I've been listening to sermons from the web on Luke 14. It's Jesus at a banquet. He heals on the Sabbath, He teaches about refusing the seats of honour, He calls us to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner and He speaks of the kingdom as a great feast. Wonderful stuff.
But do you know, in all the sermons I've listened to from the web, what's been the number one application of Luke 14?? Quiet times! From both UK and US pastors, the predominant take-home message was 'make sure you get alone with God every day.' I'm not going to name names but I listened to some big hitters. And they preached on the feast. The feast where Jesus tells us to throw feasts and then speaks of the kingdom as a feast. And what's their conclusion: 'We need to get on our own more!'
Usually the logic was: Don't take the places of honour => Therefore get humble => Therefore get on your knees => Therefore commit to quiet times.
Now there were two notable exceptions: John Piper was good. And so was the Australian (obviously!) Mike Frost. (Those two aren't usually positively lumped together but there you are). But the rest took Luke 14 and boiled it down into some very individualistic applications.
Now I'm all in favour of ensuring that our doing flows from a lively relationship with Christ. But why does that equate to 'getting alone with God'?? I mean how do we get from the feast to the prayer closet?? Are conservative evangelicals that afraid of getting our hands dirty in mission, in rubbing shoulders with the poor, crippled, blind and lame? Are we that individualistic and moralistic?
Anyway... I do think a healthy relationship with Christ means talking and listening to Him daily. But why is the quiet time the touch-stone of evangelical spirituality? Why is it the default application for every sermon? Why do we reach for the privatized exhortations so readily?
And how many times have I heard Robert Murray McCheyne's daunting challenge:
What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.
I mean it's right to be challenged by that. But is it true? And is it right to aim for this as the very model and highpoint of Christian maturity? What about: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)
I dunno. Bit of a rant really. What do you think?
Here's the Luke 14 sermon I ended up preaching.
0 thoughts on “Quiet Times [Thawed out Thursdays]”
I'm with you, Glen.
Luther spent something like 15 years in a monastery before he realized that this spiritual navel gazing stuff was fruitless. (not that God didn't use that time to shape Luther)
But then, he (Luther) threw himself into life and got involved in all sorts of activities to be of use to his neighbors.
I don't know. I lay in bed each night and before I go to sleep, I have plenty of time for reflection and to be 'alone' with God.
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Aw man, don't even get me started on this one! This is spot on Glen.
I'd defend the practice of daily household bible reading and prayer as much as the next man. I really would. But just how did it become almost the entirety of our spirituality? It's not even the best/ most 'normal/ the default way of hearing God's word.
Did any of the sermons you listen to mention the Lord's supper or anything even vaguely ecclesiological by way of application?
Must resist the angry young man syndrome now and go shut up...
Maybe I should listen to the sermons before shooting off my keyboard, but it seems as though the "get time alone with Jesus" group may be confusing this parable with the account of Jesus' visit to Mary and Martha's place (Luke 10?).
Certainly, we can't possibly know how best to please the Lord unless we take the time to listen and learn from Him first.
I have my own thoughts about Luke 14, but they never touched on "alone time". Maybe there was an illogical connective leap made between the two passages?
Your thought on John 13:35 was relevant, I think. The love and fellowship we have for God becomes evident as we interact with our brothers in Christ.
Even that perspective can end up being unbalanced if we forget why we are to be loving others. Unfortunately, I have often stripped the first and greatest commandment out of the mix and focused solely on how I'm thinking and acting towards others. That's not so good.
Anyway, I do think it is interesting that you noted a trend toward teaching "alone time with Jesus". It strangely parallels the secular doctrine of "me time" in order to not have the stresses of everyday life drive one crazy.
'Certainly, we can’t possibly know how best to please the Lord unless we take the time to listen and learn from Him first.'
Dead right. but here's where these kind of applications go wrong. They assume that this listening and learning is best/ primarily done on your own.
I think the 'me time' link is interesting.
"but here’s where these kind of applications go wrong."
I believe someone must have gone wrong somewhere.
I don't see anywhere in the Luke 14 feast passages that even hints at "alone time". Maybe it can be extracted from the last section about no one being able to follow unless he hates his own family, life etc and carries his own cross......?
Not sure how many different sermons you listened to, Glen, but I wonder if this is a case of "Wow, love that sermon delivery....I think I'll borrow that angle" without the borrower actually doing a personal in-depth study.
