Daily Soul Care


Taking Daily Time to Care for Your Own Soul

By Joel Comiskey

Appeared in Small Group Network, July 2002 at http://www.smallgroups.com/secure/dynamics/072002news/feature4.html

One day a distraught man named John Salas nervously opened the door to my office, "Iíve tried everything," he blurted out. "Iíve been addicted to alcohol and drugs, and Iíve even tried a couple of religions. Now my wife wants to leave me. What can you do for me?"

Rarely had I witnessed such desperation in all my years of counseling. As one of the pastors at the El BatŠn Church in Quito, Ecuador, I had counseled many needy people, but John was different. He was clearly at the end of his rope. "I know that youíve been sincerely seeking answers," I said, "but only Jesus Christ can fill the void in your heart." As I led him in prayer to receive Jesus Christ, the urgency in Johnís voice finally ended in relief.

God took control of John that day, and he became a new creation. A radiance and joy flooded his life. Before he departed, I counseled John to spend time with God daily.

At the new believersí class the next evening, John related to me how he had awoken early in the morning and spent time with his new friend, Jesus. John began a pattern of spending daily time alone with God that revolutionized his life and transformed him into a dynamic Christian. Over the years, as I watched John grow, I noticed the power of God in his ministry, in the renewal of his marriage and in the prosperity of his work.

John still had his share of difficulties. Past marriage problems plagued him, and moving his restaurant to a new location required a heavy financial commitment. Yet Godís blessing followed him wherever he went. God was enlarging Johnís territory, and others noticed it.

I realized that the heavenly Father was rewarding John for spending time alone with Him. The words of Christ were coming true before my eyes: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:6).

Years later, I had the opportunity to prove the relationship between quiet time and Godís blessing. To earn my Ph.D. degree, I polled 700 small group lay leaders in 8 countries around the world. I wanted to determine why certain small group leaders were more successful than others in growing and multiplying their groups. I was surprised to discover that a leaderís success had nothing to do with personality, social status, education or spiritual gifting.  It had everything to do with time spent with God. Time spent in the quiet time consistently appeared as the most important factor in my study.

I wasnít expecting this correlation. I thought Iíd discover more natural, human reasons for success in ministry. Yet, the correlation is a logical one. During quiet time alone with the living God, we hear Godís voice and receive His wisdom. It stands to reason, then, that Spirit-filled lay leaders, moving under Godís guidance, will have an untouchable sense of direction and leadership. God grants them success.

Iíve Tried, But . . .

For many, quiet time is not an exiting adventure of knowing the living God; rather, itís a lot like eating liver, attending a required board meeting, or taking out the trash. "Iíll do it by the sheer force of my willónothing more." A friend of mine once said:

What has been my problem in the past is dryness ... no heartfelt time with the Lord, but instead just going through the motions. I fulfilled my quiet time out of duty ... because I thought it was the right thing to do. I wanted to get something from God. Now I want to be with Him, communicating with Him, "touching" my Father.

At one time or another we have all felt dryness when spending time with God. If you are struggling with spending regular time with God, you donít need guilt heaped upon you. What you do need is concrete solutions to making your quiet time fresh.

Perhaps someone has tried to tell you that youíre not really a Christian unless you have a quiet time. If so, rather than being a delight, spending time with God became a burden.

Or maybe youíre just not convinced that a daily quiet time is truly importantiItís a nice thought, and perhaps a good thing, but not indispensable. When job, family and outside activities compete for attention, quiet time tends to take a backseat.

Many see quiet time as too routine. I often hear the phrase, "When I have an urge to seek the Lord, I will, but making it a regular practice seems too ritualistic, not spontaneous enough." Jim, a close friend of mine, said to me, "I know I should have a regular quiet time, but Iíve been waiting for it to feel right to get started." Those who feel this way fail to see quiet time as a Christian discipline that forms into a habit.

My Experience

I have discovered a direct relationship between my own success and failure and my quiet time with God. I have often said to God, "Iím too busy today. I have too much to accomplish. Iíll check in later."

At the end of the day, after never having found the time, I realize what a frustrating, unfruitful and conflictive day I experienced. Without my time with God, I flounder through my day without the Spiritís control to face lifeís difficulties.

I went through one of those periods in 1996 while living in Pasadena, California, and attending Fuller Theological Seminary. "You know how pressed I am for time to turn in my course work," I argued with God. "I just donít have time for a daily quiet time."

Soon after, I somehow managed to complete a major paper on church history and turn it in on time. When I received it back, however, it was covered with red ink from the professor. I had to completely redo it.

At this point, God clearly spoke to me. "Joel," He said, "Iím the one who will give you wisdom. Even when youíre extremely busy, seek me first and Iíll give you success."

"Okay, God," I said. "Iíll obey you. Iíll spend regular time in the midst of my busyness. Just remember that I'll have even less time to complete this next paper."

I was about to discover that tithing my time to spend with God would help me make better use of the time I had. God was faithful. I found new, better ways of writing. My papers began to come back to me with encouraging comments, even though I had not spent as much time on them.

Your experience might have nothing to do with writing papers, yet the principle remains the same: As you commit yourself to spend time with God, He will bless your life and help you make better use of your time.

I have come to believe that the most important spiritual discipline in the Christian life is maintaining a regular quiet timeóa time to talk to God and allow God to speak to you; a time to read the Word and receive food for your soul.

My quiet time provides me with a chance for a daily checkup, a time to express my cares and concerns. It is where I receive plans for the future and joy that strengthens my soul. It is my opportunity to talk directly with the One who loves me, who chose me before the creation of the universe and who is as close as the air I breathe.

