Why I feel like a bad Christian…
I’ve been thinking a lot about discipleship. I have several intuitive thoughts that I’ve decided to work out…right here…right now… I’m genuinely interested in feedback and would love to incite some dialogue.
My walk with Christ is the most important and defining part of me and of my worldview. I have dedicated my life, career, family, and resources to building the Kingdom of God, through my Savior Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus is my savior and my access to the Father. This is all absolutely true!!! I know that my life is in the hands of a perfect Father. So…Why am I so perpetually frustrated in my relationship with God? Why do I feel that the rituals and plans that have been prescribed to me always fall short of the promised intimacy and fulfillment? Why do I secretly wonder if others experience the same dryness? Even as I wrote that last question, I feared the judgment of the faithful ones, who just ended their quiet time with tears and tingles…
So here’s the UGLY truth…I can’t stand the phrase “quiet time”! For as long as I can remember “quiet time” has been the scourge of my Christian experience. I’ve been led to believe that the definitive gauge of my growth in and love for God is the quality of my quiet time! My relationship with God can best be expressed in some variation of this formula: 1)Have a consistent place that is comfortable and free of distraction 2)begin with prayer 3)move on to the word- a predetermined plan is preferable. 4)end with prayer and/or journal. All of this should take a minimum of 15 minutes (for beginners) or longer in proportion to ones spiritual maturity and depth…more than an hour is dangerous, as the very real possibility of self-righteousness begins to develop. Therefore, one should have a lengthy quiet time, but not so much as to promote pride. While variations of this formula do occur and are widely accepted, it should be noted that God only gives full credit for complete compliance and that partial compliance to this time honored formula is only acceptable in the case of extreme busyness, family emergency, or on the backside a conference or retreat and partial credit will only be allowed for an ambiguous amount of time… Please don’t be too put out by my sarcasm…I really can’t help it…you see… I didn’t have a quality quiet time today!!!
Seriously, I’ve recently been thinking about the undeniable human tendency to reduce the abstract and spiritual mysteries into a formula that can be distilled and packaged and reproduced. The problem isn’t “quiet time” or the notion of spending quality time with God. I think the problem begins with our understanding of relational connectivity to The God of the universe. Nowhere in scripture does God command us to dedicate a certain time to being with him. Nor does his proximity to us change based on our awareness of his presence…he is ever-present. God is not confined by any force! He is in all times and all places at the same time. Therefore it is silly of me to suggest that I will meet him at a certain time and place, as if he’s waiting there checking his watch. Many people that I talk to describe their “quiet time” as if it were an appointment or an item on the “to do” list. They will say “I’ve got to get back in the habit of doing my quiet time” or “I missed my quiet time this morning…I’m really struggling”. People seem to really think of it as a spiritual obligation. If I ask someone “how are you doing spiritually?” nine times out of ten they will respond “well, I’ve been working on my quiet time”. It seems to me that adherence to some spiritual formula is really tricky business, in light of the fact that the Biblical formula to meditate on the word of God at all times and to pray without ceasing doesn’t seem to allow for allotments of “God ” time. As I read the Scriptures, God is the absolute owner of my life, time, and resources. He doesn’t require some allotment of your time to satisfy his relational appetite, but rather has orchestrated a situation wherein you and I fully belong to Him! I actually think that as a Christian culture we have replaced “die to self” with the far more palatable “devotional time”. Death is too permanent and inconvenient. I’ve got far too many things to accomplish today…to be dead! Instead of getting caught up in the mysterious spiritual stuff, we are comforted by a measurable formula! Then we say,” Oh! I get it! Death to self means 30 minutes to an hour of devoted “god time! That is something I can do…just not today…I got too much to do!” The point is, if God doesn’t have all of me He doesn’t have me at all! If I believe that God is something to be added to my schedule, then I’ve fundamentally misunderstood the deal that God has offered to me in Christ!
I recognize that, on a practical level, sincere believers want to know how to remain in or abide in Christ…to walk with him daily. The answer to this question isn’t as simple as you would think. Jesus himself was fairly abstract in his descriptions of a Follower. He said “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” and “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We also know that Jesus was in the habit of spending time alone with The Father. The Apostle Paul is a bit more descriptive in his letters, saying “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart”. Acts 2 describes a Group of believers who “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…everyday they continued to meet together”. There are many other scriptures that add to our collective understanding of the “faith walk”. When you add it all up it doesn’t ever equal a nice neat tidy little formula. It is from any angle a reckless abandonment of everything to a God I’ve never seen. I think the obsession with formulas is mostly attributable to our selfish nature. I don’t think it is motivated by our true desire to know God and walk with him as much as a desire to haggle with the spirit of God over the cost of discipleship. We want to his bottom dollar price…”What’s the least I can offer…and still walk out of here with salvation…how bout a half an hour?” Again, I recognize that my thoughts are dripping with sarcasm which might undermine the truth of what I’m saying, but honestly I’m frustrated that this thinking is pervasive in the Church and I think our use of the phrase “quiet time” is perpetuating some bad theology! It’s all his time…some of it just happens to be quiet. By the way, this morning I did pause to approach God with a surrendered heart (quiet time). I intentionally didn’t say amen…we’re still talking.
Try not to put God in a box. Do something creative to show your love to him…imagine him laughing at something silly you do…ask God if he wants to go for a walk to see his creation…share your fears and frustrations with God as you experience them…be quiet…be loud…be sad…be funny…be real in his presence… There’s one person in the universe that totally gets you…and totally loves you!
One last thought…If you intend to only give God 30 minutes of your day. It might make more sense to talk to him 60 times throughout the day for 30 seconds or 120 times for 15 seconds. Discipleship is relationship, not routine!