Six tips for starting your day as a co-creator with God.
I have a hunch the the Bible has nearly all the best advice for starting your day- yes, Today, Now, THIS DAY! Readers of this blog will know that the web is awash with advice, especially the easily packaged kind that fits a catchy format: ‘Ten tips for health social relationships.’ ‘Maximise your potential in life!’ ’17 Ways You Can Be A Better Person Than You Were Yesterday’ Seventeen?! That’s not so catchy- surely they could have put in three more to round it off to twenty. Or maybe you’re intrigued by the odd number and so want to check it out. I learned two things when I glanced over some of those sites. One is that much of the advice is the same, and presented in a rather trite way. I know- folk often complain that ‘common sense’ isn’t half as common as it ought to be, so now I’m being hard to please. The second is that the value of the advice may be somewhat compromised. The author is seeking my attention- to get me to listen to them, to click their buttons, to subscribe to their channel, and buy their app/ book/ commit to supporting their career. They may have fantastic things to pass on, but can I really trust what they are saying- can I trust them?
The Christian disciple discovers the need to be discerning. Yes folk, there’s a spiritual gift for that. (Free download at 1 Corinthians 12:10 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2012:10&version=ESV. Check it out!!) Much of that common sense advice I read is actually really good and we’d all be smart to adopt more of it. That’s not ‘being conformed to this world’- that’s wisdom! But at the same time, ‘Broad is the way that leads to destruction…’ The thing about wisdom is that if you haven’t already got it in abundance- who has??- you’re not quite sure what it is. I don’t think it’s just me. I need help.
“Beware blind guides!”
When we get to the end of the road of life, how much of that ‘good advice’ will prove to have been really valuable? What are the long term effects of following the seventeen tips? I put it to you that behind the advice are assumptions about what we could be as human beings, and what purposes we might be here for. We need to evaluate the motives of the would-be motivator. Best of all, we need a reliable guide. That’s someone who knows the whole journey, thoroughly explored the territory, and thrives in Life– they are so much more than a survivor of their experiences. Who could that be, and where is their website?!
This week I listened to a guy called Pete who claims to have widely researched the things that high performing people do in their mornings- how they start their day1– and distilled his insights down into six simple statements. That’s what academics call a meta-analysis; a study of existing studies. One study, one claim, one researcher could be wrong, even downright deceiving, but an overview of many studies on the same thing should iron out such pitfalls. But the researcher doing the meta-analysis also needs to be checked out. I couldn’t help thinking that much of what Pete had to say sounded familiar because it’s in the Bible, and for all I know about Pete right now, perhaps that’s no accident.
First off, I note there are six things in his list, which is a format he repeats in his coaching. My very first post in this blog was a product of morning prayer where a sister made reference to the Genesis days of creation. This speaks both of our sustained efforts during the week, and also crucially recognises the vital place of Rest; the Seventh Day, when God rested- and if you don’t get that is a big hint, let me spell it out for you. God’s Work in making God’s Cosmos has a built-in space for ‘not work’. Work is good and work is a gift; and it isn’t everything. Rest is supposed to be part of the repeating pattern of our lives. Let me say it again: God didn’t say He worked for a week of seven days and then finished everything and stopped working, as Almighty omnipotent God obviously could have done. Rather, Genesis sets out a repeating pattern for us, of working and resting, which is prophetic: there is more in God’s planning than just the work of this life. God’s rest is part of every week, and that is pointing forwards to something. Even in creation, God’s cosmos is pregnant with further potential.
So what did Pete claim to have distilled from his research of proven practice? Here’s his list, and just like a preacher’s sermon, it comes in an acronym: ‘SAVERS’.
All very reasonable, yes? My advice to us all is to check these out for their quality and reliability, and I’m suggesting that if we find evidence of application of these exercises in scripture, worked out in the context of a holistic scriptural worldview, then we can be more confident that these tips are well-motivated and compatible with eternal values. They will be worth doing. Remember, we are looking for depth, a sense of what really matters for our development; to set us up for the day so the world becomes different in a good way because we were in it. There’s nothing at all controversial in this list, I think we can agree. Make no mistake. Common wisdom can still be priceless wisdom. I’ve called myself a ‘common or garden theologian’- see my second post where I explain how our ‘common’ should be very much esteemed.
