Why I feel like a bad Christian.. (guest post)

(guest post by Greg Miller, a fellow pastor at Eastridge Community Church and a brilliant communicator..I had the pleasure of reading this draft before it went live and I must admit that Greg has captured in words what I have been thinking for a while. We have both been working through Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God and Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. And this post is birthed from inspiration of those two writers and from inside his own heart. Please take a second to read, digest, and comment. Greg has started a dialogue on his blog about this topic (so jump there to converse with the thought’s originator or comment below and we can discuss your take together right here.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about discipleship. I have several intuitive thoughts that I’ve decided to work out…right here…right now… I’m genuinely interested in feedback and would love to incite some dialogue.

My walk with Christ is the most important and defining part of me and of my worldview. I have dedicated my life, career, family, and resources to building the Kingdom of God, through my Savior Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus is my savior and my access to the Father. This is all absolutely true!!! I know that my life is in the hands of a perfect Father. So…

  • Why am I so perpetually frustrated in my relationship with God?
  • Why do I feel that the rituals and plans that have been prescribed to me always fall short of the promised intimacy and fulfillment?
  • Why do I secretly wonder if others experience the same dryness?

Even as I wrote that last question, I feared the judgment of the faithful ones, who just ended their quiet time with tears and tingles…

So here’s the UGLY truth…I can’t stand the phrase “quiet time”!

For as long as I can remember “quiet time” has been the scourge of my Christian experience. I’ve been led to believe that the definitive gauge of my growth in and love for God is the quality of my quiet time! My relationship with God can best be expressed in some variation of this formula:

  1. Have a consistent place that is comfortable and free of distraction
  2. begin with prayer
  3. move on to the word- a predetermined plan is preferable.
  4. end with prayer and/or journal.

All of this should take a minimum of 15 minutes (for beginners) or longer in proportion to ones spiritual maturity and depth…more than an hour is dangerous, as the very real possibility of self-righteousness begins to develop. Therefore, one should have a lengthy quiet time, but not so much as to promote pride. While variations of this formula do occur and are widely accepted, it should be noted that God only gives full credit for complete compliance and that partial compliance to this time honored formula is only acceptable in the case of extreme busyness, family emergency, or on the backside a conference or retreat and partial credit will only be allowed for an ambiguous amount of time…  Please don’t be too put out by my sarcasm…I really can’t help it…you see… I didn’t have a quality quiet time today!!!

Seriously, I’ve recently been thinking about the undeniable human tendency to reduce the abstract and spiritual mysteries into a formula that can be distilled and packaged and reproduced. The problem isn’t “quiet time” or the notion of spending quality time with God. I think the problem begins with our understanding of relational connectivity to The God of the universe. Nowhere in scripture does God command us to dedicate a certain time to being with him. Nor does his proximity to us change based on our awareness of his presence…he is ever-present. God is not confined by any force! He is in all times and all places at the same time. Therefore it is silly of me to suggest that I will meet him at a certain time and place, as if he’s waiting there checking his watch.

Many people that I talk to describe their “quiet time” as if it were an appointment or an item on the “to do” list. They will say “I’ve got to get back in the habit of doing my quiet time” or “I missed my quiet time this morning…I’m really struggling”. People seem to really think of it as a spiritual obligation. If I ask someone “how are you doing spiritually?” nine times out of ten they will respond “well, I’ve been working on my quiet time”.

It seems to me that adherence to some spiritual formula is really tricky business, in light of the fact that the Biblical formula to meditate on the word of God at all times and to pray without ceasing doesn’t seem to allow for allotments of “God ” time. As I read the Scriptures, God is the absolute owner of my life, time, and resources. He doesn’t require some allotment of your time to satisfy his relational appetite, but rather has orchestrated a situation wherein you and I fully belong to Him! I actually think that as a Christian culture we have replaced “die to self” with the far more palatable “devotional time”. Death is too permanent and inconvenient. I’ve got far too many things to accomplish today…to be dead! Instead of getting caught up in the mysterious spiritual stuff, we are comforted by a measurable formula! Then we say,” Oh! I get it! Death to self means 30 minutes to an hour of devoted “god time! That is something I can do…just not today…I have too much to do!”

The point is, if God doesn’t have all of me He doesn’t have me at all!

If I believe that God is something to be added to my schedule, then I’ve fundamentally misunderstood the deal that God has offered to me in Christ!

I recognize that, on a practical level, sincere believers want to know how to remain in or abide in Christ…to walk with him daily. The answer to this question isn’t as simple as you would think. Jesus himself was fairly abstract in his descriptions of a Follower. He said,

“if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” and

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

We also know that Jesus was in the habit of spending time alone with The Father. The Apostle Paul is a bit more descriptive in his letters, saying,

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart”.

Acts 2 describes a Group of believers who

“devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…everyday they continued to meet together”.

There are many other scriptures that add to our collective understanding of the “faith walk”. When you add it all up it doesn’t ever equal a nice neat tidy little formula. It is from any angle a reckless abandonment of everything to a God I’ve never seen. I think the obsession with formulas is mostly attributable to our selfish nature. I don’t think it is motivated by our true desire to know God and walk with him as much as a desire to haggle with the spirit of God over the cost of discipleship. We want to know his bottom dollar price…”What’s the least I can offer…and still walk out of here with salvation…how bout a half an hour?”

Again, I recognize that my thoughts are dripping with sarcasm which might undermine the truth of what I’m saying, but honestly I’m frustrated that this thinking is pervasive in the Church and I think our use of  the phrase “quiet time” is perpetuating some bad theology! It’s all his time…some of it just happens to be quiet. By the way, this morning I did pause to approach God with a surrendered heart (quiet time). I intentionally didn’t say amen…we’re still talking.

