Quiet Time and Evangelism: How Much Is Enough?October 23, 2023
The Bible often tells us to pray. It also presumes that God’s people will be familiar with the Scriptures and pass along their truths to their children. Meet any mature, fruitful Christian, and you can be sure He regularly has something like a “quiet time”—a time set aside to talk to God in prayer and hear from God in the Word.
I am not anti–quiet time or anti–daily devotions or anti-family worship. All these disciplines serve God’s people well and have been around for a long time. What does not serve God’s people well is the unstated (and sometimes stated) assumption — put upon us by others or by ourselves — that Christianity is only for super-disciplined neatniks who get up before dawn, redeem every minute of the day, and have very organized sock drawers. Spiritual disciplines are great (and necessary) when the goal is to know God better. Spiritual disciplines are soul-crushing when the aim is to get our metaphysical workout in each day, knowing that we could always exercise more if we were better Christians.
What Does the Bible Say About Quiet Time?
I first began my habit of daily devotions when I was in high school. My motives were somewhat mixed. I was motivated to pray every day that God would bless my running and that I would meet my goal of being all-county JV. I spent a few minutes in prayer each day and read one chapter in the Bible along with a daily reading from a simple devotional book. It took only five to 10 minutes, but it was a massive catalyst in helping me grow as a Christian.
Once in college, my faith grew like a weed — which is the right phrase, because although there was a lot of good going on in my spiritual life, there were also species of pride growing up at the same time. I was especially fastidious about my quiet time. I almost never missed a day, sometimes trudging through snow to get to my school’s prayer chapel, often fighting to stay awake during prayer because I was a college student after all, and I stayed up way too late. Many of my quiet times ended up really quiet! Nevertheless, I read through the Bible several times. I kept a prayer journal. I was, compared to most of my peers, a quiet-time champion. But I also felt terrible if I ever missed a day. I knew intellectually that I wasn’t earning God’s favor, but in my heart it felt like I was only a good Christian once I read my chapters and prayed my prayers. Looking back, I can see that the Lord used my zeal in many good ways. I can also see that there were more obvious biblical commands that I neglected so long as the quiet-time box was checked every morning.
This prompts an important question: Do the Scriptures command a daily devotional time of prayer and Bible reading? Not exactly, but they presume something like it. On the one hand, we must be honest with what we do and do not see in the Bible. Family worship is not one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus did not outline M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan in the Sermon on the Mount. The vice lists in the New Testament do not mention “delinquent in devotions,” and “crushes his quiet time every morning” is not listed among the fruit of the Spirit. We must be careful not to make the minutes (or hours) we spend in daily devotions the sine qua non of Christian discipleship. Too many of us have learned to measure our discipleship according to this one criterion, and because we can always spend more time in prayer, we never seem to be measuring up.
And yet if that’s all we said about “having a quiet time” — it’s nowhere commanded in Scripture—we would not be telling the whole story. We are often commanded to pray (Matthew 7:7–11; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus assumes that God’s people will often be in private prayer (Matthew 6:6) and that the habit of prayer will be daily (Matthew 6:11). We know that Jesus withdrew to desolate places to pray (Mark 1:35) and that godly men like Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Likewise, the Psalms commend to us the habit of meditating on God’s word day and night (Psalms 1; 119). We see in Timothy the example of public and private reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13, 15; 2 Timothy 3:15). And, finally, on a number of occasions the Bible exhorts parents, and especially fathers, to instruct their children in the way of the Lord (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 6:5–6; Psalms 78:4; Ephesians 6:4). There is no way to be faithful to these scriptural commands and examples if our lives are devoid of prayer, Bible reading, and time with our families in the Word.
The Bible Tells Us What, But Not How
So are we right back where we started, with a crushing sense that we can never spend enough time in private and family worship? I hope not. Notice that while the Bible says a lot about the what — be devoted to prayer, meditate on God’s law, teach your children — it does not say a lot about the how. Developing personal spiritual disciplines is one way to the what, but there are many others: corporate worship, small-group Bible studies, listening to sermons in the car, listening to the Bible while you walk, listening to Bible teaching while you do the dishes, Christian schools, Christian books, spiritual conversations, prayers before meals, prayers at bedtime, and prayers over the phone.
So, yes, we should cultivate the habit of prayer and Bible reading, but we should not think that God puts impossible standards upon us as frail, finite creatures. When the disciples implored Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), Jesus didn’t give them specifics about time, place, position, and duration. He taught them what to say. Praying for the right reasons (not to be seen by others), to the right person (our heavenly Father), with the right petitions (hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, give, forgive, protect) is far more important than the discipline meant to enable our prayers.
If I’m not mistaken, my wife likes to spend time with me. She likes talking to me and having me talk to her. When I’m overly busy, she won’t hesitate to ask for more of my attention. And even as a selfish husband, I’m usually eager to oblige because I love my wife. I love to spend time with her. Even after more than 20 years, there are still plenty of things to do and talk about. But because our lives are hectic and full, getting time together often requires planning and intentionality. If my wife made me check in every day at a set time, kept track of how many minutes I talked to her, and then rolled her eyes whenever I did anything else besides talk to her, that would make for a miserable marriage. But if I never made an effort to get a babysitter, go on a walk with her, plan a getaway, or simply put down my phone and look her in the eye, our marriage would likely grow stale and distant.
Will there always be more I can do to become a better husband? Of course. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good husband or that my wife can’t be happy with our marriage. Happy marriages require work. They don’t happen by accident. But they are possible. That’s what our relationship with God is like as well. Following Jesus takes time and effort, but we don’t have to be time-management gurus or monastic ascetics to walk with Him in faithfulness and fruitfulness.
