One of the best articles I have ever read is “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles Hummel. In it he writes that many people often wish for a 30-hour day, so they could get more done. But Hummel says if we had it, we would soon be filling it up with more of the things with which we are already squandering our present 24-hour day! His solution? Do what Jesus did, and get up and spend time with the Heavenly Father to begin the day. Get HIS direction and priorities for the day, and then follow that. But the whole plan hinges on getting up and spending time with God first thing in the morning.
This morning we talked about how important it is, in “the times that try our souls”, to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. One of the most important habits we can establish which can help us do that is to begin every day by walking with God in His word & prayer. I want us to turn tonight to a passage of scripture in which David models for us a commitment to walk with God in the morning, Psalm 5:
Just as in our passage for this morning, Psalm 11, David is in a difficult spot, reflected in :1, “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning.” He is “groaning” about something bad which is going on. We may not know exactly what it is, but we get hints of it later in the Psalm, where it says in :5, “the boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity”; and :6 “YHWH abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit”; :9, “there is nothing reliable in what they say”, etc. So evidently some wicked people had arisen who were proud, and who were slandering David. He responds by calling out to God, and notice the special commitment of his prayer in :3:
“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You, and eagerly watch.”
I. The emphasis on the MORNING prayer
“In the morning … in the morning …”. One of the ways the Hebrews emphasize something is by repeating it. If they say it once, they mean it, of course, but if they say it twice, they really mean it (and if they say it three times it is ultimate, like “holy, holy, holy” is the Lord; which means that He is ultimate in holiness. So the fact that David repeats “in the morning” here shows the emphasis that he put upon it. It was “in the morning” that his prayer would rise up to God.
But it is not only that (although it would be enough!). The words “order my prayer” are also very revealing. In Hebrew this is the same root word which describes how the priests “laid in order” the morning sacrifice, which was the very first act of the day in Israel. So David is saying that just as the priests “ordered” the morning sacrifice as their first duty of the day, HIS first duty of the was going to be to let God hear his voice in prayer!
He said the same thing in Psalm 63, “O God, You are my God — I shall seek Thee earnestly.” That Hebrew word “earnestly” there literally means “early.” That makes sense. If you are seeking something earnestly, you seek it early:
— hunters who are serious about bagging their prey get out there early. (Someone was just recently telling me about getting out at 4 or 5 a.m. to hunt; that’s just what they do!)
— fishermen do the same thing.
— I’ve noticed that most really good golfers get out and get the early tee times (that’s why I usually go in the afternoon!)
— on Black Friday, women get out early — 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. — because they are earnest about getting the best deals. People who are serious about seeking something get out early to get it.
And that is what Psalm 63 says we should do with the Lord too. If we are serious about seeking Him, we will seek Him EARLY.
— In Mark 1:35 we see that Jesus kept this same pattern: “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”
There we see that Jesus got up early — and “early” is qualified by “while it was still dark”, so it was pretty early! — and went out to a place where He could be alone. And He did that, the Bible says, so that He could pray. Jesus serves as the great model for us. He was busier in ministry than any of us will ever be in our lives — the previous verses describe how just the night before, “the whole city had gathered at His door” and He was healing people. This went on until very late. And yet Jesus made it a priority to get up early and seek God and pray. We should do the same thing. We should tell the Lord, “In the morning, You will hear my voice.”
— Morning prayer is assumed in the Model Prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 6. Think about it: what good would it do to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” at the end of the day, AFTER you’ve already HAD your daily bread! It makes much more sense as a morning prayer, asking God to provide what we need for the day ahead.
— Ronnie is currently teaching about the Spiritual Armor in Ephesians 6. What good would it do to put on your “spiritual armor” after the battle is done, at the end of the day?! We may need it then too, but we especially need to put on our spiritual armor BEFORE we fight the battles of the day — in the morning, in God’s word & prayer.
