How Do We Cultivate Awareness?

I’ve been watching this phenomenon and participating in it myself for years, since I was a college student.  It’s the infamous “quiet time,” our evangelical colloquialism for a much-needed and advocated-for spiritual discipline.  It once was called “personal devotion” or “devotions” – that regular daily time of reading a Bible passage or verse and using some sort of devotional aid, with a little prayer thrown into the mix.

I’m astounded at the some of the crud people can buy at Christian bookstores to help them with their “quiet time.”  A few months ago on one of my browsing trips, I ran across what must be the “Christian” analogy to the “One Minute Manager” for one’s “quiet time.”  Such nonsense.  And we buy this stuff.

It’s Monday and I’m feeling a little curmudgeonly, but my mood notwithstanding, the “quiet time” needs a serious overhaul.  It’s probably some part developmental phase for college students, but the “quiet time” is promoted by pastors and campus ministers and, because we want to be good followers of Jesus, we make a game effort to include “quiet time” in our daily schedules.  My sense is that most of us fail – if not miserably – fairly consistently.  It’s time for a re-think of what “quiet time” actually aims to accomplish.

It is certainly not a mere task that I can check off my list when done for the day.  Confession: I spent many, many years treating the “quiet time” in just this way. We all know this: the point of the “quiet time” is not simply to do what good Christians do, but to spend concentrated time communing with the Triune God.

Because God is merciful and faithful and loves his children, even the truncated “quiet time” can and does have some beneficial impact.  Obviously, I don’t want anyone to quit doing their “quiet time” even if it does mean hurriedly grabbing a few minutes to go along with the cup of coffee (or Coke or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper or lattespressicino – thank you Dave Barry!) they regularly grab.  But, as is the case with much of Christian discipleship, there is much, much more blessing to be had and much more formation to undergo on the way to maturity.

Certainly, one of the major blessings of the “quiet time” is actual awareness of the actual presence of God.  We actually listen to and talk with the living God.  This practice is of the nature of a personal relationship, just like we teach all the time.  A personal relationship requires cultivating.  Our “quiet time” offers us the chance to cultivate our awareness of the actual presence of the living God.  To use Dallas Willard’s term from The Divine Conspiracy, that presence is an “engulfing” presence.  Followers of Jesus are engulfed by the Kingdom Presence.

To cultivate awareness of God’s presence takes a willing heart, time and focused persistence.  There is something mysterious about the human will on this point that calls for reflection.  Wherever that train of thought might lead, friends, we must slow down and listen.  If we want our lives to count for God’s glory; if we want to produce fruit that lasts, we must slow down and cultivate awareness of God’s presence.

If you’re a too-busy college student, but you took time to read this blog and you want to deepen your relationship with Christ, I’m begging you, slow down.  Find the time to listen, to reflect with practiced self-awareness, knowing that you’re doing so in God’s active presence.  That’s part of prayer, too.  May our “quiet time” produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness in us all.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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