HomeEducationChristian EducationNo, it’s Not Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’

No, it’s Not Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’

I grew up in church singing, “Read your Bible and pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” A few weeks ago, Christianity Today published an article suggesting that when it comes to spiritual growth, perhaps we need to try something else.

In their article entitled “Is it Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’?”, Dru Johnson and Celina Durgin, leaders of The Center for Hebraic Thought at The King’s College in New York City, challenge the efficacy and place of a discipline at the center of many evangelicals’ devotional lives — the daily “quiet time.”

Long considered by evangelicals to be an important discipline for cultivating spiritual growth and intimacy with the Lord, the modern “quiet time” or “daily devotion” generally refers to an individual’s practice of private worship through prayer and Bible reading.

Because Johnson and Durgin acknowledge that it’s reasonable to see Jesus’ private prayer “as a ritual we should emulate,” that the “Greatest Generation” effectively practiced daily devotions, and that “solitary prayer and reflection are part of a well-rounded Christian life,” readers might initially expect to learn how they might cultivate or regain a healthy quiet time; one more like Jesus’ or perhaps like that of the “Greatest Generation.”

As it turns out, that’s not what they have in mind.

Instead, after critiquing it from a variety of angles, Johnson and Durgin tell us that we need to move away from the daily quiet time as a primary devotional practice, that our “common rituals of Bible engagement are not working,” and need to be disrupted; that we need to “shift the devotional center of gravity away from solitary practices and toward communal ones.”

For Johnson and Durgin, the way forward lies in communal devotional habits. They offer extended communal readings of Scripture, long-form group listening, and repeatedly reading whole books of the Bible as examples of the devotional shift of gravity they believe has the potential to address the problems associated with (caused by?) daily devotions.

While Johnson and Durgin rightly point out the dangers commonly associated with quiet time, I’m convinced that their intentional move away from private worship is a step in the wrong direction and has the potential to do more harm than good when it comes to the spiritual formation of believers.

To be sure, I do think we may need to “rethink our image of devotion and Bible reading,” but not in the ways that Johnson and Durgin suggest.

In short, it’s not time to quit “quiet time.”

The Good

When it comes to the evangelical quiet time, Johnson and Durgin rightfully critique the all-too-common tendency to engage in private worship to “receive God’s guidance for their personal life in that moment” and ask “God to reveal something for me and for today” (italics original).

One needs to look no further than the millions of copies sold by Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling to see that the idea of receiving special, situation-specific messages from God is a devotional epidemic.

Not only does this approach undermine the sufficiency of Scripture (i.e., “I want an extra word from the Lord”), but it places the reader at the center of each text. Reading David and Goliath and asking, “How is God teaching me to slay my giants today?” turns a narrative about God’s faithfulness to His unfaithful people into a self-help exercise.

Reading about Peter walking on water and asking, “How is God calling me to step out of my boat today?” bypasses Christ’s awe-inspiring display of his deity, sovereignty, and the worship it should evoke, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).

Additionally, Johnson and Durgin point out the tragic but common association of private worship with a disassociation from worshipping and learning in Christian community.

Arguing that the Scofield Reference Bible gave people a sense of competence to interpret the Bible in isolation — diminishing the need for pastors, sermons, church history, or peer-review — they rightly sound the alarm against a devotional life that is untethered from Christian community (a phenomenon that has worsened since COVID-19, I fear).

With Johnson and Durgin, I lament many evangelicals’ impulse to privatize their spiritual formation (even more so when it’s defended with pious-sounding platitudes like “Jesus is more than enough for me”) and conceive of worship almost exclusively in terms of “Me and my personal relationship with Christ.”

Suffice to say that private worship — no matter the quality — can never serve as a substitute for worship and growth in Christian community.

Finally, Johnson and Durgin rightly critique making the litmus test for faithfulness in one’s “walk with God” as simple as asking, “Are you doing your daily quiet time?”

To be sure, not only does this reduce the whole of an individual’s spiritual life to a single discipline, but it has the potential to cultivate significant guilt in those who miss a devotion (i.e., God’s probably upset that I slept in and missed our “appointment” today).

This intuition undercuts the core of the gospel message, which offers Christ’s righteousness and work — not ours — as the basis of our acceptance before the Father.

