4am. Joseph’s alarm went off with a cricket’s chirp that he had trained himself to wake up to but also did not disturb his wife’s sleep. Quietly as possible he crept into the living room and drank down a vitamin packed drink. He had been drinking this nearly every day for years and he felt as though it was building up his immune system. In his mind he tried to shift his self-talk. Left to itself his mind was trying to convince him that this morning discipline stuff was a waste of time. His mind directed him to go back to sleep. Joseph pushed back the temptation but still questioned himself. He had been doing this for years and could not really see any major benefits from getting up early. But he did recognize that those days where he gave into the voice and went back to sleep that he was not as productive.
Making his way to the couch Joseph opened his prayer book and cried out to God on behalf of people that he had met over the years. Often, he would also include some prewritten prayers. In the morning this seemed to help him overcome prayer ADHD. With his mind focused his real purpose of this time was not really a shopping list of needs to bring to his Creator, but rather a deep desire to connect and be able to hear from God.
His final prayer of this morning session always was the same. From the prophet Samuel he had learned to pray out, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” He would pray that and purposely try to empty his mind so that he might hear that still small voice.
Joseph then put on his work out clothes that he had set out the night before. He loved this time of year because he did not need any winter gear. Sliding on his headphones, Joseph met his dog outside of the garage. Together they walked through the woods where Joseph did fifteen pull ups and then walked back through the woods to his garage. Stopping on the driveway Joseph pushed himself to do fifty push ups and then started running. As he ran his headphones played podcasts that taught him more about being a Godly leader. Often these podcasts challenged him to be a better father, a better husband or more. Nearly every day while he was running the country roads whether through these podcasts or just flitting along, he would receive an answer to that last prayer. God would speak. Joseph answered as the prophet Isaiah had, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Joseph was always touched when he heard from God. Usually it was encouragement from His Savior to continue in the work. Occasionally, it was correction or even direction of things to do that day. By the time he returned to his house he knew that he needed to get to his journal to take some notes. But first he fed his wife’s chickens.
After journaling, he would realize that he simply could not do what God had called him to do so he prayed the third part of the prayer. “Fill me with a double portion of your Spirit.” He had added that several years prior when he had read that the prophet Elisha had made that request of his own mentor.
Joseph then opened the Bible and read five psalms, one proverb and six pages of Scripture. Then he sat back and meditated on what He had just read. Were there any fresh insights? Anything new? In the silence Joseph listened. He desperately wanted to hear from God clearly every day however sometimes he was just too distracted. While he was certain God was speaking, he simply could not hear Him through the noise. Breathing in deep, Joseph tried to still his mind and focus. This morning he had read about Moses losing his temper with the children of Israel. Amid that frustration, Moses had struck the rock instead of speaking to it. With that act of disobedience Moses had lost his opportunity to lead the people into the promised land. Joseph sighed. How many times had he snapped or become sarcastic as he had tried to lead organizations or even something like his small little classes? Joseph wept.
Before breakfast, Joseph opened up his phone and one of his favorite apps that would tell him about some country in the world with specific prayer requests. This never failed to make him wish to be able to travel the world and share the Gospel with the lost or encourage believers in foreign lands. “Maybe someday.” Joseph journaled his remaining thoughts and went to the kitchen.
While he thought maybe variety might be better, Joseph liked the simplicity of fried eggs and because of the chickens they typically had plenty in stock. The silence of the house soothed him as he slowly chewed his food and thought about the day ahead. When he was finished with the meal, he would do the dishes as an act of service. He never wanted his wife to have to do his dishes in the morning.
Grabbing a cup of coffee Joseph opened his laptop and opened the local paper. Skimming different articles would grab his attention as he sipped his coffee. “The world is definitely broken,” he thought as he so often did while reading the news. The pain and heartache that he would read about as only marginally offset by the fun stories about fairs or achievements of locals.
The paper complete, Joseph would again pull out his journal and ask himself some personal questions based on Scriptures that he had pulled together over the years. He was terrified of being like so many that simply checked the box of calling themselves Christians. He was determined to live His faith but wanted to do this daily self-check to ensure that he was on track. With a deep breath, Joseph grabbed a professional magazine and read a few articles before turning on the coffee for his wife. At exactly six am he would deliver the coffee to the table beside her, kiss her on the forehead and move slowly out of the bedroom.
