An hour a day with God. It is a radical challenge I encourage at my spiritual disciplines classes and in conversations with those seeking to follow Jesus more radically. Spending an hour a day with God (through prayer, silence, Bible study, etc.) is a life-altering habit. We cannot be in His presence and not be changed. An hour a day in His presence will change us in ways that even we didn’t think possible. His presence rocks the very foundation of our selfish, sinful nature.

When my good friend Jon DeGroot presented his “one-hour” challenge to me a few years ago, the first thing he mentioned was getting up earlier as a key to his habit. “I’m not a morning person,” I replied, although I knew right away that being a self-proclaimed “night owl” wasn’t a valid excuse for me. I knew that at the time, with two young kids (now I have three) and a demanding schedule, that I could no longer whittle away evenings and afternoons alone in Bible study and worship like I had in my young adult years – I needed to strategically carve out time. The time just wasn’t there anymore. Mornings were my best option. I quickly realized that I could afford to lose my irresponsible, energy-sucking, laziness-inducing, unbiblical habits of sleeping in until the last minute and wasting morning hours. I couldn’t afford to lose my relationship with God.

So I transformed myself into a morning person. It really wasn’t very hard. There were several keys, I quickly found, to waking up earlier.

1.) Going to bed early. Sounds simple, but this was honestly a bigger sacrifice than getting out of bed early. Going to bed at 9-10 instead of staying up to watch the rest of the football game, or aimlessly read on the internet, or dink around on social media, was the hardest part, though I quickly began to enjoy going to bed early and the anticipation of the following morning, knowing it would be a powerful and uplifting start to the day.

2.) Praying before I fall asleep. I ask the Lord every night to give me deep, restful, and refreshing sleep, even when I know it’s not going to be my usual eight or nine hours (I have small kids, remember). I also ask Him to awaken me when He wills, not when I will. He answers this prayer every time. When I anticipate His awakening (much like we do when we are traveling and must arise exceptionally early), I awake early and refreshed, praising Him for His faithfulness. In fact, He often wakes up before my alarm, sparing my wife and baby the annoying sound.

3.) Getting my body into a routine. When I’m up at five, it’s really hard to stay up past ten. As the Bible says, the sleep of a laboring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). I zonk. Zonk is a great verb.

4.) I remember, before I retire, that for the Hebrews (and consequently for God), the day starts in the eveningThey (and God, of course) knew that the evening sets the tone for the following morning. Nothing ruins a day like an irresponsible night before. We know this very well. A victorious day is indeed won the night before. God is smart.

Getting up early is portrayed as a habit of many of the Bible’s great men and women:

Abraham got up early in the morning and went to the place where he stood before the LORD… (Genesis 19:27)

And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had used for a pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it, and he called the name of that place Bethel (which means “house of God”). (Genesis 28:18-19) (This was a symbolic act of worship by Jacob, who had had a profound dream the night before and sensed God’s presence with him.)

And the LORD said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.  (Exodus 9:13) (Standing before Pharaoh meant a big day for Moses. That’s probably why God instructed him to get up early.)

And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. (Joshua 6:12)

And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle. (1 Samuel 17:20) (David got up early before fighting Goliath. Hint, hint. :))

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he (Jesus) went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. (Mark 1:35)

And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. (John 8:2)

Obviously, there is something special about getting up early. It demonstrates passion that is so excited about the possibilities for the day that it can’t imagine sleeping in. Let’s face the brutal facts: we sleep in when we’re apathetic about our life’s mission and purpose. How sad and convicting that so many in the world get up early and excited about a vain mission to nowhere, while Christians hit the snooze button on The Great Commission. Getting up early also allows us to consider the sunrise and appreciate the miracle that each day really is. It slows life down. It reminds us of God’s majesty and faithfulness. It reminds us that life is not about us; we live for a more beautiful cause. It gives us time to reflect, strategize, and put on Christ (Romans 13:14, Galatians 3:27) before we face the immense pressures, challenges, and opportunities of the day. “Never leave the house in the morning without being on fire for the Lord,” a wise man once told me. “It’s too costly to those you will come across.” This word should convict all of us. It does so to me, almost every day.

Your time with the Lord may not be in the morning, and it obviously doesn’t have to be. But if you’re struggling to find the time, it’s there. As I always say in my discipleship classes, “You can find enough time and money for anything – if it’s important enough to you.” The morning is always open. And it just might change your life. Isn’t that what we all want?

And remember, an hour a day with the Lord is just a start, a gateway to a LIFESTYLE of following Jesus. It is not a check-list item that we must do to please God or earn His favor. We don’t have to seek Him; we get to seek Him. If you’ve ever taken the former attitude, repent and ask God to change your attitude. He does not lay heavy burdens on our shoulders (Matthew 11:28-29).

Cultivate a lifestyle of getting up early by preparing for the morning in the evening. It is one of the oldest and most rewarding disciplines the human race has ever enjoyed. And God recommends it.