Quiet Time Redefined: a midweek Eucharist homily

imagesA little over two years ago I was slowly emerging out of survival mode.  I had my first child the previous year and life beyond diapers and nursing was starting to appear again.  While at the playground one morning, one of my dear friends bravely asked me the challenging question that had been plaguing me in my own consciousness for months postpartum:

What do you do for your quiet time?

Quiet time, that phrase I grew up with in my conservative, evangelical Christian home that stood for the time you set aside to spend with God through bible reading and prayer, to practice being in God’s presence.  I was honest with her and told her that “right now nothing much I’m just trying to survive motherhood, little sleep and working part time.” I asked her what she did. She told me about an app on her phone and we moved on in our conversation.  But I still felt the condemnation and weight of shame over not having a better status report.

If she had asked me pre-kid I would have had a glowing response but now all I had was “nothing much” and a healthy dose of guilt regarding my lack of quiet time.  I knew it was important and something that I should do as a “good” Christian, and that in fact by not doing it I was robbing myself of opportunities for God to minister to my weary heart.  Especially in the midst of such an important transition in my life- motherhood- and the new responsibilities that it entails.

I don’t think this shame over a lack of quiet time is limited to the experience of being a mother.  I’ve experienced this feeling before especially at other points of transition: when I started college, started into the working world, got married, climbed up the success ladder at work.  We are- as Erica put it beautifully several weeks ago- “in the midst” of many situations, seasons and demands on our time and energy.  How can we maintain a relationship with God when we are “in the midst” of so much with seemingly no time and a burden of shame from not living up to a Christian ideal?

After the conversation with my friend, I started attending a bible study and was challenged by a statement from the leader. She very honestly and candidly told our group of moms:

You are more in control of your time than you think you are.

I was incredulous. Doesn’t she realize how hard it is to do what I do and that I have no time? I’m lucky if I can get away by myself just to get a shower most days!   But then my heart softened and I realized her point. Yes my life is very full and sporadic at the moment. But I do still have a modicum of control.  I do still have time, even if it is very little, to give to something.  

I am encouraged afresh by the parable of the woman with the mite (Mark 12:41-44), or as it is in the ESV, the two small copper coins. Usually when I’ve heard this passage discussed it has to do with tithing but I think it can also be understood beyond monetary devotion to describe the offering of ourselves. The woman gave two mites which we are told were worth essentially nothing in that culture. We are also told that she is a poor widow, again, something that was worth essentially nothing in that culture.  And yet Jesus praises this picture of sacrifice and worship because this seemingly insignificant amount that she gave was all that she had to live on, all that she had to give for her seemingly insignificant life to exist.  And it was not worth nothing to her; it was costly and significant to her (2 Samuel 24:18:25).

The Lord knows how much time I have in my day. How I chose to squander it in escapism on my phone or by submerging myself in my part time job.  How I relish it with a nice shower or quality time with my husband and kids. How I choose to sleep rather than do the dishes not out of slothfulness but out of necessity. And He knows that when I choose to give him my seemingly insignificant block of fifteen minutes of undivided attention that maybe all I have to give that day. And it is costly to me.  And he loves it and rejoices in it.  The Lord sees the heart; my intentional gift matters, not because of the quantity or size of it, but because I am freely giving this costly gift and He wants to be with me.

The point I am trying to express is not the need to make time in and of itself, creating another legalistic check list for shame.  The point of carving out this time is to be with Jesus; talking to him, listening to him, just being with him.   Quiet time and devotions are terms that carry a lot of guilt and shame baggage because it has become a place of legalism in the Christian community.   Kristen Terry beautifully liberated many of us during the women’s retreat by encouraging us to consider changing the way we talk about spending time with God. She told us, simply and plainly, in the moments we spend with the Lord to:

Just allow God to love you

That’s all quiet time is supposed to be about anyway, not our achievement or failure of completing another check off our list.

May we not forget the intent of quiet time in the first place and confuse the execution of this discipline as the means of grace.  Quiet times are a tool to connect us with our loving God who wants to hear from you and speak to you.  I believe the Lord would look us in the face, look me in the face and simply say:

I just want to be with you, whatever that looks like right now, and love on you.

God knows our crazy lives. He knows how much time we actually do or do not have. He loves you and wants to be with you. Come to Him free from shame with whatever offering of time you may have to give and allow Him to love you in it.

~ Lauren L.

Need some time and space to spend some time with the Lord? Join us on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. for a time of silent, contemplative prayer.  Bring a Bible, journal, blanket/jacket and an expectant heart.  

 

Why do the demons try to prevent us from praying?

