John Stott’s Simple Secret for Spiritual Productivity

At age 29, John Stott was overwhelmed with his ministry responsibilities as rector of All Souls Church. How would he manage all the administrative tasks? How would he spiritually nourish himself enough to feed those he served?

Young Stott didn’t know what to do—until he attended a pastor’s conference and heard this counsel from a wiser, older pastor:

Take a quiet day once a month. Go away into the country, if you can, where you can be sure of being undisturbed. Stand back, look ahead, and consider where you are going. Allow yourself to be drawn up into the mind and perspective of God. Try to see things as he sees them. Relax!

Stott took this advice to heart:

I went home, and immediately marked one day a month in my diary with the letter “Q” for Quiet. And as I began to enjoy these days, the intolerable burden lifted and has never returned. In fact, so valuable did these days prove that for many years I have tried to manage one a week. I use them for those items which need unhurried and uninterrupted time—long-term planning, problems I must think and pray over, difficult letters, preparation, reading, and writing. These quiet days have brought immense blessing to my life and ministry.

Following the preacher’s practical suggestion gave Stott the spiritual and mental quiet he needed for ministry, and it can help you as well.

One Way to Apply It

While this seems like a wonderful idea, many of us don’t have the ability to take one extra day off per month, let alone per week! We probably won’t keep the same schedule as Stott, but we can seek to regularly incorporate rest, prayer, planning, special projects, and study in other ways.

For me this means that every month or so, I take an hour or two out of my workday to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and hope to accomplish. I draw near to God in prayer, not always out of urgent necessity, but with a desire to abide in him.

I also keep a OneNote file that serves as a work journal; it contains my successes, dreams for the future, frustrations, and struggles. I use the time to take a long-term view of my life and to ponder my wildest dreams for kingdom impact. I jot down ideas of how I might, by God’s grace, take steps toward those dreams.

When I pray, I ask God to guide me, bless the work of my hands, clarify my thinking by showing me truth and error, and use my efforts for his glory and the building of his church. I often speed-walk during these times, since I find it easier to meditate on deep things and maintain a sharp focus while away from my desk.

I’ve experienced many benefits from this practice: I depend on God in prayer for ministry fruit; God often brings clarity to complex situations; I often have fresh ideas; and at the end I’m refreshed to sit down at my desk with new vigor.

Be Creative

Since taking a weekly quiet day like Stott may be impossible for you as it is for most others, you may need creativity to experience the refreshment and rest you desire.

Here are a few ideas, some small, some large:

  • Find a few hours to unplug from your normal routine. Turn off all technology, pray, and think through your life. Consider how Christ has grace to meet your every need.
  • Fast from all social media and use time you’d normally spend online to pray, think, memorize Scripture, or read. If your phone is still a temptation, remove tempting apps.
  • Fast from food or another area of life to more deeply focus on God.
  • If you commute, have regular quiet commutes of praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and communion with God.
  • Consider taking time off from work/ministry for a spiritual retreat. Use your vacation days, drop the kids off at grandma’s or with some friends, and make your time all about pursuing Jesus. Some free or discounted spiritual retreat centers exist: Ask around or consider Ed Stetzer’s list for pastors.
  • If you’re a pastor or in ministry full-time, prayerfully consider taking a sabbatical to recharge.

Sometimes the best way to move forward in life is to hit the pause button and try to see life as God does. That simple perspective will help us find rest for our souls and experience a sweet foretaste of heavenly rest in the presence of Christ.

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