Tuesday, October 9, 2007

early morning prayer? Bite your tongue!

It was a long time ago when I was introduced to the idea of morning prayer. I was sure the only people that do prayer in the morning are those who are morning people and find it easy to rise out of bed and pray. I find prayer difficult. I am not very focused. I am not a morning person. It was nice when a speaker at some conference I had attended gave me permission not to get up in the morning and pray. He said I could pray anytime of the day. I immediately checked that one off my spiritual "To Do" list. I was quick to justify my need for 8-10 hours of sleep and that I could pray at night. It released me for a time in the morning hours, but I didn't really pray at night.
God got a hold of me a few years ago and I knew he was calling me to sacrifice some of that sleep I thought I so desperately needed and was a complete maniac if I didn't get. My drive for more sleep was a hard one to bring to the alter. I needed my sleep! But was sleep a crutch (or god) that was keeping me from fellowshipping with my maker? If he calls us to be a people of prayer is he not also capable of sustaining us through the day if we walk in obedience to his will? I was willing to test out that little theory......
Almost two years ago, I began getting up at least an hour and a half before the rest of my family. I knew this was going to be my new way of life and not just something I was testing out for a few weeks and then could quit.
I could not sit and pray yet, so I began to walk or go to the gym. I quickly learned that my thought life was running ramped and I was way out of shape. I couldn't stay focused to save my life and I was out of breath anyway. I needed some structure, so I chose to follow the A.C.T.S. prayer format to give me direction. I also walked a little slower at first and never referred to what I was doing as exercise or I'd quit for sure.
So A.C.T.S. goes like this, first, praise God for who he is, then confess sin, thank him for all he has done and begin praying for all the other things on my mind. If I took 5 minutes for each then I would have a 20 minute prayer walk. Not bad for a non-prayer / non-exerciser.
For a long time I walked around a fairly large block by my house and changed subjects at each corner. It helped me so much with the focus issue. I also walked with friends and was willing to travel to meet them! However, it was really discouraging when they would cancel in favor of sleeping in. I had to grapple with the reality that this was my personal conviction and not put it on anyone else to help me in this. I was sadly aware of just how little I knew my savior personally because I needed a partner to meet with him and I would get bored, loose my focus or just run out of things to say. This new way of life was going to pose some challenges.
I realized I was running out of praises for who God was because I didn't know him that well. I found I was saying the same thing over and over. God you are good, you are Lord, you reign on high, you are the alpha and omega, the bright and morning star........ hmmmmmmm............ Somewhere in there I would accidentally say a few lines from a familiar song and then I, of course, was lost in that song before coming to my senses and forcing myself to focus again. This was such a time of learning. Oh, did I sorely lack focus in my thought life. Eventually, I found a list of many of God's attributes and was able to use them for my praise time. It sure helped. ( I am aware there is an endless supply in the Bible:) One thing at a time!
Confessing my sin posed a big problem because I was confessing the same thing every day. Shallow and empty. I was getting bored and irritated with what I was confessing. It was getting old and monotonous. I imagined that God was probably getting tired of having to forgive me for the same things everyday as well. Especially when I seemed to be doing nothing to change my pattern of behavior. I began thinking," If I spent some time working on these areas then I wouldn't have to confess them anymore." What a novel idea eh? Besides my pride was being effected by it. So, being the perfectionist that I am, I determined to do away with some of these old sins patterns in my life. However, there really is never a shortage of sin to confess. It is hard though, to be honest about the details of sin I let myself indulge in. Now a year and a half into it, I have noticed that the more consistently I've prayed, the easier it is to hear the Holy Spirit's convicting voice and the deeper I can confess, be cleansed and move into a right relationship with God.
Thanksgiving is always easy. You can thank God for trees, grass, the sun......I think that is why, most of the time in prayer, I just skip right to this one. It is easy to focus on what God has done for ME. It keeps me feeling important. Praising God humbles me and confessing helps me see myself for who I really am when I don't let God lead. Thankfulness is refreshing. I don't have a tendency to run out of things to say here. It is a good reminder of all that I have even when I am feeling low and poor. It can be so lifting to list all the blessings God has bestowed upon me. Even just the fact that I can choose to get up in the morning to pray, and that I can walk while doing it. What a blessing.....
Once I get to the prayer request time, I often feel like some of the things I thought were so very urgent are now unimportant. I am now much more prepared to lift up concerns to Him. I have put myself in right relationship with God by acknowledging who he is. I have reminded myself of who I am not and remembered what God has done in my life. After this process, I see His strength and am more aware of His will in all things. This time begins to vanish quickly as the needs of so many, near and far, are impressed upon my heart. There is just so much that needs to be lifted up in prayer that 5 minutes a day is just scratching the surface. Yet, at first it seemed like it was monumental and insurmountable.
