How has your time with the Lord been this week?
How would you answer this question?
There are times when I feel prepared to answer this question, and other times when I’m ashamed. I know I should have, but time just got away from me this week…
One of the most common responses to this question that I have heard (and used myself) is some variation of “I want to, but I just don’t have the time”.
I sat down for dinner with a friend last fall, and we began discussing a common phenomenon in Christian culture relating to how we approach our relationships with Jesus. Our time with the Lord has been relegated to the same status as many other things on our lists: the “fit it in when you can” category. You know the one I’m talking about—it’s the place we put our good intentions that never really grew into something else.
For some of us, our Bibles often take the form of cute graphics of verses we find on Christian Instagram pages. It’s faster and more convenient to find God and His Word on social media; we would like to have the time to open our Bibles and study, but as I noted above—we’re just too busy.
The average American spends 705 hours per year on social media. Yet so many voices are justifying our attempts to “fit God in” to our schedule, reminding us that “even five minutes is better than nothing”.
If that doesn’t hit home, look at this: the average American spends 2,737.5 hours per year watching television. That’s nearly 3,000 hours per YEAR that we spend in front of our TVs—and for some reason, finding the time for that isn’t nearly so difficult.
I know that some of you reading this will be tempted to exempt yourselves, because perhaps you don’t have social media, or you don’t watch TV. That’s fine, because it’s not really about social media or TV anyway. I’m confident that if any person were to look at a log of how he or she spends time on a daily basis, it wouldn’t take long to pinpoint the unique activities that consume it.
I want to boldly suggest that the underlying reason we struggle in our time with Jesus is not a matter of time.
It’s a matter of posture.
Every one of us has the same 24 hours. What are we prioritizing with our 24?
Imagine sitting down to have coffee or a meal with your best friend. You have so much to catch up on, but here’s the problem: you only have time for a five-minute conversation. You might take it, but you wonder if it’s even worth it. It will be different next time, right?
Imagine that the same thing happens every time you see your best friend. I know that I would be so disappointed! They’re supposed to be my best friend, after all.
While those five minutes might be “better than nothing”, they will only be enough—at best— to maintain your relationship. It will be nearly impossible to achieve depth—to go beyond discussing how the day is going. If someone were to look objectively at how I spent my day, they would have no idea that this person was my “best friend”, based on the five minutes I devoted to that relationship. They wouldn’t have any grounds to assume that this relationship was significant to me. Maybe that relationship is important to me in reality, but my time reflected the opposite.
Now, imagine with me that you are given the choice between a five-minute conversation and unlimited time with this friend. Which would you choose?
For most of us, this is not even a question. A friend of mine said it best: “Why would we want just five minutes?”.
In one sense, I wholeheartedly agree with those who argue that any time with the Lord is better than no time. Psalm 84 proclaims “better is one day in your [the Lord’s] courts than a thousand elsewhere”—and I affirm that any amount of time spent with Jesus is life-giving and significant. That being said, my goal in writing this piece is not to challenge the importance of spending time with God—rather, it is to challenge the heart with which we approach Him. Are we giving Him the “leftovers” of our time in order to check a box off a list, or are we motivated by something deeper?
The way in which our time is spent reflects our true values. Michael Novak, a Catholic philosopher, discusses three levels of belief: public, private and core. Public belief is what we say we believe, private belief is what we think we believe, and core belief is what we actually believe—even if we are not aware of it. Novak posits that we never violate our core beliefs.
We sing about Jesus being enough for us at church, and we convince ourselves that we believe He is everything we need—but do we truly believe that Jesus is enough? If we were to wake up tomorrow with nothing and no one but Jesus, would we be satisfied? What is our core belief about Jesus?
There will always be an excuse for why we are “too busy” to give our time to Jesus. I know this because there have been times where I look forward to breaks from school to “reconnect and reprioritize”, only to find that this “free time” has been mysteriously caught up in other pursuits. This season is busy, and no matter what we say to convince ourselves otherwise, the next one will be too. On this day, whom are we choosing to serve (Joshua 24:15)?