Silence. This may seem to be hard, or less of a challenge right now, depending on your family and living arrangements. We are at different stages of life. But more significant than changing external challenges is our internal dialogue. We can allow other voices into our heads -unhelpfully so. Indeed, some find that they wake up with a crowd of thoughts clamouring for attention, an ever-present flock of noisy seagulls. Just because the business of the new day is important, just because we want to care about stuff that needs fixing, just because… No! Stop! Not now, not just yet.
“Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side…” began Katharina von Schlegel in her hymn inspired by the words of Psalm 46;
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.Psalm 46: 10
The I AM is our first realisation. ‘In-beginning-God’ is a slightly better way to read Genesis 1:1a and this is to be our first breath of consciousness each day. There is a big pause at that colon of punctuation in Ps46. God also sees the big sheet of paper of a potential ‘to do’ list’: even God puts that on hold! ‘I will do this and that- the ungodly and all their rubbish, the earth and all that I will decide to do there,’ God says, ‘but it’ll all wait.’ Be still. Be. Still. What the online coaches don’t get quite so right is the fellowship that we are invited into in this waiting and stillness. This is not to be an empty stillness- we are not alone in the non-cosmos before creation. We are in God’s cosmos with God, Who is close by, and He tells us not to be empty in silence but full of knowledge of our covenant God.
Still in mind, still in body, still in thoughts, in all our meditation, in our internal dialogue. At the glorious moment of revelation, “My Lord and my God!” cried the believing disciple.
…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.Isaiah 40:31 ESV
We are seated with Christ, we are told in Ephesians, in high heavenly places. Isaiah is seeing something of that, I think. Have you seen film of the view that condors and eagles enjoy as they soar the thermals above their mountainous habitats? All sounds of the hustle and bustle down on the ground are forgotten: just the sound of the wind moving by as the bird senses swirling currents, adjusting its feathers to glide without its own effort where the atmosphere flows. Indeed, the more accurately the bird follows the current, the less sound there will be. Sustained in silence. All at once: sitting still; soaring in the heavens.
Affirmation. Once we find our centring in our relationship with God, each of us individually, we are then well-placed to open our mouths and start to speak. What will we speak about? Our needs and wants? Better is possible. Our personal aims and priorities? There’s a time coming for that. The trouble with modern houses is that the foundations are only substantial enough to support the initial design. If you then want to extend your property, you’re stuck, because the foundations are limiting. What does Gen 1:1 tell us about God’s intentions? He created ‘heavens-and-earth’: that’s the complete and total vision from the outset. All of life will be possible; the potential for as-yet-unrealised life in spectacular diversity, even things that are not specifically mentioned in the creation chapters. Advanced planning permissions built in! One of the attractive points that wiser mentors like Pete make here is that there is no value in affirming lies about yourself just because you want them to be true. “I am rich OR I am famous OR I’ve won the TV competition!” Taking up the cross of Christ is death to such fancies. And that is what the words of Deuteronomy say to us: God has affirmed his options before His people, and we do well to align ourselves with Him, to affirm His will. Then we can find a place for affirmation of our ambitions in the fertile soil of His larger purpose.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”Deuteronomy 30:19,20
‘Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,’ says Jesus, ‘and all these things will be given to you as well.’ There is sword as well as Spirit in all these words, and though it is necessary to allow God to surgically remove certain hinderances from my life, once I have allowed God’s pruning through repentance, I find that ‘the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.’ (Psalm 16:6a)
“My God, you have given me Life! I choose You, and I choose Your Life. Thank you for establishing Your Kingdom; I seek Your Kingdom today, and through faith in Jesus receive Your righteousness. I revel in Your boundaries, that set in Your cosmos an expanse of freedom in which to create today with You.” Such prayerful affirmation is therefore grounded on the true foundation of Godself and God’s revealed intentions. We are encouraged to exercise ambitious responsibility for our own lives and for the impact that our lives can have on the communities in which we live and work; even for the whole world.
Visualisation. Following the silence, when we prioritise who we are, and even more importantly, ‘whose‘ we are, we can daily affirm the big vision we are living and working towards. Aim for the stars! Some people can make achieving big things look easy. That may well also be a lie, since their lives are far from ours and so we don’t really know them. We just don’t see the hard work. But the bar for success is going up all the time, so if we want to achieve greatness in life in some way or another, we all have to up our game. Elite performers in sport and the Arts talk about nurturing a mindset in which they visualise what they are going to do before they attempt it, and they actively rehearse this as they commence their next attempt. This is in addition to all of the actual gym work and training and rehearsal and sweat that everyone does just to get onto the stage, onto the track, into the race as a competitor. Those are absolutely necessary and there are no substitutes for all that. Who knows what percentage difference that visualisation makes to the winning performance? But the biblical testimony corroborates the claim- this is a sound principle.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.Philippians 4:10-13
I’ll guarantee that there are people reading this who are very familiar with verse 13, but were not expecting me to give the preceding lines as well. As I say, its a great principle, though the way the Spirit of God sometimes invites us to apply it will be pretty demanding. I’m not sure how many of the life-coach manuals will include Jesus’ pep talk on taking up one’s cross daily and following after Him. A friend recently told me that his grandmother had an addition to our Lord’s instruction, once rebuking him thus: “Carry your cross, don’t drag it.” That is the visualisation of a seasoned disciple!
