Getting Up While It is Dark-The Most Important Spiritual Discipline

I am by nature an early morning person.  It comes naturally.  I am thankful for that.  Whether or not it comes naturally, I do believe getting up early to meet with God in quiet is a biblical principle we should desire to practice.

Proverbs 31:15  says, “She gets up while it is still dark;…”  On many levels this is just a practical habit to develop.  Getting up early offers us quiet, uninterrupted time to plan our day, prepare meals, set out reminders, etc…  It’s a jump start if you wish. We see evidence of this in the description of the Proverbs 31 woman’s life.  Verses 16-18 describe some of the tasks she sets out to handle during this early morning time.  However, I think the principle goes deeper than this.  Throughout scripture God gives us examples of His people seeking Him early in the morning.  His Son, Jesus Christ, frequently stole away in the early morning hours to pray.  I am convinced getting up earlier than others in our home to spend time with God is a spiritual discipline that can transform our lives.

Each new day brings with it a fresh slate.  Repented sins of yesterday have been cast away.  Each new day brings new graces, now opportunities.  When we arise early in the morning to meet God before we open the calendar, begin our interactions, we meet Him unblemished.  We meet Him in the best possible condition we can be in.  Cleansed by His grace, refreshed, renewed, revived.  We meet Him with clear minds, before the busyness of life sets in.  It is in those moments I am most open to hearing Him, to understanding His word, to seeing the priorities He has set before me.  In those early morning moments, it is truly just me and Him.  New day.  Fresh words.  Blank journal page.

I believe the Proverbs 31 woman was just like me and you.  She had a full to do list.  She had a large family.  In order to be her best, she chose the discipline of getting up while it was still dark.  That one act gave her the wisdom to determine her priorities for the day.  It gave her the emotional strength to serve in gladness.  She was able to move into her day with a willing heart to work.

I know it is not easy.  And for some of you it may seem impossible.  You prefer the dark hours of the night when the family has fallen asleep.  Here’s the thing-at the end of the day, even when those seem like your best hours, you are spent.  You have the sins of the day weighing on your shoulders.  Regret has had time to set in.  Those minutes/hours may be great moments to study, repent, ponder.  But they are not the morning.  There is something absolutely amazing about meeting God in the early morning hours.  There is something beautiful about watching the day literally unfold as the sun rises. There is something invigorating abut knowing I am sitting before the throne cleansed, giving Him my very best, my first fruits.  It is a wonderful act of worship to lay myself before Him as an offering early in the morning, to meet with Him anticipating a new day.

Early-Morning-Prayer

I challenge you to practice His presence in the morning.  You may not have to get up while it is still dark.  Just get up 15 minutes before everyone else.  Just get up 15 minutes earlier and commit to use that time to sit in His presence.  He will give you the strength to do it.  He will call you to Him.  You’ll begin to look forward to those moments.

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Three Simple Steps to Success

Simple Folders

I was asked today how I get things done.  I had to laugh, because this morning was another morning I found myself awake at 3:00 a.m. worrying about all the things I hadn’t gotten done, or feared I would never do. It always amazes me how we see ourselves so different from the way others see us.  I wonder sometimes which view is more accurate, more true.  I think most often how others see us is a more accurate reflection of who we are.  As women we are hard on ourselves-we set high standards and often expect the impossible of ourselves.  It’s nice every now and then to hear from someone else what they think of you-how they perceive you. The innocent question this morning served as a little pick me up in the midst of my worry and striving.

The truth is “it” will never be finished.  There will always be more to do.  If I am growing and learning and stretching, that is exactly as it should be.  Doesn’t make it any easier.  Frustrations rise when the dog tracks in mud on the clean floors, the kids pull out from under the bed or floor of their closet, two more loads of laundry just when I thought the last piece had been dried and hung and the husband informs me we are out of coffee just after my face is washed and visions of pajamas are dancing in my head.  Add to that the request to serve one more day of lunch duty or fill in for a sick co-worker/friend.  I know you know.  We all know.  We all get it.  It’s life.  We can either fight it or we can embrace every moment of it as a gift and give it our all.  We can linger in frustration, resist doing or we can give ourselves a pep talk (coffee with a friend does wonders for me!) and pick back up.

I don’t do it all.  In fact I am almost (believe me when I tell you it has been a long work in progress) done trying.  I have learned to scale back my to do list.  I have learned that there is ONE thing I absolutely will not give up.  I have learned  there is a time (literal time) to stop.  I haven’t learned the lessons easily.  I am not perfect.  But these three things truly transform my day, which transforms my week, which transforms my life.

1.  I arise early and spend time with God.  I used to think there was no “right” time to do this.  I would now argue strongly that is false.  God asks for first fruits.  The Old Testament was full of instructions about offerings and first fruits.  Christ came to fulfill that law, but we see in His daily living that He gave God His first fruits.  Choosing to spend time with God first thing in the morning matters.  It matters because that is about as close as I will ever be to being sinless.  It is important because no one else has begun pecking at me, seeking my attention.  It matters because He says it matters.  I began this practice in high school.  While I have missed days, it really rarely happens, and believe me when it does, it is rarely pretty.  Arise early and spend time with God.

