Attending church regularly as a child, I learned that having a daily time with God was essential to the life of a Christian. Church camp provided a boost to my spiritual life every summer, and I established the routine of reading my Bible and journaling every evening before bed. I attended Bible college, and just about every class emphasized the importance of not allowing the Bible to become just a textbook but observing a devotional time every day. I graduated and moved to the mission field, where, as a single woman in a time before the technology we currently enjoy, I was able to spend more time alone with God than I ever imagined. My quiet time flourished.
At the end of my years on the field, I married my husband. First Corinthians 7:34 says, “An unmarried woman . . . is concerned about the Lord’s affairs . . . . But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.” I struggled to keep a daily quiet time. This was compounded by the birth of my first child. Every time I sat down to read the Bible, my baby cried. By the births of our second and third child, I had given up the idea of a quiet time, and I lived for years with the nagging guilt that I wasn’t focusing enough on my relationship with God. I believed that a daily quiet time was essential to the life of a true Christian.
Bind It on Your Forehead
In Scripture, however, I never see a mandate to read the Bible every day. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Hebrew people to talk about his commands with their children, bind them on their foreheads, and write them on the doorframes of their houses (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). In other words, they should keep his commandments in mind at all times, being familiar enough that they can talk and think about them all day.
The New Testament says that believers should “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This comes after a passage detailing how to live a sanctified life, committing ourselves completely to glorifying God. The standards in the Scripture are high, taking knowing God beyond just the outward expression of memorizing and knowing his Word and into the activities of daily life.
In the Gospels we see Jesus practicing periods of time alone with God. After his baptism he went into the wilderness to fast and pray (Luke 4:1-14), later found moments alone with his father to maintain his sanity in a demanding world (Luke 5:16), and before his arrest took advantage of the quiet night to talk with God and prepare himself (Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-41).
While I do see examples of Jesus spending time with God when he needed it, I also see examples of him spending time with the people God loved. He did not ignore their needs in favor of a daily quiet time. In fact, Luke 9:10, 11 tells us that he withdrew to be alone with his disciples, and the crowds followed him. Luke 9:11 says, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” We see Jesus mixing time alone with God and time in ministry.
A Fast Pace
The Bible does not quantify our faith by the amount of time we spend alone with the Bible or specify Bible reading as the best way to know God. As humans, we desire a way to measure our spiritual growth. We struggle to feel like what we do pleases God, and we look for specific behaviors to point at and say, “See? I am a good Christian after all!”
The ability to maintain a consistent quiet time may be related more to personality than spirituality and may reflect people’s desire for routine. Some people “don’t feel right” if they don’t start or end their days with the same behaviors, and they include a quiet time as a way to reflect on God and his Word. This is not wrong, but it doesn’t make them more spiritual than a person who builds his relationship with God more by serving or giving or caring for others or who has a less structured time with God.
How can we reframe our concept of a quiet time to develop a relationship with God that is unique and sustainable?
1. Find a way of communing with God that fits our personalities. My sister is a runner. She spends time with God while she runs. She listens to worship music, prays, or just enjoys the feeling of doing something she likes that pleases God. She struggles to sit down consistently with a Bible, but she can listen to it while she runs.
2. Meet God in the mundane. When my children were little and my quiet time suffered, my preacher said something that I have never forgotten. He said, “What better way to learn patience or gentleness or any other fruit of the Spirit than by caring for a preschooler?” That hit home with me. I felt exhausted at the end of every day and could barely stay awake to read a verse, much less experience a vibrant devotional life. But I was practicing the things I’d learned all of those years in my previous quiet times by sacrificing my time for my babies.
3. Incorporate worship and spiritual growth into what we’re already doing. The invention of the mobile phone has all but obliterated the excuse that we don’t have time to read Scripture. We have proven by our behavior with phones that we can squeeze in a little reading at any moment throughout the day. Make good use of that technology! If you want to read your Bible more, get a Bible app for your phone and read a little of that at odd times during the day. Connect with Christian friends for accountability and virtual fellowship on social media. If you’re low-tech, buy a verse-a-day calendar. I put one in my kitchen when my children were young. I saw it so many times a day that I realized I could meditate on that one verse more than I had ever meditated on the chapters I read during a quiet time.
4. A little can go a long way. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t read and journal for an hour every day. Don’t worry if you only talk to God at church on Sunday when the kids are in the nursery and you finally get a little time without the demands of family. Give that time to God. Be present. Think about him and listen for his voice. Make the best of the time you have. Give him what time you can because you want to give it. No teenager wants to find out a boyfriend or girlfriend only spends time with them because they feel guilty if they don’t. That type of relationship won’t go the distance. God wants us to want to want to be with him, not to come to him out of a sense of duty.
Don’t Give Up
In my 20s and 30s, I worked out sporadically. I always felt guilty during periods when I wasn’t working out much, thinking my inconsistency made the times when I was working out somehow less effective. Then I hit 40. I got a full-time job. I had three children with busy schedules. I stopped working out altogether, thinking, What will it matter since I’m never consistent anyway? Five years later, I realize the positive impact those times of exercise gave to me. I’ve steadily gained weight, and my body creaks and complains more than it did before. I guess those weeks of working out every year kept me more fit than I thought!
It’s easy to feel this way about my spiritual life as well. I feel like if I’m not consistent, maybe I just should not have any kind of quiet time at all. However, I can look back over the years and see progression in my spiritual life and growth as a Christian, even at times when I did not set aside a daily time for Bible reading. I have grown through my service to him, my interaction with others, and even through hard times when I did more running from him than to him. May we all maintain a desire to know God, whatever spiritual disciplines we employ.
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works as registrar of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).