Friday, September 4, 2015

If You Check Your Phone First Thing in the Morning, You Don't Love God

Did that title catch your attention? Did it rub you the wrong way? I hope so, because it's absolutely false. One of the areas I find Christians often fall into the role of modern day Pharisees concerns the "quiet time" we are supposed to have with God. And recently, I have read in more than one place the idea in the title above. I'd like to confront in this post some of the works-based ideas we force onto "quiet time" and then give some out of the box ideas about how to communicate with God in our day and age and season.

I'd like to preface by explaining what I mean by works-based ideas. The ways of having quiet time below are not commanded in the Bible. In fact, the Bible never commands a quiet time at all (more on that later). The ways of having quiet time below are works-based when someone says that you must do these to be with God or someone looks down on those who do not do these or we think if we don't do these, we haven't been with God. The points below have often been turned into extra works we must do to really love God.

1. Checking your phone before reading your Bible shows God isn't a priority in your life.

I really want to see the scripture that says if you choose to do something before reading your Bible you don't care enough about God. If you wake up hungry and eat before reading your Bible, I guess that means you don't have a good relationship with God. If you wake up and finish a chapter from the non-Bible book you were reading last night, I guess that shows God means nothing to you.

This idea is so ridiculously Pharisaical. It reminds me of when the Pharisees chastised Jesus' disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath because the picking and rolling it to get the grains was working. I've always loved Jesus' response: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Jesus' point is that the Sabbath is not supposed to be some ruling over us works day. It is a day of rest and is made so man can relax. It is not supposed to be a day where we feel oppressed and controlled. The Pharisees had added all kinds of rules to the day, turning it into oppression. Saying that if you do anything else in the morning before reading your Bible you don't have a good relationship with God is just like the Pharisees. It's turning "quiet time" into something that should control and dominate, a work done for itself, not a work done to draw us closer to God.

It may be that you are a person who is being controlled by your technology. If that's the case, it might be beneficial to rearrange priorities to put God back in place above that which controls you. That said, if you check your phone before you read your Bible, that does not automatically mean you don't love God.

2. Journaling.

When I grew up in the 80s, journaling was pretty much synonymous with having a "quiet time." If you didn't write down what you were learning or what God was telling you, then how could you look back and know what God had done for you? And if you weren't journaling, you certainly weren't interacting with God's word.

Journaling is a tool. Journaling is not necessarily "quiet time" with God. It can be beneficial, but it is not a requirement. Confession: I rarely write down my thoughts when I read my Bible. I've tried journaling. I will for a while, then I stop. It's not for me. And that is perfectly alright. It doesn't mean God has stopped giving me Biblical insight because I don't write it down. Christians can become enslaved to their journals, feeling guilty if they can't think of anything to write or upset if they miss a day. If you are doing that, journaling has begun to rule over you and become a work in your life.

3. You must read this devotional!

There are certain Christians who are convinced that if other Christians read the devotionals they are reading, they will be closer to God. Even further, there are some Christians that think if another Christian has no desire to read the devotional they love, they are missing out on God. I have seriously seen some Christians look askance when they gushed about a devotional when someone said they were not interested. You can read the message in their eyes: "You are missing out. God would move so much more in your life if you read this."

Here's the thing: we are all different. God doesn't make carbon copies. What you might find inspiring in your spiritual walk might not be the way God speaks to someone else. For me, devotionals never work. I've tried to read so many of them, but I always quit in less than a week. These just don't do it for me. And that's fine. I am not somehow missing out on all God has to offer because I am not reading a certain someone else's thoughts on God. By all means, recommend a devotional, but be okay when someone says that isn't their thing.

4. If you don't meet with God in the morning, you aren't starting your day with God.

I guess if you don't have a "quiet time" in the morning, God looks down from heaven and says regretfully, "How sad. I guess I can't be present in so and so's life right now." Um, no. God is always with us. The Holy Spirit is alive in us. When you wake up, he is already with you. You don't have to conjure up God with a "quiet time."

