I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wake up and the first thing I do is check my social media. Now, nothing wrong with social media, however, I wonder if there are better ways that I might start my day? I know of people who wake up early, and have what has often been called “devotion time”, a time where someone sets time aside for God in such a way that sets the tone for my day ahead.
But I’ll be honest with with, sometimes the whole concept of “making time for God” just makes me cringe. Why do I cringe? It just seems so sentimental, and surely if God is in me, why would I need to have some sort of special time set aside for God? So for a long time, I left my time with God up to the whim of spontaneity. And guess what? My relationship with God was dynamic! Rather than feeling like I had to have some sort of weird time set aside for a God I could speak to and debrief with in any moment, I instead merely just brought God into all my moments by drawing my attention to prayer and also seeking to see what God might be doing in the present moments I found myself in. And to this day, I still do exactly that, as I think there is something so powerful in just bringing my attention to what God is doing around me and having an open dialogue with God. Devotional time that felt forced seem so redundant to me because I could just pray to God when I wanted to- not to mention that having set time for God seemed to fall victim to the belief that one has to conjure up God in some sort of special set time.
But overtime, I realised that my spontaneity with God- as good as it was and still is- seemed to miss something as equally healthy that I saw around me. That is, when I looked at the best relationships I knew, (whether they were friends, family, or lovers), they had set time aside to focus on one another in more intentional and mindful ways. Not only did I observe this as a healthy part of relationships, but I also learnt about it in my relationship therapy units when I was studying counselling. Often when a relationship goes through a rocky season, it needs that well nurtured and practiced set structure to help keep things going- this looks like date nights, or time set aside each day where you debrief the day to one another. Yes, spontaneity has that spice of life, yet structure also keeps the relationship grounded in faithfulness during any and all seasons. Any good relationship therapist will tell you that the long haul takes intensional time set aside such as “date nights”. It’s certainly isn’t an either/or, and certainly to not have some spontaneous spice can be harmful to a relationship. But likewise, too not have structure can equally harm a relationship. And so I learnt this was also like my relationship with God- yes it’s fine to have spontaneity in your relationship with God (In fact, to not have that is also equally unhealthy, as bringing God into all the moments of our life is keeping God in the forefronts of our moments) but if I don’t also have intensional time set aside then then it is also problematic. And so, I realised that in my relationship with God, I needed to have both saving spontaneity, and develop saving structures has part of a normal part of my relationship with God.
This got me rethinking devotion time again. Far from it’s caricature of being sentimental hallmark-card time with God, I started to learn of traditions within Christian history that did types of intentional times with God in ways that brought them things like deep inner peace, an ever growing awareness of God in each moment, an ability to face the world calm yet boldly, an with a more directed and intentional sense of God’s mission for their life. They also seemed to more grateful, go at a pace in life that seemed just right, and have a very healthy awareness of their mental & emotional life. Part of these devotional times would include a mix of spoken prayer, silence, scripture reading, listening. Other times it might be music, or other times in might be written prayers. So I started to take intentional time seriously again, and this looked like creating time aside for God. It wasn’t that the spontaneity went away, but that I also had saving structures that could ground me. Also, I didn’t start believing that we needed to conjure up God in a special time and place, but I did reframe devotion times as seeking to slow down to see what God was doing around me and in me. In time, I became more and more convinced that there was a need to have structured time for God as part of a more fuller and richer relationship with God.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Surely having time set aside for God sounds like a ritual, right? We often think that the word “ritual” is a dirty word, and certainly it is treated like a dirty word within some Christian spaces. We often think that we are “quenching the Holy Spirit” if we have some sort of structure or ritual in the life of faith. However, I have learnt that the ancient Jews were very comfortable with set time for prayer, and the early church certainly continued with this tradition as they sought to worship Jesus. Not only that, but modern neuroscience speaks highly about developing habits that form our character. Finally, since when did structure = not Spirit inspired? “Quenching the spirit” simply means we are not being in step with what the Spirit wants- and whilst it is true people can use stricture to get in the way with how the Spirit might want to shake up a given moment, it is also possible that someone might be “quenching the Spirit” because they don’t follow the Spirits leading in creating set structured & intensional time for God. Because the truth is- whether we are aware of it or not- is that we all have habits and we all have rituals. In fact, if you are part of the few who don’t have either, than it might be possible that things could be a little chaotic & ungrounded for you- and that’s not sustainable in the long run. So the question than isn’t if we have habits or rituals (we all do), but are they life-giving habits that give you life and (through you) give life to others around you? In other words, are they holy habits and redemptive rituals?