The Not So Good

What’s strange about Johnson and Durgin’s article is that those in full agreement with Johnson and Durgin regarding the potential dangers of emphasizing private devotions will struggle to discern why it is that we should make a shift away from private worship as a central discipline. Their conclusion doesn’t seem to follow from their critiques.

For example, we’re told that if we can’t imagine a thriving spiritual life apart from devotional reading [of the Bible], we likely can’t imagine the “spiritual life of most Jews and Christians throughout history…who lacked easy access to a personal Bible.”

Fair enough. But it’s not at all clear what those who have a copy of the Bible should conclude from this by way of practicing private worship. It would seem that the reason evangelicals struggle to imagine a devotional life without a Bible is the same as many fifth-century believers’ struggle to imagine a devotional life with one — availability.

Surely, we’re not supposed to conclude from this that had believers through the centuries possessed a copy of God’s Word, they would have kept it on the shelf while they engaged in private worship or that those who do have God’s Word today should engage in private worship as if they didn’t.

Without making personal possession of a Bible a requirement for spiritual growth—an important point to make, to be sure — we’re right to simply recognize the fact that those who do have a Bible in their own language enjoy an incredible privilege that those who don’t have (or never had) a Bible simply do not; a privilege that millions of brothers and sisters across the globe long for at this moment.

For this reason, it’s difficult to understand why — having a copy of God’s Word — modern evangelicals would conduct their private devotional lives apart from it.

Additionally, we’re told that the parachurch ministry leaders they interviewed “identified daily quiet time and devotional reading as one’s sole form of Scripture consumption to be potentially problematic” (emphasis mine) and that “listening for God’s insights from Scripture and prayer without communal accountability can produce a tenuous understanding of Christianity” (emphasis mine).

Without denying that too many people isolate their spiritual formation and Bible study from “communal accountability,” what modern evangelical teachers are proposing that we should?

The more natural takeaway here seems to be, “As you cultivate a healthy practice of private worship, make sure you don’t isolate your study and discipleship from the larger community of faith.” But this sort of “balance” isn’t the target that Johnson and Durgin are aiming for.

Again, readers who fully agree that one’s private study of the Word is but one piece in a larger context of “communal accountability” are left wondering why we should move on from quiet time as a regular discipline.

Finally, Johnson and Durgin appear to call church history as a witness against the discipline of private prayer. They write that “in the past, daily worship featured a family or community asking God for provision, but today it primarily consists of individuals asking God to talk to them.”

Yet such an assertion is misleading at best and false at worst. The discipline of private prayer has played a meaningful role in the lives of believers from the early church into the present day.

In point of fact, the Didache — a late first-century church manual — prescribes private prayer (the Lord’s prayer) three times daily. Cyprian practiced and taught morning and evening prayer.

Origen advised praying three times daily, adding that each person finds “a holy place set aside and chosen in his own house, if possible, for accomplishing his prayers in quietness and without distraction” (On Prayer).

Augustine’s longest treatment of prayer is found in his letter to a Roman noblewoman and widow named Proba, instructing her on private prayer.

While it is true that in the past, prayer consisted of a “family or community asking God for provision,” casting the daily discipline of private prayer as a modern phenomenon is historically indefensible.

Identifying the Right Target

A closer reading of Johnson and Durgin’s critiques reveals that their opposition to quiet time doesn’t owe primarily to its incorporation of the Bible, the danger of neglecting learning in a community, or the historical precedent of private worship.

Ultimately, it seems that Johnson and Durgin want to see our devotional practices shift away from the quiet time because — however well-practiced — it doesn’t accomplish what they want it to.

What do they knock quiet times for failing to accomplish? — biblical “fluency” and the formation of just communities. Those are what seem to be the failed litmus tests at the bottom of their proposal that “common rituals of Bible engagement are not working.”

Regarding fluency, Johnson and Durgin argue that “the way daily quiet time is typically practiced today is unlikely to yield the fluency required to understand and apply biblical teaching.”

While I’m not convinced that any quiet time by itself can (or should) yield “fluency”— more on that below — I was stunned to hear Johnson and Durgin’s description of the kind of “fluency” our private devotional habits are failing to produce.