What the motivational manual is missing is partnership, and I don’t mean human teamwork here. I’ll come back to that. Rather, I mean the teamwork that God invites you into with Godself. If this is a surprise to you, you may be new here: please explore the rest of my blog, and hang around while I keep reflecting on Abram and Sarai and Joseph and all the rest. God could do it all without us. OR God could leave us to it. Neither are His selected method. He invites us into a partnership of co-creation, just because He wants to. How this works varies in Genesis and with Elijah and Ruth and Eve and Adam… and with you and me. But this is what the word of prophecy is about. And words of knowledge and discerning of spirits. Joseph’s story starts with two dreams. It doesn’t say where they came from, but by the end of the very long Genesis account, God has been found out! Right here I’m simply going to say that how all these things work is complex and creative. There is no simple recipe in any of these means, as in, “God says that x is going to happen, so now sit by and watch it happen.” That wouldn’t be a co-creative partnership of agents – even vastly unequal agents as we are- that would be a computer program. No, all these means of visualisation are inclusive of our agency. And the prayer our Lord taught us is the most spectacular example of this. ‘Pray in this manner: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done!” ‘ If we don’t visualise and so pray, then it can’t happen- because God has ordained it in this manner.
Exercise. Now I’m not going to mess you about here. I can spin a yarn, as my readers will know, but I’m not going to do that now- teasing out some obscure passage to justify a point. Instead, I’ll say this: There is lots of good advice that isn’t in the Bible, and that doesn’t stop it being wisdom or valuable or world changing in a “very good” way. Wisdom that is compatible with ‘spiritual’ wisdom is still spiritual. As one brother puts it, ‘Everything is spiritual,’ even for the Christian. Including science and sport and working out. Far too many of us now lead highly sedentary lives that are bad for our bodies. My gut does not believe there will be jam tomorrow, so extra jam today becomes fat by tomorrow- unless I work it off with some extra miles. Scripture takes it for granted that we will use our God-given bodies for work. ‘If a man doesn’t work, he shall not eat,’ says Paul, in one of his rare lines that does not require theological explanation. We can now write the manual on why gluttony is not fitting for a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ (which is how Paul refers to the physical body of a Christian person in 1 Corinthians 6:19). Our growingly technologically-transformed lifestyles, lately doubled-down with uninterrupted working from home online, require us to take responsibility for what goes into our mouths, the daily exercise we attend to, and our overall attention to the health of our bodies, which benefit from the ever-more progressively advanced medical expertise known in human history. ‘To him who has been given much, much will be required.’ Pete recommends a seven minute, full body workout for all the office desk jockeys out there, as a non-negotiable part of his six part daily preparation for high performance. This is no ‘quack’ prescription! Indeed, I suggest that this truth demands as much repentance and ‘turning around the other way’ in our lives as any of our other common failings.
Reading. Oh wow. What a key ingredient this is! Our researcher-coach Pete puts it powerfully when he observes that we are only ever one book away from competence in any area of life we seek to excel at, both in business and our personal lives. Yet so many of us don’t commit even ten minutes a day to benefit from such insights. I have to testify that no other activity has had as much impact on my progress and personal development as reading, starting as a young person. Through reading we can come into deep and profound connection with experts who we will never meet, gaining priceless insights from their detailed reflections. You may think this obvious, but for too many Christians, there is an opportunity being missed here. The denominational divisions in the body of Christ are common knowledge, and while the choices that led to schism may lie generations in the past, we each stand to gain much by finding out what others think- what their distinctives are, which convictions they are committed to- what their stories are. Too many people of faith would be embarrassed to admit that, in truth, they follow the teaching of cults that forbid their members from reading anything other than the recommended writings of their core teachers and leaders. In our more sober moments- perhaps in some public context- we happily concede that we fully expect all Christian people to be united in God’s will in heaven in the hereafter. But this does not translate into an active engagement with folk who think and live out their faith differently today. Once again I emphasise that I have been encouraged to grow in more radical and impacting ways through my engagement with sources well beyond the typical limits of the reading list of my local circle and denomination. As a would-be theologian, that has included engaging with a wide range of saints and authors across the ages- and what a delight that has been! I now see how tragic our present state of small-mindedness is. Our personal discipleship is severely inhibited, and, inevitably, so is our influence in society as witnesses to New Creation Life in Jesus Christ.