The effects this prayer time has had on my life has been revolutionary. I have been involved in spiritual growth activities for more than 30 years and nothing has changed me like my early morning prayer time! There has been a RADICAL transformation in my life! Amazingly I have felt calmer and more centered (go figure eh?). I have had the capacity to live outside myself and have truly begun caring for people and not just acting like I do. I have had more energy to use throughout the day then ever before and yet I am getting substantially less sleep. I went from 8-10+ hours a day to 5-7 max. I can see the difference, because on the weekends I choose to sleep in and I actually have had less energy and have felt more sluggish and empty on those days. Could God really be filling me with His supernatural power throughout the week?
This question was answered with a resounding "YES" when I chose to put my prayer time on the back burner while we transitioned to life in Lithuania. I got up less consistently and maybe only half an hour before the kids woke up to get a quickie prayer in. My reasoning seemed justified. It is hard to adjust to a new culture, a new school routine and I needed more sleep now that we were all getting up at 6:30 am. Again the god of sleep reigned in my life.
Problem was though, I was not adjusting. I was more and more impatient and discontent with everyone and everything, especially my family. It was contagious too. I could hear my irritating impatient tone mimicked in every one's voice in the house all the way down to the youngest. We were all biting at each other constantly. It was like wildfire the way it spread. No one was getting along and I was getting angrier and angrier about it. What was going on? My family was falling apart and I was out of control to stop it. I was actually perpetuating it! I felt like I was spinning out of control at an alarming rate. It was a downward spiral that was sucking me in and I felt helpless to fight against it.
Confessing that I had no control was hard. I finally realized that I had to start getting up an hour and a half before everyone else again. So 5am it was. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing........"too early! Way too early." This would be interesting..........especially now that I was out of the habit of getting up. Would I be able to get back into it again?
The first morning wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The alarm went off and I felt very tired but ready to be obedient and meet with my Savior. It was a special morning, just He and I as we fellowshipped by the fire while I drank tea. Aaahhh, this was what my soul needed. I felt centered again, for the first time in weeks!
When the kids began to rise, I felt happy to see them. That felt so good! Throughout the day the kids bickered and fought, but I seemed to have the capacity to deal with it gently in spurts. Wow, what a turning point. My rage and anger seemed to have lost just a bit of their stronghold in my life, but I could see that this two-some wasn't going to give up easily. I had 5 family members reminding me of my past choices in their current behavior. It was going to take some consistency in my life and time to see a change in everyone.
As the week progressed and I kept faithfully getting up despite my strong desire to roll over and sleep some more, I could see the change it was making within me. I had energy like I hadn't experienced in years and yet I was loosing up to 3 hours of sleep a night. How could that be? But it was real and I had to come to grips that my fellowship with God first thing in the morning was the only thing getting me through each day with more than just a shred of sanity:) The household seemed to be settling as well and kindness began spreading from person to person. This was worth my time! It made no rational sense, but it was not hard to see the effect it was having on my whole family. There has been more peace, love and harmony in the past week, since I have again adopted this new routine, then there was when I was getting "enough" sleep and fellowshipping less often.
I won't miss my time with God in the morning anymore. Sleeping longer is simply not worth it to live on my own human strength throughout the day. Often I have to remind myself that my new motto is," Sleep is overrated!" (I'll just keep saying till I believe it:) thanks CR. Until then, I will choose to be obedient to God's personal call in my life and not listen to my flesh. It is good practice. I have never regretted getting up early and praying, but have often regretted sleeping in just a little bit longer:)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sophie -

My name is Abbey Gropp and my husband and I used to attend PFB and were in the Cornerstone class. We both worked at APU and wouldn't expect you to remember me as I probably only talked to you like 2 or 3 times, dropping our (at that time) baby off at nursery, etc. Anyway, although we no longer live in CA, we still get Cornerstone prayer emails and I've been following your move to Lithuania via your emails and blog. I've been praying for you all, and I really admire your obedience to the Lord and honesty about life. This blog is particularly timely as I have really been feeling God's prompting to step it up in the discipline department, and I really identify with the sleep loving, unfocused thoughts, and ADD prayer style. I think He could really use a morning prayer/exercise regimine to grow me a bit. Thanks for sharing your experience... just wanted to leave some feedback so you'd know that God is using even your blog too. Rock on you fun family!