Nine years ago, Robert Jones was dying.
“When you’re in a situation where the doctor tells you that you’re dying, you are going through the process of ‘what’s happening to me?'” the now 73-year-old minister tells Eternity.
“It put my physical life into more perspective.” – Rob Jones
At that time, Jones had been admitted to hospital because of complications due to a heart condition. He had already lived through three open-heart surgeries. But this time, he was bleeding internally and required such complicated surgery that he wasn’t expected to survive. His wife Janine had to say her goodbyes.
With death at the door, Jones describes his thoughts. “I was thinking: my physical life is going to come to an end; that my life is more than my physical existence in this world; that my relationship with God is so important. I need to keep focusing on where I’m heading – the best is yet ahead. I’m looking forward to going to be with the Lord.”
While Jones says he was also thinking about his love for his family, this experience confirmed what he knew all along: that the abundant time he spent with God was not wasted.
“I would like to think it put my physical life into more perspective and that I don’t cling to it,” says Jones.
And now, with the extended time he has on this earth, Jones is continuing to do what he has always done – that is, to spend “time lavished on God”.
He shares the simple philosophy that has made all the difference in his life: “If I can find time to eat breakfast every morning, then I can find time to meet with God every day.”
For those who might dismiss this discipline as too hard to implement, Jones responds: “Everybody can find time [to meet with God] somewhere during the day if you’re intentional. But you’ve got to be intentional. You won’t drift into it.”
Every day since he became a Christian at age 15, Jones has set aside time to read the Bible and pray.
“I started setting the alarm clock half an hour earlier than I normally would. This didn’t change a lot when I got married and we had kids. When the kids were young, I would still get up early and the kids would come and nestle into my lap as I did my Bible study and prayed. I would tell them, ‘I’m spending time with Jesus.'”
“I keep hearing Christians say ‘I don’t read my Bible every day.'” – Rob Jones
Jones now spends an hour with God every morning in his semi-retirement – he still works part-time as senior assistant minister at an Anglican church on Sydney’s north shore. Each year he reads through a one-year Bible plan, and uses a structured book of prayers called ‘The Daily Office’.
“A lot of people use various apps. Some friends of mine use the audio Bible read by David Suchet or Bible in One Year with Nicky Gumbel from Alpha. So there are all kinds of modern technology, which is not my thing. I like a book,” admits Jones, who is unashamedly old school.
“I find liturgical things helpful. I like that structure because it actually helps me focus and not waste my time. Wandering thoughts are always the enemy of quiet time.”
To make his quiet times feel more sacred, Jones lights candles in the space where he “meets with God”.
“That wouldn’t be for everyone,” he says, “but I find it a helpful thing to do.”
“You don’t need to be too ambitious, but be intentional.” – Rob Jones
In his 50 years in church ministry, Jones has noticed a fairly recent, disturbing trend.
“I keep hearing Christians say ‘I don’t read my Bible every day.’ And I think, well, I eat every day, I have a shower, I get dressed. There are a whole lot of things I do every day to keep my body alive and well. So why wouldn’t I be spending time with God every day? Because I need to listen to him and hear from him.”
While he admits scheduling daily quiet times may seem legalistic, Jones says, “but I still think it pays dividends, even in times when it is a little bit mechanical. It’s like eating. Sometimes you really enjoy eating and sometimes you just do it.
“And if I make time for God, I’m more likely to think on God throughout all the other things in the day that are happening to me.”
Jones adds: “The heart of the Christian life is a relationship with God, and relationships only work if you actually spend time with the person. That’s just the way it works with every aspect of our lives – marriage, friendships, at church.”
For those who still feel daunted about scheduling daily time with God, Jones gives this encouragement: “You don’t need to be too ambitious, but be intentional. Even ten minutes carved out of your day to spend with God is a good thing.”
He uses the example of an older lady in his congregation who “has a cup of coffee with God every morning”. She sits at her kitchen bench and pulls out her Bible and study notes when she has her morning coffee.
“Just make time with God somewhere in your day,” says Jones. “Sometimes, that may mean switching off the TV in the evening.
“Find a time that’s going to be good for you and stick to a program that’s going to be helpful to you. Have a plan worked out as to what you will do and when you’ll do it.”