35qhvklmrqnoy8y6pg1c3bqvp6v9m_s4baprwliabwwThe brethren also asked Abba Agathon “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered “Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him. For they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.”   Abba Agathon, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Lately I’ve noticed a shift in how Christians market the praying life. Beginning your day with a fifteen-minute quiet time, preferably a blend of devotional reading with prayer time, is said to be a game-changer for the rest of the day. You’ll be more centered, more mindful, more calm, more thankful, more attuned to God. We could call these the subjective benefits of prayer.

I certainly have experienced these subjective benefits of prayer myself. My day feels significantly “thrown off” when I fudge on my discipline of praying the Morning Office. Confession puts me in a spirit of dependence on God’s grace. The words of assurance… well, they reassure me. My openness towards whatever stuff may happen that day depends a lot on praying through the General Thanksgiving.

But is all that the reason the demons try to keep us from praying, as Father Agathon replied? I doubt it. If they want to stop a Christian dead in her tracks on her path to God, they single out prayer out of all the “virtues,” “labours,” “good works,” etc. Why not turn her from works of mercy? Or toward temptations to money, sex, or power? Or vices like drinking or gambling? To be sure, these are all battlegrounds of spiritual combat. But there’s something about prayer in particular that, if only the demons could stand in its way, then they’ve thrown the Christian off her journey entirely. So what is that “something” about the praying life?

I recently found a clue to this question while reading an excellent biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. It struck me how vital it’s been throughout military history for an army to maintain what’s known as its “lines of communication” (LOC).  Before modern telecommunications, all orders and news of the battle had to be carried on horseback or on foot along these special routes. Even today, an army has to make sure it protects a route between units in the field and its supply base, or else the field units are completely cut off from reinforcements or supplies.  Part of Napoleon’s military genius was in making sure his own lines were short and well-defended, while taking advantage of his adversaries’ more vulnerable LOC.

desert_fathers3_webAbba Agathon seems to be treating prayer with the same gravity as Napoleon treated his lines of communication in battle. Prayer requires great effort because it’s so vital to the Christian’s walk with God. If we do not maintain constant contact with our heavenly Father, we cut ourselves off from “every good and perfect gift from above” (James 1:17). We may well excel in other good works, just as a unit may be composed of very skilled soldiers. In fact, Abba Agathon implies, any given “good work” is relatively easy. Keep at it long enough and eventually it’s over.

Prayer, on the hand, is our lifeline to God. Let go for a moment, and the battle is lost.

For my part, I think Abba Agathon is getting at prayer as a fundamentally objective act, as “real” an activity as the exercise of any of the other virtues, and perhaps more so. Reading into Abba Agathon’s words a little bit, we are objectively asking a God who is really out there to materially alter the course of our day–or, indeed, our entire lives. Prayer effects change. So if prayer does make your day better, it is because a God who is there heard your praises, thanksgivings, and petitions, and He acted on your behalf. Now that makes the demons shudder.

~David Griffin

Happy New Year!

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I’m a guy who likes to look back and to look forward, to review and to plan.  I appreciate the opportunities to read back through my journal, to remember what I was feeling, to wonder if any growth or change has really happened.  🙂

I hope you get a few minutes in these opening hours of 2014 to give thanks and to dream.  At dinner last night, my family talked about the things that happened in 2013 that we want to KEEP doing in 2014 and we talked about the things that happened that we want to STOP doing.  Keepers are things that enabled us to talk and be together.  Stoppers included ‘when Daddy is grumpy.’

Where does your imagination go as you dream about 2014?  What are you asking your Heavenly Father to do in you?  What are you looking forward to?  What are the dates you have already circled because they will be hard or full or joy?  Can you find an hour to take a walk with Jesus and tell him your hopes and fears?  Can you steal away for a bit to write in your journal the things you are anticipating for the year to come?

Here are the categories I think through at this time of year:

  • My companionship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit:  Last year I used the Mc’Cheyne Daily Reading Plan.  I coupled it with D.A. Carson’s devotional on the readings, For the Love of God.  Like I said, I need a plan and it really helps me to wake up and have a clear plan for what I need to read that day.  Kept me on track.  You can get both the Mc’Cheyne reader and the Carson devotionals for free in one place right here.  Works really well on an ipad.
  • Financial:  Was I as generous as I could be in 2013?  Are there any budget categories that I can practice the discipline of restraint and simplicity–  because it is good for my soul?  Any places of spending that are really out of control? Did I stick to my budget (do you have a budget?) in 2013?
  • Exercise:  I enjoy exercising with folks.  I have a few races I like to do each year.  I have some mileage goals and pace goals.  For me, it is the 30-60 minutes a day that puts my brain ‘somewhere else’.  Every time I go for a run, I ask God to give me one good idea–  and He is really faithful.  My best ideas have come when I am gasping for air at the end of some run.  I need a goal to get me out of bed.  It’s too easy to just jump in to email or work or rolling over and going back to sleep.
  • Relational:  What are the significant events in the life of my family this year?  How will I create space around them to be present?  What is the daily, weekly, and quarterly time I need to be ‘just with Laurel’?  (yes, we have to plan all 3!)  What are my prayer goals for my children?  What kind of help will my parents need?   Which part of my character do I want to see the most growth?
  • Vocational:  for me, this is about Restoration.  I am thinking about moving in to our new building.  I am excited about our 2 trips to Asia Minor and the visit we will receive from on our partners there.  I am dreaming about the beginnings of church planting in partnership with our diocese.  I am excited about telling the story of redemption and restoration to follow on the chapters of creation and fall.  I think we are going to have some terrific small groups this year.  So how do I need to pray?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to write?  Who do I need to talk with and get to know?  What will be the consistent topics that come out in my speaking and preaching?
  • What are the things that I ‘never got to’ but really want to have in my life?  Anything I can do to make them a reality this year?  For me this includes some house projects, music, language, and backpacking.  Can you and I create some–  ‘it’s really important but I never have time’ time?

Happy New Year my friends.  I am so grateful that I get to live this next one with you.

-David

Feb 21-23, 2014 the AWESOME women’s retreat

February is always a long month.  I guess it is the shortest month, if you’re counting days, but for me, it never feels like the shortest month.  The excitement of the holidays is long past and I’m ready to shed my winter coat.  I’m tired of the early darkness and spring break is too many weeks away.

What is the solution to this February drag? The Restoration Women’s Retreat!

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Last February, I was stuck in my traditional February rut and the ladies of Restoration helped to pull me out of it.  Our weekend of learning and hanging out was so rejuvenating for me.

I wrote in my journal during the weekend, “It’s amazing when I can really see God at work in my life – during the most frustrating and chaotic season, he has sent me inspiration and guidance.”  That inspiration and guidance came in the form of lessons and wonderful friendships that were forged at the Women’s Retreat 2013.

During the Women’s Retreat in February 2014 we will hear our own Connally Gilliam speak.  There will be plenty of time to chat by the fire, time for getting cozy and relaxed with a book, and opportunities to be adventurous in the Pennsylvania outdoors.  Most importantly, it will be a weekend surrounded by some of the most wonderful people.  What is better than that?

Join us! February 21-23, 2014 at the Capital Retreat Center in Waynesboro, PA

You can sign up here or here …do it today!

Liz Baar

 

Be still . . .

Post by Louise Brooks

Outside my kitchen window, in a tree at the edge of my little Arlington backyard, there was a bird that sat on a branch.  But this bird was so still that I thought it was simply a leaf shaped like a bird.  I spent at least one full minute staring out the window in study and examination as my thoughts fluttered between being sure that what I saw was a leaf . . . no, a bird!  Wait!  Then – just when I squinted hard enough to see that, yes, indeed, it was just a leaf shaped like a bird – it flew away.

I am stunned by the stillness of this bird.  Not a twitch or a ruffle or a song to hint at what it is.  Just a bird.  At rest.  And I am convinced once again that if I, too, were more like this bird – still, at rest, not distracted – not only would I have better eyesight, but then I, too, could fly.

Be still.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)

“The LORD gives sight to the blind.”  (Psalm 146:8)

“My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”  (Psalm 25:15)

Do you know if you’re hungry?

A post by Andrew Thompson

Waffles. Of all the breakfast food in the world, waffles are my favorite. My grandma SeaShell used to make Belgian waffles for me and my brother when we stayed over at her house on the weekends.  These were ‘loaded waffles’, with generous heaps of butter, blueberries, strawberries and maple syrup. I can still smell the sweet homemade batter sizzling away in her kitchen.

Now I love breakfast, but when I when my alarm goes off in the morning, food is generally the farthest thing from my mind. But as soon as I eat something, my appetite ignites, and I realize I’m actually famished. Maybe the same is true with our appetite for the things of God.

On Sunday, David spoke from the fourth Beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of God.” I like that Jesus doesn’t say “blessed are those who are full and stuffed with righteousness.”  For me, sometimes I don’t have this appetite for God, I don’t hunger or thirst. What do you do then?  This reminds me of waking up in the morning.  Even if we don’t have insatiable longing to pray or read, beginning to spend time with God usually turns into greater appetite for Jesus and his Word.

