Can Busy Mums Really Find Time to Spend with God? (Part 2)

“Wait a minute, ” I interrupted.  “Read that again.  Is that really in Isaiah?”

My husband and I are reading through the Bible again this year — together and out loud.  Aside from the challenge of actually being in the same room (or the same vehicle) at the same time for this daily discipline and delight, we are both finding that reading the text out loud is affecting the details that we notice and deepening our understanding of the passage.  We hear the repetition and the rhythm of recurring phrases as our mouths form the syllables and the sounds of Hebrew names and the nomenclature of ancient Middle Eastern geography.

In addition to giving us something important to share in common in these days of the empty-ing nest, this practice keeps me grounded in the overall scope of Scripture’s narrative arc, reminding me that God is at work in a larger story that is massively redemptive and globally significant.

As a busy mum, I set modest goals for my reading and study, usually sticking with a chapter for at least a week in order to get the most out of it.  This is like the slow pace of a stroll in which details that are missed at 55 miles per hour in the car suddenly show up and ask to be noticed.  A slow read gives me time to read, re-read, and process.

This is Week 2 in the series for mums who want to step up their time with God, and this week, Shannon from Of the Hearth has posed two questions:

In what ways has being a mum changed how you go about having a devotional time?

What tools have helped you to be consistent?

In my answers, I advocate for the prudent use of little minutes, remind readers that God is committed to meeting with us no matter where we are, and I encourage mums to embrace the changes that are part of life.  I also share how important accountability has been in maintaining good study habits.

Elizabeth from Guilty Chocoholic Mama is sharing her thoughts along with Shannon, and the three of us would love to hear your input.  Click here to join the discussion, and be sure to share the post with other mums you know who are living this following life and seeking Truth in the small spaces between their loving duties.

For those who missed the discussion from last week, you can catch up here.

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Can Busy Mums Really Find Time to Spend with God? (Part 1)

Sunlight slanted through the passenger-side window, and a light breeze lifted the pages of the Bible that was propped against the steering wheel to make room for the notebook in my lap.  Middle school band practice always lasted 45 minutes — not long enough to bother going home.  And since the older children were all occupied elsewhere, there was no need.  So, for a few moments, the blue mini-van in the parking lot became a tabernacle — a mobile meeting place for quiet reading and reflection.

That was the scene that first came to mind when Shannon Coleman from Of the Hearth asked for my thoughts on making time in a busy schedule for daily quiet time with God.  As the mum of four active boys, I’ve long been an advocate for the prudent use of little minutes, so I’ve shared a few thoughts over at her place today.  

Best of all, Shannon has given suggestions that have worked for her as the mum of two toddlers, and has also invited our friend Elizabeth from Guilty Chocoholic Mama to provide input as the mum of two teenage girls.

This week we’re just getting started with the basics in which Shannon poses the question:

How do you find time to spend with the Lord?

If this is an area of struggle for you, we invite you to come on over for encouragement — and if you know someone else who needs ideas or inspiration, I hope you’ll invite them too!  Please follow this link over to Shannon’s place, and be sure to share you own pointers and principles as you join in the conversation!

Next Wednesday, July 26th, we’ll be back with our thoughts on these questions:

In what ways has being a mum changed how you go about having a devotional time?

What tools have helped you to be consistent?

Elizabeth, Shannon, and I look forward to seeing you next week!

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Sacred Reading – Hands On

Lectio divina, the practice of “sacred reading,” brings to mind images of flickering candles and meditative silences broken only by the turn of a page or the scratch of a pen on paper.  The flickering candle I can manage, but my dining room table “command post” is where just about any kind of reading happens at my house, making it no less sacred, of course, but incorporating more interruptions, perhaps, than would be ideal.  Maybe this is why I found the framework provided in Jan Johnson’s Meeting God in Scripture to be so helpful.  She refers to her guidance as “training wheels” to help readers move toward meaningful meditation upon the truths of Scripture.

Since at least the 5th century, Christians have referred to four traditional steps in lectio divina:  

  1.  Read (lectio)
  2. Reflect (meditatio)
  3. Respond (oratio)
  4. Rest (contemplatio)

Jan has added Relax and Refocus (silencio) to the beginning and appended Trying it On (incarnatio) to the end, and I found her wording to be extremely helpful in clarifying the intention behind the traditional Latin steps.

