"Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." (Mark 1:35)
WHAT is the most important Christian duty? The most important Christian duty, I believe, is having a daily quiet time with our Heavenly Father. Like the old hymn says:
“Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in Him always, and feed on His Word. Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak, forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek. Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone. By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be; thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.”
Jesus knew the importance of having a quiet time with His Heavenly Father. We read in the Gospel of Mark how “in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus knew the importance of having a daily quiet time with His Heavenly Father. He felt the need to rise early before daylight, to avoid any possible distractions, and to depart to a solitary place to pray. Now if Christ, who was “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16), felt the need to have a quiet time with His Heavenly Father, how much more should His followers?
David too had a quiet time with His Heavenly Father. David cries to the Lord in the 5th Psalm: “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Give heed to the voice of my cry, my king and my God, for to You I will pray. My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up” (Psalm 5:1-3). Also in the 63rd Psalm: “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory” (Psalm 63:1-2). David made sure he sets time each day to spend with his Heavenly Father. He says: “As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17). The Psalmist in Psalm 119, who most likely was King David, says: “I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in Your word. My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Psalm 119:147-148).
Daniel also had a quiet time with God. We read how “he knelt down on his knees three times” and “prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). His enemies knew they would find him “praying and making supplication before his God” (Daniel 6:11). Job also had a prayer life. We read in the Book of Job how he would rise early in the morning and pray for his children and “offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts’” and “thus Job did regularly” (Job 1:5).
In the spring of 1841, George Muller (1805-1898) had a life-transforming discovery that changed his life. He saw more clearly the importance of a daily quiet time with God in the Word of God and prayer. He says in his autobiography: “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.”
E.M. Bounds (1835-1913), the great man of prayer and the author of numerous books on prayer, spent the last nineteen years of his life in his home, rising 4 AM and praying until 7 AM. Even during his speaking engagements as an evangelist, he would not neglect his early morning time with God in prayer. Claude Chilton, Jr., in his Foreword to Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds, speaks of E.M. Bounds saying: “As breathing is a physical reality to us so prayer was a reality for Bounds. He took the command, ‘Pray without ceasing’ almost literally as animate nature takes the law of the reflex nervous system, which controls our breathing.” E.M. Bounds writes in his book “Power through Prayer” that “the men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day. Behind this early rising and early praying is the ardent desire which presses us into this pursuit after God. Morning listlessness is the index to a listless heart. The heart which is behind in seeking God in the morning has lost its relish for God. David's heart was ardent after God. He hungered and thirsted after God, and so he sought God early, before daylight. The bed and sleep could not chain his soul in its eagerness after God. Christ longed for communion with God; and so, rising a great while before day, he would go out into the mountain to pray. The disciples, when fully awake and ashamed of their indulgence, would know where to find him. We might go through the list of men who have mightily impressed the world for God, and we would find them early after God.”
One of the most gifted Scotch preachers, Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843), said: “I ought to spend the best hours in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment, and is not to be thrust into a corner. The morning hours, from six to eight, are the most uninterrupted and should be thus employed. After tea is my best hour, and that should be solemnly dedicated to God. I ought not to give up the good old habit of prayer before going to bed; but guard must be kept against sleep. When I awake in the night, I ought to rise and pray. A little time after breakfast might be given to intercession. I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, it is eleven or twelve o'clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ arose before day and went into a solitary place. David says: ‘Early will I seek thee’; ‘Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then when in secret prayer the soul is often out of tune, I feel it is far better to begin with God -- to see his face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.”
Martin Luther (1483-1546), the great reformer, said: “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of the famous “Pilgrim’s Progress” said “he who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” Andrew Murray (1828-1917), the great devotional author, says: “Shut the world out, withdraw from all worldly thoughts and occupations, and shut yourself in alone with God, to pray to Him in secret. Let this be your chief object in prayer, to realize the presence of your heavenly Father."
What about you dear reader? Do you have a daily quiet time with God? If not, I encourage you to begin one. Start today; do not delay. George Muller writes in his autobiography: “I want to encourage all believers to get into the habit of rising early to meet with God. Someone may ask, ‘But why should I rise early?’ To remain too long in bed is a waste of time. Wasting time is unbecoming a saint who is bought by the precious blood of Jesus. His time and all he has is to be used for the Lord. If we sleep more than is necessary for the refreshment of the body, it is wasting the time the Lord has entrusted us to be used for His glory, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of the saints and unbelievers around us. It may be said, ‘But how shall I set about rising early?’ My advice is: Do not delay. Begin tomorrow. But do not depend on your own strength. You may have begun to rise early in the past but have given it up. If you depend on your own strength in this matter, it will come to nothing. In every good work, we must depend on the Lord. If anyone rises so that he may give the time which he takes from sleep to prayer and meditation, let him be sure that Satan will try to put obstacles in the way. Trust in the Lord for help. You will honor Him if you expect help from Him in this matter. Pray for help, expect help, and you will have it. In addition to this, go to bed early. If you stay up late, you cannot rise early. Let no pressure of engagements keep you from going habitually early to bed. If you fail in this, you neither can nor should get up early because your body requires rest. Rise at once when you are awake. Remain not a minute longer in bed or else you are likely to fall asleep again. Do not be discouraged by feeling drowsy and tired from rising early. This will soon wear off. After a few days you will feel stronger and fresher than when you used to lie an hour or two longer than you needed. Always allow yourself the same hours for sleep. Make no change except on account of sickness.” So, dear reader, take the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and all His saints and begin and cherish your daily quiet time with God and you will be greatly refreshed and strengthened.