I don’t know about you, but daily prayer and Scripture reading don’t really do it for me—by which I mean they don’t constantly nurture my relationship with God. That’s not to say that they aren’t a valuable or even indispensable part of the life of a follower of Jesus.
It’s just that my most meaningful times of connection with God don’t take place in the midst of such daily rhythms.
I’ve always felt kind of guilty about this. I’ve never been very good at “daily quiet time,” yet the concept is the most common answer I’ve received in my life about how to nurture my relationship with God.
Earl Creps eased my guilt a bit, however, by pointing out several dilemmas with the traditional duo of daily prayer and Bible study in his book Off-Road Disciplines (p. xv):
- Scarcity: they aren’t practiced enough
- Practicality: they often operate in isolation from real life, like the national anthem before a ball game
- Performance: they aren’t easily correlated to ministry “success”— “unspiritual” people often accomplish a lot more than “more spiritual” people
- Character: there are lots of bad people who pray and read their Bibles rigorously yet remain unchanged
- Mission: there are lots of people committed to prayer and Scripture who have no concern for mission or even resist the changes it requires
Earl goes on to say that “on-road” practices of prayer and Scripture reading should be supplemented by other encounters with God that happen unexpectedly—“off-road” experiences. It’s these experiences that are often the formative ones for people.
Failure, for example, could be a legitimate “off-road discipline” to the extent it has the potential to be used by God to form our hearts to look more like the heart of Jesus.
For me, personal retreats are by far the most formative time for me spiritually—times when I break away for the purpose of doing nothing other than spending some time in reflection before God. I journal. I read Scripture. I pray. I prioritize a list of things to reflect on in God’s presence (that’s my type-A), and then reflect on as many of them as I have time.
I leave those times more in tune with God than I’ve ever left a morning quiet time. Certainly prayer and Scripture are involved, but in a different, “less rushed” way.
I’m not sure if retreating is an “off-road discipline” of the kind Earl describes. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not, looking at the table of contents. But it is, for me, a way of getting off the road of life for a while for the sake reorienting myself to God.
Today was one of those days. Thanks to a fellow church planter friend, Les McDaniel, I discovered a Carmelite Retreat Center about 6 miles from my house. It sits on about 30 acres and has private rooms for prayer and reflection. I spent the better part of the day there today and it was awesome. If you live in the Dallas area, you should definitely check it out: www.mountcarmelcenter.org.
Today I was reminded by Paul’s Pastoral Letters (1/2 Timothy, Titus), and then through the words of Earl Creps, that “my best practice must be me.” In other words, the foundation of my leadership and ability to bless other people is my own personal spiritual formation.
As a result, I’ve recommitted myself to retreat like this on a monthly basis. My own spiritual vitality requires it, at least for now.
Maybe it’s not retreating for you. Maybe it is daily quiet time—that’s great. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe, like me for a long time, you haven’t yet discovered what it is.
What ways do you nurture your relationship with God?
Thanks for the shout out! I am glad that you had such a wonderful experience. Did you meet my brother and yours, Father Stephen?
Great post, bud.
In general, I think that prayer is the most neglected part of a Christian’s life; that and the reading of the Word of God. It’s no accident that Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18 ends the “Full Armor of God” with prayer; and he also includes the Word of God (sword of the Spirit). These are just as essential as faith, truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the knowledge of salvation in our war against Satan.
In addition, notice in the prison letters how often Paul tells his addressees that he is praying for them. They are powerful prayers at that. It was the only connection he had with them while he was in prison and he told them he was praying for them for a specific reason; to strengthen them; and it is a connection that we share with all of the saints around the world – no matter what situation of life we or they are in. Prayer for Paul’s purposes in those letters was not a self-serving action but it is a reflection of making others greater than ourselves. I’m not saying we don’t pray for ourselves; to the contrary we must push everything to God in prayer. Not in a daily “routine” but at every point in the day. Our lives should never be apart from the communication and relationship we share with our Lord in prayer. What enemy can defeat such a weapon?
As to the Creps summary; I have a question about where he went with those thoughts. Such as: If a Christian falls into one of those categories in regards to prayer or the Word of God did he question how sincere their off-road “experience” really would be? How effective are the supplemental actions without the spiritual disciplines of the others? (I haven’t read the book, as you can tell).
In regards to being “off-road”: My greatest off-road experiences are when I’m snowboarding. To get to the top of a mountain, with the snow falling, and to look around at the creation of God with its beauty; it is a feeling I cannot duplicate at any other point on earth. I feel so close to God in those moments – and it makes the ride down extremely joyful. Man… living in Florida now… I miss that so much… (I went to college in New Hampshire!)
Today, it was silence.
Just about every night and every morning I take a walk outside for 30 minutes to an hour. If I am at home, then it’s around the block. If I am out of town, then it’s through the streets of whatever downtown I am in.
And while on that walk, I talk to God out loud, as if he were physically right beside me.
Those are easily my best times with God.
I love that place Charles. I actually had a pretty intense time of prayer at Mt. Carmel several years ago. I’m glad you’ve discovered it – I may join you there sometime if you’d let me.
I find that having a large variety of spiritual “tools” has been helpful for me. There are a few that I continually come back to, but during those times when I’m feeling spiritual/mental/emotional blocks, it is nice to experiment with something different that may or may not shake me out of whatever funk is holding me back.
I was able to be a guest lecturer in an undergrad class in adolescent spiritual formation once and I really appreciated that the course was designed to introduce potential youth ministers to different spiritual practices themselves…instead of simply providing information about how to lead teens in such areas. Tony Jones’ book Soul Shaper contains a great admonition to youth ministers to never attempt implementing something with their teens (no matter how intriguing it may seem) until they themselves have practiced and explored it in detail.
Silence and solitude are consistently powerful for me – particularly when combined with some form of contemplative prayer or meditative scripture reading.
Donald Whitney has written several books on spiritual disciplines (type in his name on Amazon if you’re interested), and while I don’t always agree with his perspective, I appreciate his point that without regular prayer and scripture intake (of some kind) our other disciplines will eventually become hollow and tasteless and ultimately are sub-Christian.
Great post here buddy! I’ve lived in the Dallas area most of life and haven’t heard of that area. I’ll have to check it out when I get back home during a break from school.
Anyhow, yes I absolutely believe we have to have a period of solitude from time to time. For me, it’s a daily time to sit, read my Bible, pray, journal, and read a little bit of a book.
Charles, thanks for sharing your heart. God bless. Grace and Peace.
To piggy-back off of the last paragraph of Bret’s comment, here is an excerpt from John Stott’s book “Life in Christ” (page 52)
“The command to ‘remain’ or ‘abide’ in Christ portrays a tireless, relentless pursuit of him. It is the spirit of Jacob who cried to the Lord who was wrestling with him “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). In particular, we need to be diligent in our use of “the means of grace”, to spend time each day seeking Christ through prayer and Bible reading, and to come each Sunday to worship and regularly to the Lord’s Table. It is in these ways that we actively pursue Christ and learn to abide in him. The more disciplined we are in our set times of devotion, the more easy it becomes to live the rest of the time “in Christ”, united to him, enjoying his presence, and drawing on his life and power.”