Tuesday, November 11, 2014


A couple of years ago a young friend asked me the following question: When it comes to quiet times, or spending time with God daily, is that something we should make ourselves do? 

 What would you say?  I surprised myself with my answer.

After probing a bit, I realized that my younger friend was struggling with a common misconception about legalism, so I shared with her that while I'd had consistent quiet times for almost three decades, there were a lot of years in the beginning when I was driven by duty, focused on getting it right, and fearful of disappointing God. But in looking back, while I would never want to live with that kind of legalism again, I had absolutely no regrets about the hours I spent.  Why?  Because somewhere over the course of that time, meeting with God on a daily basis became as much a part of my life as eating or drinking or sleeping, until I couldn’t imagine life without it.  Now that I understand more about how our brains function, this makes perfect sense.  

More about that later, but first, let’s get a few myths about legalism out of the way.  Legalism is deadly and I am passionate about freedom from it, but for that to happen, we first need to see what legalism is not.  For example:

  • Having to work at establishing disciplines in our Christian walk is not legalism.
  • Practicing spiritual disciplines even when we really don’t feel like it is not legalism.
  • Continuing to engage in a spiritual practice, even when if feels like we’re not getting anything out of it is not legalism

What then is legalism?  Legalism is an attitude of our heart that assumes we can earn God’s favor or approval by the things we do or the spiritual disciplines we engage in.   The truth is that nothing we do makes us worthy or commendable to God, and His love for us won’t change if we never show up for a quiet time.  But when you think about it, is there any reason why a follower of Christ wouldn’t want to connect with the Lover of our souls each day for some quality time? 

The good news is that making this a habit may be easier than you think...which leads me back to the brain.  As I noted in a previous post, our brains contain more neurons (cells) than stars in the Milky Way, but more incredible than that are the trillions of neuropathways that enable those cells to communicate.   
Neuropathways lighting up from use

What we now know is that life experiences create and maintain those connections, and as a result, our brains are quite malleable throughout our lives.  This means that if we want to hard-wire our brain in any area—to make any specific behavior an indispensable habit—we simply have to practice it long enough and often enough to establish a neuropathway.  

It's sort of like forging a path through some tundra--every time you walk that way, it gets a little easier until the path is well-worn and you don't have to work at it anymore.  The amazing thing is that when we go to sleep at night, our brains operate like roadwork, where, as one scientist explains, “the streets that are used the most get repaved and improved for easier travel.”  This is why, even though my motives were not always healthy, those years of quiet times served to lay down the tracks for a deeply entrenched way of life, something I could never regret. 

So how long does it take for this to happen?  Through the use of brain imaging technology, they’ve found that there are significant changes in the neurocircuitry of the brain, even after a couple of months of engaging in a practice.  However, as I noted in a previous post, the brain operates on a use it or lose it principle, so if you don’t maintain the practice, you will lose your momentum, something we’ve probably all experienced more times than we can count.  It’s kind of like going to the gym—when you work out regularly it is far easier, while a hit and miss approach means you have to go through the painful process of sore muscles etc. all over again.

There are a lot of reasons people struggle to spend time with God regularly, but I wonder if many simply haven't  kept at it long enough to hard-wire their brain for the practice.  

Perhaps you, like my young friend, have thought you should avoid pushing yourself to be consistent out of fear of being legalistic.   

But let me ask you, in the end, what do you have to lose? Why not get stop playing the legalism card and give it another try—for your own joy and the glory of the One who made you for himself!

Click here for some tips on how to avoid quiet time legalism.

For books to help you establish your devotional life, click here!


  1. It's true, and I am happy to be rid of legalism in the quiet time. There's no quiet in quiet time when legalism creeps around. Likewise, there is no quiet in quiet time when the joy of well-established pathways is absent. There is a struggle, and that guilt you speak of, and the fear not performing correctly for God (and others?). I love and I miss my times with the Savior when I let life rob me of this part of my journey. It's still a discipline for me, but one I hunger for; one that brings my heart and mind peace. Love you my sissy! Thanks for sharing the wisdom you are learning. Susie

  2. Well said! How we need that balance of discipline and desire!