First Things First: Making the Most of Your Morning

“Do first things first” is the takeaway from Laura Vanderkam’s new eBook What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Morning is “prime time for self-improvement,” USA Today reports in reviewing Vanderkam’s work. The article says,

Here are some of the things she says go-getters do before most people finish their first cup of coffee:

  • Exercise. A dawn workout is common among CEOs and other high-powered types.

  • Meditate or pray. Monks aren't the only ones who start the day on a spiritual note.

  • Work, often on personal or long-term projects outside the scope of their daily duties.

  • Fix a family breakfast — sometimes as a substitute for a family dinner — or play with their kids.

The counsel is to tackle the most important things first, “before the demands of the day intrude. Interruptions and emergencies tend to strike later in the day; motivation tends to wilt. And people who start the day with a win can build on the momentum all day long . . . .”

So it seems the old commonsensical proverb holds: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Starting on a Spiritual Note

Family, work, and exercise are all important, but perhaps it’s the mention of meditation and prayer that most distinctively catches the Christian attention. Which raises the question, Vanderkam’s work aside, Is there a Christian way to make the most of your mornings?

While some may think of morning as “prime time for self-improvement,” would the Christian approach be to treat morning as prime time for sanctification — or at least as a spiritual fueling up for the day?

Early in the Morning

The history of the church is filled with men and women who put “first things first” through going Godward to start their day. This shouldn’t be that surprising given that it’s recorded of our great Hero himself that “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

And, of course, his “very early” morning resurrection (Mark 16:2) is pregnant with significance.

Getting Your Soul Happy in God

George Mueller (1805–1898) is remembered for his massive ministry to orphans in England over a century ago. But here’s something else to remember about Mueller. He writes in his autobiography about the life-changing find he made about the power of mornings. His discovery was that

the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was . . . how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished . . .

For Mueller, this meant that “the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.”

Obtaining Food for the Inner Man

And Mueller gets practical. He says that, after a short prayer, asking for God’s blessing on his time of reading, “the first thing I did . . . was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.” This is not self-improvement, but feasting one’s soul at the banquet of God.

By meditation, Mueller means “not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.”

A Happy State of Heart

Mueller found the result of such Bible meditation soon became prayer in its varied forms — whether confession, thanksgiving, intercession, or supplication — and “that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.”

In short,

. . . it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. . . .

How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!

Encouragement and Challenge

Vanderkam’s book and Mueller’s experience should be no small encouragement for those who are naturally morning larks, bouncing out of bed before dawn, ready to face the challenges of the day with their best energies. If this is you, harness it. Make the most of your morning by seeking your soul’s happiness in God. When you think of “doing first things first,” consider going deep in the Scriptures, scouring them for fresh glimpses of Jesus, and daily rehearsing their central message — the gospel — that is always for the Christian “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

For the in-betweeners who can do either late nights or early mornings (but not usually both in the same day!), you have your challenge — with good incentive — for taking intentional steps to seek the Spiritual discipline of getting to bed earlier. A practical key to getting up early, and getting right away to the day’s most important things, is getting to bed early. Which is so much tougher than it sounds. Vanderkam recognizes this is the deal-killer for many. "Going to bed early is not that easy for many people."

Jesus for Night Owls Too

For the natural night owls and late-risers — who may not feel motivated by this discussion, but discouraged, and even condemned, by the whole thing — consider this: The Jesus who got up early, while it was still dark, to pray, and rose from the dead very early in the morning, is the same Jesus who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20). He is not just our example, but our Substitute. He is the one who says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

In this Jesus is grace enough for utter freedom from condemnation, and grace enough for unexpected change and small strides forward over time. This Jesus is worth running to straightaway for soul-satisfaction — whether you’re up before the sun or rolling out of bed at the crack of afternoon.