Ask a Professor: Why have a quiet time?

You may have read how a Pastor answered the question, Why have a quiet time? In this article I decided to ask a professor, Dr. Jeremy Pierre, why is it important to have a quiet time? His answer is a little different, but he hits some very important points, partly because Dr. Pierre’s focus is a little more focused than a pastor.Why have a quiet time? Dr. Jeremy Pierre

Dr. Pierre is the Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the author of The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience and co-author of The Pastor and Counseling, both of which are great books.

Why have a quiet time?

When I was in Louisville recently, I sat down with Dr. Pierre and asked him these questions. Below is a transcription of his response.

I think your heart is only conformed to the heart of another person when you interact with them in a way where you’re receptive to what they’re saying. In interacting with God, in one sense, the influence is a one-way receptivity.

Behind this statement is the recognition that God doesn’t change, and so our quiet time is not about changing God but about God changing us. We need God’s influence in our lives.

One of the benefits of doing devotions is that I don’t even know what is wrong with my heart. I’m not coming with a problem to solve necessarily, though sometimes I am. But I’m coming as a child who wants to imitate his father in what he loves, in what he believes, in how he perceives the world and in the choices he would make if he were in my shoes. That happens as I spend lingering time hearing the heart of my Father.

So the contours of his heart get mapped onto the differing, more jagged contours of mine and it smooths them and shapes them and makes me like Him.

Since we’re called to be conformed to the image of God we need to spend time with God so that His heart is mapped to ours. As we read about the Lord, we learn about who He is and how we can imitate Him.

Leviticus 20 in our daily routine

Some parts of scripture seem irrelevant. But Dr. Pierre points out that all passages of Scripture are important.

Intimacy is very closely tied to self-disclosure, and I go to prayer to disclose myself to before the Lord and to have Him disclose Himself to me by means of His word and thus I’m changed. I leave formed. I leave changed.

That’s the beauty of a devotional life. How on earth does reading Leviticus 20 help you on a Wednesday of your daily routine of running kids here and there and other things? You know what it does? It may not teach you anything factual. But what it does is, it reminds you that there is a very clear line between right and wrong. And a good God is the one telling me the distinction between right and wrong.

So you know, when those little weird situations come up, and I’m tempted to think, “Well that’s not something I struggle with, for me that’s not a big deal.” I’m immediately rebuked. No there’s a right and wrong going on here. There are moral things going on here. That’s from Leviticus 20.

But say in the same quiet time my New Testament reading was 1 Peter 1. Then I’m reminded of this aspect of the fact that my inheritance is in heaven, guaranteed for me. So when some loss happens that day, or when something infuriates me or I get disappointing news at work, I receive that  news in the wider context of, “You know what, if this means my career takes a totally different direction than I thought, I have an inheritance that will make that career trajectory seem like a rusty penny in comparison.”

Context and Perception

It is important to realize that when we take in the word of God we clothe ourselves with a mental context that shapes the way we interact with the circumstances and people we come across each day. This mental context is not the mental context that we would otherwise have. It is the context that God has. Dr. Pierre continues stating this clearly saying;

So again, I’m slowly but surely shaping my perceptions of the world around God’s perceptions of the world.

In Proverbs 18:17, we read, “The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him” (NASB). The idea is that if we allow our perception to be shaped by just one person, we limit ourselves to the perception of that one person, and therefore our judgment is impaired. It is the same in our daily lives. If our perception is shaped only by the hearts of sinners (i.e. our own heart and the heart of those we listen to) then we will have a very one-sided perception of the world. By reading the word of God, we learn God’s perception of the world, and we can respond to Him directly, and also allow His perception to shape our responses throughout the day.

What do we miss out on if we don’t have a regular quiet time?

In answering this question, Dr. Pierre provides two things, our consciousness of God, or the lack of perception, and the impact it has on our devotional life itself.

I think what we’re missing out on is the consciousness that God is regularly present with me. I’m not saying he’s only present through the Bible, He’s omnipresent. But my sense of Him is only sharpened by means of His word and prayer. So I’d say that’s what we’re missing out on.

What does it mean to miss out on the consciousness of God? There are two ways this can be manifest. It could be that we simply forget about the Lord and live with no regard for anything other than our own needs and desires. But it could also mean that we while we may be conscious of His presence, we may lose the context that His character brings to everything.

The impact of missing a quiet time

Dr. Pierre gives us a little insight into his own devotional life and explains one impact of missing quiet times.

Even in my own life, I probably do devotions around 5 times per week, rather than 7, but I keep up with my Bible reading plan. What that means for me, and I just had this experience last night, I was reading three days worth of readings, and the quality of that reading and dynamic disclosure of God just plummets. It just drops. Because I’m so conscious of the fact that I have 55 minutes of reading in front of me and I’m trying to get through it rather than I’m trying to interact. That is a disservice to me.

This highlights one of the difficulties of following a rigid reading plan and getting behind on it. Having a heavy reading load can undermine the value of the reading by taking our attention away from what the text says and how it applies and focusing us simply on the mechanics of reading. Seldom do we benefit from this.

Why have a quiet time? Dr. Pierre believes that a regular quiet time is a key activity for us if we want to grow in holiness. He explains that conformity to Christ happens as we grow in our knowledge of God, but also that we need God’s perception to help us relate biblically to the events and circumstances of the day. Intimacy and receptivity are linked. If we are unreceptive to the word of God, what intimacy can we say we have with Him? That is a challenging question!

You can follow Dr. Pierre on Twitter at @jeremypierre

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