The “Quiet Time” is a wonderful daily discipline. These periods of silence and solitude during the day allow us to listen to God and meditate on God’s word. But that’s not where all the action takes place in our spiritual growth. Those who wrote about Jesus mostly describe his “loud times” among the crowds. How can we grow closer to God when we’re among others in the middle of our day?
“Loud time” doesn’t share the mystique of quiet time. After all, where would you expect to meet with God more readily — a cave, or a circus? But we have to ask ourselves what classification most of life falls under — quiet or loud — and the answer is quite simply loud. We are active, communal people, and we cannot address the full scope of our need for God by keeping to ourselves.
A lot of Christians have come to depend on quiet times. After all, we think, the amount of Bible reading or the length of our prayers helps us gauge how spiritually mature we are. The quiet time can become a way of measuring our progress and figuring out what lessons about life with God remain to be learned. Champions of the quiet time appeal to the occasions on which Jesus went off by himself to pray and think. Jesus made major decisions in moments such as these, such as choosing the twelve apostles and accepting the anguish of the cross. But what’s most notable about Jesus’ quiet times is that the Gospel writers speak of them only in passing, focusing instead on Jesus’ “loud time.”
Of course, I have nothing against the quiet time. In fact, if you’re not in the habit of taking some time each day to be with God, I hope you’ll start to do so. Some of my most meaningful moments have been alone with God. Nonetheless, a more mind-blowing yet still truthful statement would be that some of my most meaningful moments have been with others and God. God, after all, is not some imaginary friend who goes into hiding when other people come into the room; in fact, Jesus tells us that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). God wants to be found by us—as many of us as are willing.
We need to think devotionally about loud time in ways similar to how we have thought devotionally about quiet time. How can we grow closer to God while being among others? I’d like to suggest some disciplines for our loud time that will help us grow closer to God in the middle of our hectic lives.
The Discipline of Conversation
God speaks to us through others, and he speaks to others through us. A greater awareness of God’s presence and guidance comes through a devotional engagement in conversation. I’ve met nearly every week for ten years in an accountability relationship, first with a group of friends and then, when most of them moved to different parts of the country, with my friend Dave. He and I have wrestled through many questions of growth together. I could have, of course, dealt with these issues privately and learned from the consequences of my decisions by myself, but I didn’t have to. I’ve had Dave as a sounding board, a person who knows me and is willing to help me test my impulses and instincts against Scripture, prayer, reason and his own witness. He listens and he speaks, and I hear more than I would have alone. That’s the beauty of conversation — it talks back. A conversation blessed with covenant commitment is sort of like a dialogue with an audible Jesus.
Who in your life might support you in the discipline of conversation? Who might offer you godly accountability, perspective and encouragement?
The Discipline of Confrontation
Not every conversation with God or his people is therapeutic, of course. Jesus was not always meek and mild. He raised a ruckus in the temple area and shouted down the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Much of Jesus’ teaching was given in a raised voice, following in the great tradition of prophets from Amos to Zephaniah. The people of God grew through many a loud time.
Not that they enjoyed it. No one puts “public rebuke” on their wish list. We’re concerned for our reputations, and that concern adds to the appeal of a private devotional life. But God can be angry, and God’s anger is good. Confrontations that come from him are good for us.
“The heart is devious above all things,” warns the prophet Jeremiah (17:9). “Who can understand it?” Perhaps no one, but by opening our lives to others and daring to say hard things when they need to be said, we can expose the deceit of our heart and deal with the damage it’s done.
Take some time to consider who might feel free to confront you when you’ve done something foolish or sinful. If no one in your life currently would practice godly confrontation with you, consider whom you might invite to serve that function for you.
The Discipline of Celebration
As much as Jesus’ major decisions were marked by quiet time, God’s major interventions in history were marked by loud time. Witness the parties that commenced after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15), the annual feast of Purim (Esther 9:20-28) and the pandemonium surrounding Pentecost (Acts 2). There are many, many more such occasions of celebration, and each occurrence is thick with spiritual significance.
In private we may thank God for his intervention in our lives; we may even thank God for intervening in the lives of others. But when we come together we give witness to God’s intervention in life, and onlookers get a clearer picture of what a powerful, personal, relational being God really is. Jesus told his followers to love one another so that onlookers “will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). He told them to let their light shine before onlookers “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Why is celebration a discipline? First, sometimes we’re not in the mood to celebrate, and at such times we may be tempted to withdraw from the more excitable among us. Second, we may even be frightened into silence, as we are inspired to celebrate what onlookers consider inappropriate. Jesus’ loudest disciple, Peter, shut up quickly when his friendship with Jesus put him at risk. But a normal life does not provide us much silence, which Peter found out as person after person asked him whether he’d been with Jesus (John 18:15-18; 25-27). Sometimes we, like Peter, must choose between publicly celebrating God and publicly forsaking him. In those moments we can draw strength from the fact that our history and our future are overseen by a God worth celebrating.
When was the last time you consciously celebrated God’s work in your life? Consider ways you could cultivate your impulse to celebrate.
Quiet time and loud time are meaningless without each other; what would we be if we were always quiet or always loud? But whether we are quiet and alone or loud and in the thick of it, we are accompanied by the One who will never leave or forsake us. And that is cause for all kinds of noise.