Most mornings, I begin my day by meeting God at McDonald’s.
When I first committed my life to Christ and began to develop my relationship with Him, I heard a lot about the importance of having a quiet time to read God’s Word, meditate on it, and talk to Him in prayer. As my mentors and other believers I respected talked about their own quiet time, I realized that it could be as distinctive as the people doing it; some had their quiet time in the morning, while others did it during the day or before they went to bed. The length of time varied along with the format over the years. I’ve come to understand that the nature of a “quiet time” reflects each person’s unique friendship with God. And in friendships, method and form always take a back seat to individual connections of the heart. At its core, a quiet time is a time set apart to connect with God as our Father, Savior, and Friend.
So, I worked to establish my own quiet time, but struggled with the quality and consistency of my connection with God. I found if I didn’t start my day with a designated time to connect with God, it didn’t happen. Unless I put it first in my day, I was inconsistent in making it happen at all. If I stayed up late, I would ignore my alarm and sleep until the last minute, bypassing my quiet time that morning. When I forced myself to get up and go into the other room, I would be asleep in my chair before I finished the first verse or sentence of my prayer. The connection with God I was seeking was replaced by additional sleep.
I also needed structure in my quiet time. On days when my quiet time actually took place, it was more of a dutiful obligation than an exciting aspect of my growing relationship with God. It didn’t seem very productive to let my Bible flop open randomly as a method for determining where I should read that day. Nor did I feel that my prayers accomplished much when they lacked a guided focus but were, instead, the result of a manufactured list of items to be covered. In short, my quiet time was boring and lacked both focus and purpose.
Over the years, my friend Jimmy Evans has often talked about how he journals as a part of his quiet time, and he encouraged me to do the same. Out of the frustration and dissatisfaction I felt, I asked him to tell me about what he did with journaling. He explained that journaling gave structure to his time with God; it enabled him to talk with God and record what God was saying to him. I was so desperate for something different I could do consistently and joyfully that would help me find quality time with God that I decided to give it a try.
When I first attempted to journal as part of my quiet time, it amounted to nothing more than a diary with God’s name on it. I made myself sit down and tell God, by writing in my “God Diary,” all that had happened the previous day and how I felt. If I missed a day, I felt I had to remember everything that had taken place so I could record it in my journal. It was laborious, lifeless, and even worse than the nonsystem I used previously. This method of journaling did not resolve my quiet time issues with inconsistency, lack of systematic Bible reading, and nonfocused prayer. I remained frustrated but still pushed forward determined to find an answer. I eventually came to realize I first needed to go away from my house and job responsibilities to a place where I could focus on God. Secondly, I needed a format that really helped deepen my relationship with God.
That’s where McDonald’s came into the picture. As I sought to find and connect the pieces of an effective quiet time, I started looking for a place to go that was open early in the morning—preferably a place I could go even when I was out of town. McDonald’s became that place. When I first began, breakfast wasn’t my favorite meal of the day, but that changed as I deepened my friendship with God through a consistent quality time with Him.
The second missing piece I needed for my quiet time was a format to follow. I found the Victory Bible Reading Plan—a small pamphlet that enables the reader to completely read through the Bible in a year—and incorporated it into my quiet time routine. I liked this particular plan because it gave me a chapter in Psalms or Proverbs, two chapters in the Old Testament and one chapter in the New Testament to read each day of the year.
I also changed my approach to journaling from simply documenting the events of my life in my “God Diary” to writing my prayers to God and recording the things I felt He was saying to me about my family and situations I was dealing with. What had once been difficult and lifeless was now powerful and engaging!
I started developing this process over 20 years ago. When I first began having a quiet time, I thought I had to legalistically enforce it to be effective; however, as with all things, legalism killed my time with God. My time is now a reflection of my friendship with Him. If I miss a day, the world doesn’t end; I just miss spending time with my God and my Best Friend, and I come back to it as quickly as I can.
The basic outline I follow is simple: I start my time with God by reading the Bible. Usually, I take a verse from my reading and use it to begin my journal entry for the day. My prayer follows a simple format. I express my love and worship to God. I affirm my commitment to Him and surrender to Him. I pray for my needs and concerns as I listen and record the comments He impresses on my heart as we speak (communicating with God is two-way communication). I acknowledge my sin and forgive people who have hurt me.
Conversations with God: A Personal Prayer Journal by Pastor Tom Lane will be available this fall in the Gateway Bookstore.
Do you have a place and a format that helps you build and deepen your relationship with God? If not, here are a few steps to help you get started:
1. Find a place to meet with God.
2. Select a Bible reading plan that helps you read through the entire Bible.
3. Meditate on God’s Word in addition to reading it. It’s the only book that reads you as you read it.
4. Use a journal to write your prayers and record God’s words to you.
5. Enjoy the time as a part of developing your relationship with God.