Time with Jesus
One or two of you have raised with me the issue of maintaining a living friendship with our Lord Jesus. I have four main thoughts and an underlying attitude, in reply.
Your raising the matter was mostly expressed in the form of confession: ‘I’m so lax about having a quiet time; life is too busy and I am too tired because of work, or too ill-disciplined, to have a vital spirituality’. I want to say that your focus is too narrow.
First: our integrity is our spirituality. Don’t imagine that tiring yourself because you work hard – the very busy-ness which keeps you from that sacred space – is in conflict with your faith. Part of our walk with Christ is exactly to work caringly, honestly, diligently and peaceably.
That means it is vital to check on our integrity. For many of us the Wednesday evening course ‘An Ordinary Day with Jesus’ was a recall to things as straightforward as driving the car more slowly and courteously. Do I actively love my spouse, parents, children? Do I buy and sell honourably? Am I thoughtful of others, can they rely on me, is my language wholesome? Integrity asks the question whether our life is one life or two: whether its different sides tell the same, one, Christian, story. Use Ephesians 4.25 – 6.9 from time to time as a checklist.
Secondly, our church life is our spirituality. I remember as a young man asking both Mr Philip and Rev Wm Still, as I struggled to have a ‘worthy quiet time’, how they ran theirs; and they answered in almost identical terms: ‘For me that is mainly Saturday night (night of the prayer meeting) and Sunday.’ Watch the first Christians and what do you find? ‘They lifted up their voices together to God … the church was earnestly praying to God for him.’ That was a core spirituality for them, and the principle is as valid now.
The first best thing many of you could do is to carve out a way of being in your group at the prayer meeting when health and duty permit. We learn to pray from others and we encourage them when we do it together. ‘If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ Realise that mere commitment to Wednesday evening is a walk with Jesus and a help to others.
Notice, please, the cheerful free conscience expressed in Mr Philip’s and Mr Still’s answer, for I want to return to it later.
Thirdly, our walking with Jesus through the day is our spirituality. Here is Mr Still again. He was a bachelor, remember. 'You two people, God and you, now married and living together, do you speak with each other very much? – not only with words but with looks, side glances, pats on the back, touches of the hand or the equivalent of an endearing embrace? Do you walk out with your God? Do you go home with him? Do you take him on holiday with you? You have to; you can’t leave him behind even when you are intent on going somewhere he would not approve of. You can ignore him of course, and he bears that sort of thing very patiently; although there’s a price to be paid for it. But it doesn’t make for a very happy marriage.
'I confess I regard my life with Jesus almost exactly as most of you would regard your life with your wives or husbands: largely a matter of keeping close to him. “You’re there, Lord?” I would say to him many times a day, as you would ask if your wife is in the next room.
'It’s not a matter of “keeping in with him”: that is too ingratiating. It is simply a matter of referring everything – everything – to him. Well of course I have to, I have no-one else. Oh, but it’s more than that. It’s a matter of literally breathing the Lord Jesus because I cannot live and breathe without him. How could I go on living if he were not there and were not the source and guide and guardian of my life?
‘And if he is the lover of my soul, then I want to be with him all the time and never let him out of my thoughts. Then, my whole life is bound to be a kind of prayer’
Fourthly, the time set aside to be alone with God is our spirituality. Notice that we come to your question, an individual’s quiet time with God, only now. Notice that Mr Still, a person who walked close to Jesus if ever there was one, said he didn’t have such. How he fulminated against the legalism that so often spoils it! Better not do it than do it just ‘because a Christian ought to.’
And yet our Lord rose before dawn, before others, and went off to a solitary place to have time with his heavenly Father before the day started. He was meeting his Father. He wanted to. He delighted to.
Is our need less than his? So as long as we make it the kind of thing that Jesus made it, and not a miserable oughtness by which we are proud of our success or ashamed of our failure, here’s how I perceive it. But remember: it is but one, voluntary slice of the larger whole.
I perceive two types of meeting: the regular, and those arranged for a particular purpose.
We have very different lives and whether you make times like this daily, or on chosen but less frequent occasions, or not at all, is worth making a definite decision about. I have written before about stages which I find helpful. Briefly greet God and ask his help in it being a real meeting. Some people value choosing a hymn by which to express worship. Read a portion of Scripture; begin by acknowledging your dependence on God and praying for His Spirit to give you understanding. I think a definite scheme of reading is wise: whether ‘Lifelines’, or to go through a whole book summarising its teaching; anything to be learning God’s truth rather than just gathering a holy thought. Then pray in response, for both yourself and others for whom you pray. Commit to him the work of the day, ask him to fill you with his Spirit. As you finish the meeting, ask his help in being at peace that you and He are walking together.
I have also come to value specially arranged times if I need to work something out before God: an inner unease, a decision to make, whether I deserve the complaints that come my way and if so what action to take. For such meetings I need pen and paper so as to write
out my thoughts: that way I can see the faults in my thinking and consider what is right before God.
Lastly I believe that the underlying attitude which I mentioned at the beginning is crucial. The attitude I have in mind is the persuasion that we are justified: that by God’s mere grace we are altogether in the right with him. That is what marked the cheerful ease about the shape of their spirituality, that marked Mr Philip’s and Mr Still’s responses. They were saying in effect, “Dear Peter, worry less! We are in the right with God, we hugely value meeting and speaking with God among our people, and for the rest of the week we simply get on with the work!” (Actually they did more than that, but they were making a point to me).
So any who worry ‘oh dear, my spirituality is so poor’, can you see how relaxed we can be? Take twenty minutes some time and work out, not in order to be right with God but because you already are, how you would like to run your way of relating to your heavenly Father.
I realise that then to stick to our commitments is a matter of discipline, just as loving our spouse and friends is. But remember the attitude: not oughtness, but because it’s such a privilege. Just think: the God who made the Milky Way finds pleasure from having time with you! He says so, look:
The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
C Peter WhiteView All Letters