“My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee and look up.”
Most people approach life reactively, not proactively. Instead of planning ahead and making advance preparations for the circumstances with which they might meet during the course of the day, people tend to react instinctively toward life. They simply do what comes most naturally – like a “knee-jerk” reflex – waiting until after the fact of succumbing to temptation or reacting sinfully to a confrontation to begin repairing the damage.
Rushing into the day with little or no aforethought, circumstances rule and govern their attitudes. Happy circumstances make for pleasant moods; unhappy circumstances produce corresponding attitudes ranging from fear to anger to depression. How many times, for instance, has an angry motorist during morning “rush hour” had the effect of setting the tone of your thinking the remainder of the day?
Christian people, however, are called to “rule their spirits” – to determine their own attitudes, not to allow circumstances to bludgeon and control them: “He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city” (Pro. 16:32b; cf. Pro. 25:28). The New Testament term for this kind of self-control is temperance – one of the distinguishing traits of a Christ-like character that the Holy Spirit develops in the soul (Gal. 5:22). The challenge that faces the believer each day might be expressed in terms of the need to respond Biblically (instead of react instinctively) toward the circumstances he encounters. Without a deliberate effort to calibrate one’s thinking and attitudes to the truth of God’s word every day, practical holiness proves evasive. Like water naturally follows the path of least resistance, flowing to the lowest point, so people, who are naturally habituated as sinners, instinctively react in the flesh to daily pressures and problems unless they plan and prepare for each day by drawing nigh to God. Ralph Cushman captures my sentiment in his poem “In the Morning”:
I met God in the morning
When my day was at its best,
And His presence came like sunrise
Like a glory in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered;
All day long He stayed with me.
And we sailed with perfect calmness
O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed;
But the winds that seemed to drive them
Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I, too, had loosed the moorings
With the Presence left behind.
So I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way.
You must seek God in the morning
If you want Him through the day.
The Psalmist knew that a robust and vibrant walk with God was inseparably connected to the hard work of spiritual discipline. Note his language of commitment and resolve: "My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning…in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee and will look up (Ps. 5:3). Christians, likewise, must regularly remind themselves that godliness does not occur in a vacuum. The Christian life is not magic. Indeed, there is a supernatural dimension to Christian living, but unless the believer abides in Christ like a branch remains connected to the vine, he cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit (Jno. 15:4). Instead of love and joy and peace and longsuffering, the person who fails to maintain the moment-by-moment habit of communion with God will naturally manifest self-centeredness, cynicism, strife and impatience as the dominant characteristics of life.
The attempt to meet the challenges, bear the burdens, resist the temptations, solve the problems, and fulfill the responsibilities to which one is exposed each day without first drawing near to God is doomed for failure. It is equivalent to operating a vehicle on water instead of gasoline. Operating in the energy of the flesh, the believer is like Samsongoing through the motions of daily life, yet, all the while, oblivious to the fact that the Lord has departed from him. Tragic unconsciousness!
How, then, does a Christian abide in Christ so that the life of the Vine flows through the branch and produces fruit? The believer stays connected or linked to Christ through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible intake, fellowship with other believers, and public worship. These are the spiritual resources that God has provided for godly discipleship. They are spiritual necessities, not spiritual luxuries. An authentic Christian life is simply not possible without them.
Just as Daniel purposed in his heart to live uncompromisingly in Babylon (Dan. 1:8), the Christian must purpose in his heart to cleave to Jesus Christ (Acts 11:23). He must make a conscious and deliberate moral efforta decision, if you willto live Christianly. If he doesnt stir himself up to take hold of the Lord and make a concerted effort to master his thoughts and attitudes, he will inevitably stagnate (Is. 64:7; cf. 2 Tim. 1:6).
Further, he must learn to narrow the focus and live a day at a time. No one can live a successful life all at once. A God-honoring and productive Christian life is composed of a series of God-honoring and productive Christian days strung together in succession. Someone once said Life is what happens to you while youre waiting for life to happen. The quest for a fruitful life, then, will only be realized by the individual who makes daily discipleship his focus (Lk. 9:23).
Toward that goal, I suggest the following practical directions for beginning the day with God. These are the specific thoughts and activities that have helped me get off to a good start each day.
First, at the moment you awaken, reflect on the great truth that His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22). Past crises have not exhausted the Lords supply of grace. In the words of John Newton, He has a never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. Whatever trials or problems you might encounter today will not challenge the inexhaustible resources of your God. He has promised, As thy days, so shall thy strength be (Deut. 33:25). Though you have drawn deep from the well of Divine mercy for past sins, you have not depleted Gods super-abounding grace (Rom. 5:20). His mercies are new every morning; His grace is sufficient for you.
Next, let the Lord “hear your voice” through prayer and song. Jesus frequently rose early and departed to a solitary place to pray (Mr. 1:35). Even so, followers of Jesus should make it a habit to prepare in advance for the demands of each day by beginning it in communion with the Father. He delights to hear the prayers of the upright (Pro. 15:8; Songs 2:14). They, in turn, should delight in the unparalleled opportunity to draw near to Him.
Here, in “the secret place of the Most High” (Ps. 91:1), you may commit the cares of the day to God, asking for His blessing, direction, and strength, that He might be glorified in and through you. Here you may remind yourself of the fact that this day, whatever may be the current circumstances, is a priceless gift from Godthe day that the Lord hath made (Ps. 118:24). Here you may also, like that early-riser named Job, make intercession for your children before God (Job 1:5). Hymns such as Again, from Calm and Sweet Repose and I Love the Quietness of the Morning are especially appropriate to sing before the Lord during these brief morning exercises.
Thirdly, as you proceed to make physical preparations for the day, remember the words of Jesus, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4). Our needs, in other words, are not merely physical, but spiritual. Nourishment for the soul is as necessary as food for the body.
