If you’ve spent time in many Christian churches, you’ve probably heard the terms “quiet time” or “devotions.” But what do these terms mean? Are such activities important? Does a quiet time require a particular method or discipline?
What Is a Quiet Time?
People often say that “Christianity is not a religion: it’s a relationship.” The point of that statement is that our righteousness isn’t based on ritualistic behaviors and practices; the Christian faith is about our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
This means that we don’t pray because God demands it as a prerequisite for salvation. We pray because we want to be united with God. People don’t speak to their spouse because of a contractual obligation; they do it because good communication is how they maintain a healthy relationship. The same is true for our relationship with God.
A quiet time (or devotions) is an expression of this truth. It’s a regular appointment that we keep with God that allows us to block out other distractions and focus on our connection with Jesus through practices like prayer and Bible reading. But like all Christian disciplines, maintaining a regular devotional time in and of itself isn’t the point—maintaining a close connection to Christ is.
Before he was crucified, Jesus drove home this important point to his followers (and to us):
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”—John 15:1–4
Through the discipline of maintaining that connection to the vine (Jesus), we are personally transformed and become fruitful.
So, while we’ll be talking about the benefits, importance, and methods for maintaining a significant and meaningful quiet time, remember that all of these point to a practice that helps us forge a closer relationship with Jesus. Believers who make such a commitment must resist the temptation to simply turn it into a task that needs to checked off their to-do list.
The Benefits of a Quiet Time
We commit to a regular quiet time as a way to deepen our relationship with Christ. And through that connection, we personally grow and become empowered to build the kingdom. But there are other important benefits to establishing a consistent time with God.
1. It builds self-discipline
In his letter to his co-minister named Titus, Paul laid out his expectations for the kinds of people he wanted to see leading churches. He told Titus that they should be, “hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined” (Titus 1:8). The need to have willpower and constraint makes the list twice.
Like pushing ourselves to get up in the morning and go to the gym when we don’t feel like it, following through with quiet times builds self-discipline. We all have other things vying for our attention, but every time we say “No” to those other things, we build a disciplined character. And as Paul tells Timothy:
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. —1 Timothy 4:8
By setting and adhering to our quiet times, we’re training ourselves to practice self-control, and we’re doing it by following through with a habitual behavior that’s incredibly beneficial to us spiritually.
2. It establishes a rhythm in our life
When God created the universe, he created certain patterns. Every time the earth travels around the sun, we experience a year. That year is made up of seasons of birth, growth, harvest, and dormancy. This rhythm is incredibly important to all life.
He also established a religious cycle in the lives of the Israelites. They were to work six days, and on the seventh day they were to cease from working and worship him. On top of that, their year was full of consistent feasts and holy days.
A quiet time helps us to maintain our connection to Jesus by establishing a regular rhythm in our own life. We not only have a weekly cadence of corporate worship, but a daily one where we sustain our own personal relationship with Jesus.
3. It keeps us more mindful of God’s presence
One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is a tendency to go through our day and forget about God. While it’s not intentional, it’s easy to get so preoccupied with our daily lives that we lose sight of the fact that God is right there, present in every moment.
Christian author Patrick Morley says it this way, “Whenever a man tells me that he doesn’t feel very close to God, the first question I ask is, ‘Tell me about your devotional life.’ Often the problem is just there.”
When we have a stable connection to Jesus built upon our daily practice of spending time with him, God’s presence becomes more central to our everyday behavior. It becomes easier to stay mindful of his existence and nearness throughout our day.
What You Need for a Good Quiet Time
You might be wondering what’s required for a good quiet time, and honestly, you don’t need much. But here are a couple things to consider if you want to start your devotional habits on the right foot:
1. What’s the right time of day?
Everyone has scheduling conflicts that make it a challenge to find a regular quiet time that works. But as much as it’s up to you, find a consistent time for daily devotions and make it a regular appointment. Seriously, put it in your calendar on your phone or write it in your planner.
If you make a commitment to try and work in a regular quiet time every day but don’t establish one consistently, other things will crowd it out. You’ll find yourself regularly thinking, “It’s just not going to work out today. I’m going to have to just make sure it happens tomorrow.” Before too long it will become a good intention that never materialized. Scheduling your quiet times like you would an appointment makes it harder for life to interfere.
You also want to consider what is the best time of day for your quiet time. While there isn’t any reason why you can’t have devotions in the evening when the house is quiet, there are a couple of good reasons to consider doing it in the morning.
• It’s proactive: Spending time with God in the morning starts your day off right. You can pray over the other appointments and events you have coming up and charge into your day spiritually empowered.
• You tend to have more control over your time in the morning: Sure, you might need to get up a little earlier to get your morning quiet time in, but that makes it your time. In the evening, the chances are greater of having other things come up or evening plans that run long. It’s also harder to make it happen on days when you get home physically or emotionally exhausted.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly. —Psalm 5:3
2. What’s the best location?
Next, you’ll want to find a good location where you’ll be able to focus with as little distraction as is possible. Maybe that’s in a particular room in your house, or in your favorite chair. It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s not a place where you’re going to be so comfortable that you end up falling asleep or getting distracted by other things (so maybe not at your computer desk).
Wherever you choose to be, it’s good to establish a specific space for your devotions. People are creatures of habit, and as you establish a custom of praying and reading Scripture at a specific time in a particular place, you’ll find it easier to get into the zone during your quiet times.
Certain personalities might want to consider creating a space that gets them into a devotional mood. Maybe that could include candles or certain music. If nature helps you connect with God, maybe it would be helpful to have your devotional space near a window looking outside. The key is to pick and create an ideal space for your quiet times.
