I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in your Word. My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your Word.
This is for everyone who says, “I need help with my Quiet Time. By Quiet Time, I mean the practice of having a daily appointment with the Lord, a regular period of daily Bible study and prayer. Some people call this the practice of having daily devotions. Others call it the Morning Watch. It’s the missing vital ingredient in many Christian lives, and today I’d like to approach this from three different angles. First, I’d like to share a word of personal testimony on this subject. Second, I’d like to show you some Scriptures that address this topic in the Bible. Third, I want to share with you a handful of practical ideas and suggestions for having a meaningful Quiet Time on your own.
A Personal Testimony
By way of testimony, I’m grateful to the Lord for several influences that helped me establish this practice when I was younger.
The first influence, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, was my father. As I grew up, I often saw him reading his Bible at night; and when I was barely old enough to read, he bought me a little Bible which I kept beside my bed, and in this way I learned as a child to read the Scriptures daily.
That didn’t mean that I was actively having a meaningful Quiet Time, and as I grew older I got away from close daily fellowship with the Lord and grew confused, as young people often do. In my confusion, I enrolled at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina. It was on my second night there that I surrendered my life to the Lord for His service, and it was there I began to learn the importance of the Quiet Time.
In fact, student life was, at that time in the early 1970s, very regimented, and the daily Quiet Time was a required part of our schedule. We were awakened every morning at 6:15 by a bell loud enough to call the fire department. We had a half-hour to shower, shave, and dress, then another bell would ring, signaling our Quiet Time. We had half an hour every morning, from 6:45 to 7:15, and then a third bell would clang, for breakfast. For three years that was my college routine, and it established my Quiet Time habit for life. But I’ll have to say that at first I wasn’t too excited about it. I liked to stay up late, and sometimes I’d just sit there during my Quiet Time period in a dead sleep.
Then one day a man came to preach in our chapel services. He spoke in the pulpit like a machine gun, with a rapid fire, crystal-clear delivery with a British accent, and he delivered expositions on interesting passages of Scripture. He had spiritual power about him, and after chapel one day I went up to him—his name was Stephen Olford—and I asked him if he had any advice for a young man contemplating going into the ministry.
“Yes,” he said with the same dramatic delivery I had heard in the pulpit. “Never, never, never miss your Quiet Time.”
That’s all he said. But that was enough. I began to realize that there must be something important about this half-hour between the bells.
It was shortly after that when another influence came into my life. Though a mutual friend, I had the opportunity of spending several seasons of extended time with a woman who described to us how important the Quiet Time was to her. One day, when I was asking her about it, she said, “Robert, do you have the notebook habit?” I didn’t know what the notebook habit was. So she told me about her little loose-leaf notebook made of leather. She said she kept wearing it out, but she knew a leather crafter who kept repairing it for her. There she would record the thoughts God gave her each day as she studied her Bible.
That very day I found a stationary shop and bought a notebook, and it’s been a lifesaver to me ever since.
Then I came upon another set of influences. I became interested in Christian biography and autobiography, and over and over, as I read about the lives and ministries of great Christian men and women, I discovered they all had one thing in common. They maintained a Quiet Time habit. I’ll give you some examples:
- Missionary and author Isobel Kuhn, in her book In the Arena, wrote about a time when she was a student at Moody Bible Institute and found herself so busy with school and work demands she was in danger of quenching her devotional life. Other students were facing similar problems. So they met together and Isobel suggested they sign a covenant—not a vow, but a statement of intention—to this effect: “I suggested our making a covenant with the Lord to spend an hour a day (for about a year) in the Lord’s presence, in prayer or reading the Word. The purpose was to form the habit of putting God in the centre of our day and fitting the work of life around Him, rather than letting the day’s business occupy the central place and trying to fix a Quiet Time with the Lord somewhere shoved into the odd corner or leisure moment.” Only about nine people signed the covenant to begin with, but the news spread and others began to join. For Isobel, the major problem became finding a quiet place. She wrote, “The only place I could find where I would disturb no one was the cleaning closet! So each morning I stole down the hall, entered the closet, turned the scrubbing pail upside down, sat on it, and with mops and dust rags hanging around my head, I spent a precious half-hour with the Master. The other half-hour had to be found at the end of the day.”
- Another missionary to China, Bertha Smith, wrote an absolutely fascinating story of her life. It was bitterly cold in her part of China. During the day she wore thirty pounds of clothing, and at night she slept under heavy bedding and with a hot water bottle. But her challenge came in the early morning hour when she wanted to rise before others so she could have her Quiet Time before the scores of interruptions that each day brought. She would struggle in the darkness to put on her thirty pounds of clothing, then break the ice to wash her face in the cold water, and then she would slip out to a particular haystack where she should rake aside the frosted part of the hay, kneel down, and spend time with the Lord before the sun came up.