After reading a few more articles, Joseph again pulled out his journal and reviewed some memory verses and worked on memorizing a few more. At exactly six-thirty, Joseph started getting ready for the day.
The alarm clock was blaring and the lump under the covers was not moving. Clothing was strewn all about the room. An investigator would have thought the whole room was a crime scene. One of those plug-in air fresheners was giving it all it had but was failing miserably as the stench of sweaty clothes and body odor was overwhelming. The lump suddenly groaned and rolled over. Eric struck the alarm and looked at the alarm. His eyes tried to focus on the digital numbers, but they remained blurry. Blinking several times and seeming to have his answer he tried to think what day it might be. For a moment, Eric thought that it was Saturday and his heart swelled with joy and just a touch of annoyance at having left his alarm on. As he laid back down on his pillow, he suddenly realized that it was Tuesday and he needed to get going. He always planned his life so that he got the maximum amount of sleep. After almost twenty minutes he rolled out of bed and looked around the room for clean clothes to wear. Not finding any he pulled what smelled the least worst from a pile in the corner of the room and got ready.
Sunshine filled the room. Julie jumped out of bed. Unlike most people, she loved mornings. There was nothing that gave her more bliss than sitting on her back patio with a cup of coffee and she raced to the kitchen to get things rolling. She was almost dancing as she emptied the filter and the grounds from yesterday into the trashcan. Opening the cabinet where she kept the coffee she stared with unbelief. Quickly she grabbed a chair to look more clearly into the shelving where she kept the coffee. “No, no, no.” With horror she realized that there were no coffee nor coffee filters. Her mind took her back to the day before and she remembered that she had used the last of the coffee. Looking at the wastebasket, Julie considered for a moment using the old grounds but decided against it. If she hurried, she could stop by the coffee shop on her way to class.
Sarah and Mike sat in front of Pastor Dumas. Pastor Dumas was in his early sixties and very energetic, not just for his age but for any age. He was impeccably dressed though it was early in the day. For over thirty years he had been leading this church through seasons of storms and seasons of rejoicing for years. He had done countless counseling sessions over the years. Most were of the prenatal variety. He always thought that was important but also knew that most would not do so if he had not made it a requirement to be married at the church. Many times, he tried to convince couples that they really needed ongoing marriage counseling. Most couples seem to wait until there was an overwhelming amount of pain before coming to him or one of the other pastors for help. Pastor Dumas, himself, had been married for thirty-five years now. As he sat across from this couple, he reflected on all of the times that he had invited relationship experts to speak into his marriage. He had the habit of talking to couples that had been married for several decades and garner as much advise that he could gather. Overall, he was happy with his marriage but always sought to improve it.
Typically, in situations like this one of the couples, usually the guy, would be stoic and sit with his arms crossed as if he was angry. Most of the time his appearance of anger was just a cover for his feeling of failure because he could not fix his marriage problem. Additionally, he was not sure what the problem was that he could not fix. She had tried to explain it, but it made no sense. He saw himself as sacrificing and giving to his wife. He almost always saw himself as a great provider. Now the woman was always unpredictable. She might be crying but in recent years that was not typical. Now what was more typical was that she would by angry.
However, today was not typical. Both Mike and Sarah were crying. Pastor Dumas cleared his throat and allowed them a moment to try to gather themselves. A few minutes went by and what had started as light weeping had evolved into deep sobs. A few minutes later they were both into ugly cries of agony. Pastor Dumas prayed quietly and chose not to interrupt.
The last night of any class was always a struggle for Joseph. Relationships would continue. He still had contact with students from many of his early classes. As he recalled his flawed teaching, his sometimes lack of attention it was amazing that any of those early classes had any success. But despite his own efforts many had achieved a measure of their hopes and dreams. With many he could update information as it became available. It gave him great comfort to realize while still not perfect, he had been able to continue to learn and grow consistently over the years. If the students received nothing else, ultimately if they could realize that deliberate investment into their own growth paid exponential dividends.
The students were somber as they came in. They too could sense that this was the end of something and unlike graduations tonight there was a deep sorrow almost a feeling of grief. Tonight, nobody grabbed any snacks and only Sarah took a cup of tea.
