I think we’ve all been there before. The alarm goes off in the early morning, and we know that our Bible waits for us, along with our coffee and our couch. But sleep feels so appealing, and if we were more honest with ourselves, we are tired. In those early morning hours our sleepy mines dull our sense of needed to be in the Word. And these are the times that it is easiest for me to turn my quiet time into something that I should do. It becomes only a discipline. Something that I know I should desire to do, but in that moment, my desire for sleep outweighs is my desire to wake and spend time with Jesus.
How do we turn out “should do” in to a “get to”?
This may seem like a practical question. You may think of this post will give you practical tips on how to set the alarm far from your bed so that you have to get out of bed before you turn it off. You may think that I will have tips on how to shake the sleepy cobwebs from your mind and heart so that you can have more alert time in the word. I don’t have any of these tips, and I’m sure you can find them elsewhere on the Internet. But what I do have for you is a deeper question. A question that I have to ask myself when I’m in seasons of feeling like my quiet time is simply something that I should be doing.
I want to propose that at root we are asking a theological question. The theological question is this: What is the difference between feeling like we should do our quiet times, and knowing that we get to do our quiet times?
And this is deeply theological. This is a question of what it truly means to come and spend time with Jesus by his Spirit, in his Word. It’s a question about the substance of what is happening when we commune with Jesus through time and his Word and time in prayer. And I actually think that understanding the theology behind this will help shift our perspective between “should do” and “get to.”
Christianity: the only “religion” built on grace
There are many religious systems in the world that tell their followers that there is a litany of tasks that they must do in order to be pleasing to their deity. There is a list of laws for them to follow, rituals to perform, rights to be completed. And then, if they have accomplished all of these things in the right order and with the right mindset, and just maybe the gods will look with favor on them. The Christian faith flies in the face I have such a notion. The Christian faith is founded on the reality that humans are sinful at our core. Our hearts are teeming with rebellion against God, and there is nothing we can do in our own power to please him. We can make the list of things that we should do incredibly long, and we can perform all of these tasks with great enthusiasm, but we will be no more pleasing to God than we were before we completed them. The gospel of grace proclaims that we could not save ourselves, but Jesus stepped in and died in our place. He is the Savior we could not be for ourselves or for those we love, and through his death and resurrection we are brought into new life.
How we are saved is how we are sustained
Most of us as Christians believe that this is how we were saved. We are much more comfortable with the notion that we are brought into the family of God on the day of our salvation through the work of Christ, and that this was no work of our own! But I want to push this theological reality a step further for us today. I think it is harder for us to believe that we are kept by God, that we continue in faith, that we live out our ordinary days of faith and faithfulness by the grace of the very same saving God. We are saved by Jesus, and we are kept by him in all of our days and all of our ways. We have no more power to sustain our spiritual lives than we had to begin them.
And this is where shift has occurred for me and my quiet times. While it is tempting to believe that my quiet time is something that I should do, I put this notion aside by remembering that by reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer I am no more acceptable to God and when I do not. I am loved and accepted by God only based on the merits of Christ, in his completed work, through the gospel of grace. My reading scripture and spending time in prayer does not cause him to love me any more. And by failing to spend time in his Word and time in prayer, he does not love me any less.
So why do we do it? If it doesn’t change God’s love for us, why would we spend any time in the Word? Any time in prayer? This is where our theology puts on boots and walks out what we believe. We spend time with God in his Word and in prayer, not because it changes God’s love for us, but because it enables us to perceive his love, and grow in love for him in return. When we see the lavish love of God in the gospel of grace that has extended to us this radical welcome into a new spiritual family and has given us new spiritual life, our hearts are enabled and enlivened to swell with gratitude that God has called us and invited us to know him through his Word. Something that might seem like a task is actually reoriented into an invitation. The God of grace wakes us to the comfort of his invitation that his love is unchanging and we are being invited out of bed in the early hours of the morning to commune with him. We are invited to know him more through his Word, to hear of his great power, his sovereignty, his love for us, his authority in the universe, his mercy, and so much more. As we read stories of his faithfulness through scripture we are invited deeper into his heart.
Here is how one pastor put it:
Growing in Christ is not centrally improving or adding or experiencing but deepening. Implicit in the notion of deepening is that you already have what you need. Christian growth is bringing what you do and say and even feel into line with what, in fact, you already are.Dane Ortland, Gentle and Lowly, 15–16)
We live out the truth that we have received in the gospel as we embrace time in the Word as something that we get to do. It is a privilege for those saved by grace. It is a joy for those who have found salvation in Jesus.
The gift of God’s grace
So no matter where you find yourself this morning, whether you are waking up feeling grouchy and reluctant to spend time in the Word, or whether you’re waking up with new and refreshed enthusiasm for a life of faith through prayer, Jesus will meet you. By his Spirit he will enliven you and encourage you as you meet with him today. This is the hope we have in scripture!
“Come, everyone who thirsts,Isaiah 55:1-3
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live …”