We all have our morning routines. The things that we groggily get out of bed and do as a matter of habit rather than a matter of thought. Here lately, my morning routine has consisted of getting out of bed well before the kids get up, grabbing my notebook and spending the first 15 minutes of my day trying to come up with the most effective way to use the next 12 hours, then the next 15-20 writing “morning pages”, which is essentially just 3 or so pages of whatever comes to my head. It is all a part of a self development plan to try to be a better pastor, to be a better person, to do more with what God has given me. But sometimes it leaves me dead.
So when we confessed how we should pray in the morning this past week, I realized I wasn’t taking Luther’s advice:
How should we pray in the morning?
In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say:
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.
I have a love/hate relationship with “whatever my devotion may suggest”, perhaps you do too. The problem is that “my devotion suggests” way too much. I love spending time with God’s word, but that’s the thing, I love spending time with God’s Word, and sometimes time gets in the way. I remember when we were reading the Bible In A Year, getting up and reading the Bible for about 45 minutes. I look back at that time fondly. But it takes time, and I wake up in the morning quoting Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” You see, sometimes “my devotion suggests” stuff that is more devotion to myself and everything around me rather than devotion to God.
Of course the Law convicts me. Why don’t I have time? Because I am bad at making important things important. Because often times I find myself conflicted and not being able to make a decision about what is truly important – is it family? If I say yes, I know that pastoral vocation will scream for attention and remind me of all of the duties I have neglected. Is it vocation? If it is then I know health will scream for attention reminding me that I haven’t been to the gym in so long that the gym membership price is more of a penance than a purchase. Is it health? Then I will be reminded of the faces at home that I haven’t seen night after night here lately. And is this God’s doing? Is this my neighbor’s doing? No, it is my own. And right about at that point, I despair and imagine that it must be nice to be a pastor in rural Nebraska. Surely, they have time for all of the important things. But I know that I’m wrong. I know that the same cycle would plague me then, mostly because I know a pastor in rural Nebraska. Do you have a spiral like I do? I bet you do. What does yours sound like?
Which means that I need the Gospel. I don’t need another list of self development tasks or spiritual practices – at least not when I’m feeling like this. I need a Savior who will tell me that if it all falls through the cracks, somehow it’ll still be ok. There are like a gazillion verses to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, but one goes “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, // The body they may kill, the truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.”
Which is where Luther’s morning prayer lands us. “Into YOUR hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things.” Because His hands are trustworthy, more so even than my own. And eventually, that is what true devotion is like, to put yourself and all of the things screaming in your ears away to focus on the thing that you will be trusting. I will still get that trust wrong from time to time – I will devote myself to the idols of vocation, health, family, and a number of other things. But those will leave not only leave me dead, but will demand my corpse to get up and do more. Only God will look at my dead body and say, “this has been commended to Me, now rise, I give you new life.” And that, I can trust, even in —- especially in, a day that feels like I can’t fit anymore in.