Now, let me balance that just a little bit by saying that I understand that not everybody is a “morning person”, and there is not just one time for prayer:
— First of all, we know that we should be praying all day long:
I Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”
In Psalm 119:164 the Psalmist says, “Seven times a day I praise You” — and we know that those “7 times” are not literal, but symbolic of the fact that all through the day we are to be praising God and praying.
There are many such scriptures which command us to walk with God in prayer all day long. We are not merely to pray in the morning and leave prayer behind (which is unfortunately what I used to do!). So I am NOT just teaching that we are ONLY to pray in the morning.
— Secondly, I also know that not everyone does their best Bible reading and prayer first thing. Some people are what my Aunt Betty used to call a “grouchy bear” in the morning. Our son Paul gets up early to work with Pete Jackson at Stonewall Homes, and he is not a “merry sunshine” first thing. The other day he told Cheryl that he thought I was a good dad because when I am reading my Bible first thing in the morning and I see he is leaving, I don’t say anything to him because I know he doesn’t want to talk!
So I understand that not everyone is best in the morning. Some of you may not be. Some of you may read or study or pray better in the evening, and wouldn’t do well trying to have a long morning devotional time.
And then there are those with challenging work schedules which require them to be up very early — or preschool mothers who find it incredibly challenging to have any kind of lengthy quiet time because of their children’s erratic and demanding schedules.
I am not trying to heap guilt on any of these types of people. Maybe it is not possible for you to have your longest prayer and Bible study time first thing in the morning, but let me strongly encourage you to do at least SOMETHING first thing in the morning. If you don’t do a long Bible study, at least read a verse or two, or review some memory verses. If you don’t pray a long prayer, at least pray for a few minutes. Come back to it later, but do at least SOMETHING in the morning to begin your day with the Lord. Have that commitment like David did: “In the morning, You will hear my voice.”
Understanding that we are not ONLY to pray in the morning, not everyone prays best then; it IS important to begin our day by spending at least some time with God in His word and prayer in the morning, because it will affect the rest of your day.
Several years ago a couple of professors from Wharton and Ohio State University did a study on the mood that people have to begin the day, and the impact that it has on their functionality and productivity at work. They discovered that the single biggest factor was the mood they brought with them to work from home. It was an even bigger factor than the rude customers they might get on the phone during the day. In their article, published in 2006, entitled: “Waking Up On The Wrong Side of the Desk: The Effect of Mood on Work Performance”, they concluded:
“Start-of-day positive mood spills over and affects positive employee mood during the day,” the researchers found, adding that “likewise, start-of-day negative mood spills over and affects negative employee mood during the day, even accounting for work-related contextual influences like customer interactions.”
So in other words, the mood that you have from the very first part of the day is going to affect you all day long! We’ve all heard the expression: “I started off the day on the wrong foot”, or “I got up on the wrong side of the bed today.” We’ve all had that feeling — like we started the day wrong, and everything seemed to go downhill from there.
Well, what can we do about it? Just “hope” that things improve? Or just “hope” that we don’t get up on the wrong side of the bed? NO! We can purposefully take things into our own hands, and actively shape the day for good, by spending time with God as soon as we get up.
Most days when I get up, I am not in a particularly good mood. But after I have spent some time worshipping God in prayer, and reading His word, I always feel better. We can take a positive step towards affecting the rest of our day for good, by starting it with the Lord in prayer.
George Mueller knew the impact of prayer on his day. His biographer wrote that after learning the lesson of being too busy in the work of the Lord to pray, Mueller told his brethren that four hours of work after an hour of prayer would accomplish more than five hours of work without prayer. And that rule he faithfully kept! He always made sure to start his day with prayer, knowing how much it would impact what he was able to do that he. Like David, his motto was, “In the morning O Lord, You will hear my voice.” We need to have that same commitment too — and that is what I want us to focus on next:
II. The COMMITMENT of the morning prayer
It is not hard to sense the commitment “in between the lines” of Psalm 5:3. It is a very determined statement by David: “In the morning, O LORD, YOU WILL HEAR MY VOICE”! He is saying, I AM going to do this; I am committed to it.
