Starting the Day

Every morning, you and have the opportunity to jump start our day.  Yet, far too many people waste this opportunity.  The following are five practices that have been helpful to me.  I am not prescribing these to you.  Rather, I am simply describing what has been helpful to me.  Perhaps one or more of these might be helpful to you as well.

*Start the day with what feeds your soul.  It can tempting to immediately start checking my phone or computer.  Yet, I have that beginning the day with a cup of coffee next to my open Bible really makes a difference.  I read, with yellow highlighter in hand, ready to highlight words and phrase that are meaningful to me.

*Start the day with prayer.  I pray for the days events and the various people who I plan to interact with.  I pray for my wife, my children, and grandchildren.  I find that when I pray more, I tend to worry less.

*Start the day with mapping out the day.  I work with the daily pages in the Self Journal.  It doesn’t matter what kind of planner you use.  The main point is to be intentional about the day before you are suddenly in the middle of it.

*Start the day before morning.  In other words, start the night before.  If I know what I will wear the next day, that is very helpful.  If I have already gathered my things to take with me the next morning, that also is helpful.  In fact, whatever I can do to help me prepare the night can be incredibly helpful to jumpstarting the day.

*Start the day by choosing to be grateful.  Yes, it can be difficult when you are faced with tough challenges.  It can be tempting to be focused on the negative and to complain.  I have found that when I began complaining, things only seem more bleak and all I can see is what is wrong.  I have learned that no matter what, I can be grateful to God for something.  That often keeps me going.

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Your habits will either contribute to your energy or work to deplete your energy.

Three years ago, I made a huge change in my life.  For 35 years, I had served churches as a preacher.  My life was busy.  Rearing children.  Preparing sermons and classes.  Conversations with people.  Walking with others in our church through various crises.  Then in December 2013, we moved to Memphis where I would begin serving as Vice President of Harding School of Theology. That was quite a change in many ways.

What has helped me maintain energy more than anything is to establish certain habits that I do every day.   In other words, I try to cut down on the number of decisions that I make each morning related to time, and simply carry out the habits which have already been established.  In the past, far too often, I began each day by making numerous decisions about how I would spend that time. Even going to the gym to work out has become a habit.  (This has been far more effective than trying to decide every day whether I will go or not.)

The following are five daily habits that give me energy.

I begin every day by getting up early enough to read my Bible, pray regarding the day ahead, and thinking about what I plan to do this day. There is something about this intentionality that centers me and makes me ready to take on the day.  Ideally, I do this before checking e-mail.  I have found that when I begin by checking e-mail, there are often those surprise notes that have a way of preoccupying my mind and emotions.  I like to vary what I do during this time.  Sometimes I will read the morning reading from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours.  On other occasions I will listen to the brief Pray as You Go podcast.  I find the variety to be very helpful.

I begin every day with a list of three things that I want to get done that day.  Typically, I will write these three things on a Post-it note and keep it in front of me in my office.  These are three important things that I really want to get done that day.  Now I also use Nozbe, an excellent organizer.  I have lists of action steps I need to take regarding a number of projects.  I also have a list of action items that are fairly urgent.  However, when it comes to the “must do’s” for the day, I have found a list of three to be very helpful.

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morningThink big thoughts

Some years ago, I heard former Pepperdine president Bill Banowsky in a speech reflect on how he considered the people he wished to hire for key leadership roles in his administration.  I remember at one point he would ask regarding the various candidates for a position:  “Is he capable of high-level thinking?”What about you?  Do you ever let your mind soar?  Do you envision contributing to the solution of a problem that seems far above your reach?

Stretch your mind

Are you reading something that makes you think?  Do you have to occasionally look up the definition of a word that is used?  Are you reading anything that is challenging and that really gives your mind a workout?  Far too many people rarely stretch their minds.  Instead, they watch hours and hours of mind-numbing television or they will only read something that takes little effort.  What about you?

Be intentional with your attitude

There are many factors that affect your attitude.  Your upbringing.  Your habits.  Your situation in life. However, you can choose the narrative you wish to play out.

This is something I’ve had to work on.  I remember once realizing that I had chosen an attitude that basically went something like this: “I know what to do.  I would do that if it weren’t for (blank).”  Then I would give myself a pass for not accepting that particular challenge because, after all, something was lacking.

