Let’s talk about Quiet Times.
I’m terrible at them. Though I understand the importance of spending time reading the Word and praying, I have always been baffled at how exactly to have a Quiet Time. This probably has a lot to do with how I have approached education in general over the years. Do I love to learn and passionately pursue knowledge just for the sake of learning? I’d like to believe I do, but realistically that has not been my pattern. (For example, when I read The Lord of the Rings, I kind of always skip the songs. And the part where Tom Bombadil is hanging out with the hobbits in the forest– I skip that, too. Michael was aghast when he found out that I have no appreciation for Bombadil. But to me, it doesn’t seem like it moves the narrative along very much. And I need the storyline to progress… I mean, that book is so long!) In school, I was always a good student and figured out how to make an A, but I’m not sure that I learned a whole lot in high school, college, or even grad school. That is quite embarrassing seeing as how I’m a teacher and all.
Do not judge– that’s a sin, you know.
Anyway, when I first started trying to have Quiet Times back when I was 13 or 14, I thought there was a magic formula that I needed to figure out. My youth group had given out workbooks of some sort and insisted that Quiet Times had to be in the morning. That didn’t work for me very well because I am not a morning person. It was especially difficult because school started so early and I already had a getting-ready routine that took over an hour (let us not discuss the copious amount of hair spray and curling irons involved.) So I failed at having my Quiet Times early on and felt like, well, a failure. I didn’t try again until a few years later when I was in college. By that time, I had a better idea that what mattered was spending time learning about my great God. I also started to really pray deeply and even found myself late to class once or twice because I lost track of time. Because I was praying. So weird.
Those times were so sweet and I still look back at that time and treasure how close God and I were. We were tight, yo. But then the fire of my Quiet Times started to go out. I realized that I didn’t really understand what I was reading. I had this terrible habit of making everything in the Bible about me. I would read the Psalms where David describes fleeing from his enemies, and I would think, “Hmm… I don’t really have anyone trying to kill me. David seems kind of dramatic here.” Or I would read passages in the Old Testament where God made specific promises to specific people and feel all warm and fuzzy as I claimed those promises for myself.
You know you do it, too.
The book of Ruth gets so abused in this way. Single women read it and are encouraged that they, too, will find their Boaz. Older women read it and identify with Naomi and cling to the promise that God will give them grandchildren. We are a messed up lot of folks who do not understand scripture or even how to go about trying to understand it. But do not despair– there is hope!
I was listening to my good buddy, Tim, the other day and realized something. After years of hearing him preach, I think I’ve actually learned some things about the Bible. And I think they are starting to sink deeply into my soul. This morning I listened to a sermon about forgiveness (actually, I listened to it twice) and kept thinking, “Yes, yes! This is what I’ve been talking to Michael about!” We’ve been talking about how forgiveness is costly. We’ve been discussing what it means to pour grace out on people who’ve sinned against us. We’ve been encouraging one another to remember how we, too, are sinners in desperate need of grace. You see, the same themes keep coming up day after day… Grace. Forgiveness. Trust. The Gospel. And though I haven’t done a study on forgiveness with a shiny workbook to point me to the right passages to read, I’ve been learning about it.
I still struggle to have an official Quiet Time that follows any kind of consistent pattern. I do try and find some time to quiet my soul and pray each day, but even that is hit or miss sometimes. If you struggle to read scripture and apply it (or heck, even understand it) then here is my encouragement to you: You do not need to follow some prescribed formula that works really well for someone else. There are lots of great suggestions for how to read the Bible through in a year (and one day I will do that… I hope) but for now, that is daunting and discouraging for me. And honestly, even if I did read the 10 chapters of Leviticus that were prescribed for me to read, I do not think I would have any idea what I had just read. I am not a dumb person, but I do not have the background to open the Word and instantly know what it’s talking about. In fact, doing this over the years led me to create my own special brand of heresy.
Though I don’t want you to make the error of believing that there is only one way to learn and grow, I don’t want to lead you into the other possible error which is not doing anything. For a long time I didn’t try and do anything to feed my soul because I thought that I couldn’t do it the right way. Getting up early is still difficult– with little children occupying my house for the foreseeable future, I’m just not sure I will ever leave my bed before I absolutely have to. But I have found some things that do work; primarily I listen to sermons by Tim Keller. I listen to them while I clean the kitchen or pick up toys around the house. When I drive anywhere longer than 5 minutes, I listen to Tim (Jeremiah is going to grow up very confused about why he never gets to meet Uncle Tim, but always listens to him in the car.)
What works for me right now is listening to Keller when I can, talking to my husband about what I’m learning, and when I’m feeling especially time-enriched, I read books that help me understand scripture better (this one is great.) What works for me might not work for you– but there is something that will work. And if you try something and it doesn’t work, try something else! Make it your quest to spend some time learning about the Gospel in a way that excites you, and I promise you will keep doing it. And if you miss a day (or many days) because life happens at you, for heaven’s sake don’t beat yourself up. Learning about God isn’t something to add to your This-Will-Make-Me-A-Good-Person List. After all, there’s no hope of that– but where we can have hope is that by learning about the Gospel we will be people who are captured by its beauty. And that, my friends, is what changes us.