Monday, September 26, 2005
Quiet Time
I grew up as a youth group junkie. There were certain Sundays I arrived at church at 9:30 am and stayed until nearly 10:00 pm, engaged in a deluge of activities. It was in this environment that I first was introduced to the spiritual discipline of the "Quiet Time."

The "Quiet Time," also known as the "Daily Devotional," or "Devo" for those in need of spiritual jargon, consisted of anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 hours (if you were a super holy televangelist) of Bible reading and prayer every day. That was the goal - to spend time alone with God every single day.

And now I find myself in the theological academy with guilt seeping around me when I don't take just 5 minutes for a "Quiet Time," and commonly hear from fellow students with similar religious backgrounds that the only thing consistent about their prayer time is its inconsistency.

And I have to ask myself: What is wrong with this picture?

What is the biblically theological argument for spending a considerable measure of time every single day alone with God? Where does this come from? Why do we do this and indoctrinate the young in the faith that they don't have it right until they spend a solid hour in prayer and Bible study a day?

Some will say we should do it because Jesus did. But a close reading of the gospel accounts would prove otherwise.

The gospel writer of Matthew describes just two instances where Jesus isolated himself. Interestingly, both of these times occur within the same chapter. "Now when Jeus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself," it reads (14:13). The writer has just explained the death and burial of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. Presumably, Jesus needs time alone to mourn. Maybe. Explicitly, the text gives no hint as to what Jesus plans to do alone. But the crowds Jesus' alone time, and the gospel writer here records the feeding of five thousand.

In closing this passage, the writer records, "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray" (14:23). Here, we are told the reason and purpose for Jesus wanting to be alone: to pray. Yet, this is the only instance in the gospel of Matthew we are told that Jesus does this. Hardly evidence enough to justify the "Quiet Time."

When I look at the infant church in Acts I see no example of prayer in isolation. On the contrary, "Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). No where are we told that Peter or Paul or any of the disciples spent time alone to pray. Rather, every instance of prayer in Acts is a corporate affair. The believers meet daily.

Where do I get this idea to go to a worship service once a week, sit in a pew or chair, shake hands with and greet those in my immediate vicinity (I'll forget their names before the next song, but that's okay, I'll re-introduce myself next week again just like nothing happened), sing some songs, lift my hands, listen to an inspiring message that I won't remember and go home and convince myself that this is "church"?

How is it that we in our American Evangelical churches so badly divorce personal devotion from corporate devotion? I'm not suggesting that one should never spend time alone with God. Certainly, there are times to personally process internally with God. But I am suggesting that a doctrinal system that enforces guilt and shame when one cannot perform a "Quiet Time" regularly is pretty screwed up.

Human beings were not made for isolation, and I find it hard to believe that God would expect us to worship Him in isolation. There is no reason that my personal piety not include my friends and family, those around me. There is no reason why the next time I hear a brother confess his struggle to consistently pray to offer to pray with him together.

Our goal is spiritual formation in the picture of Jesus. And it is not good for any person to attempt such a task alone.

posted by Peter at 11:38 PM
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