Over the last 40 years of ministry I have survived more battles than I thought possible. I’ve endured setbacks, failures, disappointments, and heartaches. I have faced extended periods of financial stress, health problems, ministry problems, church problems, people problems — you name it. There have been times when it seemed that every day, one right after the other, I would get knocked down by a new crisis, before I even had a chance to take care of the old crisis. Often the only thing that has gotten me through those tough times was a commitment I made 41 years ago on the day of my ordination to give God priority time each day.
I’m opening the door to a private part of my life and sharing my heart with you because I know there is absolutely nothing special about my walk with the Lord so if this commitment has sustained me, it will sustain you.
I have a confession to make. I used to get up feeling guilty almost every morning. Why? Because of Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice, in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Since I’m not much of a morning person I used to feel guilty when I don’t spend time alone with God in the morning. I want you to understand that when I don’t spend time alone with God in the morning it isn’t because I don’t have time. It isn’t because my mornings are too hectic. If it was merely that I could solve that problem by just getting up a little earlier. The problem is not how early I get up it is that I hate mornings!
When I was a freshman in college my first class began at 7:30 a.m. I knew that it took me at least five minutes to get from the classroom building to the classroom; it took at least ten minutes to get from my dorm to the classroom building, and it took at most two minutes to roll out of bed, put on clothes, brush my teeth and run out the door. So, that’s five minutes, ten minutes, two minutes—seventeen minutes. I had to be there at 7:30am, so, naturally, I set my alarm for…7:13am. Believe it or not I was rarely late for class, but I almost always arrived at class feeling a little frazzled. In fact I was frazzled during the first couple of classes. To be honest it was usually lunchtime before I hit my stride.
Obviously, this is no way to start your day! Even though I hate mornings I understand that “crisis mode” is not a good way to begin the day. I know that before the day is over, I’ll go through stresses and anxieties and maybe even a crisis or two, but I don’t have to start my day in “crisis mode”.
For a long time I believed that if I just got up a little earlier I would come to enjoy the beauty of the morning a little more because I wouldn’t be so frazzled. But no matter how hard I tried I have to confess it didn’t happen! I still don’t see an early morning as “a thing of beauty”.
I have a friend who is a programmer who is contracted out to do work for mostly Fortune 500 companies. He’s paid well for what he does, but he has to work an enormous number of hours each week. Once, when I was visiting him I went with him to his office. From his house to his office building was a distance of about 4 miles. It took us more than 30 minutes to get there, because the traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper. I asked him, “How can you stand fighting this traffic every day to get to work?” He said, “I rarely have to fight traffic. I come to the office at 6:00 a.m. when there aren’t many cars on the road. I have my time alone with God at my office, I have breakfast, and then I’m ready to start writing code.” His job is intense, and not without stress, but he faces the pressure by making sure he gets each day started right. He begins by getting up earlier than he has to. Whenever I’m with him I always come away feeling guilty that I don’t get up earlier.
I am all for spending some time with God before we are in the thick of our daily grind. But I’ve come to acknowledge that getting up early is one of those “good habits” that I am not going to develop because I am not a morning person by nature. So I came to realize that if for me to give God priority time it would have to be someway other than getting up earlier. If you are a morning person give God priority time in the morning but it you are a night owl like me give God priority time in the evenings. So I allow myself some extra time every night to spent a few minutes alone with God reviewing the day that has passed and “fueling up”, so to speak, for the next day. That gets my next day started right; giving God priority time before I’m sleepy and exhausted to prepare myself for the day ahead.
Who is the more spiritual: the early bird or the night owl? To put it another way: “Which is more spiritual: getting up earlier than you have to in order to spend time with God or staying up later than you have to in order to spend time with God?” The answer is: it’s a silly question! What matters is that we give God priority time each day!
Jesus spent time with God early and late. Mark 1:35 says…
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Matthew 14:23 says…
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
The important thing is not whether we stay up late or get up early but that we give God priority time each day.