[I must acknowledge that since YOU are reading this now, it is likely that I am now ‘preaching to the choir’ somewhat. Nevertheless, let’s reflect on how wide our (virtual) bookshelf is right now. Is this blog amongst the further places you’ve been from ‘home’? If it is, let me encourage you onwards to more distant lands and the friends that you can make there.]
The Word of God is described by Paul as having the same effect on our minds as taking a bath: washing of water by the word (Eph 5:26). It has become customary to apply this metaphor rather literally in this regard- all you need is the Bible. No need to consult commentaries, reference books or the opinions of theologians. Just read the Biblical scripture by itself and trust that God will teach us directly, illuminating and revealing truth to us personally and completely by God’s Spirit. I am happy to testify that this is, sometimes, even often; wonderfully! – my own experience. But as the poverty of attitude and narrow wisdom of this practice dawned on me some years ago, I can only urge my readers here to entertain this hypothesis- other experienced commentators from across the ages of the Church could offer a small dose of soap to your bathing water. Then the efficacy of our learning can be increased. I don’t want to say that these writers add to God’s revelation, but they certainly help me to appreciate what God has put in plain sight, but that may nevertheless remained concealed from my view, perhaps due to secrets of ancient grammar and context. There is a double-think practiced in many local churches: it is accepted that the preacher should consult a reference book, but the congregation is subtly discouraged from doing so.
Our engagement with the Bible needs to be much more multifaceted as a general rule. I was amazed to hear from a senior Catholic sister that she had only been permitted to read the Bible, and in English, rather than to hear it read in Mass in Latin, after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This certainly opened my eyes to the freedoms that Protestants have enjoyed in regard to personal scripture reading. But I wonder if her envy was somewhat misplaced, as our knowledge of the scripture, and our study of the deeper truths that we need wise assistance to understand, have generally been given so little attention.
Again, we Christians are too suspicious of our brethren. I quoted a brother a couple of paragraphs ago, but did not name him. I was afraid that you might judge what he said because of what else you might have heard about him. The list of ‘fallen’ leaders is growing rapidly at the moment, not to mention those who have fallen out of favour because of the allegiances they have developed during their lives, and so trespassing across our theological red lines. Yesterday’s fêted spiritual guide has become today’s pariah- ‘pariah’ was the name for a certain low caste Indian- a so-called ‘untouchable’. Jesus kept company with unconverted sinners, and notwithstanding our divine calling to holiness, Jesus continues to keep company with converted sinners. Some of what I say is deficient. Will you be wise enough to extend grace to me, and listen to what you hear God saying through me, despite my rank faults?
In brief, a similar point could further be made about our engagement with subjects beyond the traditional borders of Christian thinking. How can we bring a convincing apologetics and witness to aspects of modern life, such as in science and medicine, if we do not engage with writing and thought in these disciplines? A sermon should not be preached from the Daily Mail, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take notice of what is being said in newspapers, bring our Bibles alongside, and seek to apply the mind of Christ in us to what we find in society and culture.
Scribing is a pretentious word for ‘writing’ that completes the acronym SAVERS– Pete’s sixth recommendation for a would-be high performer starting their day. He’s not just talking about writing in general. Specifically, this is about a strategy for growing my effectiveness today. Chances are, since you are reading this, you know how to be busy- you are busy. You know what a ‘to do’ list is, and some idea about aims and objectives. But these are abstracted, impersonal things. Pete claims, though I’ve not seen his sources, that research shows that five minutes spent on structured reflective statements like these make a significant difference:
Three things I’m grateful for today.
And then the three most important things to do to make today a great day. What shall I attempt that will make the most difference?
Do you see how this structure translates the abstracted and impersonal into the very personal. This isn’t Pete’s tip for high achievement; its a tip for high achievers. It’s you and me that will, or won’t, make the difference in our work today. The attitude of gratitude picks up the threads of all that is there already, what’s in my past, what has been given to me, and orients me forwards. Gratitude is the powerful antidote we need to combat complaining, fault-finding and one-upmanship.
