From the time I first became a Christian, I had people telling me about the important of a quiet time – a daily and regular time of study and prayer. The best time of day, most suggested, was the early morning, before the day began, before all the pressures of daily life crowded in.
Some suggested using a devotional guide, and some the Bible. Some said you have a short prayer first, then a study time, then a longer time of prayer. Others reversed the order. Some said you should have a cup of coffee, and others said you should wait until the quiet time was over before making the coffee. Some even suggested that you could mentally extend the quiet time until you were almost in a state of continual prayer throughout the day.
I’ve tried them all, and they all work. Or they don’t. What may matter less is the process, and what may matter more is the doing it.
In The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-Blood of the Christian, David McIntyre amplified this idea of a quiet time, to include more than just a regular hour. He describes three aspects of a quiet prayer time, and in a way I didn’t expect. I call them “the three quiets.”
First, he says, you need a quiet place, away from distractions. Even though the book was first published in 1891, McIntyre recognized all of the kinds of things that can distract from a quiet time – and how where you have a quiet time was of crucial importance. Some people might not be able to find one readily at hand, and he suggests some imaginative improvisation if that’s what’s needed.
Second is the one we’re most familiar with – a quiet hour, a regular time of the day when you can be alone in prayer. Actually, he suggests twice a day – morning and evening.
And third, McIntyre says, is a quiet heart – likely the most truly difficult to realize. He suggests what he calls three “simple facts of faith,” to keep one’s mind focused on God: recognize our acceptance by God because Jesus died on the cross; confess and receive the enabling grace of the spirit; and direct our hearts to Scripture, to read it “as in the presence of God” to calm our mind.
The quiet time and its associated quiet place and quiet heart are a practice, a kind of spiritual discipline. The best time for me is the early morning; the best place is usually a chair that’s not too comfortable. And often the best way for me to quiet my mind and heart (with a mind still trying to figure out why I’m not still in bed) is to read the beginning of the Gospel of John, a psalm, or I Peter. Yes, I know Peter was writing to Christians likely experiencing persecution, but I find his words very calming, like “a light shining in a dark place.”
Do you have a regular quiet time, and a regular place? And how do you quiet your heart?
Over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion of The Hidden Life of Prayer. For a book that’s more than 100 years old, it seems delightfully on target. The language is 1890s English (perhaps with a Scottish accent), but it still appropriate for all of us in 2012.