An Apology (i.e., Defense) for the Quiet Time

In my younger days I used to equate spirituality with the regularity of having one’s “quiet time.” Christianity was about me meeting with Jesus alone each day. Everything else was gravy on top.

My mind has changed over the last several years with regard to this issue. I believe true spirituality has everything to do with one’s church and fellow believers. The truly spiritual person is the one who worships the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit, in the context of the local church. It is in the church that we hear the Word proclaimed, that we feast at the Lord’s table together, that we love and serve one another with cruciform lives as Jesus commanded. The quiet time is but one dimension of life that cannot engage us in this level of worship, of communion, of (for lack of a better word) spirituality.

However, in my own life I have been through pendulum swings, and my swing away from the quiet time went, I believe, a bit too far, and is now beginning to come back. I am aware of the fact that quiet times as we know them today are a relatively recent innovation, given the fact that most believers throughout history either (a) had no copy of the Bible in their own language that they could read privately, or (b) could not read at all. Scripture reading, as it is depicted in Scripture, is primarily a communal event. Ezra read the Law to the returned exiles of Israel. Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. Paul commanded that his letters be read to the churches when they were gathered together. Is there even a biblical basis for individual devotion to God that consists of reading and meditating on Scripture? Does the Bible give warrant for its own reading outside the context of the church? These were some of the questions I asked as my quiet time pendulum swung to a position of less importance.

However, as I said, it is beginning to swing back now to a more balanced position. I believe there is a biblical basis for individual Bible reading and meditation. Consider Psalm 1:1-3:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Clearly, to meditate day and night on the Law implies that one’s engagement with Scripture must go beyond merely the reading and exposition of Scripture in the gathered assembly. But how could this have happened in a culture where most people did not own their own copies of Scripture? In the primarily oral cultures of the Ancient Near East and the first century, people memorized Scripture much more effectively than we do today. Children learned the Law of Moses at synagogue school. Jesus had great knowledge of Scripture and could quote it on demand as situations arose, indicating that he had spent much time studying, meditating on, and memorizing it. Paul’s knowledge of Scripture is abundantly evident from his letters. Even Peter, a mere fisherman, displayed an ability to quote Scripture in his preaching and writing. These facts indicate to me that, while the synagogue (and later the church) was the most important place for people to read Scripture together, it was not the only place where devout people read or heard it. Even if it involved meditating on passages that they had memorized, I believe Jesus, Paul, Peter, and many other devout people had the first-century equivalent of what we call “daily quiet times.”

But we do have clear evidence that prayer was a daily practice for the devout people of Scripture. Daniel prayed three times a day (and got thrown to the lions for it!). The frequency and fervency of Jesus’ prayer life is well-known. The fact that he taught us to pray for our “daily bread” indicates that he intended us to pray every single day. And then there are commands like, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) which surely indicates that Christians are to devote themselves to a pattern of regular, daily prayer. Both personal Bible study and prayer are attested as practices of devotion in Scripture, and blessings are promised to those who dedicate themselves to these regular disciplines.

My problem is that I have trouble with consistency. And when I fail to maintain faithful habits of prayer and Bible reading, I tend to fall back on the assurance that I am not being a legalist. But disciplined devotion and legalism are not necessarily the same thing. In any relationship, communication is key. What would my wife think if I went through a whole day without either listening to her or speaking to her? In the same way, I believe a relationship with God must be nurtured by daily disciplines of listening to him (through Scripture) and responding (with prayer). These are not the only aspects of Christian devotion. “Jesus and me” is reductionistic and is, therefore, not faithful to the New Testament picture of the fullness of Christian experience in the church. I believe the most important time of Bible reading and prayer that one has in a week is in the Sunday morning gathering of the church (or, if your church’s primary gathering is on Sunday night, then the Sunday night gathering). However, if man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, then how can one expect to eat once a week and stay healthy? Quiet times are not everything, but they are something, and a very important something at that.

I write this having just begun a new plan for reading the Bible so that I may know it well. My plan, which I picked up from Joe Carter (with a hat tip to Justin Taylor) contains four steps:

(1) Choose a book of the Bible.
(2) Read it in its entirety.
(3) Repeat step #2 twenty times.
(4) Repeat steps 1 through 3 for all 66 books of the Bible.

I believe that a daily, disciplined approach to Scripture that transforms my mind is something that will transform my life. I encourage you to read Joe’s post in its entirety. I have finished the book of Jude and have now moved on to James. I hope to share some of my thoughts on what I am reading from time to time here on my blog.

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2 Responses to “An Apology (i.e., Defense) for the Quiet Time”

  1. Doctor Clockwork Says:

    that’s a helpful challenge. I must say that I need help “swinging the pendulum” back in the right direction. perhaps I will make an effort at this, reading one book over and over and over for awhile, twenty times. good concrete number. sometimes I need concrete.

  2. Craig Says:

    I was thinking about this very thing this morning, and I’m with you both.

    I’ll be starting with 3 John today.

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