One night, John got into bed and said, “I want to read you something.” He opened his Bible to Genesis 33 and read to me the words of Jacob, reunited with Esau after having been estranged for a long time: “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (verse 10).
I was so glad to see that God had taken me up on my suggestion to make that a verse in the Bible.
And after that, often when I was in conversation with a good friend, I would think that part of the experience was like looking into the face of God: a quiet time.
Whenever I ate a good meal, preferably one I did not have to cook I was struck by the gratuitous nature of the God who made the colors, flavors, and textures of avocado, red pepper, and tilapia. He only needed to make the food nutritious and caloric. Everything we eat could simply taste like bread and milk, and functionally that would be good enough. There is really no need for the variety and taste sensations that we experience when we eat, but God created them anyways. Steve Evans, a noted Christian philosopher, says that perhaps the best proof for the existence of God is banana cream pie. I think Steve is onto something.
So just as I found God in my friendships and in my children, I realized that a meal could also become a quiet time. Through my awareness of and gratitude for oatmeal with brown sugar, figs, and oranges, or mixed green lettuce and mushrooms, or horseradish sauce on a thinly sliced filet, I deeply reflected on the good nature of God. I truly learned what it means to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
We get so prescriptive with the spiritual life. We prepackage what it means to have a quiet time, and then we duplicate it, mass-produce it, insist upon it, and brag about it. We make it a formula: Thirty minutes. In the morning. Prayer that includes adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. And then, of course, we journal.
I remember where I was the day I realized that Jesus never journaled. I was driving, and when that thought flashed through my mind, I challenged it. That can’t be true. When realized it was true — Jesus never journaled — I pulled my car over to the side of the road and couldn’t’ figure out whether to laugh or cry.
I don’t think journaling is bad. I just think we have come to see it as a spiritual necessity, and it’s not. My husband is a pretty consistent journaler. It is very helpful to him in connecting with God. It is a practice that has helped shape his relationship and response to God. It is not so with me. I find journaling tedious. I am very self-conscious when I do it. I fall into the trap of doing it just to keep the dates consistent. It feels like homework. My mind moves faster than my pen, and the words I write can’t keep up with the thoughts I am thinking.
I also don’t think having a quiet time is bad. Quite the contrary. Quiet times have helped me enrich my relationship with God and transform my character. But when it becomes prescriptive and confining and routine, a quiet time can be more of a barrier than a help.
There are so many correlations in Scripture between the spiritual life and the life of an athlete in training. As followers of Christ, we need to cross train. Athletes do this so that the whole body is developed, not just a focused part of it. When we give ourselves permission to vary our spiritual routines, we emerge with a broader, multifaceted view of our great God. What a joy to realize that from the time we wake up in the morning until the moment we lay our head on the pillow to sleep, we have been given a variety of extraordinary ways to connect with our extraordinary God.
Not long ago, we were driving on the highway that goes into Yosemite through the Wawona Tunnel. When we emerged from the tunnel, we came to a spot on the left where we could pull over. Inspiration Point. Scores of cars were parked there, and people were getting out of their cars to take photographs.
We got out of the car, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by one of the most magnificent views I had ever seen. The valley below was truly awe-inspiring, with El Capitan’s sheer granite wall on the left, and Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls on the right. There was no sign telling people to whisper, but intuitively, they were. It seemed that we were all in awe as we witnessed what can happen with a wave of God’s hand.
As I looked down into the valley, I was reminded that a very big God is taking care of the universe. And all of this goes on while I am occupied with my simple little life. The beauty that He has created is absolutely breathtaking, and it is only a glimpse at the beauty of His Spirit.
And for me, it is a quiet time.
And it counts.
Copyright © 2008 Nancy Ortberg, Published by Tyndale. Used with permissioin.