I’ve often approached my quiet time in the morning excited about having a transformative meeting with God – only to leave underwhelmed, unchanged, or at times more anxious and more distracted than I began.
In these moments, I wonder what’s wrong with me. Why am I not connecting with God like the people in the Bible seem to? Am I not spending enough time reading the Bible or praying? Am I doing it wrong? Or perhaps I’m just not spiritual enough to have a “mountain top” experience with God?
Maybe you can relate. What I’ve learned over the years is that having a transformational quiet time is not an issue of being spiritual enough. Rather, it is an issue of spiritually preparing my mind and heart to follow God, like the Bible says in 1 Chronicles 22:
Now prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to follow the Eternal One your God. Go and build the temple of the Eternal God, so you may bring the covenant chest of the Eternal to rest there and take the holy vessels of God into His house for us to use in sacrifice.
1 Chronicles 22:19 Voice
How can you fill your cup when it’s full?
I’m a self-proclaimed kung-fu movie junkie. In the movie “The Forbidden Kingdom,” Jackie Chan plays the role of a kung fu master trying to teach young Jason Tripitikas the art of kung fu. Tripitikas is so enthusiastic about finding a real kung fu master willing to teach him that he talks non-stop.
In one scene, Jackie Chan’s character fills up a cup with tea, and it overflows and begins to burn Tripitkas’ hands. Puzzled, Tripitikas says, “The tea is overflowing.”
Jackie Chan replies, “How can you fill your cup when it’s full? Empty your cup.”
I believe the same lesson applies to our relationship with God. If your “cup is full” emotionally or mentally, you won’t have room to hear what God is trying to tell you.
Watch your step when you enter the house of God. Be ready to listen quietly rather than rushing in to offer up a sacrifice to foolish people, for they have no idea that what they do is evil.  Do not be too hasty to speak your mind before God or too quick to make promises you won’t keep, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, watch your tongue; let your words be few.  For just as busyness breeds restless dreams, so wordiness reveals the voice of a fool.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 Voice
As we learn in this scripture, we can make the mistake of approaching our time with God hastily, with a “full cup.” When your cup is full of emotions, guilt, and anxiety, you won’t be able to listen quietly to God. Mentally and emotionally engaging with God in prayer means learning to “empty your cup” so you can hear what God wants to tell you.
Learning to engage with God mentally
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left [the house], and went out to a secluded place, and was praying there.  Simon [Peter] and his companions searched [everywhere, looking anxiously] for Him,  and they found Him and said, “Everybody is looking for You!”  He replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so I may preach there also; that is why I came [from the Father].”  So He went throughout Galilee, preaching [the gospel] in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1:35-39 AMP
The time that Jesus spent with God in the morning prepared him mentally and emotionally to handle his day. As soon as he finished praying, and before the day really got going, he was bombarded by a group of his followers who anxiously exclaimed, “Everybody is looking for you!” Unswayed by their emotion, Jesus calmly stayed focused on his purpose.
How often do you spend your day dragged around by your own emotions or the emotions of others? Jesus didn’t live this way. His time with God in the morning enabled him to remain focused throughout the day on what was most important – despite the emotions, demands, and needs of others.
We can imitate Jesus and learn to set our minds and hearts on spiritual things every morning.
Set your mind and declutter your heart
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 NIV
Jesus came out of his time with God with both his heart and mind set on the spiritual. This enabled him to handle the emotions and stresses of the rest of the day with faith.
When you leave your quiet time, what is your mind and heart set on? The way we begin our day often sets the tone for how we will handle the challenges and uncertainties of the day ahead.
Declutter your mind and heart
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Colossians 3:5, 8 NIV
This set of verses in Colossians 3 teaches us that before we can set our hearts and minds on the spiritual we have to empty them of some other things.
A popular term many of use for emptying our lives of unnecessary stuff is “decluttering.” This is exactly what we must do with our hearts in prayer with God before we can hear him at all (Psalm 10:4).
Things like sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed, and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language will clutter our minds with guilt and stop us from being able to fill our hearts with faith. Taking time to pray about our anxiety, guilt, and burdens each day will make room in our hearts and minds for God (1 Chronicles 29:14 MSG).
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:15 NIV
When you take the time to set your mind and “declutter” your heart, you will be able to experience the peace and calm that comes from being in the presence of God. This type of peace can rule your heart no matter what unexpected circumstances or emotions hit you throughout the day.
Letting the peace of Christ “rule” in your heart is one example of the difference between reading the Bible and letting it transform your life.
