What Happens when the “Daily Quiet Time” Simply Stops Working?

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.

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  • Nice piece, Tim — pleasantly surprised! (not because you don’t usually write nice pieces, but because the phrase “quit working” conjured up the image of someone using God as a means to their end).


    p.s. The link to the morning office doesn’t work — is this what you intended:

  • Tim Suttle

    Yeah, I had the thought when I was writing it that this might sound too pragmatic. I think what I would say in hindsight is that it quit working on me (not God). And maybe the reason it quit working on me was because I thought it was working on me? Anyway – thanks Wayne!

  • We have a hard time, in the west, abandoning our pragmatic understanding of God and Religion (even though it has been criticised often enough, beginning with Plato in his “Euthyphro”). Anway, these lines by the Sufi, Hazrat Inayat Khan, helped me to begin to think of God as and “end” instead of a means:

    “There is a poem by the great Persian poet Iraqi in which he tells, ‘When I went to the gate of the divine Beloved and knocked at the door, a voice came and said – Who art thou?’ When he had told, ‘I am so and so’, the answer came, ‘There is no place for anyone else in this abode. Go back to whence thou hast come’. He turned back and then, after a long time, after having gone through the process of the cross and of crucifixion, he again went there – with the spirit of selflessness. He knocked at the door; the word came, ‘Who art thou? ‘, and he said, ‘Thyself alone, for no one else exists save Thee’. And God said, ‘Enter into this abode for now it belongs to thee’. It is such selflessness, to the extent that the thought of self is not there, it is being dead to the self, which is the recognition of God.

    “One finds this spirit to a small extent in the ordinary lover and beloved, when a person loves another from the depth of his heart. He who says, ‘I love you but only so much, I love you and give you sixpence but I keep sixpence for myself, I love you but I stand at a distance and never come closer, we are separate beings’ – his love is with his self. As long as that exists, love has not done its full work. Love accomplishes its work when it spreads its wings and veils man’s self from his own eyes. That is the time when love is fulfilled, and so it is in the life of the holy ones who have not only loved God by professing or showing it, but who have loved God to the extent that they forgot themselves.”

  • Thank you for the missionstclare link. At that link, I clicked on Audio Book of Common Prayer—Morning | Noon | Compline. I loved hearing the ancient prayers and readings within the new-agey sounding background music. In addition, your post was very insightful.