And that is what you must do, if you are going to spend time with God to begin your day. It is not just going to “happen”; you have to be committed to do it, and plan to carry it out. You’ve got to set your alarm for the time you need; you have to have your Bible and notebook and prayer list ready; you need to have a plan for what you are going to do. But most importantly you have to be committed for it to happen. It has to be your priority.
There was a lady in our church in Tulsa who heard one of my messages on spending time with God first thing in the morning, and she came up to me after church and said, “You know, every morning, without fail, I ALWAYS read the newspaper.” She said, “I am just obsessive about it. I read it every day, and if I go on vacation, I get all the papers, and read through all of them that I have missed — in chronological order!” Unfortunately, she had not been very consistent in reading her Bible. But she came up to me after the service and said, I am going to have a new motto: “No Bible, no newspaper.” I am not going to read the newspaper, until I have had time with God first. That took commitment on her part: the realization that she needed to do something differently, and commitment to carry it out. And she did!
Some of us need to make that same kind of commitment. Is there something else that you are more committed to in the morning than walking with the Lord? Maybe like with Nancy it is reading the paper. Or maybe it is checking the news on tv or watching some “morning show.” Or maybe it is exercise: some of you might admit that you show more discipline in your physical exercise than you have your spiritual life, and God is calling you discipline yourself for godliness, which is more profitable (I Tim. 4).
Whatever it is in your schedule that you need to rearrange, many of us need to walk away from tonight with a commitment to echo the prayer of David: “In the morning, O LORD, YOU WILL HEAR MY VOICE”!
III. The Order of the Morning Prayer
“I will order my prayer to You”
As I mentioned before, this word “order” means, “arrange”, or “set in order”, and it was used in Leviticus 1:8, and :12 of the priests who were commanded to “arrange” the pieces of the sacrifice on the altar. In Genesis 22:9 it is used of how Abraham “built the altar, arranged the wood, bound his son (Isaac) on the altar”.
I think it is instructive to us that David used this word, “arranged” or “ordered” of the prayer that he would lift up to God every day. It gives us a picture of a prayer that is not just a series of “random thoughts” but which has structure and organization.
This is just what Jesus gives us in Matthew 6 in the Model Prayer. It is not a prayer that we are just supposed to repeat back to Him verbatim. It is a model of the kind of organization that He wants us to have in our prayers to God every day. It is an outline of the kinds of things that our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray.
Let me give you an example: when my father was still alive, we communicated a lot via e-mail. Dad would often send me a note, and he would talk about the weather where he was for a while, and then his health, and then what he had going in his garden, maybe talk about the latest OU game, and he would ask about Cheryl & kids. Now when I got his e-mail, I would hit “reply”, and I would look at what he wrote, and reply to each section. What was the first thing he talked about? It was the weather. So I might comment on that, and maybe tell him how the weather was where we were. When I had typed a paragraph about that, I would go back to his e-mail and look: what did he talk about next? Oh, his health! So I would write about that for a while. What next? The OU game. So I would write my comments on that — and so on through each section of his e-mail. I might add a topic to it, but I would generally follow the outline of the letter he had sent me, because I knew that these were the things my father wanted to talk about with me. I didn’t just hit “reply” and send his same letter back to him — that is not what he wanted. He wanted me to talk with him about the topics that he gave me.
I believe that is exactly what the Model Prayer is. Jesus did not give it to us so that we could just memorize it and hit “reply” and send those same words back to Him — just like Dad didn’t want me to send his same note back to him. He wants us to personalize it; to use it as an outline. Just like my dad’s e-mail, the things we find in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” are an outline of the kinds of things our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray.
