Editors’ Note: You can read our previous articles on Fellowship with God at the links below.
Fellowship with God Through Bible Reading
Fellowship with God Through Prayer
Fellowship with God Through Meditation
It is hard to disagree with the idea that biblical reading, meditation, and prayer should be integral parts of a Christian’s life. Practically, however, some of us stumble over the time factor involved in these disciplines. That is, given our busy schedules, we have come to conclude we simply don’t have time for Scripture and prayer. In this article, I want to convince you otherwise. God has given us all the time we need to accomplish what He calls us to accomplish in the way He desires us to accomplish it.
You Really Do Have Time
In terms of the importance of Bible reading and prayer, perhaps you agree with what I’ve said in the last few articles on this topic, but you still can’t see how it’s possible to set aside regular time for these three spiritual disciplines. For those of you who are, at a practical level, still a little incredulous, allow me to speak mathematically for a moment.
If you think you don’t have time for regular Bible reading, meditation, and prayer, consider the following chart.
168 Total Hours in a Week
- -56 Sleep
- -12 Meals/Getting Ready
- -60 Work
- -5 Commute
- -4 Exercise
- -5 Sunday Church
- -2 Midweek Fellowship
- -14 Family/Friends/Ministry
- +10 “Extra” Hours Per Week
I’ve allowed a total of sixty-five hours for your work (time at work and your commute) and given you eight hours of sleep a night. You have a little over an hour-and-a-half each day for meals and for getting ready for the day. You have about forty minutes a day, six days a week, to get some exercise, and seven total hours for corporate worship and fellowship. You also have fourteen hours a week for family time, friends, or other miscellaneous activities. That leaves you with an “extra” ten hours a week. Perhaps you only work fifty hours a week. Well, now you’ve got a discretionary twenty hours a week.
Granted, this chart reflects the schedule of one whose work is outside the home, but a mommy could fit her own categories into this chart and find a similar result (besides, it is the husband’s job to make sure his wife has time alone in the Word and in prayer). My point is simply to show you that you do, in fact, have time during the week to devote to the Lord in biblical reading, meditation, and prayer.
First Things First
But framing it the way I just did with the above chart is actually a little backward. Spending time alone with God in His Word and in prayer is vital to the health of our spiritual lives. When we think of “all the things we need to do” during the course of our week, the spiritual disciplines of prayer and the Word should already be on the list. John Owen is right when he reminds us: “It is certain that God gives us time enough for all that he requires of us.”1 If it is essential for our Christian life, God will ensure that we have time for it.
By and large, I think many of us need to slow down. We need to recapture the health-giving practice of slow, patient, biblical meditation so that our roots might grow deep and the trees of our life, strong. Consider these words from nineteenth century pastor, Charles Bridges:
There is, however, a wide difference between what appears upon the surface, and what a thoughtful mind and a prayerful spirit will open from the inner Scripture. It is most important to study the Bible in the spirit of the Bible—to exercise a critical habit in a spiritual atmosphere. Prayer, faith, humility, diligence, will all bring rest and satisfaction to minds exercised in the school of God.2
Here Bridges is commenting on our ability to reap soul-nourishing insight from the Word of God. Such a harvest is produced when we approach Scripture with a thoughtful mind, a prayerful spirit, faith, humility, and diligence, within what he calls a “spiritual atmosphere.” Yet each of these qualities are difficult to cultivate when our lives are pressed on every side by a constant barrage of activity.
While it is true that as Christians our daily lives will often be filled with good, God-given responsibilities, it is also the case that many of us, if we were honest, tend to fill up the cracks of our schedules with activities that neither refresh nor build up our faith. Let’s begin to ask God where we are out-of-balance in terms of how we prioritize our week’s responsibilities and start re-structuring our schedules so that we may spend time in regular, set-aside fellowship with God.
Mommies and Fellowship with God
Given all that I’ve said in this article, however, I do want to address the mommies who may be reading this. We now have three young children with whom my wife stays at home during the day. As I am able to observe Amy care for our home and children week-to-week, month-to-month, I realize more and more how rigorous the work of caring for a home and children really is. Amy’s workday begins about an hour after she gets out of bed, and it doesn’t really end until she gets back into bed at the consummation of each day. I recognize, therefore, that it is often challenging for mommies of young children to set aside time to read Scripture, meditate on God’s Word, and pray.
But this is precisely where husbands must serve their wives. Men, in light of Paul’s instruction that husbands wash their wives with the water of the word (Eph 5:26), I believe it is at least part of our responsibility to find ways for our wives to spend time alone with God in the Word and in prayer. Perhaps you can get the kids ready in the morning so that your wife can read and pray after she gets ready. Perhaps you can take the kids after dinner or give them their baths or help your wife with some of her work around the house. Whatever you have to do, make time for your bride to spend time alone with her heavenly Father.
Keeping a Good Conscience
Before I close, I want to address an issue that is occasionally left out of discussions on spiritual discipline: the necessity of keeping a good conscience. The conscience is our internal, God-given capacity to form judgments of right and wrong and to critique ourselves of whether or not we have acted according to what we believe to be right or wrong.3 Because we are sinful, our consciences are not infallible: we may think partaking in some activity is right when it is actually sinful, or we may think engaging in some activity is wrong when it is actually entirely legitimate and approved by Scripture.
Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that we can never violate our consciences. “Whatever is not of faith,” the apostle Paul warns us, “is sin” (Rom 14:23). That is, when we are unable partake in an activity with the faith that Scripture implicitly allows or explicitly condones such activity, we must refrain from participating in that activity.
The New Testament speaks often of the necessity of Christians keeping a good conscience (e.g., Rom 13:5; 14:23; 1 Cor 8:7; 10:25 1 Tim 1:5, 19; 1 Pet 3:16, 21). When we keep a good conscience, we enjoy a settled, experiential peace that we are right with God. While this subjective sense of our right standing with God is grounded upon the objective, unchanging gospel, it is our responsibility to maintain a good conscience so that we may consistently walk near to our Savior.
Spiritual disciplines, no matter how regular and rigorous, can never appease a defiled conscience. Like Adam immediately after he ate of the forbidden fruit, we may attempt to self-atone with the fig-leaves of personal spiritual discipline. Bible reading, meditation, and prayer are essential components of a healthy walk with Christ. But they can become snares to our spiritual maturity if we use them to cover our sin.
For example, if we have slandered our neighbor or spoken harshly to our wives and thus defiled our conscience, engaging in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer will yield little to no fruit if we don’t first experience God’s cleansing of our conscience through confession and repentance (1 John 1:9). Nor should we think that God will be pleased with our discipline if we don’t first get right with those against whom we’ve sinned. Being at odds with our wives, Peter tells us, hinders our prayers (1 Pet 3:7).
The point here is not to keep you away from these spiritual disciplines, but to help you make sure you are approaching them the right way. The practices of Bible reading, meditation, and prayer are not meant to be substitutes to confession and repentance. Rather, these three disciplines are intended to bless you as you daily strive to keep a good conscience through avoidance of sin, regular confession, and constant application of the gospel to our souls. Used correctly, these three disciplines will actually serve to strengthen and inform your conscience, and provide you the strength with which to fight sin.
While the whole of our walk with Christ doesn’t consist of Bible reading, meditation, and prayer, I contend that these disciplines provide the spiritual sustenance for growth in every other area of our lives. How can I say this? Because this is what Scripture says. I think it is appropriate to end this article with John 15:1-8:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
In this passage, Jesus is exhorting His disciples to “abide” or “remain” in Him. That is, Jesus is instructing His people to maintain a vital attachment to Him as the source of all our spiritual life and growth. If we fail to abide in Christ and bear fruit, Jesus warns, we face being thrown away into judgment.4
Telling His disciples to remain in Him or face judgment doesn’t undermine Jesus’ teaching that those whom He saves He holds securely in His hands (see John 10:27-30). Rather, this kind of warning is how Jesus ensures that His secure disciples do, in fact, remain vitally connected to Him. It does not contradict promises of eternal security to exhort disciples to remain attached to their Savior. Indeed, the exhortation is actually good news: those who remain in Christ are not cast away, and Jesus tells His disciples exactly how to maintain a vital attachment to Him.
What is the primary means of remaining in Christ? “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,” Jesus tells us. Very simple: we abide in Christ by allowing his Word to abide in us. Personal Bible reading and meditation are not the exclusive means we allow the Word of God to abide in us—this also happens through sitting under good preaching and teaching—but it is an important means and one we should attend to, given the seriousness of Jesus’ words at this point.
But there’s more to this passage. The natural consequence of the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly is prayer to our Father which results in spiritual fruitfulness. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” When Christ’s words abide in us, our prayers will be guided by godly principles and priorities. As a result, we will pray according to the will of God and thus bear much fruit that glorifies God and proves useful to our neighbor. These promises are basically a New Testament expansion of the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 1:1-4:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The Word of God and prayer. God speaks to us and we talk to Him. This is our life and our source of true joy. Here we find spiritual fruit and spiritual stability; genuine peace and power against sin; hope in trial and wisdom for daily decisions; truth in a world of deception; purity in the midst of corruption. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). Brothers and sisters, make profitable use of these resources for the glory of God and the good of your souls.
1. John Owen, Sin and Temptation, The Works of John Owen, vol. 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2004), 230.
2. Charles Bridges, Ecclesiastes, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), v.
3. I take Jesus’ exhortation here to be a genuine warning of what will happen if a professing disciple does not abide in Him. That is, if a professing believer doesn’t abide in Christ, he will be thrown away into eternal judgment. While this text has been the subject of much recent debate, I think Jesus’ use of fire imagery makes His meaning clear. Whenever Jesus uses the word “fire” (πῦρ), it refers to eternal judgment (see Matt 5:22; 7:19; 13:40; 18:8; 25:41; Mark 9:43; 9:48; Luke 12:49; John 15:6. In Luke 17:29, Jesus refers to fire consuming Sodom and Gomorrah). This does not imply that a genuine disciple can be lost; rather, Jesus warns his disciples of what will happen if they don’t abide in Him so that they will make use of the resources He has provided for their perseverance. The warning of judgment serves the promise of eternal security by enabling Jesus’ disciples to abide in Him.
4. I have taken the substance of this definition from Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley’s Conscience: What it is, How to Train it, and Loving Those Who Differ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016) and Gary T. Meadors, “Conscience,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 115; cited in Naselli and Crowley, 26n2.