A Day Encompassed by God
I wish there were more hours in the day. No sooner do I get up, crawl to that first cup of coffee, stumble through the day, than I lay down my head, sore and confused, wondering what exactly just happened. The daily grind of life can be hectic, monotonous (monotonously hectic?), and usually we are just trying to get by. Often what matters most gets put to the side: family, personal time, leisure, spiritual development. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in chapter 2 of his little book Life Together, offers some encouragement about daily life that is much needed today. He paints a picture of a day encompassed by God.
Beginning, Ending, and Everywhere In-between
Christian fellowship, whether in the family, among friends, or the church, is a gift from God. The Christian life is a life that is meant to be lived with one another. But our time is precious, and we often do not have room in our busy schedules to live that life together. Our time is probably the last thing we let be transformed by the gospel. But Scripture has much to say about time.
Ps 5:3 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. (NIV)
Ps 57:7-8 My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. 8 Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.
Mark 1:35 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.
1 Chr. 23:30 And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening, (ESV)
Ps. 55:17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
God’s people in the Old Testament had set times each day to pray, sing, and read (or recite) his Word. In the New Testament, although it lost its ceremonial and civil law requirements, this practice continues. The result is a day beginning with the Lord, ending with the Lord, and the middle invaded by him as well. It is a day shaped by and encompassed by God. The day begins with God’s promise and ends with assurance of his mercy and grace.
The Day belongs to Work
God has given us work for the day. Ps 104:23 “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.” Bonhoeffer says,
Just as it was God’s will that man should work six days and rest and make holy day in His presence on the seventh, so it is also God’s will that every day should be marked for the Christian by both prayer and work. Prayer is entitled to its time. But the bulk of the day belongs to work. And only where each receives its own specific due will it become clear that both belong inseparable together. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer work is not work. This only the Christian knows. Thus, it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes manifest.
God created us to work, and work is a good thing. It was good in creation, and it is confirmed (and given more depth) in redemption. But it is only when we give these two things, prayer and work, their God-given space that we enjoy work. The prayer, at the beginning, middle, and end of the day, breaks through to the work of the day, which becomes itself part of the prayer, not by ceasing work, but by doing all that we do, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus (Col. 3:17). The whole day then is given an order, a discipline, everything (even in the chaos of the daily tasks), gets put into its proper place. “The prayer of the morning will determine the day.” God invades our day, leading us out of temptation, giving meaning to work, and bringing even the most mundane, difficult, challenging thing in the presence of God.
But at the end of the day, we need refreshment that only God can give. The toil of the day, the things we left undone, the things we did that we should not have done, the hardness and exhaustion, bring God’s grace and love much clearer to our eyes. Time spent at the end of the day with God is a blessing we need, because we here his promise again, and are refreshed. In the words of Peter Gerhardt,
My head and hands and feet
Their rest with gladness greet,
And know their work is o’er;
My heart, thou too shalt be
From sinful works set free,
Nor pine in weary sorrow more.
In our culture, and even in our Christian culture, it is hard to imagine, even laughable, that we could possible find the time, alone or together, to spend praying, singing, and reading Scripture in the morning, evening, and (to be completely absurd), the middle of the day. With the demands that many of us have, and the particular seasons of life that we go through, we need to recognize that circumstances make it very difficult. This can be discouraging. But we should be encourage because this is a gift, a wonderful blessing that we should seek to enjoy, and not let our despair paralyze us from pursuing. Remember this is a gift and blessing, not a chore.
It may be that we need to recognize our cultural idols, and stop worshipping them. It may be that we need to learn more about the blessings of life together, and life with God in order to motivate us. Whatever the obstacles to daily devotion alone and with God’s people, habits play a key role. As James K.A. Smith shows in You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, habits are very important for our spiritual lives. Developing habits of devotion, far from making spiritual devotion a mere formality, will help us in our day to day be encompassed by God, which is what our days desperately need.
If we are able to shape our day by time with God, we will find that our day is better ordered, our time spent deliberately, and we just might find that God has invaded our day, giving us the strength, power, and grace to serve him and our neighbor, and lay our head down, and truly rest in God.