Time Wasters – Part Three

Time Wasters – Part Three

Laziness

by Leslie Ludy | March 1, 2011

“Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.”

– Proverbs 20:13

“As a door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man on his bed.”

– Proverbs 26:14

“How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?”

– Proverbs 6:9

When I was seventeen, God challenged me to build my life around Him. Not to just fit Him into my life when it was convenient, but to center my entire existence, every moment of my daily life upon cultivating intimacy with my true King, Jesus Christ. He was stirring my soul towards hours of prayer, long, uninterrupted times in His presence, and giving Him the very best hours of my day – every day.

It didn’t seem like a very practical request.

In fact, I didn’t believe it was really possible to live that way. I mean, how could I devote hours of every day to prayer when I was in the middle of high school? How could I spend long periods of time cultivating intimacy with Jesus Christ when I had so many deadlines, assignments, and commitments? I had a job. I had homework. I had the expectations of my friends and family.

I read the Scriptures in the Bible about “praying without ceasing” but I assumed these statements were poetic-sounding ideals, rather than actual commands from the King of all kings. So I shrugged them off as extreme and unnecessary.

As far as I could tell, I was living a normal, healthy Christian lifestyle doing the best I could with my daily decisions. I sincerely desired Jesus Christ to have first place, but for some reason, my life always felt too rushed and busy to truly build my day around Him. The idea of spending hours in prayer seemed completely unrealistic. And besides, I didn’t know any other Christians who were living that way.

And yet, His soft request continued to stir within my soul, “Build your life around Me.”

But how?

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “God never issued instructions which He is not prepared to enable us to follow.” So one morning I knelt by my bed and asked God to show me specifically what was standing in the way of the fully consecrated life He was calling me to live. And suddenly, He opened my eyes to see it. There was a huge, ugly monster in my life, standing belligerently in my way and hindering me daily from living a life of absolute devotion to my King.

Laziness.

It was most evidenced in my sleep habits. My flesh preferred staying up late to watch movies, spend time with friends or work on hobbies. And I gave into this craving night after night. As a result, I would sleep in as late as possible the next morning, then fly out of bed, get ready in a frenzy – cramming in five or ten minutes of distracted prayer and Bible study before I rushed out the door. On weekends, I would sleep in even later just because I could, not even starting my day until close to lunchtime. And whatever time was leftover was taken with errands, shopping, and social activities.

I had been complaining that my life was too full to devote hours to prayer and seeking God. Yet in reality, I was simply too lazy to make it my highest priority. Sleep was something I had always thought of as being under my jurisdiction – that it was my innate right to go to bed and get up when I felt like it, and that it was totally reasonable to expect eight or nine hours of sleep every night, and several extra hours of sleep on the weekends.

But now the Spirit of God was shining His searchlight within my soul, convicting me of this ugly laziness, and asking me to usher it to the door and kick it out of my life. Sleep, He taught me, was not to control my life. It was to become a tool to serve His purposes and not my own fleshly whims.

The Apostle Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

This was precisely what God was asking me to do - discipline my body, let Him take control of my sleep habits, and banish laziness from my daily life.

The next season of my life was a bit like going through boot camp. My sleep habits were completely over-hauled by the enabling grace of God. I learned the discipline of having a regular bedtime, cutting off my “leisure” activities and saying no to many social invitations in order to keep it. I trained my body to consistently get up early, and to jump out of bed quickly without pressing the snooze button. I learned how to use my “extra time” on weekends not to lazily lounge in bed, but to serve others, spend time in prayer and Bible study, and build deeper relationships with my family members.

It was not easy. It was not comfortable. It didn’t happen without loud protests from my flesh. But once I achieved victory in this area, it changed my life forever. Conquering my laziness enabled me to develop a level of intimacy with my King that I never even knew was possible.

Breaking the Laziness Cycle

The word discipline has almost become taboo in today’s modern Christian world. It conjures up images of dour legalism and miserable lists of rules and regulations. Yet godly discipline is nothing of the sort. It is an act of worship - a crucifying of the selfish and fleshly agenda in order to surrender to Christ’s pure and perfect agenda. Discipline does not bring misery and restriction into our life. Rather, it brings glorious freedom. When our flesh is under subjection to the Spirit of God, we are free to live as He calls us to live. We are able to give our time, our energy and our lives fully to the things of His Kingdom. Discipline is an amazing gift and an invaluable tool to usher us to the presence of the King of all kings.

In her book Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Discipline, for the Christian, begins with the body. We have only one. It is this body that is the primary material given to us for sacrifice. We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves.”

And by the same token, we cannot give our hearts to God and keep our sleep habits for ourselves. If we attempt to do so, we will find that our Christian life is made up of “good intentions” rather than a life lived in the presence of our King. Personally, I do not want to look back at my life and see countless mornings of pressing the snooze button when I could have been in the throne room of the Most High God. What heartbreaking regret.

