This article is part of the Help! series.
In Need of Refreshment
We’ve all experienced it, I’m sure, that time in our Christian lives when our quiet time becomes stale. Whether it’s due to a lack of discipline or direction, at some point we feel our hearts grow cold in prayer and our desire to read God’s word begins to wane. William Cowper captures the experience well:
Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
of Jesus and His Word?
When we experience this, it’s easy to become discouraged, especially if we don’t know where to look for help. However, help is at hand in two ways.
1. Help from Our Savior in Heaven
When we feel a lack of desire to read God’s word and pray, the first place we should look is not into our hearts but up to our Savior in heaven. Hebrews 4:15 tells us why: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Do you hear that? Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses because he was tempted (tested) as we are in every respect. This means that Jesus would have been tested in his discipline to read and meditate on God’s word and to persevere in prayer. Amidst the busyness of daily life, with its distractions and pressures, as well as its exigencies, Jesus had to set aside time to meditate on Scripture and pray to his Father (cf. Mark 1:35; Isa. 50:4). In more intense moments of testing, Jesus actively had to strive to meditate on God’s word and trust what it said. During his temptations in the wilderness, he was tempted to wander from God’s word in the midst of spiritual warfare with the devil (Matt 4:1–11), yet he remained resolute in his devotion to Scripture. In the garden of Gethsemane, he felt the weakness of the flesh to pray in the midst of great spiritual turmoil as he wrestled with having to fulfill his Father’s will (Matt 26:40–42), yet he remained faithful in prayer.
Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself to be a disciplined student of Scripture and a committed pray-er of prayers. But it did not come automatically; it took desire and effort and striving on his part. In the humdrum of daily life and the intensity of spiritual warfare, Jesus learned through discipline what it took to maintain a close walk with God. He was tested just as we are in this respect—yet was without sin. And that makes for good news, because we have a High Priest in heaven who can sympathize with us in our own weaknesses with respect to our personal fellowship with God. More than that, he is waiting to provide mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Perhaps one reason we struggle in our devotional life is that we have not asked Jesus for help in our devotional life. Have you ever thought of that? Could one of the reasons you struggle to read your Bible and pray be because you’ve not prayed to Jesus about this exact problem? Some time ago, when I was struggling in my devotional life, I decided to pray for my devotional life. I prayed, “As David experienced your word to be like the taste of sweet honey, Lord, refresh my desire for your word” (Ps. 19:10). I prayed, “As the deer pants for the water, O God, make my soul pant for you in prayer” (Ps. 42:1). I found that those simple prayers, based on Scripture, began to improve my desire for Scripture reading and prayer. Afterward, I realized that my walk with God had grown cold because I had not talked to Jesus about my walk with God. But when I did, I found mercy and grace to help in my time of need.
This is the first avenue for help when our quiet time feels stale: we can pray about it to our Savior in heaven.
When we feel a lack of desire to read God’s word and pray, the first place we should look is not into our hearts but up to our Savior in heaven.
2. Help from the Saints on Earth
In some ways the idea of a devotional “quiet time” centered on personal Bible reading and prayer is a modern invention. Prior to the Reformation in the sixteenth century the Bible was not that accessible for ordinary Christians. Across the British Isles and Europe, it was only available in Latin. Even after it was translated into other languages, Bibles were not cheap and the literary standards so low that the main way Christians would hear God’s word was during the public reading of Scripture at church. This was also the place where they would pray to God. Sure, they could pray personally at any time, but they were first taught how to pray at church. In other words, for over a millennium the primary place for nurturing one’s devotional life was at church.
Perhaps one of the reasons we moderns struggle with our personal “quiet time” is that we have divorced its private practice from the ancient tradition of public worship. It is striking that Paul tells Timothy to give himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:16). This would naturally require private preparation and would personally benefit the young Timothy, but it would also publicly benefit the whole congregation when he read from God’s word. The same goes for prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them how to pray in public (Matt. 6:7–13). Of course, the Lord’s Prayer can be said individually; but it is primarily a prayer to be said corporately. We see this aspect of prayer portrayed in the life of the early church, where the saints “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The point to be made from these texts is that personal devotion to Scripture reading and prayer grows out of public devotion to Scripture reading and prayer. We ought not to think that we can maintain a devotional life at home if we are not committed to a devotional life at church. So, if you are currently struggling in your quiet time, ask yourself whether you are sitting under the public reading and preaching of God’s word on a regular basis, and whether you are praying publicly with God’s people each week. The organic nature of the body of Christ undergirds the importance of this. We are all members of one body. A Christian existing alone is an oxymoron.
As the early church father, Cyprian, once said, “We cannot have God for our Father if we do not have the church for our mother.” The picture of the church being our mother conveys the idea of nourishment. Our spiritual lives are strengthened when we hear or read God’s word together, when we pray together, when we sing together. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). A rich indwelling of the word of God is impossible on our own. The same is true of a devoted prayer life. The book of Acts records how the early Christians prayed together all the time: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14; cf. also Acts 2:42; Acts 12:12). In short, one of the key ways our personal spiritual vitality is maintained is by what we do with other believers. A burning coal in a fire maintains its glow by being in the fire alongside other coals, but if it’s taken out of the fire and set apart from the other coals, it quickly loses its glow.
This is the second avenue for help when our quiet time begins to feel stale: we can meet with the saints on earth.
Given that we battle daily against the world, the flesh, and the devil, it should not surprise us that our devotional life at times will feel stale. However, our heavenly Father has not left us helpless. Our Savior is willing to intercede for us in heaven and the saints are willing to encourage us on earth. We need only to pray to him; we need only to meet with them.
Jonathan Gibson is the author of Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship.
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