It’s that time of year again. Resolutions. The New Year welcomes full gyms and empty bank accounts. For many Christians it also brings more attention to Bible-reading/devotional plans and “quiet time” discipline. I certainly hope to be more diligent in that respect.
The quiet time has become stock language for Christians. By it we mean that dedicated times and spaces where we meet alone with God in Scripture and prayer. Drawing from Jesus’ example (Mk 1.35) Christians “seclude” themselves to commune with God and drink the Living Water.
The (capital Q, capital T) Quiet Time has also become a lucrative industry in itself. From 3-minute daily devotionals to One-Year Bibles, Christians can find a variety of resources to improve their quiet times. You name it and there is a devotional for every flavor of busy Christian.
Call it what you will. Not only is devotional discipline necessary for the Christian, it is also his heart’s delight (Ps 1.2). No one can package the perfect quiet time but the Spirit cries out within us for the Father’s nearness (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Devotional discipline is instinctual for those filled with the Spirit of Christ. Christians love being with God anywhere, anytime through the ministry of Christ.
That said, have we overloaded or oversold the quiet time as the primary catalyst for Christian growth? Have we unintentionally emphasized it such that we encourage hyper-individualized spiritual maturity? Have we unintentionally communicated that gospel growth happens best on one’s own? Should the congregational (communal, corporate, church) life serve the interests of my personal quiet time(s) or should it be the reverse? Does Jesus lay the priority of our growth on our personal devotional discipline or on our congregational discipline?
Scripture seems to teach our quiet time, beneficial as it may be, is always in service of the community. Therefore, we cannot evaluate our personal devotional discipline without also addressing our congregational discipline. We might well benefit more from reading, praying, and singing Scripture together than alone. Sure, set the alarm 15 minutes earlier but also arrive 15 minutes earlier to church to pray with folks. Stay 15 minutes later after the Lord’s Supper to enjoy the gospel’s aftertaste in grace-seasoned conversations. That new latest devotional book from the hottest celebrity pastor may not benefit as much as an open Bible among friends.
God’s word was and is the covenant community’s book. In fact, no one in Scripture had a quiet time as we know it because no one had their own personal copy of Scripture. No one in Scripture read through the Bible in a year because there wasn’t a complete canon, much less a personally-engraved one! Obviously, individual Christians meditated on Scripture but they did so from a congregational priority. David even wrote a congregational hymnbook to sing about what he gleaned from his “quiet times.”
How then were individual Christians sustained in their faith? They enjoyed God’s word as they gathered together in Christ’s name to hear the apostolic witness. Experiences in private devotion had their place, but the main course of their diet was the “edification of the church” (1 Cor 14.1-19). Christian’s heard God’s word in the “assembly” and subjected their own meditations to the congregation (1 Cor 14.26-33). Any personal insight flowed from and back to the assembly. Personal growth in and enjoyment of God’s grace was always to serve “the unity of the faith” and congregational maturity (Eph 4.11-16). The comfort God provided in personal and individual ways was to flow outward to comfort others (2 Cor 1.3-7). It’s no wonder they gathered often and joyfully.
God dispenses the ordinary means of grace (Scripture and prayer) through the church, wherein we gather regularly to read/hear the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, drip the gospel in baptism and taste it at the Lord’s Table. The rightly-ordered church is our primary devotional resource. God has not left us on our own to draw near to him. He has provided a communal wave we ride to him.
No Christian has the liberty to construct personal interpretations that conflict with “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (2 Pt 1.19-21; Jude 3). “The faith” was not handed down to me to be enjoyed primarily in my quiet time. It was handed down to the saints so that we would all persevere together in Christ (Heb 3.12-13). Only Jesus would “come to the garden alone” and to ensure we’d never be alone again in the garden! He died to repopulate the Garden. Practically speaking, too, we are far less distracted when we are with others in Scripture and prayer. Alone we wander to bills, schedules, knee pain and chores. Together we are far more apt to concentrate, dialogue, and focus.
We will supply Christian graces to our faith through personal devotional discipline and obedience (2 Pt 1.4-11). But that effort must never be divorced from increased congregational discipline. As we set our minds toward more faithful quiet time discipline this year let us equally consider how that will benefit the church. Let’s make sure our quiet time efforts include and provoke more “out loud time” with our Christian brothers and sisters.