes I read one verse, and find it so significant, that’s as far as I get. Sometimes I read several chapters. It’s really a matter of discerning what the Holy Spirit wants to say to me that morning, and not stopping until I’ve heard from Him. Now I anticipate that God will speak to me, and I look forward to hearing whatever He wants to say.
Of course, if I have an extra busy day ahead, I don’t always get to read as far as I would like. I try to leave enough time that this most important part of my day doesn’t feel rushed. Yes, that means getting up earlier. That’s easier if I get to bed at a reasonable hour.
Marking up my Bible helps me listen to the Spirit as I read. Getting over my aversion to writing in books was difficult. My mother was a librarian, and I was taught from an early age to treat books with respect. But underlining verses that are particularly meaningful, and writing short notes in the margins, helps me focus. As I read, I’m constantly on the alert for what I’m going to highlight that day.
How do I decide what to read? Sometimes, God draws me to a specific passage, but usually I just read what comes next. There are a variety of “read through the Bible” plans available. Several years ago, I used a two-year version that combined readings in both the Old and New Testaments with selections of Psalms and Proverbs. When I finished that, I just started back in Genesis again. I don’t think it really matters what you read on a particular day. God is able to make His point as long as we’re listening.
Another tool I use to help me listen to God is journaling. I’ve kept a journal for more than ten years now. Writing down what God is saying to me, and what I want to say to Him, has proved invaluable to me. I’ll talk about journaling next time.
Please don’t be legalistic about all this. Who would enjoy having someone sit down across the table from us, silently read one chapter from a long love letter we’ve written then, hand a list of things they want us to do, and then tell us good-bye, see you same time tomorrow? Yes, we have plenty of requests to bring to God. He’s told us to ask for what we need. But limiting a relationship to a formula is frustrating for everyone involved. Rather, consider how you would act on a date with someone you really care about. Time spent with God is a mutual sharing of two hearts. And if someone has to do all the talking, I’d much rather it be Him. He’s a lot wiser than I am!
If you grew up in church, you might think that being a Christian means following a list of dos and don’ts, going to services, being on committees, or even participating in a short-term missions trip. Those are all really good things, but as my ’70’s Jesus Freak friends used to say, sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than living in a garage would make you a Ford.
You can spend a lifetime learning all about God. However, it isn’t until you spend time with someone that you really get to know them.