- The great Puritan, Thomas Watson, wrote: “The best time to converse with God is before worldly occasions stand knocking at the door to be let in: The morning is, as it were, the cream of the day, let the cream be taken off, and let God have it. Wind up thy heart towards heaven at the beginning of the day, and it will go the better all the day after.”
- Here is what one of his biographers said about William Carey, the “Father of Modern Missions” who served many years in the land of Burma: “He found God specially near among the flowers and shrubs of a garden. In the walled garden of the mission house at Serampore, he built an arbor which he called his ‘bower.’ There at sunrise, before tea, and at the time of full moon when there was the least danger from snakes, he meditated and prayed, and the Book which he ceaselessly translated for others was his own source of strength and refreshment.”
- In the biography of missionary physician, L. Nelson Bell, John Pollock writes: “Most important of all was Nelson Bell’s discipline of devotional life. Early every morning he had a cup of coffee and went to his desk for about an hour of Bible study and prayer. He set himself to master the content and meaning of the Bible, devising such study schemes as looking up every Old Testament reference which occurs in the New Testament and typing it out. Then he turned to prayer, for friends, colleagues, and patients, praying especially for every patient listed for operation that day… This cycle of reading and prayer did not strike Nelson as formidable but vital.”
Those are just a sampling of things that I observed as I read the stories of great men and women, and so it’s no wonder that my appreciation increased for the importance of the Quiet Time. And so, by God’s grace, this is a habit that I’ve maintained since 1971. I can’t say that I’ve never missed a day, because I have. Occasionally I still do. But by and large, I consider this the most important habit of my life and I frankly think I would collapse without it. It provides daily nourishment for my soul just like food and water for the body.
A Biblical Mandate
Now we come to the second angle on this subject: What does the Bible say? Let’s begin with the prophet Daniel. Everyone knew about his faithfulness to his daily devotions and to his prayer time. His enemies schemed against him by persuading the king to issue a prohibition against prayer. Look at Daniel 6:10 and notice especially the last seven words of the verse:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before His God, as was his custom since early days.
As was his custom since early days! This was a lifelong habit. I suppose Daniel rose in the morning for his Quiet Time, then went to his office and worked through the morning before coming home at lunch where he also found a few minutes for prayer. And then at the close of day, his work behind him, he spent time with the Lord before going to bed. That was his lifelong habit.
Now look at the example of one greater than Daniel in Mark 1:35: Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
And finally, look at Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
The old versions say, “Go into your closet.” I still like that old translation. I remember visiting London with my wife, Katrina, and taking a tour of the house of John Wesley, the famous evangelist and the founder of the Methodist movement. On the second floor was Wesley’s bedroom, and attached to the bedroom was a little room about the size of a closet with nothing in it except a small table and chair and a little window. This was Wesley’s prayer closet, and it was called the powerhouse of Methodism.
The actual Greek word Matthew used occurs four times in the New Testament, and it means a storage room, a pantry, a spare stable in the barn, a root cellar. In those days, large families tended to live together in rather small houses. There was very little privacy. The only room not inhabited would be the storage room. Jesus was advising us to find a quiet, private place and use it as a place to meet secretly with the God of the universe. That’s what a Quiet Time is.
Now I need to say two words of warning.
First, it’s important to realize that a daily Quiet Time does not represent the totality of our fellowship with God. It doesn’t mean that we can meet God in the morning and then leave Him there in the closet while we go into the day. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. In other words, communion and fellowship with God is the constant privilege of the Christian.
Second, it’s important to realize that a daily Quiet Time is not simply a routine or a ritual. It’s a relationship. We meet Christ at the cross, and we call that conversion. We meet with Him in the closet, and we call that conversation. At the cross is where we come to know Christ, and in the closet is where we grow to know Him better.
Exodus 33:11 says that Moses met with the Lord face to face, as a man speaks with His friend.
If I may go back to my college days for just a moment, it was just as I was learning this habit that Ralph Carmichael wrote a song about it that was popular during those days.
There is a QUIET PLACE
Far from the rapid pace,
Where God can soothe my troubled mind.
Sheltered by tree and flow’r,
There in my quiet hour,
With Him, my cares are left behind.
Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find;
Then from this quiet place,
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind.
A Practical Plan
Now I’d like to devote a moment offering some practical suggestions as to the daily Quiet Time. How do we do it?
First, remember the purpose of the Quiet Time. It is essentially a conversation, a time of fellowship, a daily meeting or appointment with the Lord. It isn’t a complicated thing, and the simpler we can keep it the better. It isn’t even always necessary to have a Bible. Sometimes it’s nice just to go for a walk and spend some time meditating on some verse of Scripture and thinking it through, and then talking to the Lord about it and praying over the things that concern you. Usually, however, it’s very helpful to have a Bible, preferably a newer translation. And remember that you aren’t reading your Bible to get through a certain amount of Scripture or to prepare a sermon or to develop a Bible Study lesson. You’re going to the Bible to find nourishment for your soul. Psalm 37:3-4 says: “Feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord.” That’s a good definition of Quiet Time.
