Attack at Dawn

The Spiritual War Against Ordinary Devotions

Every morning summons us to a feast. With each new day, the inviting voice of Isaiah 55 beckons, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. . . . Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1–2).

So, with the Book in hand, we turn Godward with the parched and famished soul of Psalm 63, acknowledging our need and anticipating his banquet: “My soul thirsts for you. . . . My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (Psalm 63:1, 5). In Christ, we come to God, through his word, as those who thirst come to water, to receive wine and milk without cost (Isaiah 55:1), as those who hunger to be satisfied with true bread.

Each new morning dawns with divine mercies to quench our thirst and satiate our souls.

Ideally, this is the main feel of morning meditation in God’s word: feeding, eating, drinking, being satisfied. Not the feel of battle and combat, but of feasting. But mark this: as sinners, in a cursed world, with a real enemy — to keep feeding, we also must fight.

Ordinary devotions are nothing less than war.

Devil Rise Early

“Did God actually say . . . ?”

From that very first temptation, the enemy has set his sights on the words of God. If we’ve already heard them, he’ll question them. But even better, he knows, would be to keep us from hearing God in the first place.

The devil and his team know how powerful are the words of God, and how vital they are for our life and health. They know the devastating power of ordinary Bible intake. They know the power of fire to warm coals, and the power of God’s word to feed saving faith and keep believing hearts soft. They know, and tremble at, the explosive, world-altering force of faithful Christians sitting down morning by morning — without fireworks or theatrics or applause — to the quiet glory of ordinary devotions.

So, the devils will do whatever they can to disrupt the morning feast. They launch their campaign under the cloak of darkness, and attack at dawn. But we are not left to be outwitted by their schemes, ignorant of satanic designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). The devil may prowl like a roaring lion, seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet with sober-mindedness and watchfulness, we can observe, and reinforce, his likely points of attack.

Three Assaults on Bible Intake

Consider, then, how our enemy often leverages the patterns of our world, with the sins and weaknesses of our own flesh, to plot against the ordinary, quiet, unhurried, early-morning feeding of our souls in the word of God.

1. Keep Them Up Late

The campaign begins the night before, at dusk: keep them up too late. It could be a sleepless child. It could be some tangible, late-breaking need, requiring an act of love. It could be analog human conversation or a late-night event. All the old stuff. But these days, machines are now doing a good bit of the work. Our many screens — from big ones on the walls to the little ones in our pockets — are very efficient at burning the midnight oil.

The spiritual war for ordinary devotions begins long before the sun comes up. The sober-minded and watchful observe it, and act with wisdom — ready to sacrifice the good of sleep in the call of Christian love, and eager not to squander God’s gift for the follies of late-night bingeing and scrolling. One bad habit can knock other good ones out of sync. The enemy would have us be blinded to the cascading effects of empty late nights.

2. Distract Them

If we do retire at an actual human hour, not all is lost for the enemy: distract them in the morning. Which can be quick work.

In one sense, it’s always been easy. Even in the mid-seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) lamented our universal proneness to distraction: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” We don’t need endless news and the Internet to sidetrack our attention — yet now we have them and, oh, how susceptible we can be. The smartphone, its notifications, and infinite scrolls are particularly ensnaring.

3. Make Them Rush

A third enemy scheme is hurry. The devil would have the motor of our souls run at the same RPMs first thing in the morning as it does the rest of the day. He would have us move at the world’s pace, rather than the Word’s. He would even happily have us try to do too much in morning devotions, so that we do it all too quickly.

As columnist Thomas Friedman has written, we find ourselves living in an “age of accelerations.” Our world pressures us and conditions us to adopt its pace, and we are prone to internalize its speed as our own — and bring the rat race with us when we come to God’s word.

But the morning feast of Bible meditation is not fast food, and not to be treated as such.

Three Attacks on Temptation

How, then, might we combat the devil’s schemes? It’s one thing to anticipate how the demons will attack; it’s another to act on that knowledge. What will you do to thwart the evil forces set against daily Bible reading and meditation?

1. Handle Screens with Care

Among other practical strategies, we might learn to handle our screens with special care. Think how much less prone to morning distraction you might be if you kept the phone silenced, upside down, and further away than arm’s length. Or even better, in another room.

For our souls to start the day feasting on God, we need not only to make time, and be realistic about what we have, but also to guard it by getting to bed, getting up, and avoiding morning diversions. Both the night before and morning of, screens and their content, with their glittering pixels, are great distractors of souls.

For many of us in modern life, we can hardly avoid them. We work at them and use them for our jobs. We spend a shocking amount of our days and weeks on them, much of it for good. But exercising particular caution with our screens after dark, and before meeting with God in his word, is becoming the greater part of modern Christian wisdom.

You might also consider going old school with a paper Bible. Those do not ring, vibrate, or notify. And paper actually helps a reader slow down and experience “the precious milliseconds of deep reading processes.”

2. Gather a Day’s Portion

A glorious simplicity accompanies “ordinary devotions,” the kind that feed and sustain souls for a lifetime. Admirable as it may be to try to read this book and that commentary, and study these topics, and memorize those verses, and even pray long lists — and all that in addition to reading and meditating on God’s word — trying to do too much in the morning will undermine the rest and feast of being in God’s presence and enjoying him, and his Son, through his word.

One way to put it: seek simply to gather a day’s portion each morning. Like God’s people, collecting manna each day in the wilderness, aim to feed your heart’s hunger and quench your soul’s thirst for just that day. No need to catch up from yesterday’s missed readings, or try to get ahead to store up for tomorrow or next week. God will take care of tomorrow. Rather, come to eat and drink and be satisfied today. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t try to do too much, but cultivate a faithful realism for the long haul.

3. Chew Your Food Slowly

Finally, save your hustle for the rest of the day. Slow down, if you’re still able. It may take some time to learn how. Seek to chew your food slowly and enjoy it. Such savoring in the moment also helps us to carry it with us into the ups and downs, and pressures and accelerations, of the day.

The biblical image of meditation dovetails with the feasting pictures of Isaiah 55 and Psalm 63. Hebrew meditation is like an animal chewing the cud. I’m no farmer, but the few cows I’ve observed doing this did not seem to be in any sort of hurry. If you’re going to be like a cow, be it first thing in the morning as you chew slowly, unhurriedly, even leisurely, on the words of God in Scripture.

Ancient books in general, and the Bible in particular, were not meant to be read with speed, like we today have been conditioned to read (that is, skim). Learn a whole new gear for Bible reading. Read slowly, and reread. Seek to enjoy God and his world and his glory and his Son. Don’t swallow too quickly and move on, but chew slowly and savor his grace.

War is not the main mindset for early mornings. Come to God’s word to feast and be satisfied. But know this is nothing less than battle. Consider the devil’s common schemes, and fight to guard the feast.