Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Early Morning Times With God - Legalism or Precious?

Ever since I was young, it has been drummed into me that it is a valuable spiritual discipline to get up early (preferably before the sun rises) and seek God. It used to be called a "quiet time" and then I became a charismatic and changed to "glory time". But I've been slightly bothered by the recent practice of putting a time on when one should get up. Why so? Because I don't see a time put down in the Word of God, and I am concerned that laying down a time will result in oh-so-easy legalism. If not for the ones who laid down the time, certainly for those who seek to emulate those particuar people.

I am trying to establish a tension here as always. I am fully appreciative of getting up early to seek God. A pastor friend and I have been rising between 5am to 6am every morning to pray for revival - and we text each other to stay away and encourage each other. C H Spurgeon said:

"Observe the eagerness implied in the time mentioned; he will not wait for noon or the cool eventide; he is up at cockcrowing to meet his God. Communion with God is so sweet that the chill of the morning is forgotten, and the luxury of the couch is despised. The morning is the time for dew and freshness, and the psalmist consecrates it to prayer and devout fellowship. The best of men have been betimes on their knees. The word early has not only the sense of early in the morning, but that of eagerness, immediateness. He who truly longs for God longs for him now. Holy desires are among the most powerful influences that stir our inner nature; hence the next sentence".

So what I am seeking to establish is, does the fault lie on those eager souls (and I have no doubt that their spirituality FAR exceeds my own) who lay down this time, or does it lie with us - the readers who so easily fall into legalistic practice because of that time? Let me give an example. I was once asked by an elder at my home church what time I got up in the morning. I told him that I got up at 5:30am which was true. Yet it wasn't to seek God - it was because I had an early morning paper round. He was very approving and quoted it to some of the other elders.

Surely it isn't the specific time that we get up - ie. 4am, 5am or 6am - but what we do with it. Or is there a kind of heroes board - the spiritual giants get up at 4am, the mediocre souls at 5am and the wandering souls at 6am? I really don't think that God is going to be particularly interested in the specific time on the Day of Judgement, rather did we use the time wisely. In fact it seems to me that by getting up earlier, we are actually MORE accountable to God for the time that He has given us so must be more careful with what we do with it!

Please understand me - I am not, not, NOT criticising the practice of getting up early to seek God. I do it - and I love it. But the particular time I get up is a private thing - agreed between me and God - and on special occasions, friend with whom I am accountable. But I am utterly persuaded that there is no use whatsoever in getting up early if we fritter away the time by drinking tea or coffee, reading the paper, watching the early morning news or whatever. The important thing about getting up early is the QUALITY of the time that we have gained for ourselves and how we use it to walk with the Spirit and grow in our relationship with Him.


Hugh Griffiths said...

This post points toward some important issues, particularly in respect of legalism. It is particularly important to establish for ourselves godly habits and even to work out effective routines within which we can glorify God. However, it is the religious voice of legalism that can rob us - not by causing us to stick to particular times or places, but by manipulating us into thinking our efforts deserve the reward of the favour of God or goodwill of others. The issue is primarily one of the heart and not of the clock.

jul said...

I'm glad you brought this up. I have been annoyed at different times about the way the early morning time is always promoted without any mention of the heart behind spending time with God. Does the specific time really matter? People have different schedules and though I think their is Scriptural support for favoring early morning, it cannot be a hard and fast rule. As a mother of young children, I am well aware that this time is not always best, after a few weeks of 4 hours or so a night of sleep, I'm not always able to keep my eyes open at that time! However, those are short seasons. Currently, my best prayer times are in the middle of the night, as God wakes me up or doesn't let me sleep. I love this because I can't be proud of the fact that the Spirit is giving me no real choice but to pray! After all, it's not my idea to be wide awake at 2 or 3 in the morning. I think you're right stressing the quality of the time, and also that we enjoy and look forward to being with God. If we miss a day or two, that's what we should be feeling--that we truly miss spending time with Him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this. I am an SGM pastor's wife in the USA (prefer to stay anonymous - sorry) and I must admit this "5 O Clock Club" had put me into legalism, feeling that I had to "peform" to keep up with the leader's wives and daughters. Thanks for reminding us of the grace of God! That as a previous guy said - it's about the heart and not the clock! Because I have children and they have broken nights sometimes, and you wouldn't BELIEVE how it stresses me out knowing that that 5 o clock deadline is fast approaching. That is the trouble you see - when a time is set by those ladies (and I'm sure that they had the best intentions) then even 5 minutes past 5 is too late and the devil is whispering that we are failures and not quite up with the Mahaney women. So thank you again. Suddenly I do feel released to quit worrying and start ensuring that it is God I am getting up to meet - not the expectations of my church, or some other women. I am v grateful! xxx

