I’ve always struggled to build a 15-30 minute quiet time into my day. Before I had my children getting up ‘15 minutes earlier’ was a big effort; afterwards, 15 minutes earlier pretty much takes us to the evening before. I’m a
massive bit of an extrovert so sitting in the quiet on my own with just my Bible and my thoughts and not getting distracted or nodding off (can I admit that?!) seems to go against the grain of my personality.
I’ve often felt guilty about this, and frequently make efforts to be more disciplined and set this right. After years of this guilt/resolve/failure cycle, I’ve started to realise that maybe what I think of as a Successful Quiet Time, and what God actually might want from me in my day, could be slightly different things. Absorbing God’s Word daily can look different for different people in different stages of life. Ultimately something is always better than nothing. So here are some of my ideas about how to be listening to the One Who is There in the everyday. This is for me, because I’m really bad at this.
1. Just read it: Maybe I don’t need find a moment of monastic zen in order to read my Bible. Maybe I don’t need 15-45 clear minutes, a fancy coffee, mildliners and a trendy journal to connect with God. I might not even need to have an in-depth study. I can just read it. I just need to pick up my Bible in a spare five minutes, or while the kettle boils, or in the midst of the undone washing up, and read.
Our first task is just to read, to feed on God’s Word, however we can. I can always find a few minutes to pick up my phone in the day. Maybe I need to start leaving Bibles in places that are conducive to consuming a few paragraphs in down time. What about next to the loo? Hmm, that feels wrong somehow— but I don’t actually think it is. After all, Jesus used the loo.
2. Go for a Walk and Deliberately Think About it: Or do another activity of your choice (how about a meditative run?). Think about what you read the day before or on Sunday or whenever it was. We don’t always need to learn something new. Reflecting on old truths, meditating on what we already know, is just as valuable, especially if you are as quick to forget as I am. Psalm 1 is a good picture of this as it describes a flourishing human who ‘meditates on [the Law of the Lord] day and night’. We can safely assume that human also did some other things whilst meditating (like eating, working, sleeping) or they would’ve keeled over like a rotten old oak, rather than standing firm.
Caveat: obviously this wouldn’t work if it was my only source of Bible input. To stretch a metaphor: the Bible is like food for us; some meals take time to digest, but if we don’t eat, we’ll starve.
3. Listen to it: I’m not exaggerating (for once) when I say that discovering the power of listening to the Bible has transformed my devotional life. The discipline of sitting in silence to concentrate has never come easy to me. So much of the Bible was written to be listened to, from Old Testament epic narratives to New Testament letters (1 Thessalonians 5:27). I can take in much larger chunks which really helps make connections; the stories come alive. What I also love is that I can multitask whilst listening. This feels close to what Deuteronomy 6 is getting at when Israel is exhorted to “talk about [these commandments] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” There are certain streets in my neighbourhood which, when I walk down them, bring particular Bible passages to mind because I listened to them when I was out and about. Sometimes I listen to it while I’m cycling. I just set my phone in my top pocket and play it rather than using headphones. No-one seems to notice; other people usually have their own headphones in anyway or are playing their own music loudly. But if you’re ever out for a walk start hearing Levitical law floating on the air as a cyclist whizzes (okay, bimbles) past, then it might just be me.
4. Listen To it Set to Music: Harness the power of the Ear Worm by listening to the Bible set to music. Again, some genres (Psalms, for example) were meant to be heard this way. Once, when I was driving home with my daughter in the car, we were listening to a CD (remember those?) which was Bible verses set to music. Exactly 7 minutes from home the engine started overheating and all kinds of fun lights were flashing on the dashboard, and, as I approached the worst roundabout (if you’re American, google it) in London, I realised we were not going to make it and that I had better park up and abandon hope. These words came blasting through the speaker….
“Do you not know, have you not heard, the Lord is an everlasting Lord? .. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
Almost every time I go through that roundabout I think of that time and of that truth.
(Side Rant: Be careful that you pick music you like. Every time you read that verse you get that tune stuck in your head. And this can be seriously annoying if you don’t actually like it.)
5. Memorise it When You Do Have Time; Bring it To Mind When You Don’t: Even into her eighties my grandma could quote whole poems that she had memorised in school. Nowadays we don’t do much word-for-word memorisation and it’s something I find really hard (though much easier when set to music, see above). However, the times I have attempted to memorise slightly more extended blocks of Scripture have been so valuable. Reading the Bible or learning Doctrine is a bit like paying money into a savings account. Little by little you build up a healthy bank balance of Truth which shapes your thinking and your life in ways you might not even realise. Then, when the going gets tough and you can’t take in anything new, you will still have something good to draw on. Of course, eventually you are going to need to start topping up again, but the Lord is gracious and can use our past efforts, however feeble, to strengthen our present selves.
6. Read It with Someone Else: Why do I think that reading the Bible alone is somehow more genuine than reading it with someone else? Jesus taught us that it is healthy to pray alone sometimes (Matthew 6:6) but I’m not aware of anything equivalent for Bible reading. After all, for thousands of years, people didn’t have personal copies of Scripture in their homes and could only access it in a gathering, or through memorising it. Even after the invention of the printing press families would only have one big family Bible, and family devotional time was the norm. I learn by talking and so for me a group Bible study or even just reading it with one other person makes all the difference. Whilst every believer has the Holy Spirit within them to illuminate the text, I think it can be easier to see Him at work when we are reading His Word in community.
7. Access a Christian book/Children’s Bible/podcast: I read a book with my daughter yesterday called ‘God Made Me’: the first page said “God made me and He loves me.” At that point in my day that was not only what I needed to hear, but about as much as I could absorb. It will take a lifetime to fully absorb that statement. The book was based on Psalm 139 but this isn’t a direct quote from it; it’s just a simplified statement. Sometimes that is enough.