Recently one of the members of our connection group courageously poured out her heart. She felt disconnected from God and bruised by a challenging season of life. “How can I feel like God isn’t so distant?” What a profound question..
The next day I was texting back and forth with another member of the group who was also struggling spiritually. “I’m working through some stuff,” he said, “and it’s not going very well. I figured it probably best for me to put my head down and stay busy. I’m kind of a mess and don’t want to get any of it on anyone else.” I hear and feel that. When I am discouraged and struggling, I tend to act just like this brother. I pull away from relationships. I withdraw and try to sort out my mess until I’m ready to re-emerge.
Most American Christians tend to think about spiritual disciplines and formation in a private context. We think about our quiet times (or you might call it devotional time or time in the Word) as a solitary affair: just us, our Bible, and God. Certainly, such alone time with God is an essential aspect of our spiritual life. Jesus, after all, “…would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). This is a practice that we ought to practice.
We have tended to over-individualize our spirituality in the West. For many of us, the most vulnerable parts of our faith are separated off from community. As I read the Bible, it seems to me that most of the spiritual practices are done in community.
As I read In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, for example, I see Paul inviting us together to be built into “a holy temple in the Lord,” (Eph 2:21b) “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22b). It is through the church “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph 3:10). It is in the context of our relationship with “all the saints” that we “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). For the purpose of “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3) that Christ gives us gifts. As we faithfully offer our gifting to one another we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood” (Eph 4:13). We speak truth in love to one another, exposing the ignorant schemes of the world.
In community we encourage one another, and we forgive one another. We reject the corrupted patterns of worldly living and speak into one another God’s truths “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord.” And in all of these things we submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).
Community is the context of vibrant and growing faith. God doesn’t tell us the only way we ought to be praying or reading his Word is individually. On the contrary! God invites us to step into community.
Studies show that people are much more likely to follow through on commitments to exercise and eat healthier when they do so with a partner. I’ve found the same to be true for my spiritual disciplines. While I daily read the Bible alone and pray alone, I find tremendous joy in reading the Bible as a family and praying as a family.
Let me offer a few tips to help you make your devotional time communal, depending on your age and stage of life.
For singles: I have several single friends who have daily or weekly Facetime calls with close friends to read the Bible and pray together. I know other singles who meet up weekly for coffee and time in the Word. I know of others who have group text strands for the purpose of prayer and biblical encouragement. Don’t feel like you have to do some big production to make this happen. Just open up the Word, start reading it to one another, talk about it, and pray through it.
For just marrieds: I would recommend you protect time over breakfast or dinner to open up the Bible and pray together daily.
For young families: Usually bedtime is the perfect intimate setting to read the Bible (I recommend Sally Lloyd-Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible or Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story or The Action Bible). Find their gospel love language. Sing songs together and pray over your children each night before they go to bed. Make sure your children feel the joy and warmth of the gospel. So much more important than content is that they feel the loving embrace and care of their Savior.
For growing families: Once your kids hit eight and older, coordinating schedules becomes more challenging. Evening commitments and activities can make nighttime routines tricky to navigate around. I know that these were the most challenging years for us as a family to have regular times in the Word and prayer together. You might want to consider waking the kids up 15 or 20 minutes earlier to have family devotionals over breakfast..
For families with teens: Similarly, the growing number of commitments can be an obstacle to creating healthy rhythms. For our family, devotions over breakfast protect our time in the Word, prayer, and worship together. I know other families who protect one evening a week for a longer time in the Word and worship.
For empty nesters: Re-set rhythms together, whether in the morning or evening. Find ways to make spiritual disciplines fun and fresh. Use your freedom to enjoy times of prayer in nature and with new groups. If you are financially able to do so, make travel plans to Israel or Europe that place you in the steps of those in Scripture.
I offer these encouragements to you not as an obligation, but as an invitation. We aren’t made to walk this world alone. Christ has given us himself, his Word, and one another. Let us lean into Christ together, growing in faith and trust in community.