Learning to engage with God emotionally
“One of the greatest obstacles to engaging prayer comes when we settle for engaging our mind in Bible study but resist engaging our emotions in prayer.”
Learning to engage God emotionally in prayer is an essential part of spending quality time with him. Psalm 42 gives us a great example of engaging our emotions with God:
With a broken heart, I remember times before when I was with Your people. Those were better days. I used to lead them happily into the True God’s house, Singing with joy, shouting thanksgivings with abandon, joining the congregation in the celebration.  Why am I so overwrought? Why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life.  My God, my soul is so traumatized; the only help is remembering You wherever I may be; From the land of the Jordan to Hermon’s high place to Mount Mizar.
Psalm 42:4-6 Voice
In this Psalm, the psalmist engages his emotions with God by:
Examining and acknowledging the condition of his hearts (it was broken)
Continuing to pray until he found hope
Engaging his emotions instead of gutting through them
Finally submitting his emotions to God
1. Examine and acknowledge the condition of your heart
For my heart was grieved, embittered, and in a state of ferment, and I was pricked in my heart [as with the sharp fang of an adder].  So foolish, stupid, and brutish was I, and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.
Psalm 73:21-22 AMPC
If you don’t take time to examine and acknowledge the condition of your heart, it can go into a state of spiritual ferment. When emotions are bottled up in our hearts and we choose not to deal with them, we may not see immediate impact. But eventually these emotions change the condition of our hearts, just as bacteria overruns and changes the substance it ferments.
Do you take time to identify the condition of your heart?
Is if peaceful or agitated?
Is it complacent or excited?
Is it broken or healed?
Is it hardened or aware?
Is it receptive or resistant?
2. Keep talking to God until your heart changes
He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink.  He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.  I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.  So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope
Lamentations 3:15-21 NIV
The author of the book of Lamentations does a great job of being emotionally honest with God. Similarly, throughout the Psalms the psalmists are vulnerable and transparent about their emotions. At some point in their prayers there is typically a shift from down to up, from doubtful to determined, from fearful to faithful.
What I’ve learned from my own prayer life as I look at Lamentations 3 is that too often I cut my prayers short. I may express myself emotionally, like verse 15 and 16, but then stop when I really need to continue to pray until I get to the hope of verse 21.
Do you acknowledge the discouragement, anxiety, or doubt you have but then stop praying while you are still in that emotional state? Do you work through your emotions in prayer until there’s a change? In Lamentations 3 the author continues to pray until he sees God, has hope, and gains perspective on what he is going through.
Praying through a psalm is a great way to learn to engage emotionally with God. Here’s one way to do it:
Find a psalm that you emotionally identify with.
Take a verse or two at a time to pray through. Talk to God about how that verse relates to you and what you are going through.
Let the verses of the psalm guide you through your emotions to a place of hope, just as the authors of the Psalms and Lamentations did.
3. Don’t gut out your day; engage your emotions as you go
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:15-16 NIV
When Jesus heard about John, He left there privately in a boat and went to a secluded place…
Matthew 14:13 AMP
One mistake we can make is to think that a quiet time is an appointment with God rather than a walk with him throughout the day.
When we see the quiet time as an appointment we can think our only time to pray is in the morning. Yet well after our morning quiet time, we can be hit with a flood of disturbances that we didn’t anticipate.
Jesus’ prayer time wasn’t limited to the morning. He often took time in the middle of the day to pray. In Matthew 14, Jesus learns that someone close to him has been killed and his response is not to gut it out and try to survive the day, but to immediately take a moment and step away to pray.
Even if we can’t physically get away, stopping yourself and praying silently in your head will do wonders. Your lunch break, a 10-minute break in the afternoon, or your commute home are all great opportunities you can take advantage of for that extra time to pray.
4. Learning to be emotionally disciplined through prayer
He went away again, and prayed again the same prayer as before—pleading with God but surrendering to His will.
Mark 14:39 VOICE
One of the most important and powerful things about prayer is the ability it gives us to be emotionally disciplined. Prayer helps us to stop being ruled by our emotions so we can live by our convictions.
Jesus was emotionally honest with God in prayer, but he wasn’t emotionally indulgent. He had the ability to discipline his emotions through prayer. A great practical that has helped me on numerous occasions when I’ve been overwhelmed by emotions is to find scriptures that I pray through and choose to believe – despite what I may feel.
What scriptures can you hold onto throughout the day that you can choose to believe over your emotions?
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
Matthew 5:8 MSG
When we take the time to mentally and emotionally engage with God, we get our inside world- our mind and heart – put right by God. Our quiet time transcends from a time of reading and praying to being in the sanctuary of God where we experience his presence and power!