Those of us who grew up in evangelical circles know all about “quiet time.” This was spiritual discipline 101 pre-Richard Foster. All serious Christians took time every day to spend some quiet time with God. This usually involved reading a portion of Scripture, and spending time in prayer. I often came away from my quiet times dry and dissatisfied. I now know why. I had been reading the Bible to get my “biblical truths fix” for the day. What I really wanted was for my heart to be set on fire. What I really needed was to meet with Jesus.
When the two disciples on the Emmaus road realised that they had had a personal encounter with the risen Christ, they reported: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 TNIV) Darrel L. Block comments on this verse:
They were excited earlier when they heard Jesus expound the Scripture and they suspected that someone unusual was in their presence, but they had no idea who he was. Now that they know, it makes sense. . . Their hearts were burning . . . within them as Jesus spoke to them. His exposition gave them intense emotion and excitement. (Luke 9:51-24:53, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996, 1920.)
I am not advocating some mystical ecstatic experience in place of a careful reading of the Word. But there is a world of difference between reading Scripture as an intellectual experience — getting my biblical insights for the day — and hearing our Lord speak to us through the Word. Neither am I advocating that we switch off our minds and throw proper biblical interpretive principles to the wind. Jesus seeks to open our minds so that we can understand the Word (Luke 24:45). All I am saying is that any “quiet time” experience must be a personal encounter with the Lord.
I note that the disciples finally recognised who Jesus was when they sat down for a meal with Him (Luke 24:28-31). In a day and age tyrannised by fast food, we need to remember the significance of meals in Jesus’ times.
It would be difficulty to overestimate the importance of table fellowship for the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century of our era. Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity. (S.S. Bartchy, “Table Fellowship,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Editors: Joel B. Green et al, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992, 796.)
Perhaps having a meal with Jesus is a better metaphor for our quiet times. Our days are marked with our occupations and our preoccupations. Quiet times will be the times that we attend to the presence of Christ in our lives, times when we invite Him into our consciousness as the two disciples in Luke 24 invited Jesus into their home for a meal. Most of us live busy lives. Quiet times are the times when we slow down and reconnect with Jesus.
How do we know that we have met with Jesus? Luke 24 gives us three signs that we have actually encountered Christ — community, mission and joy.
If we have truly encountered the Lord, we will be filled with fresh hunger to have fellowship with God’s people. When the two disciples realised that they had been in the company of Jesus they couldn’t wait to seek out the other disciples to tell them what had happened (Luke 24:33-35). And in the company of the other disciples, they encountered Christ again! Our God is a relational God. Our relationships with Him and with His community are intertwined.
However a real encounter with Jesus should also result in a fresh commitment to His mission (Luke 24:45-49). If we have truly enjoyed fellowship with the Lord, we will hear afresh His call to us to be His witnesses in the world and a fresh reminder of the power that comes with the task. For those who are concerned that too much emphasis on communing with Jesus will result in spiritual navel gazing, we say that any genuine encounter with Jesus must result in a re-commitment to service and a fresh assurance of God’s enabling for service.
Finally, any true communion with Jesus will result in joy.
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:50-52 TNIV)
Our hearts hunger for God and when we have feasted on our fellowship with Him there is joy indescribable. As Augustine reminded us, God made us for Himself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Him. We know the joy that comes when we meet up with a good friend. Bernice and I were at a church camp this last weekend. We met many good friends. It was joyful. It was life giving. Imagine the joy that comes when we have met with our eternal friend, Jesus.
Community, mission and joy — relationships, purpose and life. Suddenly we realise that quiet times done properly result in the most important things in life. Which is why we need to remember that quiet times are less like studying for an exam, and more like having a meal with a friend.