Our Quiet Time With God (Or Lack Theref) Is A Reality Check

Growing closer to God is almost counterintuitive in our culture. We value results, especially instant results. We want to see things change and get things done. 

In an industrialized culture like ours, it’s important to be productive and efficient. Those are exalted concepts that have been ingrained in us since birth. And we measure productivity by the amount of work done per unit of time, yet the important things of God often run counter to that approach.

In this instant gratification culture, we are taught not to be spend time in contemplation and prayer. We want things now. We buy music instantly.  We have speedy checkout lines.  We pay at the pump. We have drive-thru prescriptions. We shop online. Microwaves heat our food up faster. We call anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Engineers are constantly developing ways for us to get things faster and quicker. We are an instant gratification culture. Because of things like these, we get frustrated when something prevents us from instantly having what we want. 

I could give illustration after illustration of this. From driving and getting frustrated when the person in front of us takes three seconds to start going after the light turns green or is driving fifteen mph below the speed limit. To huffing and rolling our eyes at the person in front of us at the express checkout line with their eighteen items instead of fifteen. We get frustrated when we have to wait.

Now these are not evil, immoral situations that should raise our ire and anger levels. But they often do. We have inserted our notions of efficiency into these situations. And if someone is not meeting our standards, we become impatient because they are inconveniencing us. We are not getting WHAT we want WHEN we want it. Our will is thwarted and impatience is the result.

This struggle between productivity, instant gratification, and efficiency with growing closer to God crescendos when it comes to us taking time out of our day to spend intentional time with God. Yet Jesus modeled a different way--a way we all would do well to emulate. "But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray." (Luke 5:15-16 ESV). I can see how I would react if I were one of the Twelve disciples. I feel a lot like Judas. I would be hunting for Jesus frustrated. He could be healing more people of their infirmities. He could be teaching. Where is he? And then I would find him in the desolate place, praying.

I struggle to be like Jesus.

Even writing this, I think of excuses against just spending time with God. I can grow close to God while actually working and bringing about His will. I can use my time to get something done that will bring glory to God. I can spend time with a person and share Jesus' love. All of these things are good and should be done, but they don't have to be juxtaposed with just spending time with God in a deliberate, meaningful way. 

I tell myself that I can do a lot more with my time than spend a half hour building my relationship with God. And in that, I show more about my beliefs than I do about the value of spending time with God. 

In order to be devoted and committed to spending time with God, we have to reach a point where the spiritual side of life is just as real to us as the tangible. Maybe even more meaningful. We're inundated with the idea that the material is all that matters, but part of following Jesus is being used to transform this world from our reality to God's reality. That is impossible unless we are living with one foot in God's intended reality while keeping the other foot grounded here in our fallen, sinful, and broken one. 

When Eugene Peterson, the man behind The Message, was asked about spending time with God, he replied:

Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God. I ask for a commitment of six months; don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened.

I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens.

For more from this interview, check out Interview with Eugene Peterson: WhyCan't I Hear God?

At its heart, spending time with God is really a faith issue. I tread carefully here because I don't want to make spending quiet time with God an issue of legalism, yet I also can't avoid the reason we fail to practice this spiritual discipline. If we have faith and genuinely believe that spending time with God is important, then we will naturally do it. Our schedules will be changed to include the most important part of our lives. We will wake up and want to spend time with God rather than put it off or feel that it is a burden. If we don't have faith, we will think it is meaningless. 

And whether we regularly spend time with God or not really shows what we truly believe. 

Most Christian struggles can be solved by just drawing closer into the heart of God. It may not fix the issues we are facing, but it will give us the perspective to endure. It may not make us materially wealthy, but it will teach us to be content with what we have. It may not resolve every conflict, but it will inspire us to bring love into all situations. The transformation that happens when we just take seriously Jesus' example of regularly spending time with God is amazing. God is faithful. He does not let us down. He honors our pilgrimage.

Whether we actually do spend time with God is a reality check of sorts. Our actions show our true beliefs.  Do we believe in God? Do we believe that He is a personal God? Do we believe that He will sustain us in all situation? I admit that I struggle with faith at times. I want action, so I push quiet time away. What I'm really saying when I do this is that I value my own productivity more than I value God's desires and plan for my life. For I can't know the heart of God and His plans for the things around me unless I am delving into spending time with Him regularly.

