(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, 5-03-15
Not long ago, someone posted on Facebook that they wished they had a 30-hour day, so that they could get everything done. In the comments section, I posted a link to one of the best articles I have read, “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles Hummel. In it he writes that many people often wish for a 30-hour day. But Hummel asserts that if we had it, we would soon be filling it up with more of the things which are already squandering our present 24-hour day! His solution? Do what Jesus did, and get up early and spend time with His Heavenly Father in prayer to begin the day. Get HIS direction and priorities, and then follow that. But the whole plan hinges on spending time with God before you get into your day.
A couple of weeks ago we started a series of messages which have I entitled: “The Disciplines of Disciples.” Last Sunday we saw the importance of spending time every day in what I Peter 2:2 calls “the pure milk of the word” — just you, your Bible, and the Holy Spirit of God speaking to your heart each day, and you writing down what you learn in that time. I hope you’ve been exercising that discipline this week. Today we are going to look at another discipline, closely related to it, and that is the discipline of morning prayer. Psalm 5:3 will be our text:
“In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice. In the morning I will order my prayer to You, and eagerly watch.”
To give this a little context, David is in a difficult spot in this Psalm, 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 in prayer. Notice the special commitment of his prayer in :3, and what it teaches us about the discipline of morning prayer:
I. The IMPORTANCE of 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, it is emphatic (and if they say it three times it is ultimate, like “holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah 6; 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 definitely “in the morning” that his prayer would rise up to God.
The word “order” my prayer is also very revealing. In Hebrew this is the same root word used in Leviticus to describe how the priests “laid in order” the morning sacrifice, which was their very first duty of the day. 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 day was going to be to let God hear his voice in prayer!
The emphasis on morning prayer is also found later, in Psalm 63, “:1O God, You are my God — I shall seek Thee earnestly.” The 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 adhered to 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 indeed! — 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. (*Next week we are going to spend some more time talking about prayer, specifically applying this outline for prayer that Jesus gave us in the Model Prayer, and we are continuing to study this in our Wednesday evening services*)
— The Bible teaches about the Spiritual Armor and prayer in Ephesians 6. But think about it: 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.
All of these scriptures teach us the importance of the discipline of prayer “in the morning.”
Now, let me balance that just a little bit by saying that I understand that 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. 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 in the morning. Some people are what my Aunt Betty used to call a “grouchy bear” in the morning. Our son Paul gets up early to work, and when we lived with him in Norman, he told Cheryl that he thought that I was a good dad because I don’t say anything to him in the morning, when I can tell he doesn’t want to talk!
So I understand that not everyone is at their 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.
Many days when I get up, I am not in a particularly good mood. But after I have spent some time worshipping God in prayer, singing to Him, 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 to morning prayer
“You will hear my voice.”
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. His commitment is just “dripping” from this verse.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 know where you are going to pray, and 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 said that 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 the commitment and discipline to carry it out. And she did!
Some of us need to make that same kind of commitment. Are you disciplining yourself to spend time in prayer each morning, like David did? Some of us need to ask ourselves: 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. 4:7-8).
And praying in the morning IS a discipline. It takes discipline to set that alarm, and get up, when many days you do not feel like it — I know I don’t! And then to actually pray, it takes discipline.
— Just staying awake takes discipline sometimes. Jesus’ disciples fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him for an hour, and many of us succumb to that same temptation. It is one of the most difficult things about praying in the morning. If I pray in my chair, I fall asleep. If I pray on my knees, I have fallen asleep. If I pray in my bed, I will surely fall asleep! So for me, the best thing is to “prayer walk.” I put on my walking shoes, and go out and walk on the trail by our apartment. As tired as I sometimes have been, I have never yet once fallen asleep while I am walking! So that has been good for me. And I think it benefits me in other ways as well: it takes my prayer life out of the house and into the world. I see people and things around me when I pray, and it helps me to get into the habit of praying for people & things around me all through the day as well. You certainly do not have to prayer walk, but I have found it helpful to me.
— But it is not just the discipline of not falling asleep, there is also the mental and spiritual battle of keeping your concentration on prayer. Oswald Chambers wrote
“Prayer is an effort of will. After we have entered our secret place and have shut the door, the most difficult thing to do is to pray. We cannot get our minds into working order and the first thing that conflicts is wandering thoughts. The great battle in private prayer is the overcoming of mental wool-gathering. We have to discipline our minds, and concentrate on willful prayer.”
On many different fronts, it will take discipline to pray in the morning. That is all there is to it. It will not just “happen” — especially because the enemy knows how important it is. He will do whatever he can to keep you from it, so you are going to have to be committed to it, exercise discipline, and most importantly, ask for God’s help. Many of us here this morning need to ask Him to help us rearrange some things in our schedules, and to give us the commitment and discipline to echo the prayer of David: “In the morning, O LORD, YOU WILL HEAR MY VOICE”!
III. The RELATIONSHIP of the Morning Prayer
“O LORD …”
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 significantly, 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.” He said in Psalm 3:3 that God was “MY shield, MY glory, the lifter of MY head.” He had a personal relationship with God that was driving his commitment to pray.
This Yahweh God of the Old Testament promised a Messiah, and the New Testament tells us that 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”! Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh. 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. He made you to know Him and to fellowship with Him, but you separated yourself from Him by your sins. That’s why Jesus came, to die on the cross, to pay for your sins, so that you could come back to God through Him and have that personal relationship with Him that He made you to experience. When you accept that, and come to know Him as your Lord & Savior, you will want to worship Him and sing to Him and 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 really 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 position”. 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 this happened:
“When the office door closed behind me Monday morning, I took my Bible, fell to my knees, and told the Lord and out-and-out lie: ‘Lord, you know how I have desired to have time alone with You in prayer.’ In less time than it takes to tell it, the Lord reminded methat, for the most part, we do what we want to do. I was forced to agree that I had not had the time for prayer because I had not taken the time to pray.” (Praying For Others, Tom Elliff, p. 12)
The first thing that pastor Elliff had to face when he committed himself to prayer was that he really hadn’t wanted this time with God, or he would have been having it already. It was an indicator that his relationship with God was not where it needed to be.
And the truth is, that is where a lot of us are today. 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. Our commitment to prayer must 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. Many of us here today need to make a commitment to God, to make prayer with Him the priority of our lives. Perhaps you would admit that you need to make the same kind of commitment that David did to God, and join him in saying: “In the morning, O LORD, You WILL hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You, and eagerly watch”?