The following are a few examples from Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook that I’ve found helpful for spending time with God:

  • Spend 5-10 minutes in silence. Let the internal noise die down.  Setting a timer can be helpful. Open yourself to God in prayer:
    • Dialogue with God about where you’ve sense his presence in the past week.
  • Consider the Scriptural names and metaphors that reveal God’s nature and character: Good Shepherd, Father, Healer, Renewer, Well-Spring, Anchor, King, etc.  Let the names of God draw you into worship.
  • Go for a walk and be with God. Notice signs of God’s love. If possible gather a symbol of your time with God (a rock, branch, or flower).
  • Use these examen questions as a framework to process your own desires, and then talk to God about what you see:
    • What is life-giving to you? What is life thwarting?
    • Where do you find love, joy, and peace in your life? Where does it seem absent?
    • Where are you sad? Where are you glad?
  • Slowly read Psalms. 16, 19, or 42. If a word or phrase “lights up” or catches your interest, stop reading. Mediate on the word or phrase.  What do you hear God saying to you?

What makes you hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Bible Reading

Maybe you decided that in 2010 you want to read the Bible more consistently. I know January always catches me in a more fervent mood… (now June is another story).

I want to give you 3 suggestions for spending daily time reading the Bible. Disclaimer– I’m the kind of guy who needs a plan. In this particular situation, I like someone telling me what to do and not having to think about it. So when I stumble downstairs, juggling a cup of coffee, I just turn to ‘what’s next’ rather than having to figure out ‘what should I read, today?’

 

    1. In my opinion the Gold Standard for Bible Reading Plans is the one written by Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne in the 1800s. 4 readings a day take you through the New Testament twice, the psalms twice, and the Old Testament once every year!! I have been using this plan for the last 5 years and I love it. Sure, I’ll miss days, skip readings, but every morning I know where I am and what I have to do. You can find the plan here.

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  1. The Daily Bible is a unique assembly of Scripture by F. LaGard Smith. He has ordered the whole Bible chronologically so you can read it like a novel in 365 sections. Smith offers some commentary along the way to fill in background and narrative. I have an extra copy and I’ll give it to the first person who asks for it in the comments below.
  2. Picture 18This year, I am reading through the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office. You can find it on pages 934-1001. We are in Year 2 (because 2010 is an even year). The plan hits all of the books, but not every verse of the Bible. So far, I have really enjoyed it. My current pattern is to pray the Collect of the Day from Sunday (p. 214 BCP) and then to read the Scripture appointed for the day (currently, p. 943 BCP). The stuff from Colossians has been particularly encouraging. If you like to have your Quiet Time ‘on-line’, you can find the reading for each day in the ESV right here. How cool is that?

Over the past week, I have been praying these verses for our church:

…asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  (Col 1.9-10)

May the practice of daily Bible reading do just that during 2010.

Daily Time?

Maybe you decided that in 2010 you want to read the Bible more consistently.  I know January always catches me in a more fervent mood…  (now June is another story).

I want to give you 3 suggestions for spending daily time reading the Bible.  Disclaimer–  I’m the kind of guy who needs a plan.  In this particular situation, I like someone telling me what to do and not having to think about it.  So when I stumble downstairs, juggling a cup of coffee, I just turn to ‘what’s next’ rather than having to figure out ‘what should I read, today?’

1.  In my opinion the Gold Standard for Bible Reading Plans is the one written by Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne in the 1800s. 4 readings a day take you through the New Testament twice, the psalms twice, and the Old Testament once every year!!  I have been using this plan for the last 5 years and I love it.  Sure, I’ll miss days, skip readings, but every morning I know where I am and what I have to do. You can find the plan here.

2. is a unique assembly of Scripture by F. LaGard Smith. He has ordered the whole Bible chronologically so you can read it like a novel in 365 sections. Smith offers some commentary along the way to fill in background and narrative. I have an extra copy and I’ll give it to the first person who asks for it in the comments below.

Trying to figure out how to post the rest…

vain

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This morning I was reading Psalm 127. These might be familiar words…

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Totally convicted.  Felt desperate to pray.  Let me be in the things that You are up to.  Let me sleep like one who is loved.  Let my labor not be in vain.  We wait Lord for you. 

Build.  Watch.  Give.

A Place and A Time

Picture 10One of the key applications of our series from Exodus was creating a deliberate time and place to interact with God.  Moses did it outside the camp in a tent of meeting.  We can do it almost anywhere–  a park bench, a specific chair in our home or office, a closet.  So choose a place and choose a time!  Check.

Once we are there, then the question becomes, what do we do?  For hundreds of years, faithful Christians have followed plans to read through the Bible and pray their way through Scripture.  You can google Bible Reading Plan and find scores of them.  My favorite is from Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne.  You can read a quick bio here.

His plan gives 4 readings a day (takes about 20 minutes) and takes you through the NT twice, Psalms twice, and OT once, every year.  I love it.  It’s nice to just show up in my place at my time and not have to figure out–  what do I do??

May Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne be a gift to you as well.

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