I grew up in a church where I learned about the importance of having a quiet time at an early age. I always have understood that spending time alone with God is critical to developing a relationship with God. Yet, here I am — 50+ years old — still struggling to do it “right.
Or maybe that’s the problem. I get overly focused on having a daily quiet time that “looks” a certain way rather than simply making space in my morning to rest, read, and listen.
What is a daily quiet time?
When you are new in the faith, or possibly outside it, understanding the idea of quiet time can seem strange. But really, it’s just about devoting time in our day to set aside all other things and spend time getting to know God. It involves solitude, prayer, Bible reading, and space to sit and listen.
To know someone, you have to spend time with them. To know God is no different. We have to spend time alone with him, and he’s given us ways to do that. The Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. On the things that matter in this life, the Bible provides clear instruction and guidance.
As we read his word, we learn to study and reflect. As we pray, we talk to him. And then, the part that often can be the trickiest, we learn to listen.
Overcoming the Obstacles to Daily Quiet Time
When I was younger, the “early” part was the barrier to my success:
- I’m not a morning person; that’s just how God made me.
- As long as I pray and read my Bible at some point during the day, it shouldn’t really matter when I do it.
- My children wake up at the crack of dawn; how can I possibly wake up any earlier?!
Any of these sound familiar?
As I’ve gotten older and grown in my faith, I recognize the necessity of beginning my day before God. Without fail, I find peace and confidence when I quiet my mind, read his word, and listen and pray. But still…still…I sometimes find myself in familiar traps:
- Hitting snooze until the only time I have left is spent getting ready to walk out the door.
- Just a quick email check; I’m waiting to hear back from….
- Oh, look, an Instagram notification. Let me see who sent me a message or liked my post.
- I have a text from [insert name of any one of my favorite people]! I’ll respond; then, I’ll have my quiet time.
How about those scenarios? Do any of these ring true for you, as well, or is it just me? Because here’s the reality of any one of those tech traps. Too often, the “just real quick,” “just one look,” or a “quick reply” morphs into a string of activities I never intended to pursue, a distracted start to my day, and minutes — sometimes hours — wasted before I seek God.
And even when I overcome the personal hurdles, the “being still” part still causes me to stumble. One minute I’m reading the Bible or praying; the next minute, I’m making a mental checklist for the day or thinking through some personal problem. The dog needs to go out; my phone rings; a notification pops up on my watch — I think you get the point.
When I look for the bright spots that came as a result of the pandemic and quarantine, the opportunity to pursue prayer — listen more, talk less — and deepen my faith makes the top of the list. And because God is God, and He works in wonderful ways, I find it no coincidence that He helped meet my desire in part through the words of both my current pastor (Dr. Jeff Warren) and former pastor (Dr. Jim Denison).
Why is quiet time important?
Does having a daily quiet time matter? Yes. On this, God is clear. Here are just a few Bible verses that highlight the importance of quiet time and prayer:
- Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).
- Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you (Jeremiah 29:12).
- The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
- Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Ultimately, it’s about relationship. God wants intimacy with us; he wants us to live the life he created us for, to walk in faith and obedience to his will. And spending time with him — reading His Word and in prayer — enables us to draw close.
So How Do You Develop an Effective Quiet Time?
First, I think we need to get over the idea that there is just one perfect way. The Bible provides us with many examples of when and how we should come to him in prayer. And that’s where we should seek direction. God doesn’t need you to supply the right words or include flowery language. He wants you to come with your time and attention and a heart poised expectantly to hear from him.
For me, I’ve found I can do that best by journaling. However, structuring my quiet time and personal Bible study time still tended to be a bit haphazard. And this is where Dr. Denison and Dr. Warren played a part. In the span of two days in the summer of 2020, they each shared words of wisdom that deeply impacted me.
Three resources for developing your quiet time:
- Dr. Denison’s The Daily Article (5 min) as shared on Instagram (less than 1 min)
- HABITS: Building Spiritual Routines / Episode 1: Quiet Time with PCBC Pastor Jeff Warren (Only 8:41 from beginning to end!)
- The Greater Work: How Prayer Positions You to Receive All that Grace Intends to Give by Dr. Jim Denison. Here’s a quick review of that book, as well.
