“How do you spend time with God?”
That’s the question my brother-in-law asked me tonight.
He didn’t mean to ask me — at least, not me in particular. Dan is a Lutheran pastor in rural Iowa. Like clergy of all denominations and all religions, he’s trying to figure out how to serve a congregation that can’t congregate. So he arranged to stream services on Facebook.
And so we worshipped with them this evening, as Dan and a couple of musicians conducted their Wednesday night Lenten service and Katie and I huddled around her iPhone. To be honest, I was there more for familiar support — and to sing Holden Evening Prayer — than to pay attention to a sermon. But then I heard Dan ask how we spent time with God…
And it was as if he was preaching squarely at me: like I’d snuck in late and had no choice but to grab a seat in the front pew, right under the pulpit.
For Dan was asking a question I’ve whispered to myself often in recent months, as I felt teaching and writing and much less rewarding parts of my job pull my attention in other directions. But month by month, week by week, “How do you spend time with God?” was a question I could answer too quickly. Hardly had it formed in my mind than I would tell myself that weekly worship counted. (Singing in the choir, even!) And if that wasn’t enough, I reminded myself that I spent my work time at a Christian college, teaching about Christianity, and often blogging about faith in my spare time.
And then coronavirus sent me home from work… and kept me away from any sanctuary. And blogging about God isn’t necessarily the same thing as spending time with God.
As the kids and I went for a walk yesterday morning, I resolved to myself that I would use this season — this unwanted sabbath — to set aside time each day for Bible study and prayer, spiritual disciplines that I sometimes find easier to talk about with others than to practice myself.
But as night fell and we cleared the supper dishes, I suddenly realized that I’d spent hardly any time today in prayer, and no time at all in God’s Word.
Cue Dan’s sermon.
Because if I’d missed his question the first time, he repeated an even more pointed version of it a few minutes later:
“Are you setting aside time each day to dwell and be in relationship with our God?”
No. And no one is doing it for me.
So here’s what I’m planning to do, at least through Holy Week, and perhaps longer: I’m going to use this blog to help hold myself accountable. Following the daily version of the revised common lectionary, I’m going to read and pray through one passage in the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, then write a short reflection here at The Pietist Schoolman.
I’m not promising anything particularly learned or wise, certainly nothing very polished. I’m not sure if I’ll write in the morning, afternoon, or evening. (Most likely, it’ll vary each day.) But if you want to study and pray along with me, perhaps we can spend some virtual time together as I spend more time with God. For these posts, I’ll reopen the commenting function, in case you want to share your own thoughts on the passage. (Or perhaps correct mine.)
The Renovaré Bible was a favorite of mine back when I was much more intentional about exploring what editor Richard Foster called the “contemplative stream” (or tradition) in Christianity. And that Bible seems particularly well suited to this exercise, since it’s guided by the desire to cultivate what Foster and the other editors call “the with-God life.” Here’s a taste of how they describe this way of thinking about the purpose of Scripture:
The Bible is all about human life “with God.” It is about how God has made this “with-God” life possible and will bring it to pass. In fact, the name Immanuel, meaning in Hebrew “God is with us,” is the title given to the one and only Redeemer, because it refers to God’s everlasting intent for human life—namely, that we should be in every aspect a dwelling place of God. Indeed, the unity of the Bible is discovered in the development of life “with God” as a reality on earth, centered in the person of Jesus. We might call this the Immanuel Principle of life.
This dynamic, pulsating, with-God life is on nearly every page of the Bible. To the point of redundancy we hear that God is with his people: with Abraham and Moses, with Esther and David, with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, Haggai, and Malachi, with Mary, Peter, James, and John, with Paul and Barnabas, with Priscilla and Aquila, with Lydia, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Phoebe, and with a host of others too numerous to name.
With me, and with each of you.
We’ll start tomorrow with Psalm 23, which seems like a perfect place to begin. But even if you decide to give this series a pass, let me encourage you to find your own way to answer Dan’s question — and to take the pastoral advice he shared tonight:
“If you find yourself longing to spend more time with God, then do so.”
Tomorrow: Psalm 23