This also ignores the fact that some people don't do their best thinking in the morning. Some people are afternoon or night people and if they find they interact with God's word better at those times, great.

But Jesus did it! The insistence on morning quiet time usually relies on this verse: "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35). But there is no command here to have a "quiet time" in the morning. In fact, what about this verse: "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone..." (Matthew 14:23). Jesus met with God all hours of the day and we can, too.

5. You aren't stronger than Jesus, are you?

I seriously read this online. Someone used this in a "quiet time" diatribe. The implication is if you are not having a "quiet time" then you think you're better than Jesus. This is silly. Jesus never commanded "quiet time." Never. Not one place in the Bible commands "quiet time." Not having a "quiet time" doesn't mean you look down on Jesus and you think you are better than he is. All it means is you are not having a "quiet time."

Jesus did go alone to places to pray. At the most, this is an example for us, but it is not a command. And Jesus did recognize the need for rest in his disciples: "And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat" (Mark 6:31). We need rest as well, but this doesn't say anything about a "quiet time."

Spending time with God is a good thing, even something to be desired. But not having a "quiet time" doesn't mean you are not interacting with God. And it is not a sin not to have it. Laying this idea on Christians, saying that if they are not having a "quiet time" they are not being good Christians, is awful for those in seasons where "quiet time" is next to an impossibility. There are times we may not be able to get away for time with God. And that is alright. He hasn't left us then and he doesn't abandon us because we don't have the ability to find a place of solitude.

6. Quiet time has to be quiet.

You might have noticed I've been putting quotes around the phrase "quiet time." That's because time with God doesn't have to be quiet. I hear all the time, "Our world is so noisy and distracted. If you want to get real with God, you've got to get to a quiet place" as if God can't make himself heard over our world. You can hear God in the midst of noise. You can hear him as you talk to your child about his stories. You can hear God in the car through a song. You can hear God in the middle of a busy street when you hold the hand of a needy person. God is not restricted to quiet. Yes, quiet can be beneficial. Tuning out the busyness of the day can be a relaxing moment with God. But it is not a requirement to meet with God.

We have to be careful not to turn Pharisaical and insist that Christians who are not doing the above six things are not meeting with God. We also shouldn't look down on Christians not doing the above. Looking down on them is tantamount to saying, "You aren't a good Christian like me." We then act like the Pharisees chastising Jesus' disciples for not following their own made up rules regarding the Sabbath.

Now I want to be clear, I think spending time interacting with God's word is vital to walking with him. You can't live the word if you don't know what it says. And I think we should take advantage of the fact that we live in an age where people can hold the Bible in their individual hands. But there are many ways to interact with God and we don't have to force people into a mold. When I hear Christians lament that they don't have time to read scripture, I advise thinking outside the box. Most of the time I find we think we don't have time for scripture because we have been told by Pharisaical Christians that meeting with God has to look a certain way and we've come to believe that ourselves.

If you are finding it difficult to meet with Jesus, consider some other ways to do so: download a devotional app, a Bible app or a verse of the day app. If you are more connected to your phone, this will make it easier to read scripture. One of my friends who is incredibly busy takes a picture of her verse of the day and makes it her screen saver so she reads it every time she turns on her phone. She doesn't have time for a whole chapter, but she can think about that one verse all day. I think that's great!

Listen to sermons or Christian music. There are radio stations that you can turn on and hear the word all hours of the day through sermons and music. There are apps for radio programs and Christian music. God speaks through pastors and through singers. Especially if you are an audio learner, these ways can work well for you. You can also, of course, listen to the Bible from an app or from a CD.

And of course, prayer is always available. You can pray at anytime, anywhere. You don't need an extended time. You can talk to God all throughout your day. Don't feel you have to limit talking to God to a particular time of the day.

The most important thing is that we interact with God. However you do that, it's okay. Don't fall into the trap that you have to meet with God a certain way. And if you are in a season where you cannot manage a "quiet time" at all, throw out the guilt trip. It's okay. God has not left you or abandoned you. He is always there no matter what.