I do get the vs 8-11 reference to humility. It is quite sobering to realize that the King of the universe was sitting as a "nobody" among the Pharisees and they were jockeying to see who could grab the best seat at the table. I need to remember how well that applies to me.
The concept of being alone a lot in order to really get to know God better sounds kind of like the "contemplative spirituality" trend I've run across while web-surfing. It seems that leaders in this movement encourage Christians to get alone regularly to meditate on scripture , pray (not a necessarily bad thing) etc. But the methods described often resemble those which are used by practitioners of eastern mystical etc .
I wouldn't dare to suggest that any of the men on the alluded to sermon list are into contemplative spirituality.
But might it be possible that the movement has somewhere touched down within mainstream Christianity without being recognized as a potential danger? Perhaps someone picked up on "quiet time" and didn't question where that might lead a lot of people?
The similarity to "me time" really is striking in light of the fact that secular humanists effectively see man as his own god. So, they're also spending time alone, trying to get to know "god" better...
Heather that's interesting.
I don't know how things work in the US, but here in the UK rampant individualism is not limited to those who are into mysticism etc. In fact, the conservatives evangelicals I'm a part of would be very suspicious of anything even whiffing of mysticism, and yet I suspect there were more than a few of them represented amongst the sermons Glen listened to.
The issue for us isn't belief in mystical methods, it's an individualism that leaves people blind to the text. We simply assume that the basic application is always to the individual as the individual, because for us being a Christian is primarily and most fundamentally about 'me and God.' This, I'd say, is wildly unbalanced and dangerous. I'd go so far as to say that our individualism can really damage the way we read and interpret scripture. And it's no wonder we struggle to build and to be genuine communities in our churches. In our situation we're constantly banging our heads against the wall because people (godly, committed, Christ-loving people) simply don't get 'church.'
Anyway, rant over. It's good to remember at times like this that salvation is by grace, through faith, and all of Christ. No-one invited to the feast deserves to be there, it can't be earned by any works, even the works of rejecting enlightenment individualism. :)
[I told you not to get me started on this one...]
On another note -
I think we probably would be correct to see a link between
a. A society where people don't really sit down and eat together as families or households
b. A church where pastors read 'feast' and apply 'quiet time'
c. A church where no-one really knows why we do the supper or think it's all that important
And I also wonder if the family meal ('family' as in church family and christian household) is in actual fact a wellspring of grace, inclusion, and mission. So no wonder we're not good at those things either! There has to be a feast in order for you to invite people to it! ;)
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I'm not really sure about the mysticism, either. I assume most conservative American Christians would not be knowingly interested in such a thing. Our church is pretty rural and I've not seen anything like that around here.
It was just a thought about how popular culture/interaction with other religions can sometimes end up affecting believers (and subtly spreading through the body) who are not exercising discernment. The society-to-church pattern you noted in your a,b,c comment is exactly backward of the way it should be, isn't it?
The church ought to be positively affecting culture, not societal norms ripping apart Christ's body from the inside.
"it’s an individualism that leaves people blind to the text. "
Isn't that individualism the same attitude of which Adam (and by extension, all humanity) was guilty?
Mankind was given very special attention by God so that we would be able to have a relationship with Him. And we were designed specifically to need God but instead of allowing God to be God and simply reveling in the joy of Who God is and what He has done, Adam decided he'd prefer to do things differently. Thus, fellowship was broken and the family community of Eden was shattered.
Anyway, I don't think that wrongheaded individualsm is limited to UK thinking. It may manifest differently here, though. It seems that in the US there is a drive to be "different....just like everyone else" and we end up with herds of people all trying to be unique in the same way. I've noticed that this cultural oddity does affect the way we interact with other believers.
Americans will often readily rally together for some "common cause" yet bicker about details because no one is willing to listen and take advice from anyone else. The churches I've attended over the years seem to reflect this illusion of external solidarity (based on some official church document) while internal uneasiness continues to flourish.
Interestingly, it is totally possible to be alone in a large, very active Christian group because an individual refuses to engage on a heart level. I used to live in that place and can say with certainty that it is miserable.
Well, I'm running long again.
"but instead of allowing God to be God "
I meant to say "allowing for God to be God".....He obviously doesn't need man's permission to be God.