Opening the psalms, we find:
15 I will tell people how good you are.Psalm 71: 15-15 Easy to read version.
I will tell about all the times you saved me—
too many times to count.
16 I will tell about your greatness, my Lord God.
I will talk only about you and your goodness.
17 God, you have taught me since I was a young boy.
And to this day I have told people about the wonderful things you do.
There’s at least three concrete reasons for gratitude right there.
And perhaps three goals as well.
Is it me, or does the gratitude segue seamlessly into significant determination for action? We’ll all just have to try it and find out. I think Pete is right- I’m calling it. Focus on why my life is already amazing, rather than complaining, and test out the hypothesis that what we focus on becomes our reality.
I really appreciate how Pete concluded his workshop. We are desperate for quick results, he said, but listen. In looking back on a long journey of growth through adversity, no-one regrets a part of it, because, in hindsight, they are richer because of every lesson learnt. Sure- avoid downright stupidity if possible. But be at peace with the process; live and then work with urgency but not anxiety. I think St Paul would concur:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:4-6 ESV
Beginning the next day in meditative silence and stillness with God.
In addition to our personal prayerful grounding in God, affirm aloud with God who we find we are made to become in partnership in God’s Kingdom, declaring how our mission is a contribution to showing the Glory of God in this world.
Developing spiritual ‘dreams and visions’ inspired and blessed in God into visualisations of our service and daily work.
If significant exercise is not a part of your day at some other time, or perhaps even if it is, build in an early concentrated session to wake up and tune up your whole physiology.
A wider commitment to reading – our Bibles certainly- and so much more in addition, opens us to the parallel lives of saints and sinners from whom we can learn and benefit so much. In particular, we should repent of the false mindset that it is somehow spiritual to detach our working minds from our believing hearts. If you are a parent, ensure you model this with your children!
Aside from whatever else you write, make a point of scribing each day about what provokes you to gratitude- we so need to practise this!- and focus our ‘to do’ lists onto just (three) clincher outcomes. Three things to attempt that will have us shouting ‘Very good!’ at the end of the day.
I’ve tried to guide us through this process of assessing the worthiness of the common sense Pete drew out from his research. He has many more podcasts and tutorials, which I have not listened to. I can see this six point lesson is not meant to be comprehensive. But I’m going to say it here in my reflection. There’s something missing, and I promised it to you near the beginning. As a Christian, I am responsible, by myself, before God, for many things, and I can succeed in my today without anyone else being involved. Its just me and God, so I can’t blame anyone for my failures. But this ‘truth’ only applies up to a point. I can draw my salary on it, most of the time. I am a school teacher, most of the time, so ‘up to a point’ arrives pretty quickly in my working day! So I want to say here that teamworking needs to be a key part of our mindset as we tackle Pete’s prep track each day. How am I grateful for my co-workers, my students…? Am I ready to affirm them as I affirm myself? Can we visualise our success together?
And in the Church, this is multiplied a hundred times over. We have a idol in the midst- the idol of the individual ‘saint’. Yes, we Protestant folk who apparently were so zealous for God that we cheered as statues and icons were erased from church buildings have replaced the smashed up marble and whitewashed walls with … ourselves! ‘Its all about me,’ we whisper beneath our breath, hoping not to be caught out.
Paul taught us a different lesson about what happened when Jesus left his disciples to continue the work of announcing the biggest project in the history of the cosmos, the Kingdom of God:
11 And [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d]12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, …Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV The paragraph is very long, from v8 to 16. See the full sense there!
This is teamwork taken to a whole new level. Even if I am reading these tips with regard to my personal business venture, I am challenged to take account of this mindset. If what I am doing- my missioning- is truly compatible with the priorities of the Kingdom of God, then I am challenged to embrace this perspective. On their side, we need to show church leaders that there are ministers of Christ ‘out there’ in the marketplace, and all are to be brought together into functional unity.
Thanks Pete for your valuable analysis and practical encouragements. I have benefitted from your ‘reorientation’ and can now go back out into God’s garden, at peace in the knowledge of His constant partnership with me. I understand that my ‘gardening’ will be even more effective when I draw others closer to me- I admit I can’t really succeed by myself!- and share my skills and gifts with them as we work in the world alongside one another.
1 The Six Morning Habits of High Performers Pete Mockaitis on LinkedIn.
There are no pictures in this post. Visualisation is your job!
(c) 2021 Stephen Thompson