How important is it for believers to spend time alone with God? As you can tell from what I write below, I believe it’s worth the effort. Since New Year’s is typically a time many of us make renewed commitments to do such things, I’d like to offer a few thoughts that might help.
As I observe the life of Jesus, I see even He needed time alone with the Father. The Gospels confirm He had a lifelong practice of withdrawing from people to be with God (Luke 5:16). While it doesn’t say He was regimented about when He did it and for how long, it’s clear He did this with regularity. He even appeared to have a special place. His times with God were not cluttered with a list of things to do; they reflect a remarkable simplicity. He simply would spend time away from the crowds in prayer. I have no doubt that this prayer involved both pouring His needs and concerns out to His Father, as well as listening to what the Father was saying to Him as He reflected on the Scripture and listened to the Spirit’s prompting in His own heart. One of the most remarkable things about this is that He often withdrew when the demands upon His life were the greatest. While I so often use the demands on my life as an excuse for putting this time off, Jesus saw them as reasons to pursue God more intently.
Each of us needs to find our own devotional style; one that fits with the particular rhythms of our own life. There is no one right time, place, or way to have a quiet time. Many people have found early in the morning is the best time for them because it sets the tone for the entire day. Others can’t see beyond their coffee cup or crying infant in the morning and choose to snatch some time in the midday or evening. It will help a great deal if you have a place where you can truly be alone and free to express yourself to the Lord without fear of being walked in on. Whatever you do, simple prayer along with reading and meditating upon God’s word ought to be the center of this time. Many people have also found that it’s helpful to write down their thoughts, prayers and revelations in a journal. I suggest you try to think creatively about this time too. Some of us need to get out of a routine that has become dry and lifeless. I have often broken the routine by taking “prayer walks” where I spend an extended time praying, singing, weeping, and worshipping the Lord on a nearby trail.
Don’t place yourself under an impossible burden of having to meet with God too early or for too long. The need for discipline in this area can easily become a source of condemnation, especially for those performance—oriented types like myself. Remember that you’re cultivating a relationship, not trying to set a record or impress someone! It’s God who draws you near, not your own spiritual heroism. There will be days when you daydream more than pray. There will be days when you miss. When you come to Him after a series of missed days, just thank Him that He has continued to draw you near and enjoy His welcome.
Be careful about your expectations for this time. Don’t expect the Lord to give you some “lightning bolt” experience in each quiet time. Just as in any relationship, there will be times when you feel close and there will be times when you feel distant and can’t seem to connect. Don’t get discouraged! Keep pursuing Him! Keep showing up! It’s a process. Like putting pennies in the bank, over time, you’ll notice a difference. You will notice yourself practicing and enjoying His presence throughout the day. You will walk together as familiar friends rather than estranged former acquaintances.
I can’t remember who it was that first encouraged me to have a quiet time, but for them I am grateful. Some have let this practice go after repeated attempts and failures. Others are struggling to keep it consistent. Still others are hearing about this for the first time. Whatever your own situation is, commit yourself afresh to spending your best time each day with God. May it be said of us as it was said of Him: “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” Luke 5:16