By Elizabeth Prata
This essay is about how the personal Bible reading time of the previous generations changed from prayers to God into personal communication with an expected back and forth between the believer – with God delivering individual revelations to the believer for daily living. A Disclaimer: The Holy Spirit does guide us. But we can’t ‘feel’ it at the time. Aside from knowing it as promised in the Bible, we can’t intuit what He is doing moment by moment. He certainly doesn’t whisper His daily directions to us. So how did this situation come about?
The shift during this era was not just to express doctrine, but to actively live it. It seems quaint to us now, we know we live out God’s biblical precepts day by day, but that was a new idea back then. The question was, HOW?
As the 20th century dawned, Briton FB Meyer wrote an influential book in 1898 called The Secret of Guidance. In his book, which is largely solid, he said that inner promptings with the word of God is one of three equal ways God’s guides us into His will (the second being His word and the third being Providential confirmation- which is also dangerous because we can’t intuit God’s will for us uniquely or individually by what we see or experience. Ask Job.) “God’s impressions within and His word without are always corroborated by His Providence around”, Meyer wrote. Meyer was a Baptist strongly influenced by Quakerism. (Quakers are mystics).
There soon was a widespread movement containing and promoting these notions and it became known as The Oxford Group in Britain. The Group focused on the part about the personal guidance delivered to the believer and they lifted God’s will for each person in daily life from the context of knowing it through His word only.
The Quaker thread of inner knowing and attributing that knowing to a personal direction delivered to the individual penitent was picked up by an American named Frank Buchman. He loved the idea, thought it novel. He had wanted to visit England specifically to hear Meyer preach at the Keswick Convention, and traveled there to do so. Sadly for him, Meyer was not peaching at the moment, so glumly he sat in a chapel and listened instead to a female preacher, Jessie Penn-Lewis. Her sermon spiritually startled him and he considered her words a foundational religious experience. He went back to Philly and a few years later was finally able to meet his idol, FB Meyer. In their conversation, Buchman said to Meyer that he did pray and read His Bible every morning…yet Meyer urged Buchman to have a “quiet time” that included listening for what God would say back to him.
“But,” persisted Meyer, “do you give God enough uninterrupted time really to tell you what to do?” Buchman thought this over and decided to give at least an hour each day in the early morning to listening to God, a period which he came to refer to as a ‘quiet time’. Frank Buchman – A Life
As men from Meyer’s The Oxford Group went out and about promoting this new quiet time where you can hear back from God, which used to be called morning watch, British journalist AJ Russell was caught in its dragnet.
Journalist and writer AJ Russell wrote in the newspaper he worked for about this new movement of The Oxford Group. He was greatly influenced by them between 1923 and 1926. His articles were a hit, and the glowing reviews of the movement in his articles were soon transformed into a book he wrote, called For Sinners Only. He loved the notion of prayer described as two-way. He was more and more influenced by men from The Oxford Group. He gushed in his book that The Oxford Group may either become associated with movements started by “Augustine, Francis, Luther, Wesley, Booth, and Moody; or it may speed up the reunion of Christendom, even Catholic and Protestant.“
His remark displays his level of commitment to this new movement: 100%. The latter remark shows you the level of his discernment: 0%.
The visitors from The Oxford Group were positive that those who live without God’s plan, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, were doomed to fail just as those who lived in God’s plan were guaranteed success. While this is true in general, the twist they put on it was gaining personally delivered Divine direction for daily living during ‘quiet time’. Russell wrote in For Sinners Only,
My objection to this argument was human nature’s chronic inability to know when it was being guided. To that, the Three [men who visited him] offered the answer of two-way prayer: petitions and quiet listening for the reply, especially in the morning when preparing for the day’s work.
Man should have a chronic trust THAT he is being guided at all times. There is a reason humans have ‘a chronic inability’ to know WHEN we are being guided. It’s because we can’t know. See sermon by John MacArthur, Taking the Mystery out of Knowing God’s Will– here is a quote from it,
So it’s important to me to know God’s will. I want to do it, I don’t want to be in the dark. And I can’t trust my own intuition, because I don’t have any apparatus. I don’t have any physical apparatus; I don’t have any buttons or buzzers or lights that go on when I’m doing God’s will, I can’t trust my own intuition. I don’t live in the sign age. … As I said, there aren’t any lights that go on, there aren’t any buzzers, there aren’t any sort of manifest feelings of the spirit-filling in your life, so there’s nothing you can look at physiologically or experientially to identify this. But there are some results of it. ~John MacArthur.
Results. You look back over months or years, and you see results, i.e. fruit.
AJ Russell previously had thought of morning prayers as confessions and petitions to God. He was pleased to have been taught instead, that we are guided by God when He replies back. He took The Oxford Group’s cue and transformed his morning prayer into a “quiet time” of silently waiting to hear from God. What he used to call “Inspiration and Confession” in his prayer time, Russell now called “Guidance and Sharing”. Believers were urged to do this new style of ‘quiet time’ with pen in hand. The verse from Psalm 46:10, “be still and know I am God” was often ripped from context and told to believers to literally be still and wait silently upon God, with pen in hand, for Him to deliver their daily instruction.
