My wife and I were talking about the spiritual hazards in the current culture when she asked, “How do believers make it these days without daily quiet time?” This is a subject I rarely hear mentioned anymore. Maybe that’s because the matter is too personal.
Years ago a Bible college student confided that as he walked to breakfast on his first day of class, his suite-mate asked, “Well, George, what did the Lord give you in quiet time this morning?”
George’s mind worked fast. After the initial shock at the intrusion, he quickly made up something to tell. The next morning it happened again, and again he made up something to make himself look good. The third morning George got up earlier and prayed for the Lord to give him something he could share. From then on he had an appointment with the Lord and didn’t need any further prompting.
The Best Start of a New Day
But do not believers—yes, and preachers—need daily time with the Lord? David met the Lord in the morning (Psalm 5) and two other times during the day: evening and noon (Psalm 55). Daniel, too, prayed three times a day, even at the risk of a night with the lions (Daniel 6). Jesus spent nights in prayer (Mark 6:46) and parts of days (Luke 11). If devotions are so important, we may wonder why the New Testament does not say more about regularly meeting with God. Yet the experience of the saints reveals they had a hunger for daily time with Him.
David mentioned praying in the morning, and with good reason. Morning is the part of the day when the mind is not yet cluttered with the concerns that will crowd into it. Or to put it differently, it is hard to do a day’s work if all you ate is a bedtime lunch. A ranch breakfast is more helpful.
A Pattern for Meeting with God
Is there a pattern for those who want to meet with God? If there is, it probably comes to something like this:
We prepare our hearts. We make the appointment, the resolve. Then we get awake. Whether it’s with cold water or hot coffee, we need to get a clear but active mind. We also need a regular place, and a private one: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6). We are to lock the world out.
Then we turn our thoughts to God. Psalm 42:1 and 2 say, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God.” Some would say that we should empty our minds to meditate, as the medieval mystics did. But David’s mind was filled with thoughts of God.
Then it seems right that, early on, we search our minds for sins that hold us off from God. A deacon told me years ago how he had verbally roughed up his pastor in a deacons’ meeting. Three days later he knocked at the study door. The pastor opened it, looked at him, and said, “Doug, if you are not here to apologize, we don’t have anything to talk about.” Might not our dealings with the Lord call for the same words? “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). Is it not only right that early on we search our minds for whatever we need to confess?
We open God’s Word. It’s no wonder that the longest chapter in the Bible is about the Bible (Psalm 119). People used to write in Bibles, “This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.” Or, “No Bible, no breakfast.” A noted youth pastor used to have his leaders pledge, “I will permit my eyes to watch nothing that cannot be approved by a conscience daily cleansed in the Word of God.” This pledge goes along with Psalm 119:11—“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”
It should take no leap of faith to accept that believers need daily time in Bible-reading and study. Perhaps some believers question where to begin. If a booklet or church bulletin suggests a Bible-reading schedule, they might begin there. Or, if they decide to read the Bible through, they might do well to begin in Matthew or John, and then go to Genesis after they finish the New Testament. At a chapter a day, they will read through the Bible in a little over three years. Or they can finish in one year by reading three chapters a day and five on Sunday.
But what if the print seems to blur, and the reader doesn’t feel fed? He might consider that his best thinking is done on paper, and that he will gain by taking notes or keeping a notebook. He will find himself recording the comforts and encouragements he sees. The reader asks the passage, What is the Lord telling me today? and then applies it to whatever he faces. Or he might use a series of questions that has been around for many years:
- What truths does this passage give about God? about Christ?
- What commands are there to obey? What prohibitions to heed?
- What virtues are there to cultivate? What sins to avoid?
- What promises are there to claim? What are their conditions?
By the time a Christian has worked his way through these questions, he may have fresh understanding of the chapter he read. And he will have given the Lord a chance to talk to him.
Next we seek God in prayer. Believing prayer then becomes a test of faith. Is God there? Does He hear? The Bible answers, “Truly You are God, who hide Yourself” (Isaiah 45:15), but “You understand my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:2). For example, Hannah prayed silently, and surely the Lord heard her and answered. God may seem not to answer, but He assures us that He hears.
So we believers pray for others. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul urged “supplications,” which might be understood as “pleading prayer,” “desperation prayer.” Then he urged “prayers,” meaning regular, scheduled prayer, which suggests the devotions we regularly have, or prayers at meals or bedtime. It suggests a prayer list, with items that we often carry before the Throne. Then Paul urged “intercessions,” or the petitions we pour out on behalf of others. Finally he urged “giving of thanks,” the decent response to the God Who hears and in His wisdom answers. These are, Paul said, on behalf of all men, but notably for kings and officials. The payoff of these prayers is the believer’s own tranquility and godliness.
Then there are the believer’s own needs. We see the day ahead and know that we are totally dependent on God. God is in control, the One Who works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Must we not look forward to the day with prayer for the Lord’s help?
Several times the New Testament writers mention praying in the Spirit (e.g., Ephesians 6:18), giving hints more than directions. But what is it to pray in the Spirit? It is to ask God’s enabling that His Spirit will direct our prayer, and to trust Him to do thatСthen to sense fresh insights, perhaps a new fluency as He prays through us, and He, in effect, becomes our prayer list. Is it not in that moment that we find ourselves praying according to His will and in the name of Christ?
Psalm 16:11 promises fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Believers can cultivate those joys and pleasures by making and keeping their appointments with God and thus beginning each day with Him. How else can we claim the delights the Lord has promised?
On reading this article, people may respond differently. Some will probably think, “Indeed! I have been doing that for yearsСthank the Lord.” Some may be thinking, “I have never heard that before, but it sounds right.” But what of the reader who says, “I don’t need that. I know I’m saved. Why should I take it to extremes?” Such a person might well reflect on the evidence of salvation as found in John 8: continuing in Jesus’ Word, a measure of release from sin, a walk of faith, and a love for Jesus.
If we love Him, we will want to spend time with Him.
Robert Delnay (ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a professor of Bible and Greek at Clearwater Christian College, Clearwater, Fla.
Let the old saints be our example. They came to the Word of God and meditated. They laid the Bible on the old fashioned, handmade chair, got down on the old, scrubbed, board floor and meditated on the Word. As they waited, faith mounted. The Spirit and faith illuminated. They had only a Bible with fine print, narrow margins and poor paper, but they knew their Bible better than some of us do with all our helps.
Let’s practice the art of Bible meditation. . . . Let us open our Bibles, spread them out on a chair and meditate on the Word of God. It will open itself to us, and the Spirit of God will come and brood over it.
I do challenge you to meditate, quietly, reverently, prayerfully, for a month. Put away questions and answers and the filling in of the blank lines in the portions you haven’t been able to understand. Put all of the cheap trash away and take the Bible, get on your knees, and in faith, say, “Father, here I am. Begin to teach me!”
—A. W. Tozer in The Counselor
Among Christians of all ages and of varying shades of doctrinal emphasis there has been fairly full agreement on one thing: They all believed that it was important that the Christian with serious spiritual aspirations should learn to meditate long and often on God.
Let a Christian insist upon rising above the poor average of current religious experience and he will soon come up against the need to know God Himself as the ultimate goal of all Christian doctrine. Let him seek to explore the sacred wonders of the Triune Godhead and he will discover that sustained and intelligently directed meditation on the Person of God is imperative. To know God well he must think on Him unceasingly. Nothing that man has discovered about himself or God has revealed any short cut to pure spirituality. It is still free, but tremendously costly.
—A. W. Tozer in That Incredible Christian