Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Before I begin I need to acknowledge that portions of this talk relate to material from the Christian university network known as CRU.
Paul tells his young friend, Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
What this implies is that we should have a good grasp of the Scriptures and their teaching so that we can minister with God to other people effectively.
But there’s another side to it. We need to grasp the Scriptures so that God can minister to us.
Remember John 15 where Jesus says he in the vine and we are the branches and that we should remain in him (i.e. be in active relationship with him) if we are to produce fruit?
We can only be of useful service to others if we are connected to Jesus because all lasting service is not so much what we do for him, as it is what he does through us.
There is a link between God’s Word (as in the Scriptures) and God’s word to us (as in his communication with us as individuals) and that link is simply this: God seems to have selected the Scriptures as his favourite means of both influencing us in general and speaking to us in particular.
And these two things are linked. Paul tells the Romans: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12: 2)
When your mind is renewed (changed, influenced for the better) then you are better able to hear what it is that God wants of you.
Aside from attending church services, the single most important thing that revolutionised my walk with God was what is known as the Quiet Time. When I began having my own daily engagement with God through prayer and based in the Scriptures, it really did change everything.
It didn’t happen overnight. I got slack after becoming a Christian. I thought it was all about walking on air in my new-found faith and having praise sessions with my friends. It turned out that wasn’t enough. When I took the advice of a mentor who explained that part of being a disciple was being disciplined, things changed.
So what’s a Quiet Time?
Well, it says in Scripture that Jesus would often withdraw to a quiet place in order to pray. “Very early in the morning,” says Mark 1:35, “while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” During this daily quiet time, Jesus habitually removed himself from the busyness of life and spent time in intimate communion with his Father.
If Jesus needed this time apart with the Father, it would seem logical to assume we need it just as much, if not more so.
Let’s define quiet time as “a point during each day when we remove ourselves from the busyness of work, family, and the ever- increasing demands of Facebook to spend time praying, reading God’s Word, and quietly listening to what God has to say to us.” It took someone to kick-start my Quiet Times. I needed to discipline myself and in doing so I discovered one way, as Jesus put it, to remain in him.
The Quiet Time is a kind of mixture of Bible study and prayer, so we’ll have a brief glance at these in turn.
A Template for Bible Study
When one is studying a passage of Scripture, a basic but helpful pattern to follow is the threefold process of observation, interpretation, and application.
This is pretty straightforward: observe what the passage is saying and describing.
First, read through a portion of Scripture and then go back and make some initial observations about it:
- Who are the characters?
- What’s going on?
- Where is this taking place?
As a quick refresher, remember to ask yourself some basic who-what-when-where observational questions:
- WHO is speaking? Who is this about? Who are the main characters?
- WHAT is the subject or event covered in the chapter? What do you learn about the people, event, or teaching?
- WHEN do the events occur or when did something happen to someone?
- WHERE did or will this happen? Where was it said?
- WHY is something being said or mentioned? Why would this happen? Why at that time and to this person or people?
- HOW will it happen? How is it to be done? How is it illustrated?
Once you get a feel for some of these questions, try to keep an eye out for key words or phrases, repeated words, contrasts and comparisons, and terms of summary and conclusions (“so that,” “for this reason,” and so on)
The important thing here is to be aware of context – the context in which the Scripture was written so that we don’t leap to interpretation and misapplication. We need to let the plain meaning percolate through our minds. We should not rush things but let God’s Spirit work at a subconscious level. We might sit with the verses and meditate upon their plain meaning.
Often observation slides right into interpretation. But strictly speaking, observation refers to trying to understand what’s being said, while interpretation refers to understanding the overall meaning.
From what you’ve learned in your observation of the text, you are trying to discern a primary meaning of the passage – what the biblical author was seeking to communicate and what God was seeking to communicate through that biblical author. A particularly fruitful way to pull these things out of the passage is to ask questions such as, “What sinful, broken, or fallen condition is being addressed or corrected by the passage?” “What is the deeper sin beneath the behaviour?” and “What prompted the author to write this passage?” Keeping these questions in mind can help you uncover the primary meaning of the text.
So, how does the passage apply to you and to others? And what are some actions you need to take in order to apply God’s Word directly to your life?
Let me suggest something here. I think our reflections tend to skip along the surface level of behaviour or habits that need changing. This is okay, but often a more significant application resides at the level of our relating to God – our experiencing his grace or trusting in his character or promises. In light of this, I like to pray through certain questions that help me to apply what I’ve been reading to my walk with God.
- God, what are you trying to say to me through this passage?
- In what ways am I looking to find life in things besides you, Lord?
- In what ways am I seeking to earn your favour rather than live by grace?
- What do my actions suggest that I’m wrongly believing about your character, our relationship, and what you’ve said in your Word?
