on not resolving to do quiet times

My new year’s resolution for 2013: wear suncream every day.

That’s it.

This is quite the revolution, because my resolutions have traditionally been the the same every year:

  1. Get fit. Exercise three times a week.
  2. Do quiet times every day.

There’s been a few others which came and went from the list at various times.

  1. Do some kind of detox (postponed until March while a uni student – what’s the point of detoxing before O-Week?).
  2. Care less about not having a boyfriend.
  3. Try not to whinge so much.
  4. Become an evangelist.

But the first two (fitness and quiet times) never went anywhere. They remained top of the list every year, which suggests that the annual resolutions never worked.

I had two golden years of quiet times. Years where I actually read the whole Bible in daily chunks early in the morning. The first time I was still in school and there were some parts of the Bible I had never read. It was exciting. It felt like an achievement. The second time  was the year I was blessed with sleepy housemates who got up 10 minutes before class. There were two hours of silence every morning with the house to myself.

That all fell apart when I got a job and a fiancee (the end of resolutions about boyfriends). Talking late into the night, leaving for work early in the morning killed the quiet time. It’s never quite recovered.

So I feel guilty. I feel like a slacker.

I swing wildly between declaring on the one hand that quiet times are unnecessary and, on the other, suspecting they might be the key to Christian growth. ‘They’re a human construct; helpful but not compulsory,’ I remind myself. But then someone asks ‘how are your quiet times going?’ and I weakly tell them ‘oh, yeah, ok,’ never brave enough to say that they’re not happening much and I’m not sure if that’s even a problem.

Greg Johnson’s article Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt gives a pretty good diagnosis.

When I look upon the evangelical world today, I see millions of sincere believers who are loaded down with false guilt by teachers who fail to grasp the basics of biblical prayer. To sharpen the point slightly, Christ’s sheep have been lied to. They have been told that prayer is a work that we must perform in order to get God to bless us. As heresies go, this one is often subtle. Prayer has become a work rather than a grace. The result has been a loss of joy in prayer.

And prayer is not the only grace we’ve turned into a work. Personal Bible study has become a source of bondage as well. A whole generation of Christians has been told that God will bless them if they read their Bibles every day, as if the act of reading the Scriptures were some kind of magic talisman by which we gain power over God and secure his favor. This is not the religion of the Bible. This pervasive belief that God gives us grace as a reward for our devotional consistency is antithetical to the religion of Jesus Christ. Prayer and Bible study—what evangelicals for the past century have called the “quiet time”  have become dreaded precisely because they have been radically misunderstood.

It’s ironic, but the Quiet Time has become the number one cause of defeat among Bible-believing Christians today. At one time or another, nearly every sincere believer feels a deep sense of failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame because he or she has failed to set aside a separate time for Bible study and prayer. This condition is called Quiet Time Guilt. And it’s a condition with many repercussions. The shame of Quiet Time Guilt manifests itself in even deeper inability to fruitfully and joyfully study Scripture. Prayer becomes a dread; Bible study a burden. The Christian suffering from Quiet Time Guilt then despairs of seeing God work in his or her life, until finally he or she simply gives up. He may continue outward and public Christian commitments like church attendance, but secretly he feels a hypocrite.

His radical conclusion? The quiet time is optional. 

Does the Bible instruct Christians to call out to God in prayer? Absolutely. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). But this isn’t a command to set apart a special half-hour of prayer; it’s instruction to continually call upon God. Elsewhere the Apostle calls us to pray: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…” (Phil 4:6-7). But notice that the focus here is not on the performance of a devotional duty, but on approaching God for grace—for our hearts and minds to be guarded by him. Paul’s burden is that we would rely upon God in every circumstance and therefore have peace, rather than relying on ourselves and finding ourselves captive to the anxiety that accompanies self-reliance.

Does the Bible command us to read our Bibles every day? No. Not really.

What Scripture actually instructs is that we meditate on God’s word all the time. Consider the godly man in Psalm 1. “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2). This is not exactly the same thing as reading the Bible every day. Personal Bible reading is one—and only one—way we to meditate upon God’s word…

It may surprise you to know that the concept of the quiet time as a command is a modern invention. It’s only in recent centuries that Christians have been able to actually own Bibles—the printing press and cheap paper have given us more options so far as biblical meditation is concerned. But remember that most Christians throughout history have not owned Bibles. They heard the Bible preached during corporate worship. They were taught the Bible in the churches. They memorized the Bible profusely—a first century rabbinic saying stated, “If your rabbi teaches and you have no paper, write it on your sleeve.” But for most Christians through history, biblical meditation took place when they discussed the Bible with family and friends, when they memorized it, when they listened very carefully to God’s word preached. The concept of sitting still before sunrise with a Bible open would have been very foreign to them.

