I am a "doer" to a fault. Some days this can translate into a healthy conscientiousness and robust work ethic, and other days it can spiral into frenetic activity with exhaustion as the only payout. I love to be active and make things happen, but I always need to watch myself (and allow others to call me out) when said actions are running me needlessly into the ground.
So, it probably goes without saying that the "be still" part of a life with Jesus is especially difficult for me. Yes, I know He loves me as I am, but that doesn't mean that I won't compulsively try to earn that love. I know I'm not alone in this struggle. We, as a fast-paced and productivity minded culture, need to be better at "being".
However, there is real danger of falling into passivity. We are entirely loved as we are and there is absolutely no way for us to earn God's affections (we already have them!), but disciples of Jesus can find ways to position themselves for spiritual growth and intimacy with the Lord. We can make the effort by daily entering into holy company and be better for it.
I am currently reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer and it has presented a necessary challenge to my way of life, defined as it is by performing. However, Comer's argument is not that we need to do nothing, but that we need to trim down and focus our energies on true connection with God so that we might not live frantic and reactionary lives. Enter: quiet time. I was struck by this passage.
I grew up in a church tradition where we started our days with a quiet time. At the very beginning of our days, we would set aside a chunk of time to do Jesusy stuff. Usually, there was coffee involved. Normally we read the Bible. Asked God to do some things in our lives. Confessed our screwups, our needs, our aches. Sometimes we just sat there. Alone. In the quiet. With God. And our souls. Why doesn't anybody talk about that anymore? O, when they do, why do people mock it or shrug it off as some legalistic hangover from fundamentalism? …I say we bring back quiet time. Rock it like it's 1999. (Comer, 141-142)
Because I love cups of coffee and doing "Jesusy stuff", it never really occurred to me that quiet time was on its way out. But I think he is on to something here. Many people with whom I interact might want to grow, but simply don't know where to begin. Quiet time is a bit of a lost art. Many sit down with their Bible, or their journal, and end up just sipping coffee and scrolling through their phone because they're at a loss. We might feel pressured to have a quiet time. We might think it's legalistic and it paralyzes us. Or we might just be confused and muddling through murky water. As ever, you are not alone in your struggles.
And so, the Lord has laid it on my heart to do a little series about quiet time, this gift which can help us to sit in a posture of dependence and relationship. Starting today and going through the next two Thursdays, I will offer some ideas about where to start. Take my advice, adapt it, or leave it. No matter your practices, you are beloved.
In my mind, the primacy of Scripture in the life of a Christian is without question. There are different ways to interpret and interact with the Bible, but a thriving spirituality involves engaging with it on some level. Sometimes we just don't know where to begin. Here I will suggest just one simple approach that has served me well over the years: asking questions of the text.
This idea was lovingly drilled into us in seminary, and I have had many guides along my spiritual journey, so I cannot cite the exact source of these questions. If you're reading this and suggested them in some form, thank you! If you read them elsewhere, I can't take credit!
The goal is to help you look at a passage and not only avoid being overwhelmed, but to also help you parse out what it is trying to say and how it affects your life. As you seek to build a quiet time in which you feel confident in approaching Scripture, I pray these questions will help.
Here are the working inquiries, plain and simple:
What does this text reveal about God?
What does this text reveal about humanity?
What does this text reveal about the relationship between God and humanity?
How does it apply to my life?
These can be applied to any piece of the Bible (as it all reveals God and is living and active in our lives) and can help inspire meditation and reflection).
As an example, let's apply this to Mark 2:23-28:
"One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?' He answered, 'Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.' Then he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'” (NIV)
1. This text reveals that Jesus cares deeply for His people, and was happy to push back against religious legalism that would cause people to go hungry for the sake of following a misinterpreted rule. It reveals that God is gracious for giving us the gift of Sabbath and that there is continuity in His intentions for Sabbath throughout the full human narrative, here demonstrated by His reference to David.
2. This text reveals that people often misunderstand and misappropriate God's instructions. We are imperfect and finite and definitely in need of the rest that Sabbath living brings. Also, we have always been imperfect in our humanity, as demonstrated here by the reference to David and his companions, but God loves and provides for us anyway.
3. God, in His goodness, has not only provided Sabbath rest, He also cares about our temporal needs such as hunger. We may not always "get" it, but He is willing to walk with us and instruct us, even when that requires a real course correction. We are also reminded that we are taking part in the human experience, which spans time and space, and can learn from our forebears and we go forward. In the end, Sabbath and the story of God is relational.
4. I can apply this Scripture to my life by practicing Sabbath and understanding that it is meant to be a grace to me. I do not have to be legalistic about it, but I can embrace it and allow the Lord to care for me in all of the many ways He has advocated and cared for those who have come before me.
And that's it! By asking these questions of this small passage, I have gleaned some food for thought that helps me to further understand the Lord's love and how He moved through the world. It’s all there in Scripture, waiting to form us.
I challenge you to give this a try. If you are faithful to quiet time, perhaps this will simply be a different approach. If you among those of us who, as Comer suggests, has let this daily time with God fall by the wayside, then let this be a springboard. Sit down with your coffee and your Bible and enjoy.
Tune in next week for more!