Richard Foster, who I deeply admire as someone who practices working from rest, observes, “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds.” Because that is surely true, we desperately need quiet time. But, Foster also knows the life is no solitary. Rather, it connects us well to God, to other spiritual practices of Christianity and to the rest of life. It prepares us for the compassionate life (social justice), the virtuous life (holiness), the evangelical life (Word centered), the charismatic life (Spirit centered), and the incarnational life (the sacramental life). Eugene Peterson notes, “All our ancestors agree that without silence and stillness there is no spirituality, no God-attentive God-responsive life.”
Here is an interesting and revealing questions related to the practices of preludes: is quiet time a work or a grace? Do we imagine that God bestows grace in payment for devotional regularity? We often think, “If I read my Bible and pray enough, somehow I will pull the right level with God and he will respond!”
This line of thought leads to a bigger challenge: misunderstanding grace. All of God’s actions and inactions – his patience, his withholding judgments and so forth – are of grace. Creation is an act of grace; all of the ongoing human abilities to live and breathe are acts of grace. Grace does not have to do merely with fixing the problem of sin. Once we see this, we see that quiet times are themselves graces, the means to connect with the mercy and power of God. They are not properly understood as works.
Think of the rhythm of Jesus’ life, who easily and frequently moved from private times of prayer to times of public teaching, healing and confronting. In these routine times of solitude and quiet, was Jesus working to earn something from his Father? Or were all the actions of Jesus’ life, pubic and private, motivated and energized by the grace of God? I think it is the latter.
This understanding has freed me in numerous ways. It never crosses my mind to wonder how many chapters I should read today or how long I should pray. These types of questions have been replaced – repracticed – by a life in which prayer is never far away, never confined to the next morning, and thinking about Scripture is foundational for all of life, not just early mornings.
I experience repracticed quiet time this way: as I pay attention to the people and events of my day, my life is full of divine appointments and divine interruptions. This produces the desire and the need to have daily uninterrupted times of focus on God. But it is important to see this as practical and functional, not an attempt to earn anything from God or to get him to do something for me. It’s all part of one contiguous whole. That whole is my life lived before God in public activity and private contemplation, prayer, and study.
So when sitting quietly in a sanctuary, thinking and praying while beautiful music plays, I know I have only ascended the diving board. Once the benediction has been pronounced, I walk out the door ready to splash into the realities of life. I then experience a life of centered peace, working from a place of rest gained from engaging in the spiritual practice of prelude.
© Todd Hunter, Giving Church Another Chance, Used by Permission, IVP, (link to book)