Permit me to say it again.
A few summers ago now, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, I heard someone call my name in a strong stage whisper:
I sat straight up. “Yes?! Hello? What is it?”
But my wife was still asleep. So were my children.
And then I knew.
This past summer, it happened again, in just the same way, at about the same time in the morning.
A couple of weeks later I was spending time with a someone in San Antonio who was doing some coaching with me. We were working toward an answer to this crucial question: “What exactly is my thing? What is it that God wants me to do?” And in that conference room with Greg, I had this piercing thought:
“But I already know what God wants me to do! He told me specifically.”
This may sound crazy to you, but I knew the moment I heard someone calling my name that it was the Lord, and that he was calling me to meet him in early morning prayer. I know that as certainly as I know anything in my life. In the months after I heard my name called that first time, I was somewhat committed to early mornings, but often I woke and shambled down our creaky steps in a half-hearted, hurried way; my prayers were desultory and perfunctory.
This past summer, after that second early morning call and after the insight I had meeting with Greg, it all became just so clear to me:
The one thing I am certain of is that God wants me to pray early in the morning. If I don’t do it, I am being directly disobedient. All the time people say, “If I could hear God speak to me, then I would do this or that.” And here I am having heard the voice of the Lord Almighty HIMSELF telling me to do something, and often as not I wasn’t really doing it.
I decided to recommit myself.
And amazing things that I thought were impossible have already happened. Immovable situations that I have been praying about have started to move.
But I actually don’t think the amazing things are the point.
This past summer, some friends invited my family to use their house in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. In late summer in that part of Colorado, the weather is perfect: upper 40’s at dawn, lower 90’s at noon. I’d get up every morning early to sit wrapped in a blanket on the back deck in the dark, waiting for the sun to rise. The deer and the wild turkeys and the hummingbirds paid me no attention, if I kept still enough. I’d read my Bible and pray, and I would sit. It was golden.
But you know what my favorite time of the morning was?
After I’d been outside for hours and after the sun had risen, my 8 year-old son would tip-toe outside and join me. He’d climb into my rocking chair and snuggle into my blankets (I was wrapped like an eskimo baby), and we’d sit and quietly talk together. And I realized, after a few days of this, how much I was looking forward to our quiet meeting each morning.
It was my favorite part of the day.
What if, though? What if that’s exactly what the Lord has been trying to get me to understand? What if early-morning prayer is not a chore to complete like milking the cows or walking the dog, or not even an important but sometimes bitter habit, like the deadlift or the pull-up? What if God Almighty Himself just wants to sit with…me…in the quiet of the early morning, before the day begins?
Therefore, I want to say it again.
All things seem possible in the early morning.
Nature’s first green is gold
I love early morning, that time that seems like night until you look up and see that the sky is no longer black but has become that deep, rich blue color that only occurs there, then.
I expect that was the color of Eden’s firmament, early Adam’s first morning.
In the early morning, waking up and, for a brief moment, forgetting everything that you know except that it’s a new day, that’s the best time.
After that, of course, remembering rushes in like water through a sluice-gate, and the day tumbles over itself. That moment doesn’t return.
But for that brief time, it’s golden.
Early mornings are like a drop hanging on the end of a dropper, before it drips: all about potential, unrealized. And that’s why I love them.
I wonder if Jesus loved early mornings for that reason, too. Before the Pharisees poked their fingers in his chest and asked him to justify himself, before he heard about the tragedy of the Tower of Siloam or how Pilate had profaned the sacrifice with the blood of those Galileans he’d killed, before John’s disciples breathlessly told him about Herod’s homocidal boasting before the dancing girl, I wonder: did Jesus savor those first few sinless minutes, before each day fell?
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Nothing gold can stay, though, can it?
I memorized Robert Frost’s little poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” twenty years ago or so, and I’ve always thought he says it well:
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature‘s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf‘s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Dawn, which began pregnant with potential, always goes down to day, and day always comes with disappointment at best and disaster at worst.
Hopkins knew this: that in time, everything becomes ruined:
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
I love early mornings, but early mornings are like light itself: you can’t hold on to them. Mornings turn into days.
And I don’t need to tell you that days are difficult.
Days are difficult because that’s how we make them–our dirty fingerprints are everywhere.
Every morning is like Eden’s first morning: pristine. But no day remains like that. Days come with difficulty.
Yet days don’t last either, do they? Days would have us believe that they are interminable, but we know by now that days irreversibly become evenings, and evenings inevitably become nights.
And every night is followed by a new morning.
I think that’s what I love most about mornings, how there is always another one coming. Regardless of how heavy and ugly was the day, at least we know that a new morning is on its way.
Whoever it was who wrote Lamentations knew this about mornings:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
C. S. Lewis says in his little book on the Psalms that Psalm 19 contains some of the finest poetry, not just in the entire Bible, but in all the world’s literature. Here’s how the Psalm opens:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
It’s a perfect image: the sun like a groom emerging from his tent on the morning of his wedding day, or like a runner who delights in the very act of running itself. (One thinks of Usain Bolt, effortlessly striding down the Olympic track.)
And it happens every morning.
So maybe God delights in mornings, too. Maybe the reason there’s always another morning is because God himself can’t wait to see another one. At least, that’s what Chesterton thought:
The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
The ultimate morning, I guess, has to be Easter. It can’t be a coincidence that the Resurrection happened “very early in the morning, while it was still dark.” Of course the Spirit could have raised Jesus any time of the day or night, but here’s what I think:
Easter morning was deliberate.
So, mornings to me are about the hope that God has a plan for me and for the world. Yes, days are difficult, but every morning is another promise that the Lord has something up his sleeve each new day. Yes, things are a mess, but God’s not through with us yet.
Hopkins, whom I quoted earlier, has perhaps my favorite description of mornings ever (it’s at the end):
God’s GrandeurThe world is charged with the grandeur of God.It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oilCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.And for all this, nature is never spent;There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;And though the last lights off the black West wentOh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springsBecause the Holy Ghost over the bentWorld broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
And though the last lights off the black West wentOh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springsBecause the Holy Ghost over the bentWorld broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
And God has been saying to me, “Yes. EXACTLY.”
What I learned last year is that the Lord loves his mornings even more than I do, and has graciously invited me to share them, too.
So, let me say it again (and probably next year, too):
My one word for 2019 is morning.