We have so many options today, why do we get hung up on the quiet time? Listen to Christian teaching tapes. Invest your time in a small group Bible study. Have friends over for coffee and Bible discussion. Sing and listen to Scripture songs. Read good theology. Tape memory verses to the dashboard of your car. And pray throughout your day. I always reserve the drive to church on Sundays as a time of uninterrupted prayer for my pastors and elders, for those leading worship, and for the peace and purity of the church…

If you have a regular quiet time, don’t stop. You’ve found a wonderful way to meditate on Scripture. You’ve set aside a specific time to call upon God in prayer. But if the quiet time doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. You should not feel guilty since you have not broken a commandment. The quiet time is an option, a good idea—not a biblical mandate. If the quiet time isn’t working for you, there are other options as well. All of them are good ones. The key is to rely on God to accomplish his plans, a reliance expressed in prayer and fed in Scripture. You have all kinds of opportunities to call upon God in prayer and to meditate upon his word. He loves you and delights in your expressions of weakness and dependence. He is glorified in your weakness.

I can still see the benefit in pursuing regular quiet time. I believe discipline is a virtue which can be overlooked when we have a immature understanding of grace. I want to grow in holiness and maturity and regular private reading of scripture would surely help.

But then again, reading the Bible alone every day is not, on its own, how we grow in knowledge of God. The quiet time is not our salvation, nor is there anything especially spiritual about reading and praying privately. Johnson makes a great point about all the other ways we can meditate on scripture and pray to our God.

So I’ve resolved not to feel any more ‘quiet time guilt’ this year but to endeavour to meditate and pray in all types of ways.

And to wear suncream.

Happy New Year to you too.

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Dickson on why 1 Timothy 2:12 doesn’t prohibit women giving sermons

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

Could there be anything else to say about 1 Timothy 2:12? According to John Dickson, yes. He’s just come out with a new e-book: Hearing her Voice; A Case for Women Giving Sermons. He says something I haven’t heard before. Not everyone in Sydney thinks alike.

‘Hearing her voice’ is a bit of an odd title because it’s not really about ‘her voice’. He doesn’t give much space to discussing why ‘her voice’ might be worth hearing or why we’re missing out by not hearing it (i.e. that she might offer a different perspective to men).

The second half of the title – women giving sermons – is the point. This book is almost exclusively about women giving sermons. Dickson doesn’t stuff around with warming examples or analogies, he doesn’t pursue other ideas to see where they might lead us. The book gets straight to the point. I like that. You can read it in one session. His argument is simply that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women from giving sermons.

These are his key points:

  1. ‘Sermon’ and ‘teaching’ have become virtually synonymous for evangelicals. ‘Teaching’ in the New Testament, however, meant something very different to the expository preaching of today’s sermons.
  2. Teaching, exhorting, evangelising and prophesying were all distinct types of speech in the New Testament. ‘Exhorting’ was likely the closest to our present day sermon. Only one of these types of speech (teaching) is restricted in 1 Timothy 2.
  3. Before the New Testament was written and circulated widely, ‘teaching’ was ‘preserving and laying down for the congregation the traditions handed on by the Apostles’. Teaching had more to do with memorising an oral tradition so as to speak authoritatively to the congregation, than explaining or applying it. It was transmission of the ‘deposit’, not exposition of scripture.
  4. Now that we have the New Testament recorded in writing (and audio, youtube, iphone apps etc.) the role of teaching has transformed. Dickson says that ‘no human being preserves and lays down the teaching of Jesus and the apostles anymore.’

Since giving a sermon is not equivalent to ‘teaching’ in the New Testament sense (moreover, ‘teaching’ is rare these days) and since women are encouraged to prophesy, evangelise and exhort, there is no reason to restrict women from the pulpit.

Moreover, Dickson urges those who reject his argument about teaching to consider the other types of speech open to women and to find practical ways of allowing women to share their voice at church – women clearly spoke publicly in the early church.