For serious students of the Bible, these six steps are likely already happening in some form, however haphazardly.  The point of lectio divina is NOT to add another check list to my life, but, rather, to gently invite me to wonder if my reading of Scripture is grounded in careful thinking about the text.

In Jan Johnson’s forty guided meditations based on brief Scripture passages, she demonstrates not only a method of study, but also a manner of questioning and a leisurely and yet purposeful approach to reading with the intent of changing and deepening the way Christians approach the written Word independently:

Relax and Refocus (Silencio) — Often, Jan poses a question to focus the thoughts on the day’s passage.  Distractions are offered, palms up, to the God who is present and who stands ready to speak to the believer through His inspired Word.  This purposeful pause reinforces the conversational aspect of reading a Living Word.

Read (Lectio) — Here is where we so often go wrong (if we’re not careful).  God’s Word is not for skimming, so reading aloud, reading passages repetitively, and reading with a question in mind are all important slow-me-down safeguards. The goal is for the words to “fall on our ear” in such a way that we perceive what is being said.  Text for all forty passages that Jan examines are included in the book along with helpful explanatory notes.

Reflect (Meditatio) — The questions and cues provided invite the use of sanctified imagination in the reading of a narrative passage and also encourage readers to approach discourse passages on a quest for the particular truth that “shimmers” for them.  God’s invitation, whenever we come to His Word, is to enlarge our understanding of Him through careful reflection on the Truth presented.  Jan teaches her readers how to be a “fly on the wall,” observing, for example, likely facial expressions, the probable responses of gathered crowds, and even the physical details of the setting and the clothing that would have been worn.

Respond (Oratio) — This step brings the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer into one truly God-centered interaction in which we respond to God according to what we believe that we have learned from our careful reading of Scripture.  This response may be verbal, musical, or it may take written form as a journal entry or a drawing.  It may involve questioning God about His ways or thanking Him for some aspect of His character that has been revealed.  The underlying question that drives oratio is:  “What do you most need to say to God at this moment?”

Rest (Comtemplatio) — Here in North America, we have already slammed shut the cover of our Bible and bustled off to our next task long before reaching step five, but Jan emphasizes the importance of simply being present to God, absorbing the truth that has been uncovered, and then responding in worship.  It is helpful to ask at this point, “What was God up to in this passage?” or “Based on what you have read, what is God like?”

Try It On (Incarnatio) — Incarnational faith involves action that arises out of truth.  Jan’s suggestions prime the pump for readers to come up with their own ways to express their living out the truth of a passage.

Integrated throughout Meeting God in Scripture are essays that tackle important questions in the practice of lectio divina.  Having taught the Bible for years, I spent a considerable amount of time reading the essay that compares and contrasts meditation and application.  Both ask, “How does this passage intersect with my life?”  However, meditation is an ongoing conversation with God and results in deep and abiding change in character from the inside out.  Application can tend to be more analytical, left-brained, and temporary unless it is supported by solid Scriptural underpinnings.

Among the other important topics that Jan sorts out and ponders are the sanctified imagination, the role of study in lectio divina, and distinguishing the voice of God from my own mental wool-gathering.

A.W. Tozer said it well:

“[The Bible] is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking . . . If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.”

For those who affirm the truth of this, but find that it is just beyond their present experience,  Meeting God in Scripture is a jumping off point — with a little spring in it — to help students of Scripture become airborne, arcing into a passage, slicing past the surface, and then soaking in the depths of its Truth.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Knowable, Necessary, and Enough

I’ve heard it many times and from the most unexpected sources:

“I try to read the Bible, but . . . it doesn’t seem to say anything to me.  I don’t understand what I’m reading.  It doesn’t help me, so I end up quitting . . “

Set this response beside David’s from Psalm 119:

129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
Therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The entrance of Your words gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.
131 I opened my mouth and panted,
For I longed for Your commandments.

The question Kevin DeYoung poses (and rigorously answers) in Taking God at His Word is this:  How does one go from Ho Hum (response #1) to Whole Hearted (response #2)?  If the goal of life is Psalm 119-zeal, what are the pre-requisites for getting there?