It is helpful, then, to use the occasion of making physical provisions for the day as a stimulus and reminder of the need to provide for the spiritual life also. While you are dressing the body, remember that you must also clothe the inward man. Dress for spiritual success by “putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:12-14), charity (Col. 3:10,12-14), humility (1 Pet. 5:5), and the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10ff). Further, let your morning look into the mirror be the catalyst to remind you of the need to look into the mirror of God’s word—the “perfect law of liberty”—in order to make adjustments to your thinking and conform yourself to the perfect will of God (Jas. 1:22-25; Rom. 12:2; cf. Jos. 1:8). Time spent in the word of God at the beginning of each day has a way of conditioning the mind to think Biblically about every circumstance one may encounter.
Finally, it will help you to spend some time in meditation. In preaching, God speaks to us. In prayer, we talk to God. In meditation, we talk to ourselves about God, taking our cue from His word. Meditationthinking Gods thoughts in Gods presenceis a necessary spiritual discipline for every Christian. The Puritans frequently encouraged their hearers to preach the gospel to themselves. In the wake of such wise counsel, I would urge every reader to make a deliberate effort to remind himself, at the beginning of each day, of several specific truths.
First, remind yourself of who your God is. It helps me to repeat salient passages like Habakkuk 2:20 (The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him) and Isaiah 40:28 (Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard? That the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary). With such a view of the sovereignty and majesty of God, I then like to spend a few moments meditating on the preciousness of Christ: For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds (Heb. 12:3).
Next, remind yourself of who you are. I fear that many professed believers think of themselves primarily in terms of their occupation (I am a banker or I am a student or I am a salesman). They define who they are by what they do. But Christians are called to reckon themselves dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11). The believer should always think of himself/herself, first and foremost, in terms of his relationship to God. It helps me to begin each day by asking myself the question, Do I know who I am? and then answering, Yes, Im a child of the King and by His grace, I will live accordingly.
Also, remind yourself of how weak and sinful you are apart from God’s grace. Solomon identified genuine seekers of God as those who know every man the plague of his own heart (1 Kings 8:38); Paul as people who have no confidence in the flesh (Phi. 3:3). Now, I am not describing a kind of morose self-loathingan attitude that is the polar opposite of joy. No, there is nothing holy about such a self-absorbed mindset. But an awareness that, in and of myself, I am prone to stumble and fall and that there is no sin that I am incapable of committing is the very essence of what Scripture means when it exhorts, Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6).
When I make an effort to remember my own potential to pride and anger and unloving behavior and to reflect on particular occasions in the past when I failed to control my old nature, it helps me “not to think more highly of myself than I ought to think, but to think soberly” (Rom. 12:3). To remember that I am what I am by the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10) helps me to bear insult and injury and to esteem anything short of eternal punishment a mercy from Gods hand.
It helps me to think, I am prone to stumble; therefore, I need to guard my heart with all diligence (Pro. 4:23). Without Christ, I can do nothing (Jno. 15:4). I must draw nigh to Him in my meditations and prayers (1 Ths. 5:17) and walk humbly with my God (Mic. 6:8).
In the fourth place, remind yourself of the dangers that face you living in a world that is under the curse of sin. Christians forget that this world is enemy territory at their peril. The Christian life is a relentless battle and struggle against a triple threat that Scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:2-3). How critically important to meditate on the reality of the conflict in which we are engaged! Satan, the arch-enemy and adversary of our souls, walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He is a thief. His principal goal is to make casualties of Gods children along the way. He steals and kills and destroys. Many strong men have been unsuspectingly slain by him. He will steal your mind by false teaching. He will steal your time by worldly distractions. He will steal your joy by cultivating the seeds of bitterness and envy in your heart. He will steal your virtue by tempting you to moral impropriety. He will steal your life by tempting you to involve yourself in one-hundred-one different pursuits that he promises will bring happiness or success or security. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? How important it is to remind ourselves at the beginning of each day that this vile world is not a friend to grace to bring us on to God!
Fifthly, remind yourself that all of life is lived before the face of God. David practiced the presence of Godhe disciplined himself to live with a conscious awareness that God was watching: Because I have set the Lord always before me, I shall not be moved (Ps. 16:8). Elder T. L. Webb, Jr. wisely suggested the practice of placing an empty chair at the table when the family sits to eat, or in front of the church during a business meeting, as a reminder that the Lord is present. Would we not be more cautious in both word and deed if we were conscious of the reality of His presence?
Next, in your morning meditations, think about the brevity of life and the preciousness of time. The Psalmist prayed, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am (Ps. 39:4). Moses, likewise, petitioned God saying, So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom (Ps. 90:12).
Life is brief and uncertain at best. Our days pass away swiftlywe spend our years as a tale that is told. How precious, then, is every twenty-four hour period! How we need to redeem the time! Do you ever live with vain regret over the way that you have squandered opportunities to serve the Lord, frittering your life away in trivial pursuits? Can you sing, Much of my time has run to waste? Indeed, I need to be reminded of Peters admonition every day: That [we] no longer should live the rest of [our] time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles (1 Pet. 4:2-3). Beginning the day with such a sharpened focus on the brevity of life will necessarily produce a more concentrated, and hence, more productive, Christian life.
Finally, begin each day in meditation on the fact that God is in sovereign control of your circumstances. My times are in His hands (Ps. 31:15). Commit the control of your future unto His wise and loving discretion and your thoughts will be established (Pro. 16:3; Ps. 37:5; 2 Tim. 1:12).
To begin each day with these deliberate exercises will prevent many sins. And the days will turn to weeks, and the weeks to months, and the months to years, and the years to a lifetime of godliness.