As a mom I have found it more difficult now more than ever before in my life to spend quiet, reflective time with God. Before Philip was born, my morning routine consisted of coffee and reading Scripture and praying. Rarely do I get that time anymore. I don't know about those of you who have children, but my son has a sixth sense about when I wake up. Our bedrooms are on opposite sides of the house, but the minute I decide to get out of bed I will hear our bedroom door open or see him at my feet. My mornings are no longer my own. Then once the day starts, we go from 0 to 100 mph and we don't slow down. Chasing, running, feeding, picking and dusting him off, cleaning after him, calming him down, playing with him, disciplining him...Whew! I'm just exhausted typing it all up. These days are long and hard but so much fun!
However, finding that quiet time with God and His Word has been a daily struggle. And because I have not been consistent in going to the well to receive spiritual nourishment, I have seen the effects in my attitude, thoughts, my relationships, my words, etc.
You don't have to be a stay-at-home mom to share my plight. You can be an outside-the-home working mom or dad. You can be a caregiver for an adult. In fact you can just be any adult with any responsibility. Life is simply busy and complicated.
But if you are like me, then you yearn for that time with God. You yearn to protect and treasure the relationship you have with your Creator and Savior. You yearn to hear from God, to feast on His Word and be fed by Him.
I haven't figured it all out, and this is not a comprehensive list, but the following are some ways I have found to foster spiritual formation and spend time with God in the midst of a busy and crazy life. I hope some are helpful to you. Perhaps you are already doing many of these, and perhaps you have more to add! I'd love to hear ways you find to spend time with God.
1. Use The Book of Common Prayer. I grew up Southern Baptist and am still a Southern Baptist girl in many ways. If you have any knowledge of Baptists, then you know, for the most part, we do not use The Book of Common Prayer nor do we use written prayers (nor creeds, nor confessions) in our corporate or private worship. One of the many advantages of going to an interdenominational seminary was that I was exposed to other evangelical traditions in corporate worship, in the classroom and in conversations. One aspect of Anglicanism that I really like are their written prayers. These prayers are rich in theology, Scripture and doctrine, and they are fashioned in such a way that the words are almost poetic in nature. Consider this prayer: "Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen. What I love about this book is that it has prayers for different days (Monday, Tuesday, etc.), different times of the day (morning, afternoon, evening), holy days in the Church (Advent, Lent, Easter), and seasons of life (marriage, birth, adoption, sickness, and death). It also contains the Psalms and a reading plan for the year. While there are doctrines that I do not agree with (e.g., prayers for the dead), I find this book very enriching to my spiritual life. What are some other books or devotional guides that you use in addition to your Bible?
2. Download a Bible, Bible study tool or devotional app. In the beginning days of Philip's life, I spent most my days holding him, whether it was feeding him, soothing him or getting him to sleep. There were times that I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired. In those moments I would turn to my iPhone to keep my mind busy and awake. I wish I could say that I used those times to go to the Bible on my phone or a devotional app, but I didn't. However, that would have been the best time to do so! Just recently I discovered that there are many apps designed to help one who is always on the go spiritually, some good and some not. My favorite app (surprise, surprise) is a Book of Common prayer app called Mission of St. Clare.
As you can see, it gives me the option of a morning or evening prayer. The word prayer is a little deceptive here, because when you click on a prayer option it gives you Scripture readings (Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament) in addition to prayers. It's quite lengthy, and so I only have time to read part of what it has to offer. However, this tool has been great! When I wake up and before I get out of bed, I grab my smartphone and spend time in Scripture reading and prayer. When I sometimes rock Philip to sleep, after he has fallen asleep in my lap, I grab my iPhone and go to this app. When I am at a doctor's office, in carpool line, in the grocery store parking lot, wherever I am that I can stop and spend a few minutes with God, this app comes in handy as it is convenient, thoughtful, structured and rich theologically. It doesn't have to be this app. It can be an app that is your favorite Bible translation or another app with prayers. What are some of your favorite Bible-related apps?
3. Listen to sermons and podcasts online. One of the many things I miss about being a seminary student is being able to listen to great sermons during the week. Chapel time was my favorite time each week. After graduating seminary, my husband (who teaches at the seminary) would come home telling me what a great sermon he heard in chapel. Thanks to technology, it dawned on me that I could listen to chapel sermons too! At least once each week (if not more), when Philip goes down for his nap I pull up a sermon online while I fold laundry or do other chores. Listening to sermons has not only focused my mind on the Word of God but it helps usher the divine into the mundane. It is much easier to do mindless, endless household chores when I am hearing a sermon about the glory of God. Beeson Divinity School has its past chapel sermons online available for viewing and listening here and has a weekly podcast you can listen to here. Overall it is a trusted center for excellent, expository sermons.I also like to listen to the sermons of my dad, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, Big Spring, here and I like the sermons of Don Guthrie, pastor of First Baptist Church, San Antonio, here. I also like the sermons of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C., here and Time Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, here. Many of these churches and institutions will have podcast apps that allow you to listen to sermons on your smartphone. I also recommend listening to sermons in the car, especially when you are going to be travelling for quite sometime. In addition I think it is a great idea if you are a pastor or someone who preaches weekly to listen to someone else preach at least once a week so that you are being fed and sharpened by other preachers of the Word. Who else would your recommend? What other institutions with sermons or podcasts would you recommend?
