Is it a challenge for you to get out of bed & get time with God in the mornings? In the latest Leadership Interview Series podcast, “The Pastor and His Soul,” C.J. Mahaney and Jeff Purswell describe how they fight to win the early-morning battle.
Jeff Purswell: With the pressures of just life, not
to mention ministry, it is easy for devotions to become rote. It is
easy for it to become a perfunctory activity. So C.J., what brings you
to the cross so early in the morning?
C.J. Mahaney: Well, what brings me here so early in
the morning is my need for the Savior, an awareness of my need for the
Savior, and some eagerness that I will, through my meditation on
Scripture, freshly encounter the Savior. So that is what brings me here.
Although I need to add that I am never brought here apart from a
conflict in my soul. Indwelling sin is a particular and formidable
opponent against all practices that involve the spiritual disciplines.
So this does not take place effortlessly.
I’m now 54 years old, so even after 35 years, I can assure you that
tomorrow morning when I first awaken, the first voice I hear will be a
voice of protest. That voice will be distinctly the presence of
indwelling sin appealing to me and seeking to persuade me to stay in
bed. That voice never subsides. And that voice also negotiates, so that
if I make an initial movement, that voice doesn’t subside and assume
that that voice has lost. No. That voice continues to exert effort, and
then presents to me various distractions.
Joshua Harris: OK, Well, just check the email before you get started.
CJM: Exactly. Or What happened in the world of sports last night? The checking being justified because you are in the process of waking up. So since you aren’t alert, wouldn’t it be wise for you to go to ESPN.com and just see what happened? There are all these types of appeals from our indwelling sin.
Actually, I would say that the initial challenge is just getting out of
bed. That is why I would recommend for all who are listening to set
your radio alarm across the room. Here has what’s helped me in the
past: place the radio alarm across the room and set it to a country
radio station. That motivates me out of bed.
But the point here is that we must have these practical strategies. I
have people approach me at times who seem to assume that if one is
called to pastoral ministry there is some special provision from God.
No, in my flesh, in your flesh, these battles take place. Take great
comfort. If you watched me in the morning, you would not be amazed.
There is no incredible display of giftedness present because I am
called to ministry. No. I am a guy hearing these same protesting voices
every morning as I get out of bed, making his way downstairs,
eventually to his Bible, accompanied by a hot drink and a power bar.
And there I don’t have any angelic visitations. I am aware of numerous
things in terms of distraction and aging and aches and pains, and
certainly the day in front of me is seeking to rush in and interrupt me
right now from what I am doing.
JH: Jeff, what about you? Talk about your own practice of the spiritual disciplines.
JP: Well, mine sound very similar to what C.J. has
just described, especially those opening moments. I never cease to be
amazed at how cold my heart is in the morning. And I used to think,
“No, if I am really saved then I wouldn’t feel this way in the morning.”
It encouraged me one time to hear Dr. Piper say, “I feel like I have to
get saved every morning. I wake up and the devil is sitting on my
face.” I can relate to that.
So now I am no longer surprised. I can be discouraged at times, but the
coldness that I feel just reminds me how badly I need God. Because
apart from him I can do nothing. And apart from getting food for my
soul this morning, I will be starving.…
So I’m very pragmatic in my devotions. I don’t feel obligated to
continue along a track that is not bearing fruit. Because of how cold I
am in the morning I am desperate in the morning. Obviously, I think
that is a gift of grace. But I just have this feeling because I am so
cold I must meet with God, I must connect with him, I must be addressed by him. I must
reach a point of faith for that day, knowing I have indeed encountered
his presence, that the flames of affection for God in my heart have
been stirred, that I have brought myself under his sway, and under the
control of the Holy Spirit.
That doesn’t mean that I am dependent upon an emotional feeling. I
suppose it’s very similar to what George Mueller talked about, getting
his soul happy before God. That is what I am after in my devotions. I
am not there to learn more data about God (although hopefully I am
constantly learning as I read and meditate upon Scripture). I am not
there studying (I will study at other times). But I am desperate in
those moments not merely to complete a regimen, I am there to, as James
put it, to “draw near to God.” I am banking on his promise, “Draw near
to God, and he will draw near to you” (4:8 ESV).
And so I do follow a plan, but if I am in a book, say, a book of
Scripture or a chapter, or maybe if I am supplementing that with
another book, and it is not accomplishing this, then I don’t feel an
obligation to trudge through and finish this book.
I am seeking to encounter God, to draw near to him and to experience a
sense of his presence—again, not an emotional encounter—but a sense of
his presence. To have my heart set upon him. To have my faith in his
promises stirred, and now facing this day standing on his promises,
standing on the truth of his Word.
The full hourlong podcast, “The Pastor and His Soul,” is available for download.