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Sunday, April 02, 2017

Just Get Up

Sammy came to visit me yesterday.

I shouldn’t call him that, actually. He’s not a kid. He’s close to thirty now, I would guess; he’s done with college, done with establishing a career, and while he’s not yet married (if he ever chooses to be), he’s a highly successful entrepreneur who owns two flourishing businesses.

But when I knew him he was “Sammy”. I coached him in his teens, you see.

Not that I could do it now. Sammy’s a pro. His clinics and programs have put dozens of kids into the ranks of elite professional sports. His kind of training doesn’t come cheap, and I couldn’t tell you a thousandth part of what he knows today. As a coach, I’m a hack, compared to him. But everybody’s got to start somewhere; and long ago, Sammy started with me.

We have a special relationship. Coaches and top players do, often. Even though he’s moved on to another city, another country and another whole life, Sam pops back from time to time to check in with me. He tells me how his business is going. He tells me about his social life. He tells me what he’s thinking about. And always we talk about his spiritual walk.

You see, Sammy became a Christian. I don’t know what part the Lord gave me the grace to play in that, if any — Sammy’s never said — but I don’t care. I’m thrilled to see him every time. What a privilege to watch a young Christian growing in the knowledge of the Lord. And he is growing; every time I see him there’s more maturity and strength there.

Day After Day After Day …

This time, however, Sammy was a bit perplexed. It seems that success is a two-edged sword sometimes. His businesses are booming, and it takes twenty-four hour and seven-day attentiveness to keep things on track. Social life? When is there time for that? Friends? Yes, if they can fit in with the business day. Social status? Rising like a rocket. Church? Yes, but not always possible. Weariness? Always. And a sense of pointlessness. The zeros on the end of Sammy’s bank account keep multiplying, but the pace of life just keeps increasing too.

At some point, what’s another zero worth?

And now he’s to the point of asking himself, “What’s it all for?”

Life Coaching

I asked him about how things were going with his athletes. “Great,” he told me, “they tell me they see me as a big brother, or sometimes even as another father; it’s amazing to have that kind of input in a kid’s life.”

“Yes, it is,” I said. “What sorts of things do you tell them?”

“A big one is habits. You know, the kind of little things that condition everything you do and make you more effective in every area. Athletes need routines and ways of acting that set good precedents: not just for their training but for all for their decisions — for their whole way of acting toward life.”

“That’s sensible,” I said.

“See, kids today have no habits to anchor them. Like, I read about this guy who gets up every morning and just makes his bed. He says that the action of never leaving the room without making it neat first just sets his head in the right direction for everything else he’s going to do for the day. It’s a small thing, but it changes his whole perspective. So he never lets himself not do it. To be successful in life, you’ve got to have a set of habits like that, that put discipline and purpose into everything you do.”

I thought for a minute. “That’s a great point, Sammy. You’ve got to set the right habits and the start. I think that’s a general life principle, don’t you?”

“Yep,” he replied.

“Can I share something like that with you?”

“Sure.”

“Many years ago, I was having a private conversation with the man whose spiritual life I most admired. It wasn’t just that he was a typical “religious” type — not at all. But he was the kind of guy who just worked away at obeying the Lord all the time. He had very little money, very few possessions, but always enough to get by. He loved his wife, loved his family, but loved God more than all. And everywhere I went, I would see the admiration people had for what the Lord had done through him. So you can believe that when he said this line to me, I sat up sharply and paid attention. He said to me, ‘If there’s one thing to which I give all the credit for any success I’ve had in my spiritual life, it’s this — that every morning, before all else, I gave the first part of my day to the Lord in reading and in prayer.’ ”

“Huh,” exclaimed Sammy.

“Yes,” I said. “And I took that very seriously. At that moment, I made up my mind that I would do the same. And you know what, Sam? If there is any good thing I’ve ever been able to do in my entire spiritual life, I put it down to this one factor: that every morning, before all else, I have given the first part of my day to the Lord in reading and in prayer.”

“Huh!” he said again.

The Straight Goods

Yeah, that’s true. I don’t think I’m the greatest servant of the Lord — not by a long chalk. And I’ll tell you frankly, sometimes I cringe when I think of explaining to the Lord one day how many mistakes I’ve made and how many opportunities I’ve thrown aside, without even realizing it sometimes. I’m not what I could have been or should have been — I can tell you that. But this I can also tell you: what good has been done, what knowledge has been gained, what stands for the Kingdom, it is all down to my Saviour. And I could not have lasted a day in my spiritual walk without his hand in mine. I’d have lived, yes: but I’d have lived pointlessly, unspiritually, powerlessly, worthlessly.

The Christian life is the life that cannot be lived without Christ.

I remind myself of that all the time. So every morning I get up — and trust me, I hate mornings — and I open my Bible. For a time, I read, and for a time, I pray. I’ve learned how long I need to read, and how much time I can manage to pray. I’ve come to set goals for myself in terms of getting through the whole counsel of God. I’ve got a routine down. But THE most important thing is this: the habit — every day, no excuses, and whenever I may fail (I have!), the very second I realize it I get back on that habit and continue. By the grace of God, for the rest of my life, until they shovel the dirt in my face, I will give the first part of my day to the Lord in reading and in prayer.

Why the morning? Because it’s before everything else. That means it’s priority #1. Not only that, but if anything else happens in the whole day, it can’t bump that first priority. It also means I can’t forget. It means that I am telling the Lord, “If there is only one thing I get done in my whole day, Lord, it’s going to be fellowship with you.”

It’s not easy. It’s often not fun. Sometimes it’s a horrible grind, to be honest. But sometimes it’s a river of cool water into my soul, before I head out into that spiritual desert in which I live and work. And be it easy or be it hard, I need it.

But more than that: I do it because it’s right.

Morning Commitments

The Bible is full of references to this basic Christian habit (or should I rather say, this basic Christian sacred duty?). Remember what even the Lord himself did: early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up to pray. Not clear enough? How about the Psalms? “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” Why did David set the morning as his time to seek the Lord? Because it was early. Because it was before all else. And because it was the “first fruits” of the day.

First fruits, remember? The Lord didn’t ask of his people to give him the second or third fruits, even if those might be what we were more inclined to give. In fact, it’s not just “the first fruits,” but “the first of the first fruits”! The very, very first. Before you get anything yourself. The beginning belongs to him.

Not only that. What Sammy has discovered we should all know. The morning is the time when habits get established and priorities are set. Everything that happens for the rest of the day flows out of what we set for ourselves first thing in the morning.

Don’t believe me? Try it. Commit to … a month. Let’s just say one month, and then we reassess. Every day, before all else, get up and give the first portion of your day to the Lord. And after that month, come and tell me how wrong I am.

If it doesn’t change your day, I’ll happily eat this article.

Buy there’s something you’re going to have to do here. You’re going to have to make the commitment.

Sammy now has.

Excuses By the Bundle

Yes, I know mornings are not your favourite time. Yes, I know you feel perkier later in the day. Yes, I know you’ve got the kids to think about. Yes, I know yesterday was a very long day, and last night was a late night. Yes, I know work is already too early. Yes, I know your body aches. Yes, I know the snooze button’s right there by your bedside.

But if you love the Lord, and you value fellowship with him, and you want your life to be led by him, then I have only one thing to say to you …

Just get up.

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