The celebrated German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer once wrote, “For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of the night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word.”
As lovers of God and followers of the Lord Jesus he is offering us both a negative and a positive challenge. The negative is not to allow the concerns for the coming day to be the first things that occupy our thoughts. The positive is the opportunity to meet first with the Lord who has made our day and to allow the “clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word” to refresh us and prepare us for all that our day may bring.
This is an attractive invitation and I’ll be back in a moment to explore it with you.
Well, how might we endeavour to begin our day not “burdened and oppressed with (the) besetting concerns for the day’s work” but rather refreshingly with the Lord who made it?
Since Bonheoffer spoke about beginning the day with the “clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word”, let me offer a couple of suggestions as to how this might be done.
Each one of us will begin our days differently: different times, different routines, and different circumstances. But there is something that we will do that is common to us all; we will wake up – we all share that moment when we emerge from sleep and know that we are awake.
What might we do with that moment? Well, we can introduce “the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word” into our first waking thoughts. How, by reciting to ourselves words from Scripture and follow them with a brief prayer committing ourselves into God’s hands for that day?
For example, you might take words from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians such as: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Say it to yourself two or three times. That’s a great truth to focus your mind at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you might like to use the words of Psalm 118:24; “This is the day the Lord has made: We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Or something such as Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”.
There is really almost no end to the possibilities for ‘day opening’ words and thoughts like these. You could purpose to use one set of words for a week and then use another the next week. In this way you would, over time, have committed to memory a considerable number of readily recallable and encouraging words from God They will not only help you to begin your day well, they’ll be with you throughout that day and also on into the future to be recalled when needed.
I remember reading once something about the great Reformation figure Martin Luther. He recommended that on rising one could make the sign of the cross, recite the Apostles’ Creed, and then say the Lord’s Prayer. That may or may not be a practice that appeals to you but it was a way, and it is a way, of sanctifying the first moments of a new day and that’s what we’re aiming to do.
So, what then? Let’s think about that after this music.
Now we are awake. We’ve set a word from God clearly in our minds and committed our day to him, what then?
That’s probably where our common experience ends. From that moment on the day will develop differently for each of us. However, there are some things worth keeping in mind and there are some practices that are worth trying to adapt to our own particular set of circumstances.
There is value in having some ordered way of reading the Scriptures each day either on your own if that is your situation, or with those with whom you share life, your family, or maybe friends with whom you share a desire to begin the day together in this way. And there is, in the same way, virtue in having an ordered pattern of prayer for the beginning of the day.
Our society is fast paced and practices like beginning the day with God by reading, praying, and perhaps singing or playing Christian music rather than being taken up with the worries and concerns of the day are not easy to maintain. Where they can be made part of the daily routine they provide a refreshing resource for all that will follow in the day. The thing is, to do what we can.
Mothers at home may be able to find a little time when the cyclone has left for work and school. Working Dads and Mums might consider listening to Scripture as they travel to work or follow their exercise routine. If you’re in the privileged position of being a little more time-rich and able to organise your day to suit yourself, then you can make a fuller and more leisurely routine work for you.
The Psalmist (Psalm 16:8) said that because he had set the Lord always before him, his God was at his right hand, and therefore he would not totter or stagger. If we set the Lord before us at the beginning of the day, and see him at our right hand to uphold and sustain us, we too can be confident that whatever the day may bring, we will be upheld.
Our aim is, as far as possible, to let God be the first one to speak into our new day: to hear from him of his love, of his power, and of his good purpose for us. St. Paul encouraged his readers in Colossae to set their hearts on things that are above not as a means of avoiding their earthly duties and responsibilities but to enable them to develop their character as God’s people in the midst of their daily duties. He wanted them to display their relationship with God in their lives and for that, setting their minds on the things of God and knowing that one day they would appear with Christ in glory, were important ingredients.
To be “heavenly minded” at the beginning of the day is the way to insure that we will be of maximum “earthly use” during that day!
Now that we’ve thought about beginning the day with” the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word” what about those “besetting concerns” that come with the day’s work? What of them?
Recently the Rev. Dr. Gordon Preece wrote about the idea of being called by God to a particular role. In his article he used the image of a three tier wedding cake, each tier representing an area of responsibility. I borrow his model to answer my question.
The bottom layer of his three tier cake he described as the “Human Vocation” or calling. This bottom layer represents the call we all have from our Heavenly Father in the story of creation. In Genesis 1 God creates human beings in his own image, his representatives in his creation, to fill it, subdue it, and exercise dominion within in it; in short to be God’s agents to bring it to His appointed goal.
All that we do in our Father’s world that maintains and enhances life and general wellbeing is our worshipful obedience to Him. We are all called to serve in his world and the “besetting concerns” that come with this are to be approached as part of our calling in his world even when that world has been affected by human disobedience. When we move away from the immediate sound of Christ’s “wakening Word” we move out to serve our Heavenly Father in the ordinary affairs of life. A corrupted world it is, but not an alien one. It is his and we are his representatives in it. What each of us does, really matters.
The second layer he called “Christian Vocation”. He centres it in the words of Jesus about being and making disciples. There may well be “besetting concerns” that we encounter in this area of responsibility: concerns about our own discipleship, about the life of the fellowship in which we share, and about our involvement in seeking to win others to Christ. These concerns will be better addressed when we do so having exposed ourselves to Christ’s “wakening Word”
The final layer of his wedding cake he designated as “Personal Vocation”, our personal area of responsibility marked out for us by the gift or gifts given to us by God’s Spirit. Vocational concerns in this area really do need to be encountered in reliance on the very Spirit who has inspired the Word that we heard as we listened to Scripture.
Remember: “At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of the night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word”
So make every effort to begin your day with the Lord who made it, and who made you for it. Your day, in each of its three tiered responsibilities, waits for you. You bring to each something which is uniquely your God shaped contribution. It will be all the poorer if you are not wakened and refreshed for it.
Whatever particular “besetting concerns” it may bring will be better handled if you have been with God before you face them. The Psalmist spoke the truth when he said that with the Lord at his right hand he would not totter or stagger, and neither will you.