Read the footnotes. There are hidden gems.

I was disappointed that he didn’t discuss the rest of 1 Timothy 2 (though, this was simply a book on women giving sermons, he did not promise anything more). In a footnote, Dickson reluctantly put himself in the ‘complimentarian’ camp, though he, like me, dislikes the labels ‘complimentarian’ and ‘egalitarian.’ He reads 1 Timothy 2 as applying to all women (rather than wives in relation to their husbands, Ephesian women or undereducated noisy women).

He doesn’t explain why teaching – even in the sense of transmitting the oral tradition – is limited to women. We only get ‘because Adam was formed first…’ and so ‘was the original custodian of God’s revelation’. It seems arbitrary to me – what has timing to do with teaching? (though I can’t really blame Dickson for this, I’ll have to take it up with Paul). But then this was just a book on women giving sermons.

I found I needed to do a bit of just ‘trusting the expert’ in the book. I don’t know Greek nor am I an ancient historian, so I’m glad to learn from people like Dickson. I’m not in a position to critique the finer points of his argument, but I look forward to reading a response.

I exhort you (I’m allowed to do that) all to download this book for a summer afternoon. It’s only $4.22. It’s refreshing to read someone who’s trying to promote a dialogue between two increasingly entrenched camps. It’ll make you think and it might change your mind.

Meet Jesus at Uni also has a good review of it here.

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could we do Christmas every Sunday?

What do you think is the main point of church on Sunday?

lectureIf you think the main point is to teach, then our gathering will look like a lecture. All face the guy up front. Minimise ‘distractions’ from each other. Concentrate.That’s my main experience of church.

There’s also the various more entertaining concert options for Sundays:

  • If you think the main point is to energise the congregation it’ll look like a Coldplay gig.wiggles
  • If it’s to encourage families: the Wiggles (sorry Colin).
  • If it’s contemplation: maybe Handel or Bach.

I’ve been pondering Jesus’ instructions for our gatherings. He didn’t give us a song or readings or recommend regular exegetical sermons (as beneficial and necessary as all these are). He gave us a meal.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

As I understand it, the main point of our meeting on Sunday is both celebration and anticipation.

We celebrate communion. I don’t simply mean the Lord’s Supper, I mean our fellowship with each other – the Body – and with God in Jesus, achieved by his death and resurrection (not this sort of xkcd communion). As we celebrate together, we proclaim his death. We also gather to anticipate the Wedding Feast, new creation in its fullness and all of us together with God.

 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

Neither of these – celebration nor anticipation – can be done without gathering. What kind of feast is enjoyed alone? How can we celebrate our fellowship apart from with each other? If meeting on Sunday is about anything else, well, frankly we don’t need each other there to do it. No matter how engaging or insightful the preacher is, there’ll be a better sermon free on the Internet. Great music is available elsewhere. If Sunday meetings are primarily about anything other than celebrating and anticipating each other in Christ, then there’s little reason for us to actually meet. Just download it from home in your own time.

So here’s my radical suggestion: let’s make Sunday gatherings a little less like a lecture and a little more like Christmas.

My family has its own Christmas ‘liturgy’ which we re-enacted last Tuesday. We welcomed each other, we served food, we listened to the wise words of our elders (grandpa’s notorious annual speech), we prayed, we feasted, we gave and received gifts and, finally, we lit the pudding and shared dessert. All of these elements were ways of expressing ourselves as family and celebrating our family.

wedding speeches

Or perhaps a wedding reception is a more apt example – given that our Sunday gatherings anticipate the wedding of Jesus and his Church. The wedding reception celebrates the couple and guests have everything in common because of the couple. The reception builds as people testify about the couple, elders speak about them. At last, the bride and groom themselves speak to the guests, cut their cake and distribute it with their guests.

What if we used feasts and important celebrations rather than pop concerts or lectures as our template for Sunday gatherings?

  • It would mean that tea and coffee would no longer be an optional extra after the service but sharing with each other would be an integral part of the gathering.
  • It would mean configuring the space so that the congregation can’t be mistaken for an audience.
  • It would mean celebrating communion as often as we gathered, but perhaps more in the form of a meal shared with the Body than a token ritual morsel.
  • It would mean that the sermon would not not be the focus of the gathering, but still remain an important component (in the same way that the father of the bride’s speech is an important part of a wedding, but doesn’t compare to the bride herself).
  • It might mean having fun.