“Let’s say that I was to offer you a job. This job would require you to work 1 hour a day. Reasonable sweat will be spent on this job. I will tell you that it is doable but not cushy. The entire project will only last about 30 days. On day one I will pay you one penny. Each day I would double the amount that I paid you the day before. How many of you would take that job?”
They all seemed to be doing the math in their heads. Samuel was the first to volunteer. Julie scrunched up her face and hummed quietly to herself. The others ultimately reluctantly decided to play along.
“So, on day one you get your penny and go home. Likely you are thinking this just is not worth it so you might contemplate quitting. But that would be a mistake.” Joseph smiled and paused for dramatic effect.
“On day two you get two pennies. Again, it simply does not seem worth it. Then the next day you get a whopping four cents. This is hard work now. You are feeling like you are getting nowhere. But hang in there. When you get to day 20 you will be getting $5242.88 for that hour. Not too bad. We still have ten working days left! Day thirty will give you $5,368,709.12 for that one hour of work. My friends that is what habits are like. Developing habits and including them in your life will bring you happier relationships. They will bring you better health, better knowledge and wisdom. I must also warn you though that negative habits and even no discipline also works in a similar fashion. The only real difference is that instead of a paycheck at the end you get the bill. The first few days of a bad habit don’t seem to negatively impact you that much. But ultimately they kill you.”
The students seemed to have new appreciation for the discipline of healthy habits and smiled broadly, even Julie seemed to grasp how this might benefit her.
“These habits should be built over time so that you can learn to manage them and be added to in a way that is not exhausting. Remember these are new skills. Additionally, unless you are professional athlete, but even then, you should strive to be well rounded. Everyone can benefit from some physical disciplines. Things like exercise, nutrition and rest can deeply impact all other areas. But also include relationship habits. These might include reading books, listening to podcasts and then practicing the things that they talk about in those programs.”
Sarah considered that and thought about how Mike had started bringing her coffee, holding doors and taking her on dates again. He would listen to her. Maybe that is where he got that stuff, she thought.
“You should set up habits to build your social skills, your work skills and your knowledge base. But again, don’t try to do too much all at once. Some of these habits could be daily, others weekly or monthly or even annual.”
After a season of questions and answers, Joseph prayed a blessing over each one and asked God to encourage them and help them all to grow.
“A realization that I recently as I was reading through the Scriptures.” Joseph took a deep breath.
“David is recorded in the Bible as being a man after God’s own heart. I guess I always thought that he was just born that way. My soul was perplexed because he was definitely not a man after God’s own heart when he did the whole Bathsheba thing. So I kept reading and rereading. I meditated on those passages and I asked God to bring understanding to how this could be. David was a man and if he is a man after God’s own heart the standard seems low. But then God took me to the final prayer of David.”
Joseph pulled his tattered Bible out and turned to 1 Chronicles and began to read from verse 10.
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.
“What I see in that prayer is a man of praise. I see a man of humility. I see a man that trusts God for all things. We see a man of gratitude and so much more. That is the conclusion to His life. That is where we actually see him as a man after God’s own heart. I know that some of you struggle with the whole concept of God. But that is the ultimate target when you are making your life plans. When you are establishing these habits and living a full and abundant life. I encourage you not to simply do habits to do habits. Experiment try new things and build a productive life. I believe in you.”
All of the students were crying a little now. Saying their goodbyes, they all made their way through the door. Joseph left all alone, also wept.
While all of them had assorted plans they decided to stick together and went to a small Mexican restaurant to eat together. None of them felt like going home just yet.
Eric did great Joseph impersonations. Julie told stories about her childhood and ultimately told everyone about her work opportunity. Life was looking up for all of them. After much laughter and some tears, they all went home.
Project 1: List 1 thing that you could do daily spiritually, on thing physically, one thing mentally and one thing socially that would help focus you in all four areas.
Project 2: Create a series of promises to yourself to do those daily. Example: When the alarm goes off, I will get out of bed and walk to the living room. When I walk into the living room in the morning, I will drink 16 ounces of water, after I drink 16 ounces of water I will read my Bible, etc.
Project 3: Consider your living and dead guy council. What are some of their daily habits?
Project 4: Consider those closest to you. What are their daily habits?