So, do I now get up early at like 5:00 in the morning and pray? Well, I did experiment with that for a bit- but I learnt that it hindered (not improved) my relationship with God. If you are going to have a “date night” with your partner, you find a time where you both can be present. Now let me be clear: I must surrender my time to God in a different way than I would in a relationship, and as such it is very possible God might want to bring us out of our normal routine or comfort zone. That said, God is wanting to connect with us, and so finding a time that works best for us to connect is not just in our best interests, it’s what God would want for us if we to connect with Him. After all, humans weren’t made for this abstract thing call “devotional time” but devotional time was made for us to connect with God. So in terms of what might saving structure look like for you might vary from person to person and season to season- but typically time for prayer, time to be still, time to meditate on scripture, time to intensionally draw our attention to what God is doing in us or around us all seem to be important parts that make up time spent with God. In some seasons you might need structures within structures such as a set order to your time with God with things like pre-written prayers, and very concrete structure, postures, and things to do in an order (This type of structure is what some church denominations call a “Liturgy”). In other seasons, you might just need to take note that- within your time devotional time- that you should confess, pray for others, read scripture (etc.). I once went through a period of time where I did the same prayers of thankfulness, confession, and declaration of my mission every day & night. And it was needed- for a season. I then felt like I need to change my routine to still include such things, but with less “structures within the structure”. Part of what sets me apart from some traditions within the church (Such as the Anglican tradition, which- even as a Pentecostal- I do love) is that I probably do think there is room for changing your daily structures and what you do depending on where you think the Spirit is leading you to restructure, but as long as you are still having intensional time set aside (like a date night) and it is spirit lead change then I think this is fine. That isn’t to say that we judge ourselves for not always getting to these intensional moments (for even lovers in a marriage relationship have to have wriggle room with their date nights sometimes, and to not judge each other in these seasons) but that rather we see these times as times that liberate us into a more richer and deeper relationship with God.
So, I encourage people to research into different ways you might have these times set aside for God. I encourage people to faithful experiment with things like traditional liturgies, or to look into different spiritual practices (such as different ways to prayer like centering prayer, or different ways to read scripture like lectio divina). But also you might sense the Spirit wanting you to have time to not just be still, but also to dance and sing. You might feel the Spirit draw you even into a season of structure-within-the -structures, or a season of loose-but-nonetheless-intenional-time. You might feel the Spirit draw you into intentional time of contemplation, or the spirit draw you into intentional time of charisma. You might adopt and experiment with whole set structures like a “daily office” (Type this in Google), or something a little less tight. Sometimes you might devote more time to prayer, or more time to scripture reading. Sometimes you might need structure-within-the-structure (i.e liturgy) and sometimes you will just need basic structure. Sometimes sitting outside is what you need, and sometimes using your drive to work will suffice. In the end, the point is that saving structures, redemptive rituals, holy habits are being done in such ways that you are grounded and you are gifted the life of God. Have your spontaneity, and have your structured times. As long as, in discerning the season you are in, that what you have is giving you the life of God, and spreading that life out.
So, do I “make time for God” more intentionally now? Truth be told, God is always present in our time in our life- but I have times set aside to slow down, smile, invite the lover of soul in where he is already mysteriously present and have some structured time together- and my relationship with God has grown.