3. What kind of structure should it have?
You don’t need much more than 30–60 minutes for a really powerful quiet time and many spend less than this, but having an idea of how you’re going to structure that time is going to make all the difference. If you sit down in the morning and randomly start reading a passage in your Bible, that’s fine, but that’s not likely to have the kind of impact that having a structured quiet time will.
You don’t need to be locked into the same system forever. Maybe you commit to reading through the epistles for a couple of months. Later you might want to do some devotional reading or do some Bible journaling. There are a lot of ways you can structure your time (more on that in a moment). You just want to make sure that you don’t use your quiet time to figure out what that structure will be.
It’s also essential that you identify how much time you want to spend in prayer. We recommend 20-30% of your total quiet time to be spent in prayer. For example, if you have set aside an hour in the morning for devotions, plan to spend 15–20 minutes of that in prayer. Setting that framework ahead of time will help ensure that you give yourself ample time for this important discipline.
Just keep in mind, regular devotions require flexibility. Sometimes you can’t have your devotion at your typical time or in your typical space. That’s OK! Adapt your quiet time to your circumstances and press on.
What Disciplines Should be Part of a Quiet Time?
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of creating a structure for your quiet time, let’s look at some of the ways you can fill that structure. Here are some of the disciplines that could be part of your devotions and some ways you can incorporate them:
Obviously, you want Scripture to play a big part in your quiet time, but as you start this discipline, the focus should probably be more on reading than on study. Bible study is an important discipline, but it’s easy for study to lead you down rabbit trails and away from your ultimate focus—your relationship with Jesus.
That said, a tool like the NIV Study Bible can help by giving you quick insights into the passages you’re reading without getting you too off track. Your devotions might not be the best time to get lost in secondary concordances, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries, but you can still benefit from brief notes.
If you’ve committed to reading through the Bible in a year, take advantage of this time to make your way through your daily readings. Just remember that you don’t want to race through the passages you need to read. The objective is to use this time to connect with Jesus, so read thoughtfully and prayerfully. As you’re reading, think about:
1. For what can I offer praise or thanksgiving in today’s reading?
2. Is there an example in this text that I should follow or a command I should obey?
3. Is this text convicting me of sins or errors that I need to repent from and seek God’s forgiveness?
4. Are there promises in this reading that I need to claim?
Bible journaling: Having a journal handy or a wide-margin Bible like the NIV Journal the Word Bible can be a profitable way to write down important thoughts you have during your Bible reading.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word. —Psalm 119:15–16
Sometimes when you’re reading Scripture, you discover a truth that’s insightful and provocative enough that you just need to stop and process it. This is basically the Christian practice of meditation.
It’s not about emptying your mind, such as is encouraged in some eastern forms of meditation. It’s really focusing on God’s Word, and turning it over in your mind, and as you do so, asking the Spirit to encourage, convict, and instruct you.
Even though a lot of people struggle to feel like they’re getting it right, prayer should be an essential part of every quiet time. (And it becomes a lot easier when you quit fretting about how well you’re doing it.) It’s the key to maintaining that connection to the vine.
If you’re still a little hesitant about what and how to pray, consider the ACTS method. It’s easy to remember and sets you up for a potent prayer time. ACTS is an acronym for:
Adoration: This opens your prayer with time to praise God for who he is and what he’s doing in your life. It’s also a great time to worship him for the praiseworthy things you identified during your Bible reading.
Confession: In John’s first epistle, we’re reminded that “if we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is where you want to ask for forgiveness for actions, behaviors, or attitudes that you’d like to see changed with God’s help.
Thanksgiving: A spirit of gratitude is essential for Christian maturity. It helps us recognize the benefits and blessings in our life and curbs us from constantly demanding more. And knowing that you’re going to spend some time thanking God for his blessings during your quiet times makes you more mindful of them throughout your day.
Supplication: It’s probably not a word you hear often, but supplication simply means “making a request.” This is the time you want to talk to God about all those things you told someone yesterday that you’d pray about. It’s where you make your appeals to God for his intervention in your life and in the lives of your loved ones.
The nice thing about the ACTS model is that it places our requests after we’ve itemized all of the things we’re thankful for. When we first communicate what we appreciate to God, that can help reprioritize the things we request.
Along with your Bible reading, you might want to find some other devotional reading. While devotional reading can technically be done with any Christian book, you’re going to want to look for something that will address your heart.
There are a lot of a lot great devotional books focused on specific themes that are broken into daily, bite-sized readings. These can be great additions to your devotional time.
You can also find some really good Bibles that include both devotions and daily readings, like:
● NIV Lifehacks Bible: This Bible is full of articles that help you incorporate spiritual practices into your busy life. You’ll find articles such as:
○ 4 Tips for Making Wise Decisions
○ 6 Steps for Interpreting the Bible
○ 7 Questions for Recognizing Intentional Sins
● NIV LifeConnect Study Bible: This Bible ties in a lot of the elements that go into a healthy quiet time by utilizing the SOAP method, which focuses on:
● NIV Once-A-Day Bible This Bible is organized into 365 daily readings with daily Scripture readings from both the Old and New Testaments, plus a Psalm or a Proverb, followed by a short devotional thought.
There are also many devotional Bibles that are written with specific audiences in mind like, men, women, moms, teens, and even those in recovery). Spend some time looking for one that will work best for you and your situation.
It’s All About Devotion
No matter what tools and methods we use, this isn’t about making sure we get our daily devotions checked off. It’s about creating a life full of devotion, and the way we do that is by setting aside a regular time for prayer and Bible reading.
When we set time aside to truly connect with our creator, we’re working with him to see that spiritual growth and transformation is happening in our lives.