“Suddenly a strange experience came to me. There seemed to be a faint electrical crackling in the clear air about me. There was positively nobody else in the garden, but someone or something spoke to me: a voice that was audible and yet (paradoxically enough) quite soundless. That seems the only way to express what I shall always believe was a supernatural experience. I felt a message impinge on my brain from the air. It alighted softly like the caress of a leaf or the touch of a gentle zephyr. It was accompanied by a sense of exaltation both pleasurable and unforgivable.”
See below for Sarah Young’s very similarly described supernatural experience.
AJ Russell ended up writing about his supernatural experience in 1924, and soon after that, in 1932 he wrote For Sinners Only. In it, he taught what he had been taught, that God has an individual plan for each person’s life (which is true) and you can catch that plan by having a quiet time and listen for God to tell it to you (which is not true). He taught that we must specifically follow God’s individual plan for our lives, (which is true) and that we can interrupt that plan by sinning (which is not true, God sees the end from the beginning and while He doesn’t accept sin, ordains the sinful effects of our choices and folds them into His plan. See: Joseph & his brothers, Saul/Paul’s murderous rages, Judas…).
The Bible is sufficient. The canon is closed. Jesus, who died on the cross, IS the Word of God, and what He has to teach us is contained in the closed books and chapters of the Bible. Yet many deemed the word stale, or insufficient, or adjoining new revelation they claimed to have received. They wanted more.
Russell’s book caught the attention of two women roommates. One was an Anglican and one was Catholic. They read the book, decided this new style of prayer with pen was a pious thing to do, and set about praying with expectation of hearing back from God. Pen in hand, they dutifully wrote down the ‘divine’ replies. It worked.
They came to Russell with papers of devotionals and assurances they claimed God had “told them” during their quiet time. Russell was overjoyed! The whole thing was working! He rushed to get permission to print these ‘conversations’ as proof. The two women gave permission for the papers to be published, but not their names. We know the authors of this book as the “Two Listeners” and in 1933 their papers were made into a book titled God Calling.
See how far we have come from 1898 and FB Meyer’s book The Secret of Guidance, to the early-mid 20th century of outright claiming to hear directly from Him. None of these people were initially mal-intentioned. They sincerely wanted, it seemed, to know God’s will so they could honor Him. However, no matter one’s intentions, being discontent with the already revealed word is a sin. And sin is incremental. Once the camel’s nose gets under the tent, the rest of the beast soon follows. This whole new version of “quiet time” blew up and took root quickly.
It sadly also sets up a two-tiered hierarchy of those who have heard from God and those who haven’t. Inevitably, this creates a spiritual pride in the ‘haves’. See the blossoming pride in the Two Listeners’ comment in their introduction:
We felt all unworthy and overwhelmed by the wonder of it, and could hardly realize that we were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by HIM personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their Churches, books and other sources.~God Calling
Did you catch that? Aw, those poor saps who “only” had the Bible. The Bible was not enough any more!
If the title God Calling seems familiar to you, it is because a woman in 2003 was also discontent with the already revealed word of God. Her description of the supernatural experience she claimed to have had is similar to Russell’s he had in his garden (and many others’ too)–
“One night I found myself leaving the warmth of our cozy chalet to walk alone in the snowy mountains. I went into a deeply wooded area, feeling vulnerable and awed by cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was to whisper, ‘Sweet Jesus.’ This utterance was totally uncharacteristic of me, and I was shocked to hear myself speaking so tenderly to Jesus. ~Sarah Young
Sarah Young, of course, is the author of 2004’s phenomenally successful book Jesus Calling, which is its own cottage industry by now with age-ranged devotionals, journals, and other merchandise. It’s been almost 20 years since its first publication, and it is still going strong. Young was discontent with her walk as well, the Bible was dry and dusty to her. She learned of the Two Listeners and God Calling. Read on–
Sarah Young said: My journey began with a devotional book (God Calling) written in the 1930’s by two women who practiced waiting in God’s Presence, writing the messages they received as they “listened.” About a year after I started reading this book, I began to wonder if I too could receive messages during my times of communing with God. (Source)
“I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.” (Source)
We open our Bible to see what we can learn about Jesus. Octavius Winslow said, “To the question often earnestly propounded “What is the best method of reading, so as to understand the Scriptures?” I would reply thus: Read them with the one desire and end of learning more of Christ and with earnest prayer for the teaching of the Spirit that Christ may be unfolded in the Word. With this simple method persevered in, you shall not fail to comprehend the mind of the Holy Ghost in portions which previously may have been unintelligible and obscure.”
When you pray with pen in hand expecting to hear back from God, you are declaring three things:
1. You do not trust Him to work in your life through the Word alone,
2. You want to hear about yourself more than learn about Jesus,
3. You declare the Bible insufficient.
Ladies, there is no still small voice that will speak to you, whisper to you, give you physical ecstatic experiences, and so on. Praying in the morning (or whenever) during your own quiet time should be a time of confession and petitions without expecting a two-way communication. Opening the Bible should be done with intent of learning more of Jesus than about your own daily life. The Christian walk is one of trust (trusting the promises of the Bible), patience (waiting to see fruit, end even then, sometimes we don’t get to see it in this life, so it’s back to trust), and loving a worthy God who we know takes care of His sheep in myriad ways (even if we don’t see it at the time).
Rest in these verses: ‘It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Cost Hinn explains what Quiet Time is in a 3-minute video. Check it out!