2.  Drink 8 glasses of water a day.  This one I struggle with.  I love water.  I grew up being a water drinker.  I prefer water to most drinks.  But some how, the idea of drinking 8 glasses in one day overwhelms me and the more cognizant I am of it, the harder it is.  However, nothing makes me feel better than doing this one thing.  I am more energized.  I think more clearly.  I rarely get a migraine.  I eat less.  The list could go on.  Drink 8 glasses of water a day.

3.  This last one is fairly new to me.  Shortly after my girls were born (about 15 years ago) I began to struggle with fatigue and some autoimmune health issues.  I need sleep.  Like every good American, I wasn’t getting it.  I began to go to bed earlier.  For me to do number one, arise and spend time with God, I have to get up between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m.  So, count backwards and that means a 9:30 bed time.  I rarely make it to bed that early and NEVER fall asleep that early (but that is a whole other issue), but I did begin “shutting down the house” at 9:00 p.m.  My girls quickly learned that coming to mom at 9:15 to get a signature on a paper, ask for a school uniform shirt to be washed etc… wasn’t gonna cut it.  In fact, it wasn’t gonna happen.  Recently though I found myself filling the evening time with other items: e-mail, Facebook, writing, cards, ironing, etc…  I was finding myself less and less engaged with my family.  So, I now try to wrap up all work by 2:00 p.m.  I try to have the three most important tasks for the day, the ones that move me towards my goals or project deadlines, completed by 2:00 p.m.  That leaves me the afternoon to catch up, do household chores etc…  I am now getting dinner cleaned up and then focusing on time with the family.  I am getting a lot of reading done, but I am less distracted and way less irritable if someone wants to sit and visit or needs a little extra help with homework or simply wants to talk.  I’ll even throw in a last minute load of laundry.  I am not as firm about “shutting down the house”, but having this extra couple of hours to just be, relate with my family, has honestly resulted in all of us being more ready to “shut it down” around 9:00/9:30.  Complete your three most important tasks by 2:00 p.m. and then block off the time after dinner for family.

Three simple disciplines.  They make a difference.  They keep me centered.  They help me know my priorities.  They make me healthier.  They create opportunity for being.  I got number one down.  I’m not giving up on number two and three.  I am less “successful” there, but I’ll keep on trying.

 

The Organized Life: It’s Not Magic

I am often asked how I do it all.  On the one hand I am somewhat honored/flattered, but more often than naught it makes me twinge and feel a little guilty.  While I want to daily present and be the best I can be, I never want to present an illusion, I never want to seem to be more than I am.  I am imperfect.  I sin daily.  My family sees my bad side, and that makes me sad.  I do not do it all.  I used to want to.  I used to strive to.  I used to believe I could.  But there is no magic- no magic wand, no magic formula, no magic planner, no magic system, no magic container, no magic home.  

I am fairly organized.  I function better in a cleaned up, uncluttered environment.  That’s my nature, the way God wired me.  I also believe God is a God of order and desires we, especially as women, create order and beauty in our lives.  He created us to create and complete.  However, I have learned the real key to organization is discipline.  I prefer to think of how I live my life in those terms. Am I living a disciplined life?  Do I honor God and His precepts with my choices, my words, my actions?  I do not do it all, because I no longer attempt to do it all.  There are a lot of things I say “No” to.  There are a lot of things I desire to do, but I know God has reserved for another season.  Living that way, and that way only, enables me to do what I need to do, no more.  In that I can find rest and peace.  I no longer have to rush, chase the illusive “do it all” mantra.  I can let go and enjoy the very best God has for me.  I have times where I take on too much, lose sight of the “best” and run after the “good”.  Fortunately though I have built in some disciplines that provide me time and opportunity to step back and take notice when these things happen and I can recover, before life spins out of control.

Disciplines to a more balanced/organized life:

  1. Daily quiet time with God BEFORE the day begins.  
  2. Pray over daily calendar.
  3. Know priorities and evaluate them yearly.
  4. Use a monthly and weekly calendar.
  5. Leave white space on the calendar:  at least 15 minutes between every task/appointment.
  6. Review calendar and set up the following week’s schedule on Friday, so the weekend can be enjoyed.
  7. Sabbath retreat the 31st of each month with 31 days.  Solitude, Prayer, Reflection, Planning
  8. Rest:  physical rest (early to bed/early to rise) and the kind of rest that means to quit striving
  9. Write it down: goals, appointments, thoughts for future, to do…
  10. Purge: 4 times per year focus on problem area in house and in schedule.  Purge.

It takes discipline to be organized.  Like most everything worth having in life, organization comes from doing a few things you don’t want to do and making sacrifices.  It also takes real desire and want.  Not to want to be organized, but to want to have time to live life fully, to enjoy your home, your family, the things you choose to engage in, your friends.  

I don’t do it all.  I don’t strive to do it all.  I seek order, but solely to enable me to care for what I have (be a good steward) and to enjoy life.  When all I sought was organization, order and/or perfection, all I got was fatigue, illness and poor attitude.  Life and things managed me.  I now manage life and things as I follow God’s direction and seek to do only the very BEST things He has placed before me.  I can let go of the rest, knowing He has a plan and a time for everything.  I’m not missing out.  I’m not needing to keep up.  I’m getting to live, live fully.