Monday, April 27, 2009

Bible Intake and the Quiet Time

In any discussion I’ve read of spiritual disciplines there are two types of disciplines which are always mentioned as primary – Bible intake and prayer. Bible intake includes devotional reading, verse-by-verse study and other Bible study methods, meditation on scripture, and memorization. Similarly there are many ways to pray, but for spiritual formation it is vital to hear what God has to say to us, and to talk back to Him. Thus spiritual disciplines foster a dialogue in which the goal is to know God better and to see our lives transformed into the image of his Son. Over the next several posts I’ll be discussing various approaches to Bible intake and prayer.

But to get started, let’s take a look at a basic Christian activity which evokes a wide variety of responses, from joy to guilt, habit to hope… the (daily) quiet time. As a brand new Christian, I was introduced to this and encouraged to have a daily quiet time as it was one of the most important things I could do to grow in my faith. Yet even after twenty years, I still struggle with this discipline! In “Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock” Rick sites Howard Hendricks speaking of three stages of attitude toward Bible study:
• The “castor oil” stage — when we study the Bible because we know it is good for us, but it is not too enjoyable.
• The “cereal” stage — when our Bible study is dry and uninteresting, but we know it is nourishing.
• The “peaches and cream” stage — when we are really feasting on the Word of God.
Below are some key points from Rick's well-written appendix on how to have a meaningful quiet time…

Why have a regular quiet time?
• Because we need fellowship with God
• Because it is our privilege as Christians
• Because we gain tremendous benefits from it

Primarily, it’s about building a relationship, and for a strong relationship, you need to: spend quality time with another person, communicate meaningfully with that person, and observe him or her in a variety of situations. It's the same with a relationship with God. One of the key privileges is that we grow to become more like Christ.

How to Have a Meaningful Time with God
It’s not rocket science, but there are several important elements in a consistent quiet time.
• Start with the proper attitudes – expectancy, reverence, alertness, willingness to obey.
• Choose a special place and a specific time – start slow, five-ten minutes if that’s all the time you have, and see if you can build upon it, but don’t focus on the clock.
• Follow a simple plan. Quiet yourself. Pray for guidance. Read some scripture. Reflect on it. Find a simple application for your life. Respond and Pray (both praise and requests).

It’s good to be systematic, and there are a number of good Bible reading plans available. Donald Whitney in “Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed” has some good ideas. To avoid getting bogged down in some of the tougher books, incorporate a variety –You can read 1-2 chapters each from five different sections, starting in Genesis (Law), Joshua (History), Job (Poetry), Isaiah (Prophets) and Matthew (N.T.)  Or use three sections, Genesis, Job and Matthew. This year to take a fresh approach I'm reading through a chronological study Bible.

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