Now, when I get up each morning, I consciously think about my attitude as I face the day.  I want to remember that each day is a gift from God and my attitude toward the day really can impact how the day goes.

Clear out the clutter

A few times each week, I will stop what I am doing and clean off my desk.  For some reason, I do better work when I am not engulfed by stacks of books, papers, etc..  In fact, sometimes I become more creative after doing this.  It is also important that I clean the clutter out of my head.  If I don’t do this, I can allow my mind to become littered with negative, resentful, and fearful thoughts. Harboring these thoughts is time and energy consuming.

Most mornings, I begin my day with my Bible, my journal, and a book I am reading currently.  Part of this time is spent in prayer.  I have found that after reading Scripture, in the quietness of the morning, I often realize the clutter that is already clamoring for time and energy.  I find that if I pray, and even journal, about these unproductive thoughts, I am more likely to focus on God and his desire for me to be attentive to him that day.

Be deliberate with your time  

In a recent podcast, Ray Edwards said that each day when we are working, we typically plan, prepare, or perform. I like the simplicity of this.  As I look at my day, I have found it helpful to think in term of blocks of time allotted for various tasks.  Usually, I will begin the day with five or fewer tasks that I really want to get done.  These tasks often involve some degree of planning and preparation that results in the performance of the task.  So, I need to ask myself, when am I going to do these tasks today?

If you are not deliberate with your time, you may find that it is far too easy to spend a lot of time aimlessly texting, reading e-mail, checking the Facebook feed, and looking at various blogposts throughout the day.


Which one of these do you especially have to work on?

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fluoride_toothpasteWhat do you expect when you wake up each day?

For some people, waking up to another day is no big deal.

  • Same paralyzing problems.
  • Same bad habits.
  • Same negative attitude.
  • Same procrastination.

What if you woke up to more?

What if you believed that the living God was active and moving right in the middle of the ordinary moments of your day?

In David Rohrer’s fine book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (p. 41), he discusses the ministry of John the Baptist and has some very fine comments about a person’s calling.  The context here is congregational ministry, but I think his point might be helpful to most anyone who is a Jesus-follower.

The prophetic tradition points us in a direction where we see our call not in terms of running the institutions we lead but in terms of inviting people to wake up to God.  If we look at the call narratives for Isaiah and Jeremiah, it doesn’t take long to see that institutional reform is not the thing that is primarily on God’s mind.  What is on God’s mind is that the people who have fallen asleep might have a messenger who would invite them to wake up out of their religious slumber and pay attention to the truth that the living God was in their midst. 

In order for me to practice this, I have to intentionally begin my day remembering this reality.  Otherwise, I simply wake up to another ordinary day and allow it to be shaped by my attitude, my habits, and my anxiety.

So here is how I would like to live today.  Perhaps this will be helpful to you as well.

  • Today, I want to move through my day believing that God is living and active in the ordinary moments.
  • Today, I want to stay awake.  I don’t want to doze off in my religious slumber and totally miss what God will be doing today.
  • Today, I want to pay attention.  I want to look for the gracious hand of God instead focusing on what is lacking, what is wrong, and what is inadequate. 

Maybe you would like to join me in this pursuit.  Don’t worry about having it all together.  Don’t worry about whether or not you will maintain this perspective throughout the day.

Just start!


Which one of these three challenges, each of which begins with the word “Today,” do you need to remember today?


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assumptionsJohn Dickson tells the story of some young men who got on a bus in the mid-1930s and attempted to pick a fight with one of the riders. This man was sitting in the back of the bus by himself.

At first they tried a few verbal taunts. He said nothing.

Then the insults got more intense. He still said nothing.

Finally, the bus came to a stop.

The man stood.  He was much bigger than what the boys had realized.  He reached into his pocket, handed the boys his card, and quietly walked off the bus.

The boys crowded around the card eager to read it. The card read:

Joe Louis, Professional Boxer

As many of you know, Joe Louis was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949 and is considered by many to be one of the greatest boxers ever.

These boys had made some assumptions about the man at the back of the bus.  They didn’t realize that the man was actually the great Joe Louis.

Some of us make wrong assumptions about others, about life, and even about God.  For years, I made so many wrong assumptions.  I passively thought that life would finally be very good if I were just given the opportunity I wanted.  At times, I assumed the negative.   Sometimes I started the day thinking that the day’s problems and obstacles would prevent me from having a good day.

