It somewhat tends to make a holy life more easy to us when we know the ordinary course and method of our duties, and everything falls into its proper place. Therefore, I shall here give you some brief directions for the holy spending of every day.
Proportion the time of your sleep aright (if it be in your power), so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep correspond to your health and labor, and not sensually to your slothful pleasure. The morning hours are the most precious of all the day, for all our duties. Those especially who are scanted of time must take it then for prayer, if possible, lest they have none at all.
2. Waking Thoughts
Let God have your first waking thoughts. Lift up your hearts to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night prior, and briefly cast yourselves upon Him for the upcoming day. Acquaint yourselves so constantly with this, that your consciences may check you whenever common thoughts shall first intrude. It will be a great help against the temptations that may otherwise surprise you, and a holy engagement of your hearts to God, for all the day.
3. Getting Dressed
Be resolved that pride and the fashions of the times shall never tempt you into such apparel as will make you long in dressing in the morning; but wear such clothing as is soon put on.
4. Morning Meditation
As far as your necessary occasions give leave, you may employ that time in some fruitful meditation or discussion with those around you, to think about or speak of such subjects as these:
- The mercy of a night's rest and of your renewed time
- How many spent that night in hell, in prison, or in a colder, harder lodging
- How many in grievous pain and sickness, weary of their beds and lives
- How many in distracting terrors of their minds
- How many souls that night were called from their bodies to appear before the awesome God
And consider how fast days and nights roll on—and how speedily your last night and day will come! Observe what is lacking in the readiness of your soul for such a time, and seek it presently without delay.
Unless more necessary duties call you away, let secret prayer by yourself alone go before the common prayers of the family, and do not delay it needlessly. If possible, let it be first, before any other work of the day. Yet do not be formal and superstitious to your hours, as though God had tied you absolutely to such a time, nor think that it is your duty to pray once in secret and once with family every morning, when more necessary duties call you off. What may be the best time for one may be the worst for another. For most, private prayer is most seasonable as soon as they are up and clothed; for others, some other hour may be more free and fit.
Those who do not have more necessary duties may do well to pray at each of the aforementioned opportunities. Reading and meditation, however, must be allowed their time also. But those who are not at such liberty, who are obligated to provide for their families, may not lawfully take so much time for prayer as some others may, but the tasks of their callings must be painfully undertaken.
And