The truth is that, without exception, every woman I have heard confessing her lackluster response to the Word of God would pass any test for orthodoxy.  She would affirm that the Word of God is true, that what it demands of us is good, and that what it provides is also good.

It’s the feeling and the doing components that are missing in their lives.
There’s no delight:   “My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly,” (Psalm 110:167).
There’s no desire:  “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law,” (Psalm 119:18).
There’s no dependency:  “I cling to Your testimonies!” (Psalm 119:31).

It is Kevin DeYoung’s goal to bring belief, feeling, and action together – not with a checklist (heaven, help us!), but with Truth.  What does the Bible say about itself that will convince the reluctant and indifferent reader to dig in and spend time in the Word?

For starters, we need a foundation of trust.  “You will not find anything more sure” than the written Word of God.  Then, using the memorable acronym, S-C-A-N, Taking God at His Word sets forth the attributes of Scripture that demonstrate why it’s worth your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection:

Sufficiency
I struggled off and on for years with the high-handed notion that I would rather hear from God through more personal and direct communication than I find in His written Word.  Hebrews 1 reveals that God has spoken to us through the Old Testament and, then, gloriously, through His Son, who is His final Word and Revelation.  J.I. Packer elaborates:

“While this kind of ‘immediate’ revelation has ceased, we should allow for ‘mediate’ revelation whereby God gives us new insights and applications — sometimes in surprising ways — but always through Scripture.”

This is HUGE in relation to relevance, because the times when I question the relevance of a book which claims to provide all that I need “for life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3) are the times when my life is . . . not exactly focused on godliness.  “The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture invites us to open our Bibles to hear the voice of God.”

Clarity
God has spoken truth in story, in poetry, in apocalyptic style, and even in didactic correspondence.  Before Scripture was available as it is today, Moses was reminding Israel that God bends over backwards to communicate with His people.  While some portions of the Bible are clearer than others (anyone read Ezekiel lately?), the main teaching points for  knowledge, belief, and action are spelled out transparently.  Furthermore, if a topic is hazy in one context, it is made plain elsewhere.  So, a PhD in theology is a nice thing to have, but certainly not necessary in order to be a student of the Word.  “Ordinary people using ordinary means can accurately understand enough of what must be known, believed, and observed for them to be faithful Christians.”

Authority
The Bible gets the last word — ahead of science, human experience, church councils — and my cranky observations about life.  This dismissal of all conflicting truth claims is politically incorrect and out of step with the culture in sufficient measure to play havoc with your next office party, but it’s not a matter of aggravating people.  (Remember Anne Lamott’s great quote:  “It’s not always necessary to chop with the sword of truth.  It can also be used to point.”)  The example of the Bereans in Acts 17 is illustrative.  They compared the Apostle Paul’s words with the inspired Word “to see if it was so.” Likewise, it is to be our compass.

Necessity
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” but they don’t spell out the plan of salvation.  Those who would believingly follow God through Christ must know who He is and how to enter into the life He offers.  He has made this known through His Word in which “He speaks so that we can begin to know the unknowable and fathom the unfathomable.”

If this is all true, our right response to the Word of God is to harvest its wisdom and share its truth with confidence and boldness.  Jesus’ earthly ministry gives a pattern for living in light of a high view of Scripture.  He quoted it, referred to Old Testament characters as historical figures, and considered that whatever Scripture said, God had said.

Five words lifted from John 10:35, 36 speak volumes:  “The Scripture cannot be broken.”  Not because He was out to prove the point, but because He believed it to be true, He simply stated the fact that Scripture could not be dismissed or dissolved.  He addressed the matter with more intention in His Sermon on the Mount:  Teach it as it stands and obey what it says if you want to be great in my Kingdom!

On the way to assimilating a Psalm 119-level regard for the written Word of God, consider Paul’s words to Timothy.  With characteristic practicality, he lays out its uses:  teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness.  Underlying this is its amazing origin — God-breathed, the very words of the Almighty — and every day, when we open its pages, the Bible offers the privilege of taking God at His Word.

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