It's ironic. I used to call the time I set aside for God my "quiet time." However, those times, filled with words—the words I read, studied, wrote, or whispered toward the ceiling, wondering if God even heard—felt anything but quiet. They felt more like "doing" times—as in completing tasks on a list. And, truth be told, sometimes they also felt like "doing time," as in punishment or an obligation.
I knew Jesus offers us "life to the full" (John 10:10), but I wondered if that was possible. I tried to study my Bible, but I'd forget the words I read as soon as I closed the book. Or I'd think, I've read this all before. It seemed stale. But just when exhaustion and guilt made me ready to give up, God brought some people and books into my life that showed me ways to put the quiet back into my quiet times, old ways to revitalize my relationship with him that were new to me.
Maybe you too are looking for that full life Jesus promises instead of a life stuffed with too much responsibility and pressure. If Jesus is the one who promises that kind of life, it makes sense the way we access it is by spending time with him. But if you're thinking, I already do that, but it's beginning to feel a bit dry, a bit routine, don't worry. There's hope.
Here are three practices I've found to help me connect with God more deeply. I've been using them for more than a decade now. They're simply ways to spend time with Jesus so you can let him give you that abundant, full life.
1. Deep Listening
Christians have prayed and listened to Scripture through a practice called Lectio Divina (Latin for "Sacred Word") for centuries. You read a passage slowly several times, spending time in silence between readings, letting the words sink into your soul as you listen for the one word or phrase that touches you most deeply.
Lectio Divina is a way to meditate on Scripture by listening and then responding—breathing in God's Word, breathing out a prayer. Traditionally, this practice includes four parts: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Deep listening to Scripture requires a focus on God's words rather than ours. In Lectio Divina, I listen to what God wants to say just to me through the text. I'm open to listening not just to general truth that's applicable to everyone, but for specific truth that applies to my unique circumstances.
In this practice, I read a short passage. For a month or more one summer, I kept going back to Psalm 27, reading a few verses at a time. I found myself drawn to verses 3–5, so for several days, I returned to that short section. I read it slowly, noticing how often I found myself drawn to the word "dwell." What did it mean for me to "dwell in the house of the Lord" (vs. 4)? Did I really believe I was "safe in his dwelling"? How could I truly dwell in his presence?
These verses became a love letter from God to me, an invitation to deeper intimacy with him. At the time, a work project had me feeling nervous —fearful I would fail, that I couldn't do it. God spoke through Psalm 27, telling me to trust, that he would keep me safe, he would dwell with me. I responded with prayer: Lord, help me to stay connected, to dwell with you, to notice you, and to trust you. As I slowly worked on the project, I'd think of that word "dwell" and knew he promised to be with me as I did what he'd called me to do. But he also reminded me that my work wasn't the most important thing; my intimacy with him was.
Try this: Read a short passage of Scripture slowly, noticing which word seems to jump off the page. Spend a few moments in silence. Do this several times, looking for God's invitation or encouragement in the word he seems to be highlighting. Reflect on the word or phrase; listen for God's invitation. Be quiet; let that word draw you into prayer, into wordless companionship with God.
2. Breath Prayer
A breath prayer is a short prayer that can be prayed in the space of one breath. It expresses your love for God and your desire for God's touch in your life. Usually a breath prayer combines a name for God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit with a deep desire of your soul, forming a single sentence you pray. It focuses on God but names your deepest need. Sometimes, it's a form of confession or self-examination. A classic breath prayer used for centuries comes from Luke 18:13: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Breath prayer is a way of meditating on Jesus, letting go of distractions so you can be in his presence. Psalm 1:2 exhorts us to meditate on God's Word, to delight in it. Unlike Eastern meditation practices, which focus on emptying the mind, a breath prayer is a way of filling your mind—but filling it with God alone. It's like sitting in companionable silence with God, not having to talk but being aware of his company, and how his very presence meets your deepest needs.
Try this: Use a verse of Scripture or a simple phrase that expresses your deepest spiritual desire. In one particularly difficult season of my life, I carried the prayer "Peace and strength of Christ flow into my heart" through my days. I'd breathe in that peace and strength, then exhale my fear and tension. I silently prayed it for other people even as I talked with them. This practice soon began to change the way I felt and responded to others around me. I felt more peaceful, more aware of Christ. I think that's how he answered that prayer.
3. Being There
Have you ever read a biography or a great novel and felt so swept up in the story that the book's characters became real to you? As you read their story, you felt you actually were spending time with them?
Gospel meditation, or "being there," has traditionally been called the Ignatian Method, after Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556). He instructed his followers to spend time with Jesus by imagining themselves in the Gospel story.
David Benner, author of The Gift of Being Yourself, writes, "Gospel meditation provides an opportunity to enter specific moments in Jesus' life and thereby share his experience. Shared experience is the core of any friendship. And Spirit-guided meditation on the life of Jesus provides this possibility."
Once I was reading Mark 1:35–38, where Jesus tries to get some time alone. His disciples come and find him, saying, "Everyone is looking for you!" I imagined the scene, thought about how Jesus felt, and realized this: Jesus had his solitude time interrupted! Like me, he'd experienced interruptions, so he knew what I was going through when I had trouble finding time to be alone.
Try this: Choose a passage from one of the Gospels. Read it slowly. Daydream about it, imagining you're there. Perhaps you're a bystander watching Jesus, or the person talking to Jesus. Try playing various roles in the scene. Use your imagination to add details. Put yourself into the story via your five senses: What do you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell? By being there, you're spending time with Jesus.
When I slowed down, used fewer words but took them deeper, I not only enjoyed my time with God more, I actually found myself thinking throughout the rest of my day about the things on which I'd reflected. I realized God continued to speak even after I closed my Bible. Or I found myself recalling a breath prayer, using it as a way to calm down and connect with God when I couldn't even collect my anxious thoughts.
This more contemplative approach may be just what you need to revitalize your quiet times. Try putting aside your current routine and substitute one or two of these practices just for a week or two. Play with them; experiment. My prayer is that they'll provide a breath of fresh air for your soul.
Keri Wyatt Kent, a Today's Christian Woman Regular Contributor, is author of several books, including Oxygen: Deep Breathing for the Soul (Revell). Learn more at www.keriwyattkent.com. This article first appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of Today's Christian Woman.
—How is it possible for a quiet time to feel more like a "doing" time—or like "doing time," as in punishment or obligation? How can you relate to the author's experience in this area? How does the biblical view of prayer differ from this experience and why?
—Which of the three suggested practices helps you to see prayer in a refreshing way? How can these, or other, practices be implemented without turning them into more "doing"?