Second, have a procedure for your Quiet Time. I like to follow a two-step plan. First, I open God’s Word and, after a brief prayer asking for His blessing, I start reading where I left off the day before. I don’t try to read a certain number of verses or chapters; I just read until I find a verse that speaks to me. Then I begin praying at the point of that verse, and move into a time of prayer. It’s a conversation. The Lord speaks to me through His Word, then I speak to Him in prayer. And it’s through this sort of daily conversation that we get to know Him better.
Third, use a pen. As I said earlier, I like to keep a little notebook. It’s divided into two parts. The first part is my journal. Every morning I come to my desk. I have a cup of coffee and my Bible, and I open my journal and put down the date. Then I might or might now write something about my day or how I’m feeling. Usually I make a little entry of some kind. But then I just put down the Scripture reference that I’m reading, and as I read through the passage I make notes. I find this an enormous help. I also use a wide-margin Bible, and I use a pencil for that.
I find my notebook an incredible aid. However, a notebook isn’t necessary, and I’d like to give you a simpler alternative. Try using the margin of your Bible. Suppose, for example, you are reading through the Gospel of John. Beside John 1:1, put today’s day—11/7/22, for example. Then start there and read through the passage, marking anything that is of interest until you find just the verse that speaks to your soul for that day. Let’s say that it is verse 16: “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another” (NIV). Circle that verse and end your reading there. The next day, put the new date beside John 1:17 and read on until you find that day’s verse, then circle it. And so forth.
For a prayer list, you can use the flyleaf of your Bible or a slip of paper in the back cover. Or you can just use a mental list. I’m not sure that our Lord took a paper list with Him when He rose early on that morning in Capernaum and retreated to the nearby mountains. Perhaps it would work better for you just to say, “Lord, guide me today to those things You want me to pray about.”
Again, simplicity is the rule. The Word of God and prayer. Going into the closet and meeting with the Father in secret. A notebook works for me, but don’t feel like you have to do it the way I do. Find the method that works best for you.
Fourth, have a place and a regular time. As I read through the Gospels, it seems to me Jesus had two places He used for His closet. When He was in the north of Israel, He would retreat into the mountains to be alone. But where would He go when He was in Jerusalem? John 18:2 says that He would often go out of the city, across the Kidron Valley, and into an Olive orchard which was apparently owned by a friend who gave Him access to it. The place was called Gethsemane and Judas led the soldiers there to arrest Jesus for He knew that Christ often went there late at night or perhaps early in the morning for His Quiet Time.
For you it might be the kitchen table, or the front seat of your car, or your bedside at night. And that brings up another question. Does it have to be in the morning? No. If the evening is better for you, or the midnight hour, or the noon hour during your lunch break, that’s fine. We each need to find the routine that works for us.
Some people say, “Can I have my Quiet Time at night?” Absolutely. In fact, in Hebrew culture, the day began the night before. Here in our society, we think of the day beginning with sunrise; but the Jewish people thought of the day beginning at sunset. The Jewish Sabbath, for example, begins at sunset on Saturday night and extends into the next day. Genesis chapter 1 says, “The evening and the morning were the first day,” etc.
They understood the fact that whatever you are thinking about when you go to sleep is what will reside on your subconscious mind all through the night hours and will determine our mental mood and makeup for the next day. So if it works for you to have your devotions at night, that’s perfectly all right.
Now, whenever I speak on this subject, the question comes up—what about those times in life when our schedules are out of our control. Sometimes, despite our very best efforts, we go through periods of life in which we have a difficult time maintaining a habit such as I’ve described. This is especially true of mothers of preschoolers.
In my reading, I was intrigued with the testimony of Rosalind Goforth, who was a mother and a busy missionary in China. She was very eager to maintain her Quiet Time habit, but she was greatly frustrated by the fact that no matter how early she got up and how quiet she tried to be, one or more of her children woke up, and the daily circus just started that much earlier. So she finally just kept a small Bible or testament with her all the time, and she learned to take those odd moments all through the day to memorize Scripture. That way, she had it available for meditation all day long, and she just turned each day into one long 24-hour Quiet Time.
My wife, Katrina, however, had a different idea about it. She was a stay-at-home mother with three small children; but she sat them down one day and had a talk with them and said something to this effect: “Now, girls, I want to be a good mother, and to be a good mother who is kind and patient, I need to spend time with the Lord each day. So every afternoon I’m going to have my Quiet Time, and that’s going to be your alone time in your rooms. You can sleep or nap or read or play quietly by yourselves, but you are not to come and interrupt me—and if you do I’ll break your necks.” I’m really not sure she said that last part, but whatever she said worked, and she was able to maintain her Quiet Time even during that phase of her life.
Finally, exercise perseverance. A world-famous pianist once said: “When I miss a day of practice, I can always tell it. If I miss two days, the critics will pick it up. If I miss three days, the audience will notice it.”
I feel the same way about my Quiet Time. Let’s be like the Psalmist who said, I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in your Word. My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your Word.