Every morning we need God as desperately as we did the morning before. And every morning indwelling sin offers distractions and protests. In this excerpt from the latest Leadership Interview Series podcast, “The Pastor and His Soul
,” C.J. and Jeff describe ways to win the early-morning battle.
With the pressures of just life, not to mention ministry, it is easy for devotions to become rote. It is easy for it to become a perfunctory activity. So C.J., what brings you to the cross so early in the morning?
Well, what brings me here so early in the morning is my need for the Savior, an awareness of my need for the Savior, and some eagerness that I will, through my meditation on Scripture, freshly encounter the Savior. So that is what brings me here.
Although I need to add that I am never brought here apart from a conflict in my soul. Indwelling sin is a particular and formidable opponent against all practices that involve the spiritual disciplines.
So this does not take place effortlessly.
I’m now 54 years old, so even after 35 years, I can assure you that tomorrow morning when I first awaken, the first voice I hear will be a voice of protest. That voice will be distinctly the presence of indwelling sin appealing to me and seeking to persuade me to stay in bed. That voice never subsides. And that voice also negotiates, so that if I make an initial movement, that voice doesn’t subside and assume that that voice has lost. No. That voice continues to exert effort, and then presents to me various distractions.
OK, Well, just check the email before you get started.
Exactly. Or What happened in the world of sports last night?
The checking being justified because you are in the process of waking up. So since you aren’t alert, wouldn’t it be wise for you to go to ESPN.com and just see what happened?
There are all these types of appeals from our indwelling sin.
Actually, I would say that the initial challenge is just getting out of bed. That is why I would recommend for all who are listening to set your radio alarm across the room. Here has what’s helped me in the past: place the radio alarm across the room and set it to a country radio station. That motivates me out of bed.
But the point here is that we must have these practical strategies. I have people approach me at times who seem to assume that if one is called to pastoral ministry there is some special provision from God.
No, in my flesh, in your flesh, these battles take place. Take great comfort. If you watched me in the morning, you would not be amazed. There is no incredible display of giftedness present because I am called to ministry. No. I am a guy hearing these same protesting voices every morning as I get out of bed, making his way downstairs, eventually to his Bible, accompanied by a hot drink and a power bar.
And there I don’t have any angelic visitations. I am aware of numerous things in terms of distraction and aging and aches and pains, and certainly the day in front of me is seeking to rush in and interrupt me right now from what I am doing.
Jeff, what about you? Talk about your own practice of the spiritual disciplines.
Well, mine sound very similar to what C.J. has just described, especially those opening moments. I never cease to be amazed at how cold my heart is in the morning. And I used to think, “No, if I am really saved then I wouldn’t feel this way in the morning.”
It encouraged me one time to hear Dr. Piper say, “I feel like I have to get saved every morning. I wake up and the devil is sitting on my face.” I can relate to that.
So now I am no longer surprised. I can be discouraged at times, but the coldness that I feel just reminds me how badly I need God. Because apart from him I can do nothing. And apart from getting food for my soul this morning, I will be starving.…
So I’m very pragmatic in my devotions. I don’t feel obligated to continue along a track that is not bearing fruit. Because of how cold I am in the morning I am desperate in the morning. Obviously, I think that is a gift of grace. But I just have this feeling because I am so cold I must
meet with God, I must
connect with him, I must
be addressed by him. I must
reach a point of faith for that day, knowing I have indeed encountered his presence, that the flames of affection for God in my heart have been stirred, that I have brought myself under his sway, and under the control of the Holy Spirit.
That doesn’t mean that I am dependent upon an emotional feeling. I suppose it’s very similar to what George Mueller talked about, getting his soul happy before God. That is what I am after in my devotions. I am not there to learn more data about God (although hopefully I am constantly learning as I read and meditate upon Scripture). I am not there studying (I will study at other times). But I am desperate in those moments not merely to complete a regimen, I am there to, as James put it, to “draw near to God.” I am banking on his promise, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (4:8 ESV).
And so I do follow a plan, but if I am in a book, say, a book of Scripture or a chapter, or maybe if I am supplementing that with another book, and it is not accomplishing this, then I don’t feel an obligation to trudge through and finish this book.
I am seeking to encounter God, to draw near to him and to experience a sense of his presence—again, not an emotional encounter—but a sense of his presence. To have my heart set upon him. To have my faith in his promises stirred, and now facing this day standing on his promises, standing on the truth of his Word.
The full hourlong podcast, “The Pastor and His Soul
,” is available for download.