For example: the Model Prayer begins: “Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name.” He is instructing us to begin our prayer with praise, just as Psalm 100 says: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” So we should begin our prayer by praising God, by giving Him thanks, and singing songs to Him. Then when we have spent a few minutes doing that, just like I would check my dad’s e-mail to see what his next topic was, we can check the Model Prayer to see what God wants to talk with us about next: His Kingdom.
So we can spend a few minutes praying for His Kingdom’s work: for our pastor, and our church, and missions and missionaries and countries which need the gospel.
When we’ve done that, then we can go back to the outline and see: what did God want us to talk with Him about next? “Thy will be done.” We can spend a few minutes praying about God’s will for our lives, and for our family, and others we know who are seeking His will.
And so all through the prayer. What does God want us to talk with Him about when we pray? He wants us to praise Him, and pray about His Kingdom, and His will, to ask our requests (“Give us this day our daily bread”), to ask for forgiveness (“Forgive us our debts”) and to pray for spiritual protection (“Lead us not into temptation”).
Many people have expressed their inability to pray for long periods of time — 30 minutes or an hour. But if we would use the model that Jesus gave us, and spend just about 5 minutes on each of these sections, we could pray for more than 30 minutes! But it starts with using the Model Prayer the way it was intended to be used: as an outline of the kinds of things that our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray. It is an OUTLINE for prayer.
This is just what David is saying here in Psalm 5:3 when he speaks of “ORDERING” or “ARRANGING” our prayers before Him. You may or may not adopt the Lord’s Prayer as a model for your prayer. But the scripture teaches us that our prayers are not merely to be self-centered ramblings. They are to be “arranged” in an orderly way before God.
IV. The Expectation of the Morning Prayer
“and eagerly watch”
This word for “eagerly watch” can be translated, “look up.” The idea is, I am going to pray — and then I am going to look up, and watch, and see what God will do in response to my prayer.
This is an important element in our prayers: the element of faith. Our prayers must be prayers of faith if they are going to please God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” So if our prayers are going to please God, they must be prayers of faith. Like David, we should pray — and then watch expectantly to see what He does in response.
Unfortunately, many of our prayers are not “watchful”, expectant prayers. They are just “rote”; “routine.” We don’t really expect anything to happen; we are just “doing them” as our “religious duty.” We are almost surprised when something happens!
It’s like the disciples in Acts 12, who were gathered in Mary’s house, praying for Peter to be released from prison after James had been killed. The Lord DID hear and answer their prayers miraculously, as an angel set Peter free from prison. He went through Jerusalem to Mary’s house where everyone was gathered, and when the servant girl answered the door and ran and told them that Peter was at the door, they wouldn’t believe her! In fact, they told her, “You are out of your mind!” Peter just stood out there knocking, and they finally let him in, and it says “they were amazed.” They were NOT a good example of what David is talking about in Psalm 5:3. They were NOT “eagerly watching”!
Now, that episode should be an encouragement to many of us, for that is probably a pretty good picture about how many of us pray — not really expecting anything, and shocked out of our minds if God actually DOES something! Thank God that He doesn’t always answer our prayers according to the greatness of our faith!
But it does not change the fact that we SHOULD expect an answer. We should pray in faith like David did. He said “I will order my prayer to You, and I will eagerly watch”! He wasn’t just praying as a rote religious act; he expected God to do something — and we should too! Let’s spend the first part of our praying and lifting up our requests to God — and then watch and see what God does in response.
I think a good question for each of us to ask ourselves tonight is: “Is there a prayer request I have, which I am just praying on ‘auto pilot’ — but I am not really expecting God to do anything about it?” Are you looking around expectantly every day, watching to see what God will do? That’s what David did — and that’s what we should do as well: pray — and then “eagerly watch”!