- In what ways do we need to be more intimate in our relationship?
- In what way is Jesus the answer to my problem?
I particularly like thinking about the last one: In what way does Jesus provide an answer or solution to my sin problem? It’s hard to get into too much theological trouble with a question like this.
We’ve done this once before but I’m going to map out a little process so, you’ll be able to get some quality insight from the Word.
A Template for Prayer
When I spend time reading Scripture, I often find that I have an intense desire to talk with God before I’m even finished reading the passage. I’ll read about God’s mercy and want to thank him for his mercy. Or I’ll read something about God’s power and glory and want to tell him again how awesome he is. Sometimes God’s holiness comes through the passage and I’ll feel the need to confess some sin that comes to my mind or some attitude I’ve had hidden in my heart that doesn’t reflect his character.
By spending time in God’s Word, we open ourselves up to his voice and he can speak to us directly – something he often does.
Prayer is a natural response to God’s work in our life. A helpful model for me as I respond to God in prayer is the ACTS model: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
- Adoration: Telling God how great he is, why he’s great (merciful, kind, and so on), and how much we love him for it. When we have given God his right place, our minds are oriented correctly, our self-centredness is suppressed. Often we will become aware of our shortcomings, which then leads to confession.
- Confession: Acknowledging to God any known sin that is displeasing to him so that we can come to him unhindered, completely surrendered and cleansed. The sense of God’s forgiveness and grace then often leads to gratitude and we move to thanking God for his love.
- Thanksgiving: Thanking God for his grace and forgiveness in our lives, and thanking him for all the things he’s done for us and given to us. At this point we are in a place to ask God.
- Supplication: Asking God for things that we want – hopefully not for the latest Porsche 911 – the one that has broken the track record at the Nurburgring. We will now ask for the things which God had brought to our attention precisely because we have placed God first in the process of praying.
Let me give you some reassurance about this last piece of the puzzle: supplication. Once your heart and mind are in alignment with God, it’s okay to go ahead and ask him for things.
He wants you to come to him with everything. There’s nothing too big, nothing too small; so ask away, no matter how ridiculous you think it sounds. And the closer you grow to God through praying and reading Scripture, the better you will get at discerning his will for you, at knowing what he wants you to pray for. This is prayer that moves mountains.
Using this pattern of ACTS has helped me when I’ve not had the desire to pray. I’ve had to jump-start with ACTS when I’ve been confused, weary, sad, depressed, and outright weak. I just say to myself, “Okay, adoration; right.” Then I begin to pray: “God, you are greater than I am.” On many an occasion, ACTS has guided me into an intimate time with God when an intimate time seemed impossible.
A Template for Quiet Times
The template for our quiet times, then, is as simple as combining our templates for studying the Scripture and our ACTS template for prayer. But with one little nuance: sandwiching the Scripture reading between the prayer so that you’re praying before and after.
It looks like this:
Talk to God
Adoration: “Lord, I praise you for … (some quality of attribute of God).”
Confession: “Lord, forgive me for … (for some sin or shortcoming).”
Listen to God
Prayerfully read a passage. What does it say?
Prayerfully reflect on its meaning. What does it mean?
Prayerfully apply it to life. What does it mean for me?
Talk to God
Thanksgiving: “Lord, I thank you for … (some specific blessing).”
Supplication: “Lord, I ask you for … (requests for yourself and others).”
Talk to God, listen to God, and then talk to God again. It’s that easy.
If you get used to this basic template and get used to meeting with God every day, you’ll be feeling closer to God, living in his grace, growing in holiness, maturing in your understanding of his Word, experiencing his forgiveness. But, remember, the key to all of this is creating the habit and being intentional. Make time each day when this routine can and will take place.
Quiet Time process – this way of mixing bible study and prayer – we achieve two things:
- We begin to ‘live into’ the Word of God, as NT Wright might put it. It begins to influence who and what we are. It equips us to be of greater use in the Kingdom of God. Our minds are renewed. We become more Christ-like in the process.
- Our relationship with God is nurtured and grows to the point where he can speak to us. There are very few things as thrilling as have God speak to you.
However, it all takes discipline: withdrawing on a regular (preferably daily) basis to where we are not likely to be disturbed by events or people and following a process where we are exposed to and open to God.
And while God often speaks to us delightfully in the Quiet Time, sometimes we go through long periods of spiritual dryness. Of course God uses these too and it is important during those times to practice the discipline of constant and faithful practice.
The Quiet Time is the best means of daily communion with God. Yes, we can follow prayers such as the Daily Office. This will help influence our minds to some degree. But if we do not have dynamic communication with God, we’ll soon find it a chore, a mere religious duty.
The Quiet Time has proven over many years to be a method that works. I sincerely commend it to you.
As Jesus said, 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*