I want to share with you four assumptions you can make that will actually help you this week.  These will help you as you live, work, and relate to others, whether co-workers, friends, or family.

Today, let me encourage you to consider the following.

1.  Assume that you will experience interruptions and distractions.  You will need to decide how you will deal with the interruptions.  It could be that the interruptions are more important than what you have planned.

2.  Assume that you will need to extend grace to others.  Sometimes our expectations of people are unreal!  After all, don’t you need the grace of God on a daily basis?  Instead of being shocked, remember that some people are going to drive rudely.  Some people are going to be too abrupt with you.  Some people are not going to follow through on their commitments.  Wake up each day knowing that if this is a normal day, there will be the opportunity to extend grace.

3.  Assume that you will have opportunities today.  Many people go through their day totally focused on frustrations, obstacles, and barriers.  Why not look for opportunities?  Is there an opportunity for you to grow?  Is there an opportunity for you to stretch?  Is there an opportunity to serve someone?

4.  Assume that you have enough time to do what really needs to be done.  As you think about your time, you may wonder how you could possibly squeeze anything else in.  However, it might be useful to think about how much time you are spending on Facebook, Twitter, your? blog, your website, etc.  How much time do you spend chasing down meaningless information on the Internet?


What else can you assume about life?


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to-do-listDo you ever find yourself putting off a task and as a result, it remains on your to-do list day after day?

I am thinking of a particular task that stayed on my to-do list for three weeks.  Every single day, I looked at that entry.  I needed to take action regarding a particular situation.  Instead, I let it linger.

I was procrastinating.  I put off doing what I knew needed to be done.

For awhile, every time I looked at that entry on that to-do list, I felt guilty and frustrated.  Finally, I felt nothing.  Day after day that item remained on my list and I no longer saw it.

I am not sure why I did this.  I suspect that one factor was fear.

Can you relate to this?

A few suggestions:

1.  Make sure that everything on your to-do list is actionable.  “Prepare sermon series” really doesn’t say much.  It is vague and has no specific action.  Better to say, “Write titles and purpose statements for six possible sermons for new series.”

2.  If an item seems big and overwhelming, break it down into step you need to take and then work on one of these tasks.  For example, instead of “Work on Bible class,” you might break this down into steps:

*   Create handout

*   Verify the details of the opening story

*   Review film clip

*   Read article regarding background information

A list of specific actions is much easier to address than a vague statement.

3.  Make a list of any actions you are avoiding.  Consider the emotional reaction you have to seeing a particular item on the list.  Is it fear?  Do you feel overwhelmed?  Do you feel a sense of dread?  Pray regarding these feelings.

4.  Take action on one of these tasks during your peak time of the day.  In other words, instead of using your peak energy time to look at Facebook or comment on someone’s blog, you might take action toward something that you’ve been avoiding.  Don’t wait until you have an energy lull to then look at what you want to avoid.


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What holds you back?BabeRuth.jpeg

What keeps you from doing what you know you need or want to do?

Maybe you’ve said what I’ve said at times:

If only I had the money.
If only I had the time.
If only I had the right person/people to help me.
If only I had the right opportunity.
If only I could get the right break.
If only I didn’t have this other obstacle in my way.

What about you? Have these been your words?

Far too often, I put off taking action because I didn’t think I was prepared. These were often my words (at least in my mind):

I don’t know enough.

Now if you had asked me how my knowledge was lacking, I don’t know that I could have answered you. Far too often, my thinking was rooted in insecurity and fear rather than a serious assessment of the situation.

These days I’m thinking differently.

These days I ask, “What is the first step that I need to take?”

So often, I have found that if I will take the first step, then I am already down the road. I then have a better idea of what to pray for. I know more about how to trust in God at that point. Trusting God becomes a reality instead of something I think about while I remain immobile.

What holds you back?

Do you simply need to take the first step?

This week, what is the first step that you need to take?
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Life at street level is often difficult. Sometimes, it is very difficult.sunrise3.jpg

It is Monday, the beginning of a new week, but you may feel no optimism nor sense of anticipation about the week. Instead you feel a heaviness as you think about a particular problem in your life.

You may be single.   

You may be a young mother.

You may be a minister.

You may be a business person.

The roles and experiences may differ, but so often we share very similar feelings. You may know what it is to wake up early in the morning (maybe too early) and feel:

Disappointed–The job just hasn’t worked out. You really thought this was the right job and now you just aren’t sure.