Daily Bread

When God provided bread from heaven (manna) for His people, the Israelites, He commanded them to gather it daily or it would spoil. A dayís worth of manna was good for only one day. We, too, need daily spiritual food to face the unique challenges that each day brings. Jesus said, "Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34). Yesterdayís blessing and anointing wonít prepare you to face todayís cares, trials, and heartaches. You need fresh nourishment from Jesus today.

I confess that I didnít always believe in the importance of making my quiet time a daily activity. At times when I was too busy, Iíd say, "Iím too busy today, God, Iíll do extra devotions tomorrow." I didnít realize how much I would need fresh nourishment todayóas well as tomorrow.

We Love Him Because He First Loved Us

Iím constantly amazed by the sincere love my three girls offer to me. "Daddy, we just want to be with you," is their constant refrain. They donít do it to fulfill a good work or ritual; itís a natural desire that God has placed within them.

Spending daily quiet time is not a meritorious act to make us worthy in Godís sight. We donít do it to prove ourselves before God or to offer Him another good work. Rather, our quiet time is a response to His love. Because Jesus loves us and has made us righteous by His blood, we desire to spend time with Him and know Him more intimately. We long to be with Him not because we have to, but because we want to.

A. W. Tozer, a spiritual leader of the twentieth century, says, "We pursue God because and only because He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to pursuit." Godís grace births a desire in us to spend time with him. We simply respond to His love and desire to enter His presence.

Ask God to make your quiet time a delight. He wants to remove the heavy burden of "checking the time clock." Although it might be difficult at first, God desires to make your quiet time the most enjoyable part of your day.

God Desires to Spend Time with His Children

Did you know that God wants to spend time with you far more than you want to spend time with Him? So often we imagine that spending time with God is a job to perform. To many, unfortunately, itís like lifting a heavy load to the throne of grace to please an angry God.

Know that the Bible paints a different picture. We see a God who loves His children and longs to be with them. David said, "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you" (Psalm 139:17Ė18).

God is thinking about you all the time. Henry Blackaby, a Baptist preacher who wrote the best-selling book Experiencing God, says, "God Himself pursues a love relationship with you. He is the One who takes the initiative to bring you into this kind of relationship. He created you for a love relationship with Himself. That is the very purpose of your lives." God longs to spend time with you more than you can imagine. In fact, God desires to spend time with you so much that even now Heís preparing your eternity, in which youíll spend unbroken time with Him (John 14:2).

And donít think that God wants to enjoy you only when you are strong and capable. God understands exactly where you are right now. He enjoys you in your precise stage of development. Iíve enjoyed spending time with my daughters at each stage of their lives. Chelsea, our youngest, says the cutest things and can cuddle up in a way that only a four-year-old can. I enjoy Sarah, our oldest, in a different way. We converse on subjects way over Chelseaís head. I can best reach our middle child, Nicole, through game playing and sports.

Let God enjoy you. He chose you before the creation of the world and then called you to enter a love relationship with you. God desires to develop that love relationship with you. He desires to meet you in your daily quiet time.

Take Time to Be Holy

People often say, "Maybe next year I can spend regular time with God. Right now Iím overloaded at work." Recent studies indicate that Americans work the longest hours in the industrialized worldónearly 2000 hours per year! Between 1977 and 1997, the average workweek among salaried Americans lengthened from 43 to 47 hours. Over the same years, the number of workers putting in 50 or more hours a week jumped from 24 to 37 percent.

Scarcely a decade ago, Americans were horrified with the work habits of the Japanese. Now, according to a recent report of the International Labor Organization, the United States has slipped past Japan to become the longest-working nation in the world. The average American works eight weeks more per year than the average western European, and the same report says that Americans run a risk of burning out.

Working hard is not wrong; burning out while working hard is the problem. When we work hard without Godís joy and peace controlling our lives, we build up stress and worry that results in burnout and dysfunctional behavior.

I mentioned in the introduction how God showed me that tithing my time to spend with Him helped me make better use of the rest of my time. Spending quiet time with God will give you a supernatural peace and joy that will accompany you throughout the day. This peace and joy will allow you to work hard and increase your productivity while avoiding the accompanying burnout. As Nehemiah said: "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

When you realize how desperately you need Godís fullness, you will want to take time to spend with Him each day. Realize, however, that finding that time wonít be easy. The hymn "Take Time to Be HOLY" expresses the hardest thing in spending time with God. We will most likely never find time.  We will have to take it from the other demands that crowd and press on us. Paul Cedar, a well-known pastor and Christian leader, confessed:

I had been establishing appointments for every person and every event that was important in my life.. . . I realized that I rarely if ever scheduled an appointment with God. That recognition transformed my schedule and my prayer life. I began to schedule time alone with God every day. In fact, whenever I buy a new date book now, I always set my regular appointment with God first . . .

Be assured that urgent needs will crowd your schedule and spoil your initiative to spend time with God unless you plan aheadóunless you make your meeting with Him the most vital appointment of your day. The Words of Christ still ring true: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

This article is taken from Joel Comiskeyís new book An Appointment with the King (Chosen Books, May 2002). This book encourages people to seek greater intimacy with God by spending regular time with Him. This book will offer solutions, rather than condemning those who feel frustrated or guilty about their quiet time. Joel shares his own weaknesses and frustrations in this area. The book includes practical advice and exercises for an improved quiet time. Find out more or order at www.amazon.com