In addition to asserting that Bible-fluent people will be able to discern principles in the Torah that inform our views of modern-day incarceration and policing, we’re told that “if we cannot fluently apply biblical principles, extending the thinking of Scripture into matters of cryptocurrency, police and prison reform, sexual and gender identity, and everything else the biblical authors did not directly address, then we are not the wise and discerning people God desires us to be” (emphasis mine).

Wait…. what?

Are we to believe that the primary goal of private worship is a theologically integrated account of prison reform and cryptocurrency? Or that our quiet times are failing if they’re not training us to discuss gender identity or issues the biblical authors did not directly address? If that’s the case, no wonder private worship doesn’t seem all that useful and needs to be “disrupted!”

What is frustrating is that Johnson and Durgin know this sort of fluency is primarily gained over many years from countless sermons, books, classes, theological training, and conversations with others who are thinking critically about these issues.

To blame a lack of scriptural fluency — as it’s defined here — on private worship is like looking at someone who doesn’t have 18-inch arms together with six-pack abs and concluding that they probably need to make a shift away from their daily tooth brushing routine.

Moreover, insisting on this sort of fluency forces Johnson and Durgin to admit something rather embarrassing: by their standard, only a minuscule percentage of Christians throughout history have ever been “wise and discerning” or “the people God desires [them] to be.” I suggest that we’re better off not making such a sweeping indictment of the historic church.

We’re right to cringe when Johnson and Durgin point out many evangelicals’ biblical illiteracy and unorthodox doctrinal views. And yet, when someone articulates a semi-pelagian doctrine of sin, who has as their first instinct, “Ahh, they must do quiet times?”

Surely our response should be more like, “Who is their pastor? What church are they a member of? Have they had any training? I hope they’re getting some discipleship and haven’t fallen into the trap of attempting isolated self-discipleship.”

Perhaps more confusing than anything else in Johnson and Durgin’s proposal is discerning how it is that the communal practices they insist we gravitate toward yield the kind of fluency they claim we need to be “wise and discerning.”

Put bluntly, are we to believe that a group of Christians — by regularly listening to 45-minute readings of Deuteronomy or repeatedly reading Isaiah — will develop a theologically integrated account of cryptocurrency and police reform?

Without at all disparaging communal practices, it’s far from obvious Johnson and Durgin’s proposals are poised to yield the kind of fluency that the quiet times they criticize have failed to produce.

They conclude that “the assumption that daily devotions alone will yield scriptural literacy and fluency no longer appears tenable because it never was.” I completely agree. I’m just not sure why that’s a problem. The historic practice of private worship has never been fluency as Johnson and Durgin define it. That’s not the primary point of quiet time.

Another objection that seems to do a significant amount of heavy lifting in Johnson and Durgin’s case for moving away from quiet time concerns its ineffectiveness in promoting the formation of justice in communities.

Along with multiple references to police and prison reform, we’re told that improper devotional habits will not have the power to “transform our thinking and our communities” and that the inward focus of quiet time “can also cast the formation of justice in communities and systems…as adhering to individualistic ethical principles.”

In conclusion, Johnson and Durgin express their hope that “vigorous communal scripture engagement…would cause quiet times to overflow into the practices that produce just and peaceful communities.”

While space prohibits an at-length treatment of how Christians should approach community formation in general, I agree with Johnson and Durgin that daily devotions aren’t a primary agent of community transformation.

Judged by that standard, I understand why they argue that traditional methods of private worship aren’t “working.” I simply don’t think the primary purpose of private worship is the formation of just communities — an end they simply assume but never argue for.

To be sure, saying that private worship isn’t primarily an agent of systemic community-wide change is not to say that it’s unconcerned with or irrelevant to the needs represented in the larger communities around us — quite the contrary.

Responding to Jesus’ practice of often withdrawing to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16), Johnson and Durgin emphasize that he was “either finding respite from the demanding masses or moving on to the next place, for ‘that is why I have come’” (cf. Mark 1:38).

But this seems like a missed opportunity to highlight the ideal relationship between private devotion and public ministry! As Jesus strengthens himself through intentional communion and intimacy with the Father, his heart overflows in love to the world around him.

