The most important resolution you can make this year is to read your Bible and pray each day—this, along with meeting with God’s people, is what makes a Christian’s heart beat. However, by this point in January most of our resolutions will have failed—including our daily quiet time. We’ve started to get busy, missed a few mornings and it’s starting to feel like 2019 will be very similar to 2018 after all. But just because you didn’t read your Bible yesterday, doesn’t mean you need to give up. So here are my top five tips for starting and maintaining a regular quiet time in 2019.
1. It’s about discipline and habit forming
There is a strange idea that some Christians have that if something isn’t spontaneous it isn’t authentic—that Bible reading and prayer should just come naturally as you feel like it and you shouldn’t plan for it or force it.
Not only does the Bible never say this, but this sort of thinking forgets two important truths.
First, to reject discipline and habit formation is to forget that we our sinful. Our deceitful hearts will always lead us to think that we don’t really need God’s word, and the Devil’s main tactic is always to get us to stop listening to God. If we wait for Bible reading and prayer to just happen naturally, we simply won’t want to do it. We’re too sinful.
But God calls on us to actively resist our sin and walk with the Spirit. A fruit of the Spirit is self-control—which means the ability to harness our wayward heart and direct our whole lives towards God. To walk with the Spirit means to actively resist the sinful deceptions of our heart that tell us we don’t need to read God’s word and to say no to the temptations of the devil to give up on your quiet time.
Second, to reject discipline and habit formation is to forget that we are human. Reading the Bible and prayer is a deeply spiritual activity—but it is still a human activity, because you are human. Everything you do is a human activity. And that means that if you want to get into a regular habit of reading the Bible and prayer, it will require the same sort of things that get you into a regular habit of exercise or eating right. Discipline. Hard work. Habit forming.
This is why the discipline of a regular quiet time is so important. It’s something that my generation hasn’t really had drilled into us as much as older generations—but it is key. Set aside a time and a place each day where you can read your Bible and pray: at breakfast, on the train to work or uni, when the kids are having a sleep. You know what will work for you.
2. Pick a book in the Bible that you know well
When you get back into exercise you don’t start with a 10km run.
The key is to make it easy on yourself to start with. But if you’re anything like me, when you try to get back into the Bible you think, “What book haven’t I read yet?” and so you start with the lists of names in Chronicles or the weird food laws in Leviticus, and before long you’ve given up. This is not to say that these parts of the Bible aren’t just as valuable and useful for growing in Christ, but if you’re trying to get back into the Bible you should probably start somewhere a bit more familiar.
Maybe one of the gospels, or Romans, or even the book that you just finished looking at in church. It will be easier to know what is going on and you will be able to draw out the implications for your life more quickly. Overall you will feel like you are getting more out of your quiet time and that will encourage you to keep going. Once you’re going strong you can brave some of those lesser known, but just as valuable, parts of God’s word.
3. Turn your quiet time into your own mini-church service
This is something that I have done in the past and it has been really helpful. Start your quiet time by going onto Spotify and listening to one or two Christian songs that you like, interspersing those songs with prayers of praise. Then spend some time in a prayer of confession, followed by reading some passages that give you assurance of Christ’s forgiveness.
This stops you slipping into autopilot. It gets you in the right mindset and prepares your heart to hear God’s word.
Then turn to God’s word and read your passage for the day. Spend some time thinking about God’s word and how it applies to your life, and then turn to God in prayer and ask for his help to apply this to your life today. Follow that up with further prayers you have, using a prayer diary or app (see below), or even use the Lord’s prayer to give you six different topics to pray through: his name; his kingdom; his will; your daily needs; forgiveness; protection from the devil. Then finish by listening to another Christian song and a prayer of praise.
You can do all of that in about 30-40 mins, which is about how long a good train ride to the city takes. Some people even like to dust off the old green prayer books at the back of church and use the liturgy of Morning Prayer for their personal quiet time.
Why not give that a go?
4. Use resources that can help you
There are lots of resources that you can get to help you, both with Bible reading and prayer, but here are my recommendations:
For Bible reading, the Explore series from The Good Book Company is excellent. You can buy actual booklets or download the app and get notes on a book of the Bible for about $3. It gives you some notes about the text, asks you some questions, and doesn’t take too long. Easy. Gold.
For prayer, I just use a notebook and use different pages for different categories of things to pray for. The Prayer Mate app—which lets you put in all your prayer points and then gives you prayer points for each day—does basically the same thing but you can do it on your phone and take it wherever you go.
5. Remember that quiet times are not about doing God a favour
One of the most helpful bits of advice that I ever heard was that we don’t do our quiet time to do God a favour.
It sounds obvious, but this sort of thinking is so easy to slip into. You’re doing well with your quiet times and you start to feel a smug, self-righteousness. You look at other people at church and wonder if they read the Bible as much as you do and why they aren’t as spiritual as you.
And then you crash and burn. You fall out of your routine, you miss one or two and then a week and then a month—and you fall into this pit of guilt. You feel like a failure and reading the Bible becomes a joyless chore that you keep promising yourself that you will get around to.
The problem in both instances is that you think that your quiet time is about doing God a favour. That God needs your quiet time. That God’s approval of you rests on your performance in your quiet time.
The solution is to remember God’s grace.
If you trust in Jesus, God cannot love you any more or any less than he already does! You are his precious child and you are loved and accepted by him for all eternity!
So why are you doing your quiet time? If it’s not for him, who is it for?
You! It’s for your benefit. It’s actually really, really, really good for you! And once you realise this how you feel about your quiet time will change as well. It becomes a joy and something you look forward to.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t need to still wrestle with your sinful heart or be tempted to put down the bible and flick through Facebook. But it will turn your Bible reading and prayer into something that you actually want to do. Something that brings you joy and refreshment. And when you miss your quiet time, you won’t feel guilty – you’ll feel hungry!
The best New Year’s resolution you can make in 2019 is to read the Bible and pray regularly.
So get into it!
This article was originally published on Tom’s blog, The Word Grows.