Let me tell you a riddle. When is a woman left-handed even though she may be right-handed? Answer: when she is engaged! She waves left-handed, shakes hands left-handed, drinks left handed. She may even struggle to sign her name left handed — all to display the ring on her left hand that indicates one thing: she is someone’s beloved.
Then think about Revelation 1:5, which says that Jesus is “the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” We too, it seems, are someone’s beloved, and that someone is none other than Jesus Himself. He is the One who loves us. (See also John 15:9, 12; 13:34.)
Yet all too often in our crazy busy world we have lost the wonder and the joy of being the beloved of God. It seems to get squeezed out by the pace of our days and, surprisingly, by the bent of our spiritual practices.
I’ve been taking an antidote to this spiritual toxin of busyness for a number of years now to help me be more “left-handed.” The antidote I am taking regularly shapes both how I frame and do my spiritual/devotional practices. First, let’s talk about how I think about my “quiet times.”
Relationship vs. Task
The time I set aside in the mornings (my “quiet time”) to read the Bible and pray is not just something I do. It is Someone I meet. My goal is not just to read my Bible and pray, as essential as those practices are. My goal is to draw near to God through those practices that I might know and worship Him better, experiencing and enjoying His very company. This is the hope the Scriptures hold out to us over and over again:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20; see also Psalm 42:1 and 1 Corinthians 1:9)
That is what I aim for — to enjoy the company of God. The time I set aside in the morning is not just something I do. It is Someone I meet. The tasks I do (Bible reading, prayer, etc.) serve the relationship I desire.
We need both sustaining and deepening practices — shorter daily times with our Lord and longer, undistracted times alone with Him.
Sustaining vs. Deepening Practices
With that framework in place, let’s address an important but often neglected dimension to our pursuit of God. When I think about spiritual practices I often think in 3 main categories: sustaining, deepening and ceaseless. Let’s just consider those first two by likening them to the conversations in a marriage.
Sustaining practices are like our everyday conversations with our spouse — often brief and consumed by the nuts and bolts of life. “How was your day? Did you pick up the milk? Were the kids good?” These kinds of everyday conversations are essential. They keep us connected and on the same page. Yet if you only have short, logistical, keep-in-touch kind of conversations, your relationship can drift. You need the occasional date night or a long walk together after the kids are down to get to a deeper level of connection.
Both these kinds of conversations are needed in our marriages. (And if you’re single, you could probably see similar principles in your relationship with a good friend.) The one sustains it. The other deepens it. And the principal difference between the two is a longer stretch of undistracted time together.
So, too, with our relationship with God. Our brief daily times with our Lord are vital. They keep us connected. They sustain our relationship. They bring our everyday cares and concerns to our loving Lord. But to deepen our relationship with God, a longer stretch of undistracted time can be helpful. We see this in Jesus’ life over and over.
But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.(Luke 5:15-16; see also Luke 6:12; 22:39-46; Mark 1:35; 6:46)
We need both sustaining and deepening practices — shorter daily times with our Lord and longer, undistracted times alone with Him. These extended times will allow our RPM’s to slow down so we can hear from Him about His love for us — so we can be left-handed once again.
Our focus is often almost exclusively on those daily sustaining times. (“Did you have your ‘quiet time’ today?”) I invite you to explore those deepening times with the Lord. You can begin by setting aside about 3 hours, which is about as long as a football game. Find a beautiful, undistracted place. Open your Bible and your journal and enjoy the company of the “One who loves you and has freed you from your sins by His blood.”
Resources: Here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Names of God List. This list of the names of God helps me point my times with God towards relationship and not just task.
- A Guide to Spending a Half-Day in Prayer. This guide can help you get started in your deepening practices.
- Delighting in the Company of God. A related talk at the NC Baptist Discipleship Conference.:
- Rest and the Good Life. A brief talk on the subject from Wisdom Forum: The Good Life.