If you feel the gentle conviction of God’s Spirit that your sleep habits need to change, here are some key Scriptural principles to ponder:

1. Rising Early for Prayer

Scripture puts a high value on waking up early, even before dawn, and giving the first-fruits of our day to God in prayer, worship and seeking His face:

“You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You” (Ps 63:1).

“Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn” (Ps 57:8).

“[The virtuous woman] also rises while it is yet night...” (Prov. 31:15).

Jesus Himself set for us a clear example of rising early to seek the Father’s face: “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).

There is something so refreshing about rising early to seek God in prayer. Though prayer is powerful no matter when we do it, there is something extra powerful about early morning prayer. It is the ultimate way to crucify self from the very beginning of our day; to silence our selfish, lazy, controlling flesh and yield to the Spirit of God. Its an opportunity to declare with our lives, not just our lips, that Jesus truly is our most important priority. It gives the Spirit of God, rather than our fleshly whims, the first say.

John Bunyan said, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” I have found this to be absolutely true in my own life. Whenever I allow myself to oversleep and miss my time in God’s presence, the entire day feels “off.” But when I discipline my flesh and make my early morning prayer a non-negotiable, I walk in the sweet presence of my King for the rest of my day. Jesus said, “...seek first the kingdom of God...” (Matt. 6:33), and when I apply this command to my prayer life by seeking Him in my first act of the day, every other area of my life comes into proper alignment.

If your flesh balks at the idea of waking up early to pray, here are a few practical suggestions:

  • Memorize a simple Scripture to recite the moment your alarm goes off. I love to whisper Psalm 118:24 first thing in the morning: “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Meditating upon Truth turns my focus toward my King and helps me to rejoice rather than complain or focus on my rebellious flesh that is begging me to pull the covers back over my head.
  • Recruit an accountability partner who is willing to get up early along with you. Even if you don’t physically meet to pray with this person, just a quick phone call to say “I’m awake, and I’m starting my prayer time now,” can do wonders at silencing the temptation to push the snooze button.
  • Gradually train your body toward an earlier wake-up time. If you have never fasted in your life and then suddenly attempt a 40 day fast, you are setting yourself up for failure. In the same way, if you are used to waking up at 9 a.m. and you try to switch cold-turkey to a 5 a.m. wake-up time, chances are you will wane in your commitment after a day or two. Instead, try setting your alarm for 20 minutes earlier for the first couple of days. Then, set it for another 20 minutes earlier and work on that new discipline for a few days. Continue this pattern until you have reached the wake-up time that you feel God is asking of you. Let your body get used to change over a period of a few weeks, rather than biting off more than you can chew in one day.

2. Silencing the Voice of Flesh

Paul wrote three simple yet powerful words that express the essence of the Christ life: “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). If we fail to apply these principles to the practical areas of our life, such as our sleep habits, we fail to obey our King. Re-training our sleep habits means silencing the voice of our selfish flesh on a daily basis. It means literally ignoring what our body is crying out for (the luxury of sleeping whenever we feel like it) and awakening to what the Spirit of God is whispering to our soul (the privilege of dying to self and spending ample time in His presence).

I recently had a conversation with a young woman named Rachel who has focused intensely on silencing her flesh in order to make time in God’s presence her highest priority:

Seeking God early in the morning is like finding a hidden treasure,” she said. “You have to be willing to look where no one else wants to look in order to find it. I have found that it all hinges upon having a desire to spend time with Christ - seeing it as a privilege and not just something I am obligated to do. When it becomes a joy and not just a duty, I am eager to get up and give Him the first-fruits of my day. But if I see it as an obligation, it’s easy to keep putting if off until later.

Rachel told me that the most important part of her prayer-life discipline is a decision she makes every night before she goes to bed. “I have to pre-decide that spending time with Christ is worth the effort of getting out of bed, no matter how I might feel when my alarm goes off. If I have already made the decision that I’m getting up no matter what, then I don’t give my flesh any opportunity to try to talk me out of it.”

What Makes Life Work

On two different occasions, the disciples fished all night long and caught absolutely nothing. But when Jesus came and stood in their midst, they merely had to let down their net once and such an abundance was caught that they didn’t even have room in their boat to contain it all (see Luke 5:4 and John 21:3-6).

When prayer is missing from our life and we are controlled by sleep and laziness, we spend countless time and energy trying to make our life work, constantly failing and beating our head against the wall in frustration. But as it says in Psalm 1, when we meditate upon our Lord day and night, we become like a tree that brings forth much fruit – and everything that we do just works. Our time is multiplied. Our effectiveness is multiplied. Our energy is multiplied. Life becomes fruitful instead of frustrating.

Discipline is not something that can be gained in one night. It requires faithful training, dedication, and consistency. It requires an infusion of the enabling grace of God. And it takes faith to believe that change is possible – by “the power that worketh in us” (see Eph. 3:20). When we are willing to run the race with patience, the rewards are off-the-charts amazing. A life built around our Prince is the most fulfilling life we could ever imagine.

And there is no other way to find it but to die – that we might truly live.*

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