by Dave Hintz
Many times in my ministry I have found myself exhorting people to do something that they have no idea how to do. For instance, I might tell people to share their faith, but they have no training in how to do so. Having a “Quiet Time” is another exhortation which many pastors give, often without providing any direction on how to do so. Thus, this month I wanted to give two words of wisdom regarding the “how-to’s” of an effective quiet time: you must have a goal and a plan.
Like a ship without a compass, directionless quiet times can lead the Christian off course. Sin will not be addressed, the soul will be starved, decisions will be skewed, etc. Effective quiet times must have the goal of greater obedience to God, through loving Him more and loving others more (Matt. 22:36-40). One pastor notes, “A daily time in the Word of God and prayer that does not involve submitting to His Lordship in areas of sinfulness in our lives cannot accurately be called devotional.”
With this goal in mind, one has to have a plan. One would pity the football coach who motivated the team to win the game but provided no game plan. The following guide to prayer and Bible reading should not be taken as the standard for having a quiet time, but as a suggestion to help you in forming your own patterns of discipline.
Prayer: Before I read the Bible I usually take some time to read through a Psalm or another passage detailing the existence and attributes of God. Just like Nehemiah exalts the Lord before offering his request or confessing his sins (Neh. 1), the practice of adoration places God in the proper place in my life. Once I have pondered the greatness of God, I can more clearly see my own shortcomings and confess my sin. I try to place confession at the front end of my quiet time since I know that God will not hear my prayers if I cherish iniquity in my heart. Next, I usually ask God to give me an understanding of what I am about to read and pour through the Scriptures. After spending some time in the Word, I give thanks to God for what I learned and then lift up my requests. In order to keep up with all of the different requests on my heart, I have assigned different supplications to different days, praying for my family on Monday, the church on Tuesday, missionaries on Wednesday, etc. Of course, there are certain people I pray for every day, like my wife and my unborn child. (For further thoughts on prayer read the following passages: Matt. 6:5-14, Eph. 3:14-21, and Neh. 1:4-11.)
Scripture Reading: Personally, I have found that having a reading plan gives more direction to my Quiet Times, thus I usually read through two chapters of the Old Testament and one chapter in the New (this suits my purposes as I do my in-depth studying at church). Usually, I like to survey the entire section first and then go back to meditate on certain truths (Psalm 119:99). Getting the big picture before I begin personal application ensures that I keep in mind the general context of the passage. One must remember that we are commanded to meditate on what is true (Phil. 4:7), thus meditation should not be the time when we lay aside our discernment.
Finally, in keeping with my goal, I resolve with each quiet time to extract one lesson that will help me to love God and/or other people more throughout the day.