Night Owl's Guide to Daily Devotions

1:01 AM

I've tried the annoying Cinderella alarm clock. I've tried moving that annoying Cinderella alarm across the dresser. I've tried an alarm clock across the room. I've tried gentle wake-up music and startling dramatic music and "Good Mornin'!" from Singin' in the Rain. I've gone to bed on time. Early, even. I've tried it all -- and I still have a hard time getting up early.

For one thing, insomnia loves me. If I go to bed happy, I know I won't fall asleep until three o'clock a.m. if I'm lucky. If I go to bed upset, I might as well stay up until the toddlers break loose on the new day. If I go to bed any other night, I try to arrange the thought process to entertain me until my body gives up and I fall asleep.

(I exaggerate a tiny bit. But only a bit.)

No matter how early I get up, no matter how little I sleep, I am always wired by 6:47 p.m. It's my official wake-up time. I am hardcore night owl. Period. End of story. Forever and always. Which would be fine, I suppose, if the rest of the world woke up more towards noon. But they don't, and I get branded with the Late riser stigma.

Rebelling against worldwide rising standards (that weren't subjected to a democratic vote) doesn't bother me. What does frustrate me is violating the Rule to Daily Devotions -- which occur regularly at 5 a.m. before anything happens because the morning is sacred and the day doomed without it and it must last at least five minutes unless you really aspire to spiritual greatness, in which case you'll spend an hour praying and two hours Bible reading and probably should get up at two to compensate.

Which begs the question...are we allowed to brush our teeth before devotions?

I've tried parading my Christian liberty about this issue but then feel guilty because I usually don't get any sit-down devotions done if I don't do it first thing in the morning. I've tried conforming to the Rule but get discouraged because it feels forced and fake. Either way, guilt makes it so repugnant that I drop the whole issue for a few months until another spiritual wave (of guilt) forces me back into the fray.

Not exactly the epitome of David's "My soul thirsts for You!"

Frankly, this thinking of duty and demand reaps nothing but guilt. It forces tired individuals to happily meditate on dull words and then sends off the already-weary troops with the rousing encouragement of Levitical by-laws or gruesome Old Testament stories. I know we're not supposed to say it, but let's not pretend -- daily devotions feels like that more often than not. We'd gladly change our opinion if it weren't the truth, but there we have it: it's not all that the spiritual gurus chalk it up to be.

The real problem, however, doesn't lay with the Bible or in getting up before the rooster or guilty spiritual performance. It lies with our whole concept of daily devotions. Name the passage in Scripture that outlines the secret to morning devotions. It's not there.

Phew, you might say -- but don't say it so soon. The Bible never talks about early morning devotionals to get the day off right. You know what it does say? This:

- His delight is in the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:2)
- My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise (Psalm 119:148)
- Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
- Et cetera

(As a random fun fact, David was a night owl. He stayed wide awake on his couch thinking and meditating and praying. A quick concordance check shows "meditation" hanging out with "night" and "evening" more often than not. Night Owls, Unite!)

Certainly it takes time and discipline to pray three times a day like Daniel or sit down and read through the Bible. Being creatures of habit, we naturally like to make time for things that are important. But after struggling, struggling, struggling and hearing other girls struggle, struggle, struggle, I realized something. I've looked, and the concept of early morning piety isn't one of the tenets of Christianity.

As I took in the New Testament, I saw conscientious removal from the world to pray, fast and commune with God at certain times -- but even more so a day-by-day, minute-by-minute fixed gaze on Jesus Christ. And that changes everything. Before, I tried to alter my outward habits, hoping that forcing myself to read five chapters a day would create in me a hungry heart. Now having that hunger for Christ distracts me from everyday distractions. It's more than a drive to read the Bible 24/7 or literally pray without ceasing: it puts Jesus at the center of everything. It makes every second a time for early-morning piety. It rests in constant communion with the Spirit, with instant access to the very throne room of God, instead of a magical morning moment based on what time I got up that morning.

We ought to live in the continual presence of God, a praise on our lips and a heart yearning to know Him more. It takes discipline to fix that gaze -- it isn't simply shrugging off the importance of prayer and Scripture and waiting for a spiritual feeling to give us that desire. But in time (as A. W. Tozer promised) that discipline becomes default. It's been amazing to see how interest in other things has fallen by the wayside, not as an attempt at being spiritual or purposefully "clearing away distractions" but simply because some things that I obsessed over before do not fit into the new reality of my life. It's also amazing how far I have to go: as I write this, I am convicted how my gaze has been shaken a bit and how quickly idols of the heart spring up.

Even thinking about that, it strikes me how differently I view this subject now. Instead of trying harder or punishing myself with extra Bible reading, I see it as an organic relationship where I don't have to be artificially spiritual, where I can be honest about my shortcomings and my lack of discipline, where I can surrender pride at successfully doing Bible study every morning for three days straight and let the Spirit change my heart (and thus my habits) -- even if it hurts. Because it's not about the Bible. It's not about prayer. It's about Jesus. And oh, how I love this Jesus.

I aim higher now -- sitting at the feet of Jesus all day, even when walking. I aim lower now -- yanking out the roots of laziness and lukewarmness, not scrambling to check off a good girl box. I've come to see the grace God has for night owls and their aversion to coming out from under the covers as well as the blessed discipline of fixing my gaze on Jesus.

