A few days ago, I suggested in some detail that “Quiet Time,” as touted by the Christian community in general, is not a requirement. One old friend (not older than I, mind you) agreed and offered some personal, clarifying reflections. Another old friend took exception, specifically putting forward this seriously devoted advice:
“OUR ultimate example is Jesus, not the disciples or anyone else. . . . If Jesus did it, and we are to be like our Christ, then we should do the same.
“We should … be willing to sacrifice … to better our relationship with our Creator.”
My grandfather, from whom I’ve inherited a good deal spiritually, was known, in part, for his personal piety. I don’t claim even to have followed Granddaddy Ritchie’s personal devotional example very well, much less the example of Jesus. Frankly, I wish I were more pious and sometimes take faltering steps toward that. “Pious” is not a bad word, and Evan’s struggles to show by his time the value he places on the God he loves and serves are well-placed.
I agree, in principle, but not specifically that the spending of X number of minutes or hours constitutes the “sacrifice” God desires. I’d like to revisit some of what I said before, answering a couple of the objections to the best of my ability.
[Aside: one of my 8,145 shortcomings is projecting my own feeling of time constraint on readers and others I come in contact with. I sometimes abbreviate to a fault, leading to apparent gaps in my thinking. (Not that gaps aren’t there, but maybe not as much in my head as in my written or spoken words!) So, first off, a matter of clarification.]
I had said that the tense in Luke 5:16 “is ambiguous or even elusive to us moderns.” Here’s what I meant: when the reading in English is “But he would withdraw into the lonely places and pray,” the tense of “would withdraw” is not necessarily what it appears to be in English.
In fact, there is more disagreement among English versions than I allowed for previously. There may be 25 versions immediately available to me online, and the first source I checked had pretty much every one saying Jesus “would withdraw,” indicating it was something of a habit. But this tense is not original in English. From what I can pick up, Greek tenses are a bit more complicated to translate than English ones. Or maybe the ancient Greeks were more intentional with their tenses than we are. At any rate, differing translations do exist, and a few others, I see now, offer a simpler sort of past tense. The RSV (1946 NT), Darby (1890), and the more recent, equally scholarly HNV and WEB are among these which say that “Jesus withdrew,” not that He “would withdraw” or “often withdrew,” as the NKJV, NIV, and the generally trusty NASB have it.
An English version may or may not aptly translate the Greek, and in this case, there is sufficient disagreement on the tense that I looked a little further, finding that the “imperfect” in Greek is often to be understood contextually—in this case, “taken as an ingressive imperfect,” one source said, but not all. When I saw how often the terms “ingressive” and “inchoative aspect” (referring to the initiation of an action) were appealed to, I figured I’d gone far enough for the day. Frankly, I don’t have a good grip on the differentiation and labeling of tenses, but I do know it’s a lot more complicated than simply saying “past, present, and future.” In the case of Luke 5:16, from what I’ve read, we simply do not know whether Jesus is said a) to have had a regular habit of withdrawing for prayer, or b) to have withdrawn for prayer on this single occasion.
All this on Luke 5:16 would be moot if there were other instances with different, clearer expressions of a habit of Jesus, or of Paul, John, etc. But I have not found such instances.
This morning, I have spent more than an hour in “quiet time,” writing and considering Jesus, the Father’s intentions as expressed through scripture, enjoying a wonderfully cool morning on my porch (hovering just above and just below 60!) and remembering “in cool of the morning” from the Garden of Eden. I have wondered recently just how much “let not many presume to be teachers” applies to me, and have considered that injunction opposite the principle of the “talents,” i.e., if I am given something, I probably need to do something with it. I hope and trust that this has qualified as “quiet time.” It is not my intention to avoid such focused time in my own life; it is my intention to investigate presumptions of the Christian world.
Next, and probably last for a while on this subject, I want briefly to treat the notion of “following Jesus’ example” as a subtopic of hermeneutics.