Have you ever heard someone say they were going to, “Spend time with the Lord”? Am I the only one who has ever had a problem with that statement? I mean, what does that mean? What does that look like? How do you spend time with an invisible Being?
Years ago, I moved to Seattle and started going to The City Church up there, I would hear people say that phrase, or something similar to it, all the time. I remember moving in with my best friend from church and she would often go to bed early so that she could spend time with the Lord in the morning. I wanted to know what it was all about. I mean, I was a Christian and it sounded like it was something I should be doing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely said my prayers before meals and before I went to bed. I kept a Bible by my bedside just in case I got an attack of insomnia and needed something to help me fall back to sleep. I had even read through a handful of Bible studies when I was younger (Daniel and Revelation… my mom is SUPER into end-times stuff), and I was a part of a small group. However, the concept of spending time with the Lord by myself, just because, was completely foreign to me.
Back then, I was involved in GC, the youth ministry. I went to my group leader, Ammie, for clarification. She was one who had mentioned spending time with the Lord on several occasions. The conversation went something like this:
“What are you guys talking about when you say you’re going to ‘spend time with the Lord’?”
“You mean my ‘Jesus Time’? It means I’m going to set time aside to be with the Lord.”
“Yeah, I get that, but what do you mean?”
“Well…I make God a priority by spending time with Him.”
“Uh-huh. But…” slightly exasperated, “What is it that you DO exactly when you ‘spend time with the Lord’? How can you spend time with God? He’s like, invisible.”
“Oh!” soft chuckle “Well, basically you pray, read the Bible, worship and just…talk to God.”
Now, for those of you who are like I was, this still sounded a little – I’m just going to say it – odd. I mean, aren’t pastors the ones who are supposed to spend hours praying and reading the Bible early in the morning? Like, isn’t that their job?
Anyhow, I decided to give it a try. I had a desire to be closer to God and to live my life the way I saw all of my new friends living, completely devoted to Him. So if this “Jesus Time” was going to do that, then I would give it a whirl.
Ammie gave me some advice based on biblical principles, like having ‘Jesus Time’ in the morning because it’s good to start your day out with Jesus. She also encouraged me to have a “prayer closet” or a special place where I could get away from all the craziness of my house and life. She told me that having worship music helped to set the atmosphere – luckily I had just downloaded the newest worship album onto my brand new video iPod! I set a timer for one hour, sat there in my room at 5-something in the morning, music quietly playing in the background. I closed my eyes and began to pray. When I opened my eyes to look at the clock, a whopping seven minutes had gone by.
“Are you for reals?” I asked out loud. How was I supposed to do this for an hour?!?!
Months passed and I kept plugging away at it. Sometimes I’d start with prayer, other times I’d start with reading the Bible, and still other times I would just sit and sing along with the worship. Ammie (the best group leader ever) would call me in the mornings at 5:00 to make sure I was up early enough to get my ‘Jesus Time’ in. I got into the habit. It became a routine. There were times I would make it the full hour and even times (though very few) that I felt like the Lord was with me and we were actually spending time together. But, if I can just be real with you… for the most part…it was rough. It wasn’t enjoyable. I certainly didn’t look forward to it. And I really didn’t feel like I was growing closer to the Lord.
Fast forward years later. Yes, you read that correctly, years. I moved to California and for almost two years, was still going through the same routine. Although, admittedly, the routine was pretty sparse. One Saturday, after a week or so of being out of the habit, I decided I was going to have some ‘Jesus Time’. So I put on my worship playlist, got out my Bible, shut my door, and began to pray (I had stopped using the timer by this time because…why? Plus it was Saturday and I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be).
As I started going through the motions, something different happened…the Lord spoke to me! It wasn’t audible, but it was very clear in my spirit that this was the voice of the Lord. It wasn’t rough or harsh. No. The best way I can describe it is, friendly. In a very friendly tone, the Holy Spirit asked me a simple question, “Do you like this song?”
I stopped in the middle of my prayer list. “Huh?” I asked.
“This worship song that you are listening to right now, do you even like it?”
I stopped to listen. It was a popular song by a popular worship band. A song we had sung close to a million times before and one I wasn’t particularly fond of. I knew that God already knew the answer, so it was pointless to pretend, “Uh…no. I don’t really like this song at all.” I admitted.
“Well, change it.”
“Change it. Put on something you like. And it doesn’t have to be worship.”
Oh. Em Geee, you guys. You have no idea what freedom and joy came with that one simple statement. It was like the Lord had lifted the weight of conformity and rigidity off of me. Of course I knew whatever music I picked had to be something that would keep me in the right mindset, so my gangsta rap playlist was out (just kidding, I don’t have a gangsta rap playlist…well I do, but it’s just the beats – no words). I’d recently started enjoying Americana, folky, jazzy bluegrass, and had a playlist full of decadent instrumentals that I loved to listen to. I put on my favorite song from that playlist and just sat there.
It was like a floodgate opened. I felt the Presence of God so greatly that I laughed, cried, got on my knees, and danced all at the same time. In that moment, God gave me a vision of us together (me as His daughter and He as my Father) that was so sweet and real I am sure we will replay it for real when I get to Heaven. By the end of the song, I was so full and overcome by joy, I could barely move. I just remember saying, “I don’t want this to end! I don’t want this to end!” I spent the rest of my morning (yes, OVER an hour) just soaking in the Presence of God. I read my Bible, I sang songs, I talked to God and experienced moments of intense humility and even greater joy!
At the end, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Shaleta, when you spend time with Me, I want you to WANT to spend time with me! I want you to enjoy the time we have together! I want to hear your heart and I want you to hear Mine. That’s not going to happen if you’re just going through the motions of something you feel you’re supposed to do. I want you to be with me, not because you have to, but because you want to.”
Looking back on that day, my heart races a little bit and I get chill bumps. I had longed for the kind of connection with God that my friends had and when I finally opened up to the Lord and let go of routine and schedule, it was far better than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.
I am grateful for my friend, Ammie who taught me some great principles, like praying before my day begins and having a quiet place where I can feel free to pour out my heart to God. I am even more thankful for my best friend, The Holy Spirit, who led me to a freedom in my relationship with Jesus that I never knew was imaginable.
So for anyone who wants to experience this amazing, wonderful, ridiculously great relationship, I hope you are compelled to go and seek it out! And for those of you who have tried or are still trying but feel like you’re just going through the motions, be honest with the Lord. He is so faithful and GOOD. Maybe you need to change something up. Not big on talking? Try journaling. Can’t find a quiet space in your house? Try going for a walk. Work the early shift? Try driving down to the beach and spending time with Jesus as the sun sets.
Whatever you do, be honest and open to God. He sent His own son to die on the cross so that we could have access to knowing Him in a real and powerful way. He can and will use any opportunity you offer to speak with you.t He wants to! Be real and get ready for the best, most exciting relationship you will ever have!
Shaleta Chatman is an elementary school teacher, currently student teaching and working on her master’s degree. She taught the third grade class at City Christian School for many years and has been an active leader at The City Church since the beginning. Shaleta’s passionate about writing and serves on the Beautiful Stories editorial team. She also likes to make us all laugh at every Beautiful women’s event.