It’s been 8 years since I developed the habit of getting up long before the rest of the house. There is something about those early morning hours; the blessed stillness before the bustle of a family of 6 begins their day. I’ve long treasured the opportunity that this time offers, the ability to get the day started in whatever way suits me best.
And it’s these times where I develop most as a person. Whether it’s time spent in prayer, meditation, studying the Word, or writing and creating in any capacity, these morning sessions have led to the person I am today. These moments provide the anvil where I shape my ideas and beliefs about what my life should look like, and how to get there.
The problem I have is how to meld these moments to the rest of my day. Once the caffeine kicks in, the household awakes and gets moving, how do I ensure the convictions of the quiet time are on the front of my mind when the whirlwind comes at me?
What were we created for?
If I look to the Bible to answer this question, I find one consistent theme: good works. If you're a Christian, God himself has chosen you and prepared you to do good works. To bear good fruit.
For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
Eph 2:10 NET (emphasis mine)
This theme is stressed through the Bible in different ways. OT prophets (Micah 6:8) would state it simply, the Psalmist(s) would summarize the internal motivations required (Psalm 51), and Jesus himself used many illustrations to express the same idea (Matt 7:15–20 and 24:14–46, John 15:1–17).
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts this way:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
But what is the result of this? How does man glorify God?
What are good works?
I confess that a big part of this issue for me is how I have defined “good works” in the past. What does this phrase entail? For me, I would read that and think good works entails serving as a missionary overseas, running a shelter for the homeless, or any other super spiritual acts of serving others. But is that truly what it means?
It’s only been the past 2 years that I’ve started to this in a different light. And it may be best summed up in this verse:
And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Perhaps these good works entail all that we do.
My service in my church and any mission I support, for sure. But also taking care of my home. How I treat my wife and children. Welcoming the neighbourhood children into our home. All the way down to the mundane, things like chopping wood to keep our house warm, or helping with the dishes and housecleaning.
And even my job.
Matt Perman nicely outlines this concept in What’s Best Next. With chapters like “Does God Care about Getting Things Done?” and “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter”, Perman builds a case for this mentality. And he starts with the words of Christ:
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matt 5:16 NKJV
And these good works include all that we do. Perman puts it this way:
The things that we are doing every day when we are being productive — answering emails, going to meetings, making supper for the family — are not just things we are doing. They are good works.
It's very easy to gloss over the mundane and focus on more overt forms of service. But that would contradict what we see in Scripture. And Perman goes on to state that these good works are for the benefit of all:
Hence, being productive is not just about getting things done. It's about being a useful person, making a contribution, and leaving things better than you found them.
Of course, I must stop to explicitly state the central idea of the Christian faith: these good works do not save us. Christ himself and his completed work is what saves me from my sin. Any good works I do, big or small, are a result of my salvation, not the cause.
But that’s a topic for another day :)
How to incorporate this to the every day
Back to the struggle. How do we tie this into our daily lives? I know that once I open the laptop, allow in the floodgates of communication (email, Slack, and the rest), all of the above starts to slip from my mind. And I don’t seem to be alone in this. Here are a few thoughts some of you shared in my reader survey earlier this fall, which well sum up the reality:
Busy-ness … makes the spiritual aspects of life hard
I get so caught up with my daily tasks … I’ll forget to read my Bible
I must confess, this has been one of my biggest struggles as a believer. Not that I forget to read my Bible, do wrong things when working, or become a different person. It’s just … so easy to lose my kingdom perspective. To remember what is truly important when the flurry of activity that is my work day begins.
But, I have finally started to find some small victories. If you desire the same, I’d like to share a few ideas that have helped me, as well as some advice from those who have come before.
Practice “being still”
Stillness is the opposite of busyness. Being still means being centered, having the ability to focus.
There is every reason not to be still in our time. But that is not a new struggle. There’s a reason why we see exhortations in Scripture to do just this. Humans have struggled with keeping their eyes on God from the very beginning.
However, in our current time of “always on” connectedness, making time to seek stillness is going against the culture. How exactly does one achieve this stillness? Here’s a couple verses that come to mind.
Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
Psalm 4:4 NKJV
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Isa 26:3 NLT
Do note that stillness does not necessarily equate to (fn)inactivity. One can be still in the midst of performing any number of tasks. But attempting to do a number of tasks at the same time (the misnamed multitasking) is a sure way to achieve the opposite affect, to experience a lack of peace.
