I wake up at 5 AM, 7 days a week. This is done with the good intentions to do either some reading or writing during the quiet waking hours of the day. I started this routine some time last year somewhat out of necessity, as I found it increasingly difficult to find time throughout the workday to accomplish either of my favorite pastimes. Working a “9–5” job and being a husband and doing ministry work creates for a very full calendar. But I wouldn’t trade those quiet mornings for anything.
Despite the fairly recent transition to 5 AM rising, though, I’ve always been one to start the day earlier than most. I’m the sort of guy that needs to ease into his day, following a routine that’s pretty much the same morning after morning. I used to wake up an hour earlier than I needed to just so I could watch a full episode of SportsCenter. This would usually be accompanied with a cup of coffee, some eggs, and my mom sitting next to me on the sofa doing her morning devotions. (My mom is, perhaps, one of the most faithful Christians I’ve ever known when it comes to morning devotions. She’s a bright beacon of light for me when I think that consistency at reading and journalling through the Bible isn’t really possible. It is. She’s proof of that.)
Now, though, I’ve eschewed ESPN’s flagship program for more coffee and more reading and more writing. Although half the time I find myself lazily watching another episode of CinemaSins or Good Mythical Morning, my goal has always been to wake up slowly and quietly with a large portion of morning java. “Coffee and Calvin,” as the reformed hipsters might say — though I don’t read Calvin as much as I probably should. Nevertheless, I’ve found a unique solace in the wee hours of the day that make me crave them, no matter how they’re spent. There’s something palpably spiritual about drinking coffee before the rest of the world is even awake. It makes for a solid Instagram post, for sure. But, more significantly, it makes for more intimacy with God.
There are references and passages all throughout the Bible that suggest early rising is something that many of the renowned biblical characters practiced. Indeed, throughout the Psalms, we’re given many instances of waking and praying and spending time with God in the early hours of the day. For me, though, there’s a verse I have to remember as I rigorously and routinely wake my body up at 5 AM. It is Psalm 127:2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
I tend to say yes to a lot of things when I should be learning to judiciously say no. There was a time when I was volunteer-writing for over 6 websites, not counting my own, and that, coupled with being a full-time husband and full-time employee, almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown. I remember being so stressed due to the overloaded schedule that my physical health was taking a beating. I was literally killing myself in my quest to be “successful.”
Looking back on it now, that’s surely what it was. In moment, I had convinced myself that I was doing all that writing and contributing “for the glory of God” and for ministry. But really, it was for personal gain. I wanted notoriety. I wanted people to know me. I wanted to be read and recognized. And I thought that all I had to do to achieve that was put in the hours in advance and the payoff would be there in the end. For all my talk about grace and freedom, I had enslaved myself to talking about grace for the enhancement of my own reputation. I was “eating the bread of anxious toil.” My good intentions of early rising had turned into a bad reality of poor health, one that affected every part of my life, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
I’ve since tried to relax my pursuit of “Christian blogosphere infamy.” (What is that really, anyway?) I still have the eye-twitch every now and then. I removed my volunteer status with many of those ministries, and that’s really helped. But also, Psalm 127:2 serves as a persistent reminder that for all my sweat and blood and effort, I’m not adding one ounce to my standing before God. Try as I might, I labor in vain if I think that all my work will make me be seen better in the eyes of God.
The promise of the gospel and the glory of the cross is that we’re made to rest, to lie down, to stop working and toiling and struggling on our own. As the verse says, “He gives to his beloved sleep.” Or, as Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) The rest Jesus affords is the rest from the labors of self-reliance and self-salvation. When he says, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30), he’s not saying that life’s going to be easy, that being a Christian is a cake-walk filled with rainbows and unicorns and cotton candy. He’s saying that to be his son, his daughter, there are no prerequisites. We don’t have to send him our résumé and references before he accepts us. We don’t have to work, we just have to come, we just have to believe.
The office of faith is not to work, but to cease working; not to do anything, but to own that all is done; not to bring near the righteousness, but to rejoice in it as already near.1
So, even as I continue my 5 AM schedule, I continue it in the freedom that my salvation is already near — I don’t have to scratch and claw to get it. I get up early because I want to, not because I have to. I get up early out of a habitual love for the quiet mornings spent with God and coffee. And that’s a pretty good start to any day.
How about you, how do you spend your mornings? Have a routine? I’d love hear what yours is. Also, if you can relate with my inability to say no, at times, I’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with this. Leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!
Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1864), 85.