I had a friend once who challenged me to spend an entire day alone with God, a sort of daily quiet time on steroids. Nothing but me and my Bible and maybe a journal and a devotional book or hymnbook. You get the picture, very low-key, very unplugged. I took a day off work and went to a local reserve where I could walk and pray and sit at the picnic table and read and pray and spend the entire day alone with God.
That day changed my life.
But not in the way I expected.
I’m not sure what dramatic changes I expected. After all, would spending hours alone with God revolutionize your life? Surely it would!
What I discovered at the end of that day was that I was pretty much the same man I was at the beginning of the day. I carried the same burdens, I struggled with the same sins and anxieties. Whatever dramatic spiritual revolution I was expecting didn’t come about.
But I said that day changed my life, and it did. I realized that day that spiritual highs can’t be scheduled and manufactured; that day didn’t live up to my expectations. Yet I knew that over the years God had wrought changes in my life. There were (and still are) ways in which I am not the same man I was before. God is changing me, but slowly, over time.
That’s the day I realized that the way God changes us isn’t usually through dramatic experiences but through daily holy habits, things we do every day, the routines. I gained a new appreciation for the vital role that daily rhythms and routines have always played in my spiritual formation. Prayer and Bible reading every day, worshiping with the body of Christ every week. I gained a new appreciation for the ordinary.
We’re coming up on a new year, when many people like to start ambitious Bible-reading plans. But if you’re like me, you regard those ambitions with a mixture of guilt and misgiving; you know how you usually fade, usually before spring. And you always feel somehow that you’ve let God down.
Trevin Wax’s article “Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life” looks at just this difficulty. He urges us not to mount unreasonable expectations on ourselves but to commit ourselves to the daily habit of reading our Bibles. Not because the thunderbolt will strike every day, but to feed ourselves, to eat.
Why should I read the Bible even if “I don’t get anything out of it”? Why should I sit in church and listen to a sermon if “I don’t get anything out of it”? After all, how many sermons or Bible-readings have been truly memorable and life-changing?
Really, that question reduces our spiritual growth to a consumer experience; if it doesn’t thrill, it’s not worth the effort.
But that’s like asking why I should I continue to eat when so few meals have changed my life, so few dinners were truly memorable. I continue to shower and wash my hands and shampoo my hair even though these are not dramatic experiences. If I have established healthy daily rhythms that support my physical well-being, it certainly makes sense that I would commit myself to daily routines that will support my spiritual well-being.
No, committing myself to spiritual routines is not usually dramatic or memorable, but it is essential.
If you haven’t established a daily routine of setting aside a few minutes to talk to God, start now. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated; this is your Father we’re talking about, and He’s glad to spend time with you. Read His Word and speak to Him about what’s on your mind. Start there.
If you’ve started that habit, don’t give up, even if you feel you’re going through a dry spell. After all, it’s not about you and your experiences. The time you set aside to be with God is an act of worship, of sacrifice. It’s for Him.
And if you’ve come to the place where you look forward to your time with God, think about sharing your delight and your method with someone else. Show someone else what you do when you spend time with God.