Gavin White said...

Great Post Dan - The messge of Christ is always about the heart and quality of what we do in the Kingdom rather than the external show and pretense. Yes, times with God are very important, but whenever and wherever you do it is immaterial as long as we are in his word, praying in his presence and hearing and listening to his wonderul voice.

jul said...

Hello anonymous SGM pastor's wife. I'm part of a SGM church too, at least for now! I appreciated your thoughts, and can completely understand where you're coming from. Except maybe I've never worried quite so much about it as you have, since I'm not a pastor's wife. Keep your eyes on Christ and whenever you're tempted to compare yourself to others, go straight to him to find whether he's pleased with you or not. When you're certain of your standing with him, you'll be less likely to fall into legalism, and more likely to enjoy his presence. Thanks for your honesty, it was encouraging to me that I'm not the only one struggling with this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jul for your grace and acceptance! A thousand thank you's!

apwbd said...

This is all about grace. While scripture does encourage the early morning - Jesus rose before dawn to pray - we stand by grace. We can never imply some kind of spiritual superiority simply by arising early. If we do that Jesus tells us we "have received our reward in full." The pride of declaring one's hour of rising makes a mockery of a desire to glorify God.

The grace of God tells us that we are free from works of the law. We are clothed in righteousness divine - nothing is added to our salvation by getting up early - the benefit is the peace and quiet of seeking God before the day goes on. So its not because we have to but because we want to.

Yes, the Lord has laid on my heart a time to arise and seek His face. I started well, but more recently (cold, dark mornings) I haven't managed it so often. I used to be in the situation where condemnation came, but now it more disappointment - I feel I have missed out. If it ever becomes merely duty, then I have surely missed the point.

Jesus spoke very strongly of those who lay a burden on people's backs and never lift a finger to help them (Matt 23v4). We must never, never impose our times on anyone else. It must never become a mark of a person's spirituality, or the mark of a denomination or movement. These things are between us and Him. Yes the discipline of a set time (morning, noon or night) is very important, but it must never be our master.

Ultimately, knowing Jesus is about walking with Him. Thus, what we do between the hours of 5 and 6am is no more or less spiritual than what we do at 10am or 6pm. It is all for Christ - or should be. Staying asleep a while longer than others in order to be fresher to be a mother, or so that you don't fall asleep at work, is perfectly right. It is not honouring to be up at 4am and then nodding off doing other things. As long as our heart is right.

And as it is a walk - lets enjoy Him all the time!

MarkL said...

The amount of interest a post on legalism attracts tells us just how much of a challenge this represents to us.

At the risk of over-simplifying things the only way I know to handle legalism (or license for that matter) is to live by the Spirit.

In my experience once you start trying to live life any other way you end in the ditch.

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks for that comment APWBD - your first of many I hope! You raise a vital point - not condemnation BUT disappointment! Terry Virgo touched on exactly this at Brighton! That we do not feel condemned because we have broken rules ... but we feel heartbroken because we have broken a Heart - our Lover's Heart.

jul said...

Just thought I'd also mention that one of the best sermons I've heard on legalism was by C.J. "Interrogating the Legalist Within" from Galatians. Should be available on Sovereign Grace's Website. I think it was from a Celebration East Conference a few years back.

Ollie said...

I heard that one. Must admit I wasn't quite as impressed as you were I think. He didn't make much of this need that we are discussing for the filling of the Spirit. It was ok though.