As I write this,
we’re about a month away from New Year’s Day. That is the time when many of us will make resolutions to be better about prayer, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines. We know that having a quiet time with the Lord will boost our relationship, and yet we so often struggle to engage in these disciplines.
- Before restarting in 2024, perhaps it would be good to do a brief assessment about why our intentions didn’t quite meet reality in 2023. Here are seven reasons our attempts at having a quiet time can fail — with a few tips on what you can do about it.
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1. We Forget the Purpose of Our Quiet Times
In seminary I had the opportunity to take a class with Donald Whitney. Dr. Whitney literally wrote the book on spiritual disciplines. Many things stuck out to me from that class. One particular lesson involved fasting.
Towards the beginning of our semester, Dr. Whitney assigned us a day of fasting. No explanation. No teaching on fasting. Just a bare assignment. I’ll confess that it wasn’t all that beneficial to me. I treated it like an assignment, something to get through for the sake of completing the task.
When we returned to class, Dr. Whitney was ready to teach us about fasting. His first point was that our experience with fasting was likely horrible. We didn’t fully know why we were doing it; we weren’t fasting for anything specific, and it felt like an assignment. He was teaching us about drudgery. If we don’t know the purpose of spiritual disciplines, then we won’t find them a joyful exercise.
Tip: Remind yourself daily why you are doing this. This isn’t to check off a box. This isn’t meant to be drudgery. It’s a time to connect with God. These moments are not a mere ritual or religious duty, but a means to cultivate a personal connection with God. They serve as a time for believers to seek spiritual nourishment, gain insights from Scripture, and engage in heartfelt communication with their Creator.
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2. We Swerve from the Gospel
In my opinion, this is the main reason why our quiet times “fail.” Even if we maintain a time of prayer and Bible reading for 365 days a year, if it’s divorced from the good news of Jesus, we haven’t gained much. The gospel of Christ is the fuel for our quiet times. It is the foundation upon which we stand. If we do a quiet time because we think it makes us more pleasing to God, or if we believe we are less pleasing because we stumble through these disciplines, then we’re missing the gospel.
Guilt and shame are horrible motivators. This is why we so often begin with passion in January, then fall off the wagon around February. We get busy. We miss a day or two. We feel guilty, feeling as if we’ve failed the Lord. And then we, like Adam and Eve before us, skittishly hide behind the bush of our failure — assuming that a new resolve will make us once again acceptable.
The gospel frees us to be realistic. When we know that our standing with God is based upon what Christ accomplished on our behalf, we can restore the purpose of quiet times. We can rest in the reality that because of the work of Christ, our connection with God will not be severed. We do a quiet time because we are accepted by God, not in order to be accepted.
Tip: Make preaching the gospel to yourself a part of your rhythm of quiet times. You can do this by reminding yourself of the gospel story as you engage the Scriptures. Recite either Creation-Fall-Redemption-Glory or God-Man-Christ-Response.
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3. We Are Busy and Distracted
While I’m writing this point, my phone buzzed with a notification, my computer beeped with a reminder, a person walked into my office, and I had to change the song on my Spotify. That’s not to mention my natural propensity to be distracted and forget my train of th…
We are busier and more distracted than we have ever been as a people. Many things call for our attention. There is little room in our busy lives for times of quiet reflection. The demands of work, family, and other commitments can easily overshadow our intention to spend quality time with God. But if this is true of us, how much truer was this of Jesus? Yet, Jesus prioritized these moments with the Father.
Tip: Put it on your calendar and make it just as immovable as an important meeting with your boss. Make it a non-negotiable. And when you engage in those spiritual disciplines and your mind wanders — remember point #2. The wandering mind is likely an indicator of where you need to cast cares upon the Lord. Embrace the struggle.
4. We Lack Discipline
We’re fallen and sinful people. As such we lack the discipline for good things. We gravitate towards that which will harm us and prevent the flourishing of others. They are called spiritual disciplines for a reason. Laziness and procrastination are siren songs.
For some, the daily discipline of having this ritual will not be a struggle. But the discipline of opening up your heart, making yourself vulnerable, and engaging with God with your whole being will be the area of discipline where you struggle.
Tip: Establish a routine that works for you. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or before bedtime, consistency is key. Start with realistic goals and gradually extend the duration as the habit solidifies. If you’re having no quiet time right now — celebrate starting for 5 minutes. It takes a long time to develop a habit. But eventually habits develop character. And when this daily time with God becomes part of who we are, we’ll find it far easier to maintain these disciplines.
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5. We Are Spiritually Dry or Overcome with Sin
I know the Bible well enough to know which places of Scripture to avoid if I’m hanging onto a specific sin. Don’t read Proverbs if you want to sow discord and engage in gossip. Don’t read the Gospels if you want to make your life all about acquiring personal wealth and accolades. Sin will keep us away from engaging in quiet times — or at least engaging in them in a way that isn’t merely a performative sham.
It’s also possible that your struggle isn’t with personal sin but rather a season of spiritual dryness. It’s also possible that you’ve been on the receiving end of spiritual abuse, or you’ve been burned by a harmful church culture. It can be difficult to read Scripture when that was the very means that was used to bring you harm. These associations can make you want to give up spiritual disciplines altogether.
Tip: If sin is the problem, repentance is the cure. Confess your sin to the Lord. We find that when we confess, we are met with forgiveness. Repentance itself isn’t all that difficult — it’s getting there that is the problem. Do you really want to hang onto this? Do you really want to have this fracture in your relationship with God?
If it’s because you’ve been harmed within a spiritual community, consider switching things up. Read from a different translation. Use something like The Message. Do disciplines differently — get rid of those old associations.
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6. We Are Discouraged by Unrealistic Expectations
My breakfast bowl this morning took me 3 minutes. I’m hungry. I pop a $3 breakfast bowl in the microwave, peel off the film, and eat my Jimmy Dean sausage and gravy. We live in a fast food and microwave culture. We are accustomed to having needs and desires met rather quickly.
A quiet time is a bit like eating breakfast each day. It’s usually pretty uneventful. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast a week ago. But it has sustained me. Yes, some meal times are epic and we remember them. Many are simply quick bites to give us enough energy until our next meal. Spiritual disciplines are like this. If we expect each one to be a mountain top experience, we’re likely to give up quickly. Unrealistic expectations can discourage believers when they perceive their quiet times as unproductive.
Tip: Shift the focus from immediate results to the long-term growth that comes from consistent, intentional time with God. Understand that quiet times are a process of transformation rather than a quick fix. It’s beneficial to keep a journal and go back on occasion to see the growth God has produced in your life from a year ago. Make it part of your ritual to read your journal entry from this time last year. You’ll see how God is faithfully shaping you.
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7. We Try to Do It Alone
It is certainly beneficial to have a specific time of solitude set aside. The point of a quiet time is to get alone with the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that we are supposed to stay alone. Consider sharing your experience with another believer. Make these spiritual disciplines a community project.
There are many bible reading groups that you can become a part of. It can be helpful to pray with others and read with others. The community can keep us focused on the goals for our quiet times.
Tip: Joining forces with a like-minded friend or fellow believer can provide mutual encouragement and accountability in maintaining consistent quiet times.
The Lord wants to meet with you. Because of the gospel of Jesus, you have free access into the throne room of God. Take advantage of that. I don’t say that to guilt you into surrender or to make you feel awful about not spending time with God. I say that to encourage you. You are loved. Embrace that, and your quiet times will be revolutionized.