What About Evangelism? How Do I Know if I’m Doing Enough?
If our notion of a “quiet time” is hinted at here and there in the Bible but never explicitly commanded, popular notions of personal evangelism are even less well-attested in Scripture. Again, let me hasten to add that sharing the gospel with non-Christians is necessary work, and most Christians and most churches would do well to grow in courage for this ministry. But for all the emphasis we put on personal evangelism — sometimes treating it as the good work above all other good works—there are few verses we can go to in order to underscore its importance. There are verses directed to pastors and church officers to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1–2) and do the work of an evangelist (4:5). There are verses about sending preachers out with the gospel so that people might believe and be saved (Romans 10:14–15). There are verses about God’s plan to redeem people from every tribe, language, and nation (Genesis 12:1–3; Matthew 28:19–20; Revelation 5:9–10; 7:9–10). There is an entire book of the Bible (Acts) about the apostolic mission to evangelize the lost, disciple new converts, and plant strong churches (Acts 14:21–23). What we don’t have are a lot of verses commanding individual Christians to share their faith.
Of course, just as we saw with “quiet times,” if we stopped here, we would not get the whole story. Peter exhorts us to be ready to make a defense and to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). Similarly, the armor of God in Ephesians 6 includes shoes that equip us with a “readiness given by the gospel of peace” (v. 15). We see evidence that the Corinthians were to be concerned for the salvation of nonbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:12–16; 14:23–25) and that Titus was to instruct God’s people to adorn with their faith and obedience the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). More clearly, we see evangelistic activity at work in the Thessalonian church where the word was at work in the believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13–16), the word was running ahead (2 Thessalonians 3:1), and the word was ringing and sounding forth (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
My Part in the Great Commission
And what about the Great Commission? No doubt this is the lodestar text for most Christians when it comes to our evangelistic obligations. We are all told — right there in black and white — to make disciples. Or are we? The commission in Matthew’s Gospel is given explicitly to the 11 remaining apostles (Matthew 28:16–18). While we are right to understand the commission as being for us in some way (hence the promise to be with them to “the end of the age”), we must also admit that there are specific instructions we don’t all follow. We are not waiting in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4), and not many of us will literally bear witness in Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria (Acts 1:8). Most Christians do not “go” as Matthew 28:19 commands, nor do most Christians perform baptisms. We understand instinctively that the Great Commission is ours by application more than by direct command.
This is an important point. The Great Commission was, first, for the apostles and then, by extension, for the church they would leave behind. This means that the Great Commission is our mission not as a personal job description but insofar as we are members of Christ’s church. The mission of the church is the Great Commission. Therefore, we all have a role to play and ought to have an earnest desire in seeing that mission accomplished. None of us are literal apostles. Some of us are ordained preachers. Others are sent-out missionaries. All of us can give and pray and labor to see our churches engaged in the Great Commission.
We have to acknowledge what we see and don’t see in the Bible. On the one hand, we see that the word preached to the church should not just stay in the church but flow through the church to outsiders. On the other hand, there is no indication that every conversation must turn to the gospel, or that our vocations can only be justified if we share our faith regularly, or that evangelism should trump all other ecclesiastical and doctrinal concerns. The New Testament encourages us to be ready to explain our Christian faith when asked; it encourages us to make the gospel look attractive by our honest and obedient lives; it encourages us to be concerned for the salvation of the lost; it encourages preachers to be faithful in teaching the gospel; it encourages believers to be conduits for the word of God. The New Testament does not expect us all to be extroverts, gifted conversationalists, and cold-call evangelists.
Nor did God ever mean for evangelism to be the single defining characteristic of faithful Christianity. When personal evangelism becomes more central than dozens of more explicit commands, we are not only tempted to compromise on doctrinal and missiological integrity; we become weighed down by the impossibility of the task. There are always more people to speak to, always more conversations we could have, always more lost people to reach. The “never enough” never lets up.
Evangelism Looks Different for Everyone
Part of the problem is the way many pastors talk about these things. As a preacher, I know how to deliver a sermon so that everyone feels convicted. It’s tempting to think that every good sermon leaves every Christian feeling guilty for something. So every sermon about holiness leaves everyone feeling unholy. Every sermon on prayer makes people feel guilty for not praying more. Every sermon on evangelism causes the whole congregation to squirm in supposed disobedience. That’s not healthy preaching, and it doesn’t make for healthy congregations. After more than 20 years in pastoral ministry, I now make a point to tell people in my sermons, “Many of you are being faithful in prayer.” “I see marks of godliness in most of you.” “Some of you are great examples of sharing your faith.” Too often, pastors preach what they don’t really mean. They don’t really think everyone is failing in every way, but they’ve learned to preach that way because it feels powerful and, truth be told, some people like it. As a result, God’s people are trained to conclude that because they could always do more (of some good discipline or practice), they are not doing enough.
God has not made us all in the same way, and He does not expect the word to flow through us all in the same way. You may end up being a preacher or a missionary. You may learn to love beach evangelism, handing out tracts, and knocking on doors. You may have gifts to easily converse with strangers. Or your gifts may be in hospitality. Or in writing. Or in public debates. Or you may be the beloved neighbor who gets the opportunity to speak of Jesus because you represent Him so well. God wants us to have a heart for the lost. He wants us to further the church’s overall mission in reaching the nations. He wants us to be ready to walk through open doors. But He never says that personal evangelism is what the Christian life is all about. Saving sinners is the impossible part; God does that. Our part is to ensure — in whatever way God has shaped us and in whatever opportunities He gives us — that the gospel that has come to us also flows out of us. Some Christians would make good salespeople; all good Christians are happy to talk about Jesus.
This content was originally published on byFaith