V. The Lord of the Morning Prayer
Finally, I don’t think we should overlook this one thing: the LORD to whom David was praying his morning prayer. When he says, “In the morning, O LORD”, that word “LORD” is the Hebrew word Yahweh; the personal name of God. It is the name God gave Moses when he asked Him His name. It could be translated, “I AM”; “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” There is another, more “general” name for God in Hebrew, Elohim, but David did not use that. He used His personal name, because he knew Him personally. And it was THIS God to whom he prayed each morning. His prayer was an expression of the personal relationship he had with Yahweh.
This is not to be overlooked. David’s commitment to prayer came out of his personal relationship with God. He wasn’t just praying to “any” lord or god. He wasn’t praying to Milcom, or the Asherah, or Baal, or any of the gods of the nations. He was praying to THIS particular God: Yahweh, the God whom Genesis says created the heavens and the earth; the God who told Moses His name, and brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt; the God whom David knew personally, whom he referred to when he said, “Yahweh is my Shepherd.” This God promised a Messiah, and He came in the Person of Jesus Christ, who, when confronted by the Jewish religious leaders, said, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM!” JESUS is the “I AM”! He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” And when you follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior, you know that “I AM” God personally — and you want to talk with Him every day. Thus your prayer time every day is not just a “religious deed”, but the expression of the personal relationship you have with God — just like David’s was.
This is the root problem of a lot of people’s prayer time. They aren’t praying, because they really don’t have a relationship with God.
We could list a number of benefits of praying in the morning — like having a better mood throughout the day, or making you a better employee like that study indicated — but the single greatest reason to pray is because you want to meet the Person of GOD! And that’s just the problem. If we are honest, a lot of us really don’t.
Years ago, Tom Elliff’s book “Praying For Others” had a big impact on my life; I used that book myself, and I taught it to others. In it, he describes his own commitment to pray. He said that in the early years of his pastorate, he saw his work as something like a “public relations” agent. But he became convicted that he needed to spend more time walking with God, and to give the first part of his day to prayer. He said that the very first day he made this commitment, he blocked off the first part of the day on his calendar, and he locked himself in his office, and knelt down to pray before God, and said, “Lord, I’ve really wanted to have this time with you.” He said the Holy Spirit convicted to get real; that he DIDN’T really want this time. If he really had, he would have been doing it! Tom said the first thing he had to do in that prayer time was just confess his lack of love for God, and lack of desire to really pray.
And the truth is, that is where a lot of us are. We can pray and ask God to help us be disciplined, and to get up in the morning, and to use a good outline for prayer, and all these things. But some of us just need to get down on our knees like Tom Elliff did, and say, “Lord, forgive me for not having the love for You that I should have had. Forgive me for not wanting to pray. Give me such a love for You, that will drive me out of bed, to spend time with You, and walk with You every morning.”
That’s the key. It has to come from a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. It is not just “saying some prayers”; it is talking with the Lord with whom you have a personal relationship.
But it is not just “a” relationship; it is by far the single most important relationship you have, and David shows us here in Psalm 5 that it deserves our priority commitment. Would you make it YOUR commitment? Will you say with David, “In the morning, O LORD, You WILL hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You, and watch”?
As we bow; some of us need to respond to this word in some specific ways:
— Many of you are Christians, but you would say you are not walking with God each day, and you need to make the commitment of Psalm 5:3 YOUR commitment.
— make Psalm 5:3 your new memory verse (put it on a card; type it into your CELL PHONE):
“In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice. In the morning, I will order my prayer to You, and eagerly watch.” Memorize it, and more importantly, as God for His help to make it your commitment.
— perhaps you DO pray in the morning, but aren’t walking with God the rest of the day, praying spontaneous prayers like Nehemiah did about everything that comes across your path …
— maybe you don’t know for sure that you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You aren’t praying because you don’t really know Him. No amount of studying or prayer seminars is going to change that! You need to trust Jesus as your Lord & Savior tonight.
— maybe something else you heard tonight has touched your heart and you need to speak with God about it.
Take just a moment to pray, and ask God to help you make whatever commitments to Him that you need to make regarding prayer … especially that you would seek Him “in the morning.”