26 January 2018

Plagued by Quiet Time, Part 2

There's that candle again, and now we have some very creepy spectacles too...

Continued from yesterday...

Assumption 2: God will not bless you unless you do your quiet time.

This one is kind of a half truth. If you have the Bible available to you in your language (there are still millions and millions of people on the planet who don't!), then you have a tremendous blessing waiting for you to receive it. If you never pick it up and read it with an open mind, then it is true that one of the main conduits of God's grace is blocked to you, for as long as you ignore it.

However, what Scripture reading is not -- but is often implied to be -- is a way to earn God's blessings; i.e., God is obligated to bless you today if you "did your quiet time" this morning, but if you didn't, then all bets are off. This is yet another way in which we tend to treat God as a Santa Claus figure, making a list and checking it twice: He sees you when you're sleeping; He knows when you're awake... He knows if you've done your quiet time, so do it for goodness' sake... 

The cure for this is to know that time spent with God is meant to be relational, not transactional. He doesn't dispense His gifts the way Santa Claus does, as a payment in return for good behavior. If He did, then we would all be disqualified: Even our very best still isn't good enough to earn God's favor, if such a thing were earn-able. Thankfully, we get to have it free for the asking.

Assumption 3: A chapter a day keeps the devil away.

I know people who say that when they have their quiet time in the morning, it fortifies them against the devil. They have a great outlook on the day, and other people's petty grievances don't faze them. Even those small vexations that usually crop up in a typical day never seem to materialize. Or perhaps things are going wrong, but they can float above all such worldly cares in a state of spiritual bliss, unheeding and unbothered, because they're full of the Joy of the Lord and of Quiet Time.

I don't have a theological rebuttal to this one; I just have my personal experience. Or rather, my lack of personal experience. I hate to admit it, but my morning quiet time doesn't have much bearing at all on what kind of day I have. If I get a headache or a flat tire or burn my dinner, well, chances are those things would have happened to me regardless. I still get frustrated with people. I still have bad moods, bad days, bad whatevers. But I am young and uninitiated in the ways of spiritual giants, so it's quite possible this is because I'm doing it all wrong. Whatever "it all" is.

Assumption 4: If you don't have quiet time, you're missing out on the only way to know Jesus.

I'm not sure this one is always true, either. Otherwise we wouldn't know so many Christians who are militantly strict about observing quiet time, but whose character and general demeanor are bad advertising -- i.e., they don't show you what the God of the Bible is really like. These people are missing something, obviously, or perhaps I should say they are missing Someone. Confusing an activity designed to bring you closer to a Person with that Person Himself seems like it should be an easy and obvious pitfall to avoid. But in fact, it's a mistake with a lengthy history attached, as Jesus is on record as saying over 2,000 years ago: “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf." (John 5:39) It is possible to be extremely devoted to Scripture but miss getting to know the One whom the Scripture is all about. I think this can happen very easily in making too much of quiet time for its own sake.

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In the interest of not having yesterday's and today's posts be completely negative, I feel I should take a break from telling you what hasn't worked for me in the Quiet Time arena, and tell you what has. Here are my suggestions -- and do, please, take them as such.

Suggestion 1: Do spend quality time with God.

I'm not by any means the first to say this, but your friendship with God, just like any other, requires quality time and close proximity in order to flourish. Hopefully, it's not too irreverent if I suggest approaching that relationship as you would a relationship with any good friend (aside from the fact that you don't worship your other friends):

Talk to God whenever you think of it (this may be harder than it sounds, as sometimes the "out of sight, out of mind" thing happens when trying to relate to someone you can't see). Learn to read the Bible as a story -- a good and true story that lets you in on how your closest friend thinks and what He likes and doesn't like. Just sitting and listening is always good too, or sometimes I talk to Him about what I'm reading (not that I always -- or even usually -- hear something in response, but somehow I think He appreciates it).

Suggestion 2: Find other ways to connect.

One of the paradoxes about God is that although He's more perfect than we can ever hope to be, He's usually not as hard on us as we are on ourselves. I find great relief in this. Quite frankly, there are times when -- dare I say it without incurring the wrath of the Quiet Timers -- the traditional Bible-and-prayer method of connecting with God seems impossible for one reason or another. When that's the case, doing something different for awhile can really help. I like the suggestions on this list by Kimberlee Stokes. "Listen", "Observe", and "Enjoy Nature" particularly resonate with me.

This is one occasion where media -- movies and radio shows and what have you -- can be to your advantage, to get you thinking. I know a lot of people like Bible movies like the Jesus Film, but for me, if there's anything graphic in there, I'll have nightmares. So I tend to steer clear of those. I'm more auditory anyway, so I prefer "listenable" activities over "watchable" ones. Adventures in Odyssey is, of course, my favorite. They do Bible stories really well, and their Life of Christ episodes are especially moving. There's just something about hearing and picturing the scenes and the people in them and how it all happened. Sure, they're not historically accurate in all the technical aspects (the fact that the characters speak English, for one), but they remind me that Jesus was (is) a real person, with a real personality, inhabiting real time and real space. (You wouldn't think I'd need to be reminded of such a thing, except that... I do. The real Jesus sometimes gets lost in my devotionals and commentaries and concordances!)

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