The Not-So-Quiet Quiet Time

Evangelical Christians have long talked about having a “quiet time.” A quiet time is an excellent thing, and I hope you have made a commitment to have a regular quiet time this year. But my question is:

What are you going to do in that time?

In the past, what Evangelicals meant when they talked about having a quiet time was a regular time of Bible reading and prayer. Christians, rightly, through the centuries, believed that God speaks to us through the Bible and that we speak to him through prayer.

But as large parts of the church have drifted away from the Scriptures, many people have latched onto the idea that we can listen to God simply by being quiet.

It has become common among Christians to think that listening to God means being quiet and listening to our own hearts. But here’s the problem with that:

God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

If you believe that you listen to God by listening to your own heart, then what have you done? You have put your own heart in the place of God. If you make an idol of your heart, that will inevitably lead to a life of following the impulses of your own heart.

And who knows where that will lead you?

John’s Gospel does not say, “In the beginning were our hearts, and our hearts were with God, and our hearts were God.” It says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh, and he has made the Father known. (John 1:1, 18)

That is why the Bible says that the “entrance” of God’s Word gives light (Psa. 119:130, KJV). We do not have entrance to God through any other way, except the Word of God. You won’t get to know God by reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings on the sofa with some Christian music on in the background. You listen to God with an open Bible!

If you want to keep a journal of your own thoughts and feelings, by all means do so. But be clear about what it is — a journal of your own thoughts and feelings! Write this on the first page so you don’t forget it:

This is a journal of my own thoughts and feelings. These will change over time. They are of no eternal significance!

Then if you are keen on journaling, go buy a second journal, and use it to write down what God is teaching you from the Bible. Write down on the front page of that one,

This is what I am learning from the Word of God. God’s Word is truth. It abides forever. Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.

Do you listen to God with an open Bible?


quiet time

Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Date Posted: Jan 13th, 2016

  • Jeremy Edgar

    Bible reading and prayer all the way…amen brother!

    However you might want to consider replacing the statement “they are of no eternal significance” with something like “they are not to be trusted as truth” or something similar, because our thoughts and feelings definitely ARE of eternal significance. What we believe about God, and how we feel about him are the difference between heaven and hell!

  • Spencer Hyatt

    I understand the heart behind this article. On the other hand, I don’t think a “quiet time” should be restricted to a specific formula of bible reading, or even to bible reading alone. Let me be clear- I think scripture reading is crucial. But what about someone who has a robust intake of scripture in general- listening to an audio bible to and from work, reading scripture on the lunch break, etc. This person could be spending an hour or more a day intaking scripture, just not in a specific set-aside time. Then this person also takes time each day to be still without input, even bible. They listen to what their heart is saying, including feelings, write them down, and tell God all about it. Is that person’s “quiet time” invalid? Is their walk with God crippled? I would argue that their “listening” is probably more scripture-informed than the person who only intakes scripture during a “quiet time” each morning.

    The reality of lots of literate people having printed copies of the bible is a relatively recent one. Did no one have valid encounters with God until a few centuries ago? The “quiet time” is not even in the bible. The idea of staying connected to God is all over it. So I think, “How do we connect with God?” is a better question than, “What is the right way to have a quiet time?” It seems clear that the key components of connecting with God are intake of His word and prayer. Some people choose to set a certain amount of time aside, at a certain time of day, read a certain amount of scripture, and pray. Others, like me, try to have a healthy intake of scripture, pray frequently, and set aside time to be still. I don’t have any certain time of day I do this; my job has me working some days, some nights, and everything in between.

    I was taught a very formulaic way of having a “quiet time.” I was taught that there was one supreme, approved way of connecting with God, and anything else was suspect and not as valuable. It damaged my walk with God. Now, my “quiet times” are primarily being still and quiet and reflecting on what’s going on in my life, which I believe God is intimately involved in. I also have found tremendous value in writing out what I’m feeling and offering it to God. The largest book in the bible, Psalms, is full of David doing that exact thing. It’s clear in scripture that God desires the deepest intimacy with us, our heads and our hearts.

    I guess I’m saying that my “quiet times” are exactly what you say not to do, and I enjoy an intimacy with God that I never thought possible because of it.

    • Pastor Tim

      Hey Spencer, this is Pastor Tim from Unlocking the Bible. I think Pastor Colin is addressing a different situation in his article. He is not recommending a formulaic way of meeting with God, except what the Bible itself prescribes, which is taking in the Word of God (how God speaks to us) and prayer (how we speak to God). The problem he is addressing is the problem that is rampant in the Evangelical world today–people are rejecting the reading of the Word of God in favor of listening to their own hearts. It certainly does NOT sound like you are doing this, and I thank God for it : ) But the danger for all of us is that we can easily confuse being quiet and listening to our own hearts with having intimacy with or hearing from God. When God’s Word is open before us, it helps us to check what we are saying against what God is saying. It is a safeguard. It is wise. I commend it to you, brother.