Form or Function? Method or Meaning?

Have you ever gone to a coffee shop with a friend only to discover at the end of your time together that you had been conversing for hours?  Was it because you planned the conversation out ahead of time or did the topics flow naturally out of the closeness of your relationship?  Hold that thought



I dislike the term “quiet time” – not because there’s anything inherently wrong with it and not because of the activity it attempts to describe, but because it makes me think of method.  It reminds me of books I’ve read and talks I’ve heard that outline a specific formula for achieving a successful “quiet time” similar to the following:

1)     Wake up early in the morning and choose a specific location

2)     Read a passage – 3 minutes

3)     Think about and/or journal about the passage – 8 minutes

4)     Pray about the passage – 4 minutes

5)     Go about your day

While many of these books and people are well-intentioned in providing an example of how to begin a “quiet time,” the perfectionist side of me tends to get stuck in the method.  I happen to like rules.  I like form, structure, pattern, and order.  And I like to know (translation: I like my results to show) that I followed the rules, the form, and the method. 

Unfortunately, my tendency towards order and method has often been a hindrance in my personal time with the Lord.

But when I was a summer missionary between my junior and senior years of college, I committed to purposeful and focused daily time with the Lord.  And maybe for the first time, I completely abandoned all method.

–          My tools: the book of Psalms, a notebook, and a pen

–          Time of day: early morning or mid-afternoon

–          Length of passage: anywhere from one verse to several chapters

–          Minutes spent with the Lord: varied

I recorded in the notebook what I read each day, but otherwise had no set requirements for myself.  Some days I wrote lengthy journal entries based on what the Lord was speaking through the passage.  Other days, I didn’t write much at all.  But OH, how precious my time with the Lord was that summer!  With no concern for “proper” method, it was all about my relationship with Him – meaningful, intimate, conversational relationship.

However, lest anyone should think otherwise, I still struggle with method.  I recently began a new Bible Study, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I am [once again] finding myself stuck in the method; perhaps (at least partially) to the detriment of the meaning of and purpose for spending time in Scripture.

So, in my quest to [yet again] re-focus myself on the meaning rather than the method, I was drawn to this passage:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. 

Whoever abides in me and I in him,

he it is who bears much fruit,

for apart from me you can do nothing. 

If anyone does not abide in me

he is thrown away like a branch and withers;

and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,

ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit

and so prove to be my disciples. 

As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. 

Abide in my love.”

John 15:5-9 (English Standard Version)

Context:  Words of Jesus spoken to his disciples as a final farewell just prior to his arrest.  (For greater context, check out John 15:1-11.)

This passage speaks volumes about the closeness and intimacy that Christ requires of our relationship with Him.  What is not present in this passage is a specific method to achieve that intimacy.  We are simply commanded to “abide” – which emphasizes the relationship’s meaning (and purpose of bearing fruit and bringing glory to God the Father) rather than the method.

Now about that conversation in the coffee shop:  While I’m certainly not saying our personal time with the Lord must occur over coffee (although I’m not entirely against that, either…), I am suggesting that our “quiet times” should look more like the conversation with a friend that could go on for hours – with the focus on intimately knowing Christ through His Word and through prayer – rather than a 15-minute method filled with pre-determined topics. 

Methods can be helpful, and a certain degree of planning may be necessary, but when it comes to our relationship with Christ, form should not be greater than function and method should not be more prominent than meaning.

Join the discussion: What does the term “quiet time” mean to you?  (It’s even okay if you like the term – tell me why.)  Whether in your personal time with the Lord or in-depth Bible Studies, do you struggle with certain methods?  How do you focus on the meaning rather than the method?


4 thoughts on “Form or Function? Method or Meaning?

  1. Rebekah

    It is hard to get stuck in “a method”. I look back at times in my life where I feel like I was in a consistent intimate state with the Lord and try to find the “method” behind it, so that I can “recreate” the method and thus “recreate” the intimacy. You are right — the intimacy is not in the method; the intimacy is in the authenticity of the relationship.

  2. Kelly

    I use to do the same thing each day the same way but I realized the older I got I needed to change the ways I study God’s word. Now I do usually have my “quiet time” in the morning but I vary the way I do this (scripture, various books, Bible studies on CD, my journal, praise music, etc.) on purpose. For me this keeps the time fresh, interesting, and more like the “good time with a friend in the coffee shop”. This keeps me in the moment and not caught up in reading a certain amount or fulfilling a certain requirement I have set for myself.

  3. Slamdunk

    Good post. I am a structure kind of person so setting aside a daily time where I won’t be disturbed (late at night when the kids are asleep) while I pray and read the Bible in a set fashion helps me.

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