When I became a Christian, I was told that I ought to have a ‘Quiet Time’ every day – preferably first thing in the morning – when I should spend time reading the Bible and praying to God.
I sometimes wonder if new Christians still get taught this, because from talking to other believers over the years I suspect that it’s a custom honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Being a naturally self-disciplined person who is good at organising my life and likes nothing better than a regular routine, I have followed the advice I was given and have read from the Bible every day for over 40 years… but I know that most people find it a real struggle. And one reason for this is that they don’t feel that they get much out of it.
I appreciate the problem. We are told that God will speak to us through His Word; but when we actually open the Bible and read it, it rarely seems to have anything of immediate relevance to say to us. Bible reading notes are a great help (and I strongly recommend them), but even so we seldom get the sense of having made intimate contact with God – which is what most of us yearn for.
But regular Bible reading should probably be regarded more as an investment – like paying into a savings account. A small amount of money, diligently squirrelled away once a week (or once a month), can over the years add up to a significant sum, ready to be used when a need arises. And if you read a short passage from the Bible every day, you are drip-feeding your spiritual ‘account’ with a resource that you will be able to draw upon when you need it. Jesus promised us that “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26) – but the Spirit can only remind us of things we have already read or heard! He can then bring those verses and passages to our minds at any time, even if we cannot remember where to find them, to give us guidance and comfort.
Also, by opening our Bibles every day we are opening a channel through which God can communicate with us directly – and sometimes He does! I can think of three particular occasions (there must be many others that I have forgotten) when God has spoken to me through my regular daily reading:
The first time was over 25 years ago, when I was wondering whether to accept a job offer in sexual health (a medical specialty in which relatively few Christians feel able to work, for fear of appearing to condone sin). I was reading through I Corinthians, and came to the passage where Paul states that Christians are not to pass judgement on the sins of unbelievers: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (I Corinthians 5:12) This was a ‘green light’ for me; I took up the post… and worked there until my retirement.
The second time was a few years ago, when I was approached by a woman in the street as I came out of work. She was (she said) desperate for some cash to buy petrol. Now I feel rather ambivalent about giving to people who beg on the street in the UK (whether I do or not tends to depend on the tone of the most recent article I’ve read on the subject); but that morning I had read in Proverbs:
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbour,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’ –
when you already have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27,28)
So on this occasion I could hardly refuse to get my purse out and give her what was in it!
And the third time was very recently…
My husband and I are on holiday in Germany to celebrate my retirement. And in the early hours of one morning, as I’m turning over in bed, half asleep, my fingers brush over an area of skin that definitely doesn’t feel right – something that makes my blood run cold. And so I can’t get back to sleep… I have to go to the bathroom and twist myself around in front of the mirror in order to see what it is that I’ve felt.
What I see is a dimple in the skin. And that can mean only one thing…
Shocked, I get back into bed. I have cancer. I’m in a foreign country, and it’ll be a week before I can do anything about my unpleasant discovery. My husband is still asleep, and it feels too cruel to wake him in the middle of the night. For the moment, I’m on my own. To help pass the time, I get out my smartphone to look at the next day’s Bible reading, which is Psalm 112.
And God speaks to me.
He speaks a word that will not only enable me to enjoy the rest of my holiday, but will also help to sustain me through the emotional rollercoaster of the next three months:
“[The righteous] will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.” (Psalm 112:7)