Embarrassed–You can’t believe some of the recent decisions your child (married and in his late 20s) has made. You wonder at times where you failed as a parent.

Anxious–You realize you are completely over your head in dealing with a particular problem. You feel as if you have no options.

Sad–You grieve over recent losses. A death in the family. Close friends divorce. You lose your job. Now you are having some health problems.

Alone–You are not sure what to do about your marriage. You haven’t told anyone about the situation you are dealing with.

On one occasion, I woke up very early one morning. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness. At the moment, I don’t remember what exactly triggered that sense. I suspect, however, it was rooted in some kind of disappointment. As I sat at our kitchen table during those early morning hours, I felt very discouraged. Yet, this discouragement was not permanent.

Again and again, I have been encouraged during these times by the faithfulness of God. In particular, I am encouraged by his promise to be a forever presence in our lives.

“I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:19-20)

Even as I write these words this morning, I think about how much I need this reminder for this new week.

God is faithful.


What is particularly encouraging to you when you feel overwhelmed by discouragement?

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Does it ever pass quickly!

Today, I am looking into the eyes of my infant grandson.
Today, I am talking with his mother, our 28-year-old daughter.
Today, I am having a conversation with our 23-year-old daughter about her upcoming wedding.

Next week, I will get another haircut. I will ask the stylist the question I often ask: “Does it look like I have even more gray?” She will answer as she usually does: “Be thankful you have hair.”

End of that conversation.

All of this reminds me that I don’t have time for some things.

1. I don’t have time to waste on things that don’t matter….I have plenty of time for the things that count.

2. I don’t have time to get moody, self-centered, and irritable….I do have time to love my wife and children.

3. I don’t have time to wallow in the past at what might have been….I do have time to focus on what God wants to do in my life today.

4. I don’t have time to play self-importance games (Whom do you know? What kind of house do you live in? What have your kids accomplished? What are you driving?)….I do have time to build up others and forget myself.

5. I don’t have time to coddle worldly, immature Christians whose idea of church is getting their way….I have plenty of time to love fellow Christians who may express a variety of opinions.

6. I don’t have time to be a peacemonger (doing whatever it takes to keep others from getting upset)….I do have time to be a peacemaker (loving people no matter what).

7. I don’t have time to play it safe. My life will soon be over….I do have time to risk. I can trust God who has promised to never leave me or forsake me.

8. I don’t have time to whine and blame others for being obstacles….I do have time to take responsibility for my own actions and behavior.

9. I don’t have time to complain and focus on the negative….I do have time to speak a word of hope to people who are overwhelmed by heartache.

10. I don’t have time to settle for the mediocre….I do have time to be passionate about what matters most to God.


Time is moving quickly. What do you have time for this week?

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Every morning is new.morning.jpg

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

(Lamentations 3:22-24)

This morning many of us will begin a new work week. Consider how you might be more intentional about your week:

1. Choose to begin the new week by praying about what God might do in your life this week.

Pray for each person who you will be dealing with this week. Pray for your meetings. Pray for your conversations. Most of all, pray that you will be the husband, wife, father, mother who God has called you to be.

2. Choose to begin the new week by intending to bless those with whom you interact.

Some people do not bless but have a way of making regular withdrawals with people. They say something rude, self-centered, or obnoxious. Other people don’t make withdrawals but they don’t add anything of value to the conversation either. These people are so focused on themselves, they think a conversation is all about themselves. They are totally focused on what they want to say. Other people bless conversations. They encourage, build up, and bring out the best in people.

3. Choose to begin the new week by adding margin to your day.

Are you generally late? Do you pack your schedule too tightly? Do you find yourself leaving your house at the last minute only to discover that you are out of gas and your cell phone is about to die? Does this kind of thing happen again and again? This week choose to add margin. Choose to leave early instead of the last minute. Choose to think ahead and prepare. Taking care of the “little” things, like getting gas for the car, charging the cell phone, and leaving early instead of late can help you feel calmer about the day. You will be fresher and more fully present.

4. Choose to begin the new week by looking at your calendar for the week.

Look at the commitments and activities you have scheduled for each day. What projects are you working on this week? What errands do you need to run this week? What calls do you need to make? Who do you need to contact? Think about these before the week begins.


What habit or practice is particularly helpful to you as you begin a new week?

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