We shouldn’t be asking how long the “perfect” devotion should be; it’s not so much about the length of time than it is about the state of our hearts in pursuing relationship. Where is my heart posture in pursuing relationship with the Lord? If I am growing in relationship with Him, I won’t want to settle for less than the fullness of life that He promises.
It is important to note that all of life can be “time with Jesus”. “For from him and through him and to Him are all things”, and it can be dangerous to compartmentalize our lives in a way that consigns Jesus to one corner, excluding Him from life as a whole (Romans 11:36). “Time” spent with the Lord can mean different things to different people. Remember, our posture often carries greater impact than the specific action itself.
Here is where the rubber hits the road. There is a cost associated with following Jesus—doing so requires sacrifice and reprioritization of our lives. Jesus knows that living as His disciple brings true freedom, but living counter-culturally is difficult—and prioritizing time in a Jesus-centered way is absolutely counter-cultural. We often live a faith based on emotions; we assume that doing anything we don’t feel like doing is legalistic, and that’s not the way of Jesus—right? I also want to challenge this idea. Emotions are valuable because although they don’t always tell the truth, they tell the truth about where we are at right now (as noted in The Porch sermon, “In Your Feelings” from May 13, 2019).
However, God has called us to obedience, and I argue that obedience and faithfulness should guide our faith to a greater degree than our feelings in any given moment. If what we desire to value doesn’t line up with what our life says we value, we must be disciplined in aligning ourselves to a new value system. Discipline is critical to the flourishing of the believer, and shying away from something simply because it’s hard will not contribute to our growth in Christ.
I am sharing a few tools that have allowed me to begin working through the practicalities of this concept, and I am sharing them in hopes that they will prove instrumental to your own processing and growth.
- Keep a “time log” of how you spend your day. Evaluate once you are finished—what did you spend the most time thinking about? How often did you pick up your phone? What did you default to when you were “bored”? What category of activity consumed the majority of your time? If you found this exercise helpful, repeat over multiple days to begin seeing patterns.
- Ask the Lord to reveal to you who or what you are treasuring more highly than Him. Examples could include work, money, sleep, personal recognition, relationships, or control—ask Him for yourself, and be intentional about creating space to listen for what He will show you.
- Based on your time log and time spent seeking the Lord, what are practical changes you can implement into your schedule that will enable you to shift your time in a way that reflects your values—or what you want to value? Examples could include:
- Fast from social media and/or TV. Replace the time you used to spend on your phone with a good book, prayer, or even the Bible app!
- Use an alarm clock to wake up, and keep your phone turned off until after you’ve spent time with the Lord. Be intentional about removing distractions.
- Wake up earlier, and be disciplined in going to bed on time. The lifestyle we want to have won’t just happen! Discipline in the small choices is key—and that often means saying “no” to certain things so we can say “yes” to better things.
- Devote driving or walking time to prayer. It is often the “everyday” practices that form us the most. All of life can be spent with God!
- Practice a regular sabbath. One of the most impactful books I’ve ever read regarding sabbath is Garden City by John Mark Comer.
In Psalm 16, the psalmist states that he has “set the Lord always before [Him]; because He is at [His] right hand, [He] shall not be shaken”. Psalms 25 and 26 speak to the importance of our eyes being “ever toward the Lord”, and seeing his “steadfast love…before [our] eyes”. Psalm 27 records this: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple”.
What does it mean for us to align our lives with what we desire to value? What does it mean to develop an inner gaze that loves to ponder at the beauty of the Lord? How can we shift our schedules and our habits to become better disciples of Christ? The last thing I claim to have is all of the answers—I am learning, and my prayer is that these ponderings would encourage more intentional growth and authentic pursuit of Jesus in all of us.