What do we do when we want to start the day with God? We know that Jesus himself got up “while it was still very dark” (Mark 1:35) to take time to pray. It has been a habit of many Christians through the years to begin their day with prayer, from the monks who wake early for their “morning office” to the man from the church of my teen years who worked a long and intense twelve-plus hour day yet who would get up at 4:00 in the morning so that he had a lengthy time to pray and read Scripture before heading out to his task. We have a sense that we want to start the day with God, both to acknowledge God’s presence as the starting point of everything and to hear God’s voice. How do we do it? What do we do?

A song called “Maybe You’re Right,” by the Welcome Wagon, expresses the challenge many of us feel:

Maybe you’re right, I can’t explain: up before light saying your name.

This is a prayer, this is a show. This is a game but it’s all I know

how to do…

Jesus, I’m here, please let me in. All that I have are all of my sins.

We have our moments when we realize that all we can really do is present our flawed selves before the Lord in the morning and trust that he knows what to do with us. But still we wonder if there’s something more—or something different—that we could be doing.

I’m not writing this post because I have the answers, although the answers are probably fairly simple in their broadest outline: spend time listening, spend time speaking. Or, in the words of Stevie Wonder, “Have a little talk with God.” Rather, I’m writing this post to acknowledge that no matter how long we’ve been at it, most of us at one point or another find ourselves a bit “spiritually dry,” as we put it, browsing our Bibles to figure out what we should read next, or struggling to really pray when at least half of our mind is already working out breakfast or the many errands and tasks that need to be juggled as the day goes on.

Personally, one of the things I find a challenge has to do with Scripture, both what to read and how much. I like to have a plan, because I know that left to myself I will traverse the same biblical territory over and over, even if I don’t notice I’m doing it. But when I have a plan, this immense pressure to get the reading done means that I’m not always reading to hear the voice of God. I’m reading to check the box. Personally, I don’t want to give up on the value of reading broadly in the Bible. If we don’t keep reading the whole story we will lose the perspective we need to read any of it well. But I also know that I need to slow down and linger over small passages, to let them really sink in—and to let me sink in to them.

Another challenge is about supplemental reading, devotional reading. Here I’m talking about the kind of books or pieces that deal with Scripture themselves and then interpret a message for us. The value here is high: we are sharing in a conversation with others who are trying to hear God’s voice. But the risk is also high: we can easily start dealing with God at second hand rather than personally engaging him. We have to guard against become like Simon the magician who, when Peter told him to pray to the Lord for forgiveness and freedom from sin, begged out of the process, asking Peter to do the praying for him. I want to listen to the voices of others who are listening to God, but I want them to help me learn to listen, not do my listening for me.

I imagine I’m not alone in these dilemmas. But sometimes naming the problem helps us through it.

So I keep on making plans to read through the whole Bible. And I keep on trying to make space to listen up close to the various parts of Scripture through which God speaks. I seek to understand the story, and I aim to be a person at prayer whenever I have a Bible open in front of me. I listen to the words of others, especially from the past, because the same God is active now who was active then. I guard against haste, as hard as it is to silence the screaming list of things to do. And I offer a post like this one, as a means of doing what Hebrews 3 reminds us to do when it says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”