During the fall, I was preparing to teach a class on the “peace of God” and came across this great thought from Wayne Grudem:
Furthermore, although God is a God of peace, he is also the one who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). He is the God who is continually working (John 5:17). And even though heaven is a place of peace, it is a place also of continual praise to God and service for him. Thus, God's peace can be defined as follows: God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.
Of course, we are not infinite, omnipresent, nor all powerful. So we cannot be continually active in simultaneous actions. However, I feel it is important to be mindful that stillness and our work can go hand in hand. We can enjoy the peace of God while giving our best to our vocation and the responsibilities of our lives.
Taking a little time each day to seek a stillness in mind and spirit goes a long way. And practice is required!
Give it your all, but with a different motivation
If we can remember, moment to moment, that we exist to glorify God rather than ourselves, then we’ll improve at keeping our faith in focus while we work. But that is so much easier to say than do.
But I can tell you this is an area that has improved in my time as a Christian. In my early years after recognizing my need for following God’s ways instead of my own, it was a natural tendency to focus on how I should live and act. That’s a mistake, with legalism the end result. But it’s an easy one to make and experienced by many of us.
But as I matured, through the work of the Spirit, I learned to focus less on what I should do and more on Christ himself. On what He did (not on what I try to do), on how wonderful and graceful and altogether lovely He is. In the Scriptures, verses speaking to the heart of God started to grab my attention, rather than exhortations on how to live. Both are important, but if you don’t start with the former, your focus is on the wrong person (you).
Now, my motivations are less from what I know I should do, and more from what I want to do.
Keep a record
As I’ve talked about recently, keeping a journal is a great habit to adopt. The record is good for reference in the moment, but you also keep yourself accountable when missing days.
Like any new habit we try to form, if you're serious about it, you need to keep it in mind. And when it comes to following Christ, keeping his words close to you is a great way to ensure you bring about change.
In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you.
Finding verses that remind you of who are you in Christ and committing them to memory is one way to keep your focus amidst the busy. This is essentially the heart of Moses’s command about how God’s people should remind themselves in Deut 6:8,9:
You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates.
How can one keep what’s important close to heart and mind without revisiting what’s most important to you? When the busyness of the day comes, unless you frequently revisit the important, it will get lost in the shuffle.
This does not apply only to believers struggling to keep Christ in mind during their workdays. People of all walks and beliefs struggle with this type of mentality in our work. This is why Corbett Barr (from Fizzle) suggests the following technique for managing your time: reconnect with your why. In his words:
Sometimes we put our heads down and focus with such intensity that when we finally take a moment to look up and take in our surrounding, we discover we’ve gone way off track. It is in these moments, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and making decisions only to second guess them moments later that you should reconnect with your “why”.
As a child of God created for good works, this is an important truth.
Build good habits and routines
The end results of our lives are built on the little things we do with regularity. If you want to improve this aspect of your life, be sure that you’ve instilled a healthy set of activities that will enable it to occur.
You’re not going to develop a kingdom focus if you do not read scripture each day. You will not look to God for wisdom in making decisions each day if you rarely pray to him. And you will never pause in the whirlwind of your day to reflect on how you're using your time if you never learn to seek stillness.
If that last paragraph describes you, choose of the suggestions in this article — just one — and try it for a week. Then stop and reflect on how it changed your days. As Shawn Blanc states:
Doing a little bit on a regular basis is far more powerful than doing a whole lot at once. It’s also far more sustainable.
Or, as John Maxwell puts it:
You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.
Think of these habits and routines like building blocks. You won’t end up with anything grand in the end without doing well at the little things.
Last suggestion, one that could be applied to any issue a Christian struggles with. I almost hesitate to add it here, except that I know many of us feel that we don’t pray enough. And we don’t! I’m very guilty of this myself.
And this is a chicken and egg scenario. Do you pray first so that you can think kingdom-ly during your work day? Or do you build the habit of focusing on Christ, which then results in increased prayer? The truth is a little of both.
But a good start is to simply pray to God and ask him to help you focus on him through your day
Again, I confess this is an area where I’ve struggled, and where I struggle still. And it’s one where I desire to see growth. My aim is to say, as David does in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me.”
Sanctification is a journey, not a destination. Sharing in Christ’s glory is the destination, but the process here in this world is a long, tough slog. But it's also so very worth the struggle!