What follows is what I created to help bring guidance and structure to my quiet time. Writing helps to keep my focus and allows me to remember how I’ve seen God’s work in my life and in the lives of others.
I combined everything into a graphic, and if you’re interested in downloading one for yourself, here is where you can access a copy of the Prayer Journal printable. DaySpring also carries a variety of resources (beautifully bound Bibles, devotional journals, Bible accessories, and more) you might find helpful.
What do you do during quiet time?
Developing an effective quiet time is a process. There are many guides and suggestions out there to help structure your time alone with God. But ultimately, much of it comes down to trial and error and daily discipline to find what works best for you.
Below are five elements I’ve found helpful, and I’ve incorporated them into the template, along with a bit of explanation about each part. For my prayer warriors out there, I realize you probably already have a tried and true method that works for you. However, for those who are new in their faith — or those like me who might struggle with sporadic focus — I hope that sharing what I’ve learned from reading, learning, and experimentation might help you, as well.
Pastor Jeff Warren referred to this as a “centering” prayer. It’s just one or two simple sentences to help focus your time and thoughts as you enter God’s presence. No need to get fancy. Let the words you speak in prayer come from your heart.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Lord, here I am. As I sit quietly in your Presence, help me to listen; pierce my heart and my mind with your Truth.
- Heavenly Father, help me tune out the distractions and quiet my mind so that I can hear from you.
- Or even just the simple words Samuel spoke in 1 Samuel 3:10: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
2. Reading God’s Word
One of the most important things you can do is open your Bible and read. If possible, use a physical copy rather than an electronic copy. It will present fewer distractions.
If an electronic copy is all you have, then I would suggest turning off all notifications and/or closing various applications and mail.
Where you start is up to you! Here I’ve rounded up a number of resources to help you read and study God’s Word. Find one that works for you, or even just select a book of the Bible and break up the chapters in a way that makes sense to you.
It’s important to understand the context behind what’s written in the Bible. This is where I think a good study Bible helps. This is the study Bible I use, and I really love it! My daughter likes this one for the wide margins. But I also like these spiral-bound illustrating Bibles, specifically designed for those who like to journal in their Bibles.
3. What is God saying to me
Sit quietly. Is there something in the text — a sentence, word or phrase — that your mind keeps returning to? That’s where I then place my focus, and this leads me into my next “step.”
4. How is God asking me to respond
As your focus turns to a particular part of your Bible reading, ask God to help you understand what you need to do as a response. This can take different forms. Maybe it reveals a behavior or sin that is inconsistent with God’s Word. Maybe it highlights a decision you need to make or leads you to take action.
Here are a couple of examples from my own experience:
- One day a verse in Galatians (5:14-15), “…Love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other,” led me to call and offer a word of encouragement to someone I know but struggle to “like.” It also led me to pray for this person in a very specific way.
- And throughout a study of Joshua, God’s Word spoke so loudly to me that I finally pushed through my own insecurities and doubts to create this blog.
Write it down and/or tell someone. For me, this creates accountability.
5. Prayer for yourself and others
Write them down and be specific. It’s a tremendous blessing to go back and see how God has answered prayers in both expected and unexpected ways.
I often can feel overwhelmed by a growing list of prayer requests. I have a prayer box like this where I write down and keep my “Nothing is impossible with God” requests. I reserve this for the “long haul” prayers, such as someone’s salvation, restoration from deeply rooted sin, broken relationships, etc.
Consider incorporating Dr. Denison’s 3 Decisions for Living a Life God Can Bless: Ask, Name, Commit.
To God’s glory: From The Greater Work, “When we are not sure what to pray for or how to pray, we can always pray that God be glorified by whatever circumstances we face.”
Prayer is a weighty topic, and there is so much more that could be said. However, I hope that what you take from this is perhaps an idea or two to help either strengthen your quiet time or get you started with a daily practice.
I’d like to leave you with this:
- God will meet you where you are in your journey of faith.
- Make it a priority to begin your day in God’s Word; schedule it, if necessary.
- “You cannot know God’s will without knowing the Bible. And you cannot pray in alignment with God’s best for you until you know his will as described and portrayed in his word.” – Dr. Jim Denison, The Greater Work
If you are unsure about your salvation, read “Where Do You Turn?” found at the end of “Finding Light in the Darkness.”