4. Listen to praise and worship music. One thing I have started doing recently is writing down song titles we sing in worship each week at my church. I am REALLY bad at remembering names/titles. In the past I would want to listen to a song sung on Sunday but couldn't remember the name of it. Now I keep a list and either find the songs on YouTube, iTunes, or Pandora. I turn off the TV and put on these songs while I am getting ready in the morning (Or afternoon or night! You never know when it will happen with a toddler.). I'll put on music when I workout at home or when I am not listening to a sermon while doing chores. Sometimes when my son and I are playing quietly, I turn on worship music. What this music does for me is to fashion my mind on God, His glory and, if the songs are written well, on Scripture. It is much more difficult for my mind to wander, to worry, to be distracted, or to be tempted when I am focusing on God through music (not to mention it's a nice break from Veggie Tales!). I am also realizing that my son is picking up on lyrics and singing about Jesus. This is a great way for him to be exposed to who God is, His Word and the love of Jesus. My all time favorite person to listen to is Fernando Ortega. I find playlists of his music on YouTube. Some of my favorites are: Our Great God, Sing to Jesus, Give me Jesus, and Lord of Eternity. I also love Keith and Kristyn Getty and Kari Jobe. Who do you like to listen to and what are some of your favorite songs?
5. Make time for silence and prayer. It is VERY difficult to cut out the noise in our lives when we are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. I am speaking from personal experience! Social media, our phones, our iPads, our laptops are our biggest distractions, I believe. I have noticed in my own life that when I do have a few moments of silence I immediately want to try to fill it with the things mentioned above. I am allowing these things to steal my time, my thoughts and my energy away from God and family. I am in the process of learning to put these things down and give it to God. Obviously I haven't given it up all together, but I am learning to not give it first place. I want to learn to use these social media tools in moderation and only after I have spent time in prayer, silence and mediation with God. The more time and practice I put into being quiet and still before my God, the easier and more natural it becomes. Just recently I stopped listening to music for the entire duration of my running/walking. I'll listen to music for part of my run and then spend the rest in complete silence. I use to try to fill up my time driving in the car by talking on the phone; now I try not to call people as much. I substitute talking on the phone with quiet prayer. I have noticed lately that by setting aside time to be silent and to pray, I am more aware of the sin in my life and equally, if not more powerfully, aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. What are some ways you cultivate silence and prayer in your life?
6. Don't forsake Scripture. None of the five above options are meant to replace reading Scripture. As Christians we confess that Scripture is the Word of God. If this is indeed true and if we want to hear from God and know God's heart, we must remain in Scripture. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Some of these suggestions, like the aforementioned app, provides daily Scripture readings, but a devotional app or worship music or sermons should never be a substitute for reading God's Word. Practically speaking, I have found personally that I don't do well with the reading the Bible in a year plan. I feel overwhelmed and rushed. Instead of understanding what I am reading, I feel like I am checking off a box. For some, however, this works well. If it works well for you, then don't stop. However, what works for me is to pick one book of the Bible or two books (one Old Testament and one New Testament) and read little chunks at a time. I like to consult good biblical commentaries on the specific book I am reading and go slowly enough that I understand what I am reading. If I am unsure which book of the Bible to read next, I consult the reading plan in The Book of Common Prayer so that I am reading what many Christians and churches are reading at the same time. Sometimes I spend an entire week on just a couple of verses because they are so powerful I am not ready to leave them. Because my son is a morning person (like me!), I have given up reading my Bible in the mornings (unless I can on the app mentioned above). Now, I try to read when I eat lunch or when I am about to go to bed. Or, I read Scripture when my husband and son are playing together. I have had to change my thinking and my routine. This has been hard, but I realized if I didn't do it I would never find time to read Scripture.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful to you. I am still on a journey of trying to give more of my time and thoughts to God and less to things of this world. I am still trying to figure out how to be creative in receiving spiritual formation and spending time with Jesus Christ during the week. I would LOVE to hear from you. Perhaps there are blogs you like to read because they are spiritually edifying. Perhaps there is a book that you would recommend as an addendum to reading Scripture. Let's keep this conversation going so that we are encouraging and helping each other in this Christian walk!