QUIET TIMES

Posted 27/3/08

The following entry was written by me on the opening page of my quiet time notebook, dated 5th June 2007:

‘Last week has been the sudden whirlwind of Christian excitement that the whole year of growing interaction in Christian life has promised. Prayer triplets in Costa Coffee, prayer meetings at school, inviting people to church, discussing God in the staff room, a weekend away of fellowship (that was preparation for camp), regular quiet times, blogging about penal substitution… I can’t boast as I didn’t ask for any of it. It all just happened – apart from the blog, that’s mainly for my geeky amusement – and I want to record how I feel: Joyful!’

I then went on…

‘It won’t last! Not at this level. So, in order to retain something of this sensation, and in order to enforce order and accountability, I’m starting this notebook!’

As well as showing that I write like this even in notes to myself, this extract is a good reminder of why I began doing and recording my daily studies – not out of duty but out of excitement. That’s fascinating to me on the back of a day when, (being on school holiday) I basically spent my whole time avoiding the quiet time I knew I had to do. Having hoovered, done a cycle of washing, eaten two meals, played online games, watched a movie and some cricket, rung up three people and eaten an Easter egg, I finally did my quiet time at 4pm. This is better than yesterday, when it never happened at all. This says everything about my desperate need for a routine (my quiet time is usually at 6.40am prior to leaving for work – weekends are significantly more erratic!). It also suggests that I have lost a little of the joy that should accompany talking to God along the way. How could this be?

Put that question on hold. First, why have a QT (to use notebook-lingo) and why record it? Well, first off, let’s think about prayer. My notebook tells me that in the past 9 months I have officially prayed for at least 166 separate people/places/things/issues, whether once or repeatedly. They include at least 46 individual church folk, 57 other friends, school leaders, national leaders, kids at school, kids on camp, several people I actively dislike, Earlsfield, Streatham and Africa, issues such as abortion, Darfur or the Rugby World Cup, my flat, my health, my family, my marking and my cat. I’ve prayed for a job, I’ve prayed not to get drunk and I’ve prayed for the washing machine to work. I’ve prayed for the environment, for Bible translators, for persecuted Christians and for Richard Dawkins on three separate occasions! Now I am sure that you, good Christian reader, have prayed for just as much and more, just as I may have done had I not written it down. However, without writing it down there is no way I would now be able to assess how God has answered (Dawkins unfortunately has not fallen blind from his horse en route to Damascus, North London), deliver follow-up prayer or realise, having typed up the list, who is disturbingly missing and shall therefore tomorrow become a matter of urgency! My focus here is on prayer for others because, in my experience, shorn of the QT routine, we are still likely to send up frenzied prayers of repentance or thanks, depending upon the occasion. To pray for others, however, takes time set aside and a certain detachment from the self-involved emotion that triggers much haphazard prayer. It’s a fine reason to have a quiet time and a fine reminder that a begrudging and dutifully observed quiet time is still significantly better than no quiet time at all.

So then, what about reading the Bible? Well the trusty notebook tells me that I have thus far read through 1 Samuel, Galatians, 2 Samuel, Hebrews, half of John (ditched when I found out I’d be leading a group on Romans!), Romans, Isaiah, Matthew and, currently, am ploughing through Genesis. It is very easy to assume you know the Bible by osmosis – particularly if you grew up in a Christian family, hearing sermons and attending Sunday School or camp. However, the fact is the joy of the Bible is in the detail. It not only stands up to, but demands, close scrutiny. Whatever I heard and knew before, the fact is that in any discussion, argument or explanation it is the above books to which I am going to refer because it is them I know best. Only through quiet times do I know them well enough to make them a weapon in my hands.

Others use published notes in their QT and that may well be the best way, but I am a big fan of delving in myself and not tying myself to the deductions of another, even perhaps at the cost of missing something this time around. Chapter by chapter I scribble my notes, usually on the second read-through and, however imperceptible the text seems at first, the Spirit generally reveals something good and important in there, lending itself to application. At first I thought it was co-incidence how well the chapters I chose fit together but now I realise the whole Bible does! The models of kingship revealed in the Samuels are fulfilled by Jesus in the gospels just as surely as are the prophecies of Isaiah. What I have read of Adam and Abraham thus far in Genesis seems so familiar from Romans where those lives are placed into a new covenant context. Basically, the Bible is brilliant and was designed to be significantly useful and coherent!

So then, we return to that question. Why is it so tough??? Well it’s tough because we are deceived and distracted by an enemy who is real. It’s tough because we’re sinful. It’s tough because we live in a world where we’re so busy that to stop and sit down is often inevitably to close our eyes. But I shouldn’t hide in sermon generalities when I’ve vowed to be personal. I find it tough because, despite all I wrote above, on an everyday level, I often feel more excited at the thought of watching football or a Coen Brothers movie than I do at reading the Bible. It’s crazy but it’s true. Nor do I always WANT to be challenged and made to think – to concentrate on prayer or to repent of things I fear my sinful nature will have me shortly do again. And it’s at times like that where we have to recognise what’s good for us rather than what appeals. Maybe my raw excitement will return. Maybe it will make only fleeting appearances. It really doesn’t make any difference. In the meantime I NEED to set aside that 20 minutes and do what is good for me and what I am commanded by my creator. I can’t remember a single occasion on which I have regretted making the effort.   

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