(I’m not at all advocating abandoning Bible reading or prayers throwing away elders or teacher or church structures. Quite the opposite. I want more structure, more thought put into why and how we gather. Important celebrations such as weddings or Christmas have their own structure and traditions – when music plays, who speaks, when, why – in order to serve the celebration.)

What do you think is the main point of gathering on Sundays?

What could we glean from how we celebrate Christmas or weddings for church gatherings?

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Moving (home?) after 8 years – Sydney

Apologies for my long absence. I’ve been in a remote community doing fieldwork. Naively, I went armed with a Telstra internet stick, believing it would provide me with internet. Ha!

Tomorrow I leave Darwin to move to the big smoke – Sydney – so that my husband can begin theological study. It’ll take us a week to get there (driving), so I’ve got a while to come to terms with it. I grew up there, but I’m apprehensive about moving back.

Sydney

As usual, I’m worried and upset about many things…

My impression of Sydney now, after being away, is of a place filled with beautiful, but chronically busy, overachieving people, living in massive houses (did you know Aussies have the biggest houses in the world and NSW – read Sydney – has the biggest in Australia?), earning a lot of money, pursuing their brilliant careers. Perhaps this is unfair – a false impression. Still, I’m worried both that I might never fit in with these beautiful, brilliant people, but also (and perhaps worse) that I might become one.

I might go back to thinking that it’s normal, even healthy, to be busy and stressed. I used to believe that being busy made you important; I was proud that I had no time for anyone (see The Busy Trap). Now I want to learn to be diligent, organised and to limit my commitments so I can be available for people.

Disabled access in Sydney?

Disabled access in Sydney?

Sydney is shocking in terms of disabled accessibility. My local train station has no lift so we’ll be driving a lot. I haven’t done a reverse park since I got my Ps! This is actually terrifying.

I might end up spending more time in traffic than with friends. Actually, that’s highly likely. How do people get used to that?

There’s so many people! Why do so many people live in the one place? Someone should tell them there are other places you can live! I’m worried that though I might know heaps of people, I won’t know anyone well.

panopticon
Living on campus with only Christians could be some kind of nightmarish panopticon-vortex-of-Christian-expectations. Maybe I’ll feel I need to act ‘holy’ and pretend I hold the ‘right’ opinions. Maybe I’ll have to pretend to be all ‘minstry-wifey’.

What if there’s some young guy (he’s always a guy) fresh out of undergrad who thinks he knows everything? I’ll obsess over trying, subtly, to make him aware that he doesn’t. I’ll be too subtle: he’ll take my hints as further evidence that he does in fact Know Everything. I’ll rage (what’s that proverb on answering a fool?: you can’t win). I’m worried Bible college might aggravate my weakness here. On the bright side, it’ll be a chance to learn to just chill out a little.

traffic

I might get trapped in the Christian bubble of Church and Bible College and lose contact with everyone else.

I might forget that the rest of the country exists, or I’ll become that person with the hobbyhorse about the rest of the country and its existence.

But I’m looking forward to some things.

  • being closer to family and old friends – that’s the main thing – many of the people I love most are in Sydney
  • shopping at Aldi
  • no longer paying NT prices for petrol, power, rent etc.
  • going to gigs
  • sipping decent coffee (and under $4!) in actual cafes
  • seeing movies at the cinema
  • reading the paper (NT news doesn’t count) on the  same day as it came out

    Perhaps I'll miss the NT news just a little

    Perhaps I’ll miss the NT news just a little

  • swimming at the beach (no stingers or crocks!)
  • getting distracted from my own work and borrowing my husband’s readings. Perhaps I’ll spend less time alone reading blogs and actually find someone to talk with about What Tom Wright Really Said etc.
  • settling into the one place. I’ve had 12 different home addresses in the past 8 years. I’m sick of setting up again and again. I’m thinking about working on the garden, getting into home brewing and getting decent furniture so I can use my place to have people over. It’ll nice to become part of a neighbourhood and, I hope, become a blessing to it.
  • Perhaps – this one is the most ambitious – completing a PhD.

Whatever happens, it’ll be an adventure. Adventures force you to grow up a little more. I hope I grow a little wiser and a little more humble.

Anyone else been a spouse of a theological student? How’d you go?

Have you ever moved back to a place after a long time away? How did you feel about going back? Had it changed or had you changed, or both?

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