Help me with my unbelief.

9 Myths Pervasive In American Christianity

The recent controversy surrounding whether homosexuality is or isn't a sin has revealed deeper issues. This article is about those deeper issues. These prominent myths have taken root, arisen in American Christianity like an uncontrollable weed through the years, and have a greater potential for destruction as the underlying source of many of the hot button issues of our time.

So here are nine prominent myths and a quick rebuttal. I am sure that this is not an exhaustive list. And chances are that nobody struggles with every myth.

Myth #1. Holiness doesn't matter.

The Apostle Peter wrote,  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Holiness. At its core, it's just being set apart for something. In the case of Christian holiness, it's being set apart for the things of God. It means that we don't indulge in every desire that those around us may indulge in. It also means that we do things that those around us may not do. In a way, holiness can be described as different. Those who strive to be set apart for God are to be different than those around them. 

Myth #2. Following Jesus means not pointing out sin. It is unloving to acknowledge sin.

"Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”( John 7:24 ESV)
 "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load." (Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)

Jesus taught us to judge rightly. That is a natural step in the process of bearing each others' burdens and helping restore each other. Sometimes transformation cannot happen unless we actually judge that a person is actually struggling with something or doing something  that causes separation from God.

But I want to clarify something that Christians often mess up. We are called to judge one another, not to judge the world. Paul told the Christians in Corinth to not judge the world but to cast the evil person out of their midst (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). We often get it wrong and judge the world while not keeping our own fellowship pure. I guess it's easier to judge those we don't have to maintain a relationship with, but that should not be a trait that characterizes who we are.  

Pointing out sins is loving at times. The problem that we face is that we really don't want to consider things sin that are sin. There is still sin in this world. And sin always destroys. No conversation should be framed into love versus accepting sin. Accepting sin is not loving. We don't accept sin; we accept sinners. Like you and me. While we were sinners, Jesus died for us.

Myth #3.  Pointing out one's sin is plenty enough love.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)

The love among us as brothers and sisters in Jesus should overflow from our midst into the world around us. Our co-workers, friends, neighbors, family, and everyone that we encounter should actually see us do loving things. Love is not just a feeling that is expressed in words. That's why pointing out others sins isn't all that loving. 

So it is not just enough to point out people's sin. I admit that it is loving to help someone overcome their sin. This is best done through relationships where we can help build others up. If we claim to be strong, then we need to adopt the Jesus model and use that strength to serve others. If we aren't serving, then we are either extremely selfish or actually not as strong as we think we are. 

We should so overwhelm the world with love that they can't honestly accuse us of hate, but love is done through meeting their needs. The message of Jesus is best exhibited when we love; words are necessary but can be very empty without action in love.

Myth #4. A person is defined as who they are by their behavior.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18a ESV).

Our behavior often doesn't represent who we truly are; it often just represents our fallen state. People are made in the image of God, yet we sin and mar that image. This is why we must continue to allow God to transform us. None of us are perfect, despite the Christian teachings to strive to be. In one sense our inner character is revealed by our actions, but even in this sense, our inner character is stained by this world. Like a caterpillar weaving a cocoon, we are all greater than we presently are; we're just on our way to getting there. So when we see others, we must begin to view them in the same light. They aren't their failures, disappointments, and limitations. They are also made in the image of God. 

Myth #5. The church should leave people alone.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Proselytizing. That's a dirty word these days. Our society wants us to just keep our faith personal, yet we cannot do that while remaining faithful to Jesus' teaching to go, make disciples, baptize and teach them.  

The church should actually leave the world alone in a certain way. We are not to judge those who are not Christians. With that caveat said, we are still supposed to go into the world and share the gospel with them. It is a balance to do that in both action and truth (1 John 3:18). But leaving the world alone is not an option.  

We can't expect the world to behave like Christians. We have a tough enough time behaving that way as followers of Jesus. However, our interaction with the world shouldn't be to pronounce judgment on them. We are to love them with helping hands and gentle words. We want them to join us in our mission. Before you start telling me that Jesus was harsh, I would like you to read through the Gospels again and notice who He was harsh with. It was the religious people like you and me that received the harshness of Jesus. The world received His love in tangible, gentle ways. We can't leave the world alone, but maybe we should adjust the way we interact with the world.

Myth #6. True power comes from passing laws.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:13-14 ESV)

The changes we want to see in this world won't happen as a result of the State. The State, especially in a Western democracy, is just a reflection of the people who inhabit the State. If we want to see our State change and improve, this will happen through the influence of the Kingdom of God growing in the hearts and minds of the people who live here, not through forcing our will on others backed by the force of the law through enacting legislation.

Although it may be difficult at times, a good people can exist without a good State. But a good State cannot exist without good people. We sometimes misplace our priorities and work on changing the State rather than the people. We want to force others to be the way we strive to be rather than just allowing our witness to stand for itself in the public arena. We do this at times because we are deceived into thinking that true power comes from the State. 

Our government is not, despite the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, the "shining city on a hill." We are not "the hope of the earth" (Mitt Romney in the presidential debate, October 22, 2012). Nor are we "the one indispensable nation" (Barack Obama in that same presidential debate). Our nation is not the salt of the earth or the light of the world. Those are prideful misappropriations of phrases that are reserved for the kingdom of God. The local church is the city on a hill, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. The local church is the answer for the problems of the world, and yet we neglect the bride of Christ time and time again for all the whimsical allures of the world.

I hope that we can give up fighting the cultural battles of our day on a political level because they have already been lost, let's focus on changing our lives to be more like God wants them to be and shower our community and the world with the love of God. We can't make a nation Christian through legislation. Instead we must work through our local churches to win the hearts of people to Jesus. Through that, our nation will have more Christians.

God is the source of true power.

Myth #7. If Jesus didn't say  it, it doesn't matter.

"And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?'  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

Lately, there has been a movement away from the whole testimony of the canon of Scripture toward only the red letters of Jesus. This is an attack on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and on the inspiration of the entirety of Scripture. It leads to us ignoring the teachings of the Old Testament along with all of the issues addressed in the letters to the churches and church leaders that addressed the dominant issues in the early church. 

Jesus not addressing something could mean many things. It could mean that it wasn't a prominent issue in His time. It could just be that He did address it but known of the authors felt the need to write it down in the books that have endured the test of time. Whatever the case, the silence of the records we have don't tell us much on an issue. This is where we should look to whole testimony of Scripture along with allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth.

Myth #8. You can't love someone if you don't accept who they are.
"But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." (Jude 1:20-23 ESV)
Saying that we have to only love people who we accept as they are is a graceless approach to love. For what do we do with people that we don't approve of their actions. Take this to a logical extreme. How do we treat pedophiles then? Are we not to love them? Of course we are to still love them despite absolutely hating their actions. What do we do with a person who marches into a church and shoots the people. Again, the church, time and time again, models a different approach and loves the person despite absolutely hating the sinful action. Hate "even the garment stained by the flesh."

This approach allows us to live in grace. Grace needed for others and grace needed for ourselves. There are thoughts and actions in my life that I absolutely despite, yet the grace of God covers me. He still loves me despite hating sin. God knows far greater than we can understand the destructive force of sin. Sin destroys. It takes what is meant for a good purpose and morphs into a shadow of its intended glory. 

So we should fight to stifle sin for it is worthy of our hate. Yet we should always love everyone no matter how severe the sin they struggle with or have committed is. 

Myth #9. It's okay to demonize, not understand, and misrepresent those who I don't agree with.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Romans 12:14 (ESV)
With all of this said, we must be generous in every conversation. Instead of attacking others, we should just make our point while leaving the people that disagree with us alone. Instead of learning about a side from someone attacking that side, we should learn about it from someone who generally believes it. Instead of calling people heretics to end a conversation, we should let them share their views with us in love.

If we want a hearing for the message we want to share, we must live in a way that people view worthy of giving a hearing to. This means blessing our enemies and abstaining from saying bad things about them. This means letting our actions of love go into the world before our words. This means treating others, even those who may intend to harm us, as the image of God they were created to be.

My Grandma's Prayer

My Grandma may not have been the most religious person, but she did read her Bible regularly. When she passed, we found this prayer in there. I thought I would just share it here for posterity's sake.

Heavenly Father, thank you for establishing the times and seasons of our lives. Thank you for providing order, beauty, and variety to our world. Thank you, too, for giving us the gift of eternity in our hearts so that we will not limit our vision to the things of this world. Enable us to do our work and spend our time in ways that give glory to you and are in harmony with your plans. Amen.