Hopefully, you’re different. But by nature, I’m a glorious combo of self-reliance and laziness. I expect that I’ll drift naturally into a closer relationship with the Lord. That if He doesn’t speak through that two-minute quiet time, then He’s obviously got nothing to say. Now’s your chance Lord – in between the coffee and Weetabix and – oops is that the time? Be right back..
This isn’t a paean to The Quiet Time either. Of course reading the Bible and praying are essentials, but they’re not a magic formula. God won’t be systematised or ticked off like another item on the shopping list. The prayer hotline is open 24/7 and the word comes to us in different forms – from scribbled verses carried in my wallet, to kid’s praise in the car. Every moment, God is speaking. The challenge is in learning to listen.
So what are the things that help? I’d love to hear yours – but to start us off, here’s a few of mine..
1. Music: Listening to (as well singing) hymns. But not just Christian. Classical music seems to help me unwind and touches bits that are otherwise switched off. It helps get me to a point where I’m more receptive to being still – and is a way of enabling me to handle less noise, even if it’s not quite silence.
2. Being with other Christians. I’m an introvert, so people can tire me out. But they also encourage and energise. Talking about stuff that matters. Being able to be me. Less, ‘how was your weekend?’ More, ‘what’s been challenging you? What’s your favourite bit of the Bible? Which books do you find trickiest? What is it about Jesus that speaks to you most?’
3. Nature. I like beaches, but green things are the best – forests, crunchy leaves, rain. All reminders that they have an amazing author. God communicating through beauty and complexity and reality. Another way of slowing down the pressurised minutes. The papers are full of this autumn’s new fashions and the next ‘it’ colour (Yellow. If you don’t mind looking like Big Bird from Sesame Street). But in God’s palette, nothing seems to clash. There’s combinations and surprises you could never expect.
4. Hearing the Bible read aloud. You can download it from the internet, (if you’re prepared to trawl through the more Dramatic Readings, complete with pan pipes and whale noises). When I’m feeling low or tired or overwhelmed, a sermon can feel like far too much. The brain can’t process one point, let alone three, all of which begin with the letter ‘P’. (Perspicuous, pernicious and piccalilli, since you ask). But the gospel stories in particular, are like balm to a weary soul. They remind me of who Jesus is. They help challenge the lie that He is absent or unconcerned or far-away. They percolate the soul, even when the mind is leaky.
5. Actually talking to God. Sounds so simple, right? And yet – I’ll often avoid Him instead. Or pop off a pre-scripted card, that requires no thought. I’m too tired to explore the mess. I don’t know if He’s interested. I don’t want to be challenged. And yet…my friends get moment by moment updates on everything from my breakfast to my bowels. So what helps? Well, knowing that I’ve got the Spirit, making my words into something comprehensible. Knowing that it doesn’t have to be a long one. Sometimes a couple of stumbling sentences are all it takes. Plus the knowledge that God’s not interested in my punctuation.
6. Asking other people to pray for me. And offering (and doing) the same for them. Doesn’t have to be soul-bearingly specific. But what a difference it makes.
7. Christian stories. What’s happening in the wider church. Biographies. People are interesting. God speaks through the lives of my brothers and sisters. And you know what? Family matters.