Thus, rather than casting private worship as a potential opponent of community formation, better to modify C.T. Studd’s maxim and say that the light that shines the farthest into the community shines the brightest in the prayer closet. Private communion with God strengthens us to love His world.

A Better Way Forward

So then, if the primary goal of the quiet time isn’t biblical fluency or community transformation, what is it? I’d like to suggest that the primary goal of quiet time is worship, which issues from beholding — specifically, beholding the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul tells us that “…we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

It’s simple but profound: we become like what we behold. When we behold the glory of the Lord, the Spirit gradually transforms us into the same image. That’s the primary goal of quiet time.

Understood this way, we don’t primarily open our Bibles in quiet time to receive a special message of guidance from the Lord, develop our understanding of infralapsarianism, or contribute to a more equitable tax structure.

We open our Bibles primarily to behold — to see and savor the glory of God in Christ. We do quiet time as part of a disciplined effort to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Passage after passage, we say, “Look at His kindness! Look at His holiness! Look at His wisdom! Look at His grace!” That’s our biggest need. It’s not to learn “how to” but to see Someone.

We see David defeat Goliath and say, “Wow! Look at God’s faithfulness to people who regularly fail to believe His promises — people like me.

Paralyzed in unbelief and lacking the faith to overcome the enemy, God provides an unlikely warrior to represent His people, succeed where they had failed, and grant them victory through the work of another. What an awesome sketch of how God has rescued me in Christ!”

We see Jesus walking on water and say, “Wow! Look at how He is revealing His identity through this incredible display of power and sovereignty! Who but God can tread on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8)? Who but God can still the storm to a whisper (Psalm 107:29)?”

We then commune with God directly through prayer — through rejoicing, repenting, and requesting — that flows from what we’ve seen in the text.

When David defeats Goliath, we thank God for His faithfulness when we are unfaithful — particularly for his faithfulness to us in Christ, our warrior-representative.

We repent of doubting His various promises and our fundamental suspicion that we’re superior to the Israelites who struggled to believe them. We ask God for increased faith to trust Him when it’s difficult and an increased reliance on His strength, not ours.

When Jesus walks on the waves, we praise Him for His power over the creation and say with the disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

We repent of believing that our hope is only as good as our present circumstances and rest in the one whose presence and promises are more than enough in any circumstance.

We ask God to open the eyes of our neighbors and communities to see the glory of Christ so that they might join us in worshipping Him as Lord.

Having engaged in Scripture-fueled private worship, we engage in our Bible studies, small groups, and church services where we are instructed and where our doctrine and reading of Scripture are refined and corrected; where, with other believers, we’re trained to understand individual passages in light of their place within the sweep of redemptive history.

With an ever-growing understanding of the gospel and the grace we’ve received in Christ, we engage our families, churches, workplaces, and communities — the various “arenas” where God develops the strength, wisdom, and compassion we prayed for in the prayer closet.

Resting in the finished work of Christ, we make a grace-fueled effort to love our neighbors as ourselves and live out our identity in Christ.

Then we start over. We return to our prayer closet, where we ask God once again to help us behold his glory (Exodus 33:18). Through the Spirit’s work in us, it’s this sort of rhythm that will gradually, over time, form us into the “wise and discerning people God desires us to be.” It’s not flashy. But it “works.”

What Does This Mean?

So, let’s not quit quiet time. Let’s avoid demanding that it accomplish something it’s not designed to accomplish. Let’s avoid privatizing our spiritual lives and commit to ensuring that our personal study of Scripture takes place within the community of the local church alongside other believers and pastors.

And with these commitments in place, let’s discipline ourselves to practice quiet time with the primary goal of worship — worship through beholding the glory of God in Christ, where we engage in Scripture-fueled communion with God, and strengthening ourselves in His love, overflow in love to the world around us.

For further reading:

Why Is it So Important to Have Quiet Time with the Lord?

Do We Really Need to Pray if God Knows Our Heart?

How Can We Enter God’s Rest?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/aldomurillo

Chase Krug serves as the Lead Pastor at New Century Church in Roanoke, VA. He earned his M.Div. from SEBTS in Wake Forest, where he is also pursuing his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology and preparing to write on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  He enjoys music, golf, working out, theology, and good food. He and his wife Rebecca are blessed with two children — Pierce and Cassie Rae. 

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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