I was so sad when one of my most beloved mentors passed away. Though I never had the honor of meeting her in person, Elisabeth Elliot was an amazing woman of faith and a mentor to thousands of women through her wonderful books. Her many books and her life’s testimony have been pivotal in the shaping of my life. If you are unfamiliar with her and her writings I highly recommend reading one or two (or ten) of her books in addition to this sample of her writing included in this post.
It is hard to narrow down what to share of her wisdom in one little post, but one of the main themes of her work was having a devotion time with the Lord. In her honor I’d like to share with you how to have a quiet time.
How to Have a Quiet Time
Having a regular devotion time is something Christians have struggled with for decades. I love this excerpt from Elisabeth Elliot because it shows that our struggle to be consistent in devotions is not a new issue in our busy modern era. It was just as much a struggle back in the 1960s as it is now.
“Having a quiet time with the Lord every day is absolutely essential if you expect to grow spiritually. But you have to plan it. It won’t “just happen.” We’re all much too busy. Early morning is best, and there are plenty of scriptural precedents for that (Jesus rose “a great while before day”; the psalmist said, “In the morning shalt Thou hear my voice”).
If you meet the Lord before you meet anybody else, you’ll be “pointed in the right direction” for whatever comes. God knows how difficult it is for some to do this, and if you have a reason you can offer Him why early morning won’t work, I’m sure He’ll help you to find another time. […] At any rate, plan the time. Make up your mind to stick with it. Make it short to begin with – fifteen minutes or so, perhaps. You’ll be surprised at how soon you’ll be wanting more.”
– Elisabeth Elliot in “Keep a Quiet Heart“
While the struggle to keep a regular devotion time is not new, it is not a struggle that has to defeat us. As Elisabeth Elliot says, “It won’t ‘just happen.” You have to be intentional.
Even if you are intentional with the time, the next struggle seems to be what to do during devotional time. The real answer to that question is that there is no real answer. For instance, there is no right answer of how to go on a date with someone you love. But like “dinner and a movie” is a popular dating option, there are popular devotional options as well. Don’t feel like you have to follow others’ preferred options – do what works for your relationship with God. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Pick a verse or book of the Bible to meditate on, find a reading plan to follow, or just flip open your Bible and see what the Holy Spirit highlights. As you read, ask yourself what the passages are saying about who God is, who you are, and what Kingdom life looks like.
If you’ve grown up in the church, it can also help to read a translation that is unfamiliar to you. Having scripture memorized is wonderful, but when we try to read things we have memorized our brains don’t interact with the text in the same way. Instead of the words sinking deep, they can feel cliche. A different Bible version can help bring the text alive again and get your brain engaged in ways it hasn’t been in years. I love the Passion Translation because it keeps the integrity of scripture while at the same time bringing fresh language to the verses that engages both my heart and mind.
Prayer does not have to be a formal well thought out monologue. Prayer is just talking to God and listening to Him. You can pray about things going on in your life, people you have a heart for, questions you have – really anything at all. Prayer can also be a time to recall all the testimonies of what God has done in your life and in the lives of others. It’s a time not just for supplication – asking for what we need, but also adoration – declaring the goodness of God and his character.
Put on some good worship music or sing some songs yourself. Set yourself free to dance and twirl instead of sing. Worship doesn’t require a full band or fancy vocals. The worship songs we find ourselves drawn to can tell us a lot about our personalities and how we see God.
Yes, color. Some of my best devotional times have been spent coloring and listening to worship music while I talk to God. Coloring has a way of focusing our thoughts while allowing our minds to wander. It can also be used to help us organize our prayers reveal connections we hadn’t noticed before. Praying in Color is a great book that teaches you how to doodle and color in a way that deepens your prayer life.
Many people find journaling to be helpful for focusing during prayer or being able to track answered prayers. Journaling can also be used to work through some of your own inner healing and watch your growth over time. A Guide for Listening and Inner Healing Prayer by Rusty Rustenbach is a great guided journal that walks you through some inner healing exercises and teaches you a style of listening prayer journaling.
Given the challenge from Mrs. Elliot to be intentional in your quiet time, take a moment now to reflect, to pray, to give thanks. If a quiet time is a new practice for you, start with even five minutes each morning. As Mrs. Elliot found in her own life, scientific research is finding that even 30 seconds of focused prayer changes your brain, and 12 minutes a day of focused prayer over time changes your brain so significantly it shows up on a brain scan (learn more about prayer and our brains).
Mrs. Elliot notes how busy life can be, and she wrote this before the age of cell phones, the internet, and our connected all the time society. How much more so then do we need to be intentional to take time each day for a quiet time. The time may be harder to find, but the benefits are needed so much more now in our stress filled culture than ever before.
I think the best thing we can do to honor the life of Elisabeth Elliot is to be intentional and consistent in our quiet times. In all of her writings, her greatest insights came from her times with the Lord.