In 2001-2002, after years of ministry & the pursuit of God the Quiet Time model of person devotions stopped working for me. I mean, it literally just stopped.
From about 7th grade on I was taught how to have a “quiet time.” The quiet time is Evangelicalism 101. My first training came from something called The Survival Kit for New Christians. It was a training tool for how to have your own personal devotional time of bible reading, study, and prayer. It takes about 30 minutes each day. I practiced this method faithfully and it was extremely fruitful for me for years. As a youth minister, as a camp counselor, as a touring Christian musician this was my spiritual food from age 12 to age 32. Then one day it simply stopped working.
When I say it stopped working, I mean that all of the sudden I did not feel as though I was meeting God in that place anymore. My soul was not being refreshed or grown by my daily quiet time. The scriptures felt dry; my prayers empty. I felt like God was absent… vanished. And I felt like maybe there was something futile with my continuing on with the quiet time.
You cannot imagine how frightening and confusing this was for me. The way that I had tended my soul through 20 years – many of those years while I was involved in ministry – crapped out. It was tremendously disorienting to me. I struggled through 2001 and 2002 without feeling tethered to anything solid. For the first year, I just kept on plowing through. I wondered if I had done something wrong. Was God angry with me? Had I taken a wrong road? I began to wonder if I had always been faking my relationship with God. By 2002, what had been a daily routine for decades began to become more sporadic until finally I just stopped.
Screw it… If God wanted to be silent, I would be silent, too.
About that time I heard Tony Jones do a seminar session on his book Soul Shaper, (which you should get and read) and I first encountered the idea of the Daily Office. I began to engage the Daily Office and the Jesus Prayer as a new daily ritual. I have to tell you, it was like getting my lost relationship with God back. The combination of scripture reading, physical worship (like making the sign of the cross, folded hands, kneeling, and so on), liturgical prayers, canticles, and especially the “collects” (pronounced call´-ects) revolutionized my relationship with God. From that moment on there was much more silence, much more meditation, much more listening and a lot less talking. There was also a more ruled reading of the scripture: 4 chapters a day (psalm, OT, NT, Gospel, plus 2 or 3 more psalms).
The movie Bull Durham shows the relationship between a flaky pitching prospect (Tim Robbins), and the wise veteran catcher brought in to train him (Kevin Costner). The young pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh, would battle his mentor, Crash Davis, concerning what pitches to throw. “I want to pronounce my presence with authority,” Nuke would say. Crash told him the batter was a first ball, fastball hitter, so needed to throw the curve. Nuke wouldn’t give up, so Costner’s character told him to serve up the fastball, then told the batter that a fast ball was coming (he hit it out of the park… hit the bull actually, “He gets a free steak for that”).
I think that’s what God was doing with me during that time. You see, I think that we all need more than one pitch. I kept serving up fastballs & God was telling me that I needed to grow beyond “pronouncing my presence with authority.” I needed to just shut up for awhile, and learn how to be silent. I needed to speak somebody else’s words for awhile through reading ancient prayers and songs, so I wouldn’t think I had so much to say. I needed to stop thinking that I was the center of my universe and the master of my Christian life and to be reminded that I was not generating my relationship to God. I was merely receiving it. There is no controlling God, and my quiet time had become little more than the practice of magic – conjuring up God’s favor on my ideas about life.
The Daily Office saved me from the rocks. So, now I pray the Office 3-4 times a day. I pray my early morning office the moment I wake up. When I get into the office I pray along with the recording of the Morning Office at http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html. At noon, I pray 2 psalms that are the same psalms the folks at theHopeCenter and the Associated Ministerial Order pray. And I (try to) say Vespers every evening before dinner. Now and then I actually get in a Compline service before bed. Every once in awhile I have a good old fashioned quiet time & it is almost always fruitful and good.
So, if the quiet time model has ceased to do it for you. Don’t think, just pitch. Go to MissionSt.Clare, click on the audio version & spend 15 minutes a day letting the ancients teach you how to pray again. You’ll be glad you did. I would also highly recommend Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, a 3 volume breviary.
Here’s the clip from Bull Durham for your enjoyment.