But I probably should wake up before nine.

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8 impressions

  1. A quick side note that's only barely connected to this blog. I know why you are a night owl and why most other teens are night owls as well. Trust me, I wrote a twenty page paper on it in High School (and it was only supposed to be 15). As a teen you know about all of the changes that are happening in your body that I won't go into. However, the chemical imbalance in your body has caused your circadian rhythm to change. The circadian rhythm is how your body regulates itself in ways such as body temperature, attentiveness, and feeling tired vs. awake.

    I just thought you should know that, and maybe you already did.

  2. I personally find my day going better if I get up early and do devotions first, but I know lots of people who do it at night. In fact, you could do it at night and the morning if you wanted. ;)

    And I agree with you. Sometimes I get so caught up in how much time I spend with Jesus or worrying because I slept in. It's about Jesus, and learning more about Him.

  3. I've struggled with this too, not because I'm a night owl, but because I just can't focus early in the morning. For a while I had devotions first thing after we started school, but that faded. and It's hard to just pick it up at random time. Definitely something I'm working on. :)

  4. I always used to feel so guilty when I read books, etc. that talked about how important it is to get up early to have your devotional time. I get up at 7:00. But mornings start early and loud at my house- there are farm chores to do and babies coming in (my mom provides child care for two little cousins).

    So I've finally realized that it's okay for me to read my Bible, pray, and journal later on in the day. Honestly, most days that time falls between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. (I'm a little old lady- I go to bed at 10 :).

    But I do agree that following Jesus and growing should be an all-day thing, not just a bit of time in the morning or evening. I've started memorizing some Scriptures and tend to repeat them to myself all during the day, which is a tiny start.


  5. As a dyed-in-the-wool night owl, I was predisposed to love this post. I was once again struck by a particular line/turn of phrase towards the end that I found to be apt and memorable: "yanking out the roots of laziness and lukewarmness, not scrambling to check off a good girl box."

    I have never in my life "scrambled to check off the good girl box", but I do now find myself frequently struggling to "walk the talk" or "live my faith". It is easy for me to participate in carefully designed rituals and even easier to pontificate on glorious principles. Much harder for me to truly be open to transformation and search for the divine in my day to day life and interactions with others.


  6. Good thoughts Bailey! Some of these questions I have wrestled with myself, because I do get up at 5 in order to have an hour of quiet time with Jesus. Lol, I'm by no means a "spiritual guru", that's just when I have to get up if I want to take a shower, exercise, and have that hour before I go to work. And trust me, it is hard. I'm not really a night owl(I'm losing my mind by ten), but I'm not a morning person either. My bestie gets up to milk cows at 4 oclock in the morning, so she's my accountability partner for making sure I get up. I may or may not have growled at her via text message once or twice. =)(So, I actually text, shower, and sometimes exercise before I sit down with Jesus.=)
    I am learning the sweetness of walking with Jesus through the day and, as Tozer says, learning to turn my heart's eyes to Him more constantly. And oh, it is sweet. But I still love that time in the morning when there are no distractions from the face of Jesus. To tell you the truth, it is hard to meditate on the Word of God when you're taking care of two young children and a home. My conversation with Jesus is beginning to last all day, and the minutes where I sit down to rock the baby to sleep give me time to pray more than a sentence or two, or actually meditate on His Word, but still, you can only think about so many things at once! Most of the time my heart simply rests with Jesus while I carry on through my day. During my quiet time however, the only distractions are from my mind wandering. And there I can have as much time as I need to talk with the Lord at length about anything! It's like the difference between texting my bestie throughout the day or actually calling her and having a heart-to-heart.
    My time with Jesus has definitely changed and evolved as my relationship with Him as grown, and I'm sure it still will. New life has been infused into my time and relationship with the Lord since I've stopped making my morning time something I do on my own strength, and instead something I do only by Jesus' power. A verse from Isaiah has become very meaningful to me over the past week. "He wakens me morning by morning, He inclines my ear to listen like one being taught." I've been praying about my time with Jesus too, asking Him to make it into what he wants it to be. For surely, it can be legalistic and dry, the same as another discipline, such as going to church. But if I give it over to Jesus, He can use it for His purposes.
    I would encourage you to simply pray about the matter of making time for the Lord every day, and perhaps read some of the thoughts of those who have gone on before. (I'm currently reading the book "A Place of Quiet Rest" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and she has some great thoughts on a daily time with the Lord.) While He may not for you, He has given me a quiet conviction to rise early when I can and seek His face before my mind is cluttered with other things. Oh, I do identify with Paul when He says that the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak! But His Power is made perfect in my weakness!
    Seeking Him, Tanya (And sorry this got so long!! It seems like whenever I let my fingers start pecking the keys it gets way longer than I planned. =P )

  7. Fix our eyes on Jesus... beautifully written. Excellent points.

    I've loved the idea of three set times a day for specific prayer. (perhaps because if you miss the morning, there is still the afternoon and evening?)

    This actually encourages me to continue working at that. (My mornings and evenings are easy, I milk cows twice a day! I have a "barn Bible" that is always there and the cows seem to like the book of Jeremiah the best.)


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