By William B. McGrath
Two books that strike me as having exceptional insight into the New Testament Bible accounts are The Wind of the Spirit and The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ by James Stewart. Picking up a Bible and reading through the stories, I’ve found it easy to miss many of the important principles and life lessons that are there. Even though I have been reading the Bible for years, I can miss some of what is important to see. But that insight has been noticed and written about by others. I’m happily taken aback and surprised when I’m shown a new insight into Bible accounts from an author of some such book. Having read the account so many times, I’ll often think, Why didn’t I see that before?
In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey commented: “A scholar at the University of Chicago estimates that more has been written about Jesus in the last twenty years than in the previous nineteen centuries.” The books and writings we now have are so many, and they vary in approach, quality, and style, depending on the author’s character. Many of the writings that have spoken the most to me have been written by authors from unlikely backgrounds, folks who didn’t assume themselves to be anyone special, but they are (or were) men and women of God who are a great blessing to many. They practiced listening to the living voice of His Word, and they enjoyed their “closet time.” From the first century to the present time, these men and women have contributed to the vast spiritual treasure that is available to all of us.
My reading room is surrounded by my favorite books from many of these people. I value physical books more than an electronic library. However, although I have an abundance of quality material to choose from, I still sometimes feel that my closet time is lacking. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then one day I picked up a small paperback that I had found in a Christian bookstore, The Believer’s Daily Renewal by Andrew Murray. My renewal had been a bit dry lately, so this book came to me at just the right time. Although the book was written over a century ago, the words were fresh and lively, and the advice really helped me.
Andrew Murray helped me realize that part of my problem was that I had fallen into treating God’s Word in such a way that I was not really expecting God to speak to me through it. I can begin to read the Word in an obligatory sort of fashion, out of duty, routine.
Here is a key verse about our quiet time that the book talks about: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”1 That verse tells me that the Father is there, in my secret place where I place my attention on Him, wherever that may be. Making a fresh connection with Him is more important than the amount of time I spend reading, or how carefully I pray for everyone and everything. Also, my disposition matters, having the humility to try to listen to Him, and that entails being willing to follow through on what His instructions are. And I need to remember to trust and not be fearful about what He may tell me. I want to remember that what He has to say to me, what He wants to impart to me, is the highlight and the most important part of my closet time. Many times He only wants to assure me of His love.
Prayer and Bible study are important, but they’re not to overshadow the experience of fellowship with God, and having an interchange with Him; the giving of my love, life, and heart; and the receiving from Him of His love, life, and heart. To experience that is really special. Without having entered into that communion with Him, even if I have read some good books and prayed for many situations, I still feel something is missing. But once I have experienced that communion with Him, I’m deeply assured everything will be okay. I can relax and not worry, all through the day’s events.
Andrew Murray brings up these verses to give us a starting point on how to approach God’s presence in our closet time: “The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way.”2 “What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way that He shall choose.”3 “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”4 “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes.”5 I want to cultivate this habit of childlike receptivity and teachableness. I want to be ready and willing to confess my dependence on God for everything.
“And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”6 If I am enjoying high-quality closet time, I know He is going to reward me. He is going to lead my life in the direction He has planned. And He will reward me by allowing me to become more like Himself, in my thoughts and behavior; and that is what I want, that is what will bring peace to my heart.
Good closet time makes for wholesome Christians. Maybe some don’t like the idea of babelike dependence and childlike teachableness. But Jesus taught us to have it, so it must be important. For me it was the key to improving my connection with Him. When you think about it, it seems that this dependence is what is needed to bring us the peace He promised, as it relieves us of trying to carry all of life’s burdens on our own.7
When God speaks, the high mountains tremble;
When God speaks, the loud billows roll;
When God speaks, my heart falls to list’ning,
And there is response in my soul.
When God speaks, the angels obey Him.
When God speaks, all nature is stirred.
When God speaks, hard hearts are softened,
For no sweeter voice was ever heard.
When God speaks, ’tis mine then to answer.
When God speaks, my tempest to still,
When God speaks, ’tis mine then to follow,
And following Him, do His will.
Speak to my heart,
Speak now, I pray;
God of salvation and Lord of creation,
Oh, speak to my heart today!
—Carlton C. Buck