Try not to put God in a box. Do something creative to show your love to him…imagine him laughing at something silly you do…ask God if he wants to go for a walk to see his creation…share your fears and frustrations with God as you experience them…be quiet…be loud…be sad…be funny…be real in his presence… There’s one person in the universe that totally gets you…and totally loves you!

One last thought…If you intend to only give God 30 minutes of your day. It might make more sense to talk to him 60 times throughout the day for 30 seconds or 120 times for 15 seconds. Discipleship is relationship, not routine!

What say you? Do you have a “quiet time”?

If so, do you gauge your spiritual health and surrender to Christ solely on the quality of your quiet time?

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
  • Carol Hall

    Hey, I’m not too familiar with how all this technology works so I hope I am leaving this comment in the right place! I enjoyed both Greg’s and Evan’s commments on “Why I feel like a bad Christian” and it is good food for thought. I have just experienced my 38th “rebirthday” in April and began my journey with Jesus at 16 so you do the math (LOL). As I have reached this season of my life, I too, have frequently felt “like a bad Christian”… I just recently told my family that I don’t know why it seems like I am always thinking the “wrong thing” and feeling so dissatisfied with my “spiritual condition”. As I ponder those thoughts, it occurred to me that I am probably exactly where my Father wants me to be on this journey. With the last of my 4 kids grown now, for the first time in my life, my focus is not scattered from here to there and I think He wants me to look deeply at some newly illuminated areas that there was never time to look at when I was a busy mom. He reminds me that that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Wow… I need to keep that verse handy when the guilt tries to creep back in!

    I will say that I do look forward to my “quiet time”, but that is because that is how I relate! Several years ago my pastor, Ken Sirmans, did an amazing series on worship. He explained how each of us was designed uniquely to relate to God in certain ways. Oh how that set me free! I finally understood that when I was distracted in the “worship service” by everything going on around me, it wasn’t because I was an inferior “worshiper”, but instead it was because I am designed to to relate to Him in a different way. As I analyzed my “worship style” I realized it was to meet Him one on one! I forget the term that he used to explain it, but it was so liberating. Of course I didn’t quit going to church, but I stopped expecting it to be this glorious experience that I heard other people talking about. I knew that the time that He and I would share alone would be the time that I could get excited about. You know, riding alone in the car singing at the top of my lungs, praises to Him and crying with joy because I knew that He knew I loved Him… or sitting alone in my office at home complaining to Him about why life isn’t fair and knowing He cared, even if I was being silly and self-centered… I guess all that is to say this… what I am continuing to learn along the journey is that He is so much bigger than my little mind will ever understand, and that is okay, because I don’t have to understand… I only need to keep loving Him and being loved by Him.

    So to those of you who don’t “get into” having a quiet time, don’t worry about it! Be obedient to what He leads you to do. Listen to His voice and relate to Him in the way you were designed. Hey, I hate journalling! But some people really get into it! Bottom line, we were designed to love Him and be loved by Him. It is a journey and the path will meander in directions you never expected. But wherever it takes you, trust Him! He is faithful. He gives grace for the moment, the day, the season. He is worthy of my love, my praise, my adoration, and my life. Why He loves me, I’ll never know… but that doesn’t matter! and hey! He loves each one of us the same. Wow! What a Savior!

    • This is from Crazy Love by Francis Chan and I thought it was appropriate for the topic:

      For so much of my life I didn’t understand the desirability of God or trust in His love enough to submit my hopes and dreams. I lived in a constant state of trying to be “devoted enough” to Him, yet I never quite made it.

      I knew God wanted all of me, yet I feared what complete surrender to Him would mean. Trying harder doesn’t work for me. Slowly I’ve learned to pray for God’s help, and He has become my greatest love and desire.

  • Evan Posey

    This is an interesting post. I definitely can relate to Greg’s misgivings with the “worst” understanding of a traditional “quite time”. However, I think if we step back from the common use of the phrase and consider the intention of the act we might discover significant benefits. As noted in Greg’s blog Jesus even set aside singular moments for intimate communion with the Father apart from a relationship that defined his lifestyle. I appreciate his advice in the latter part of this blog. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father is one that permeates our time rather than partitions it.

    “Do I have a quite time?”

    No matter how you define the words, I have a consistent and intimate relationship with he Father.

    “If so, do you gauge your spiritual health and surrender to Christ solely on the quality of your quite time?”

    This is where things get a bit tricky. Greg states that one should not place God in a “box” or “reduce the abstract, to a formula” (which by the way in inescapable as humans, he did it by typing that sentence). Scripture seems to support the idea that God places himself in a box (human body) for the expressed purpose becoming knowable to humanity for salvation. The very question implies that we can gauge our spiritual health and surrender to Christ. In order to gauge any action, there must be some measurable standard (i.e. a formula). I suppose it all depends on what you mean by “quite time”. Our quite time (the prior definition by Greg) is not the sole standard by which we measure our spiritual health and surrender to Christ. However, our quite time in the context of the latter definition by Greg most certainly is. For example, we can diagnose our “spiritual health and surrender to Christ” as, “poor”, if we have no relationship with Christ at all. Greg has offered all Christians serious issues to think about. Our authenticity in our relationship with God is vital, if only for the reason that He has been authentic with us. If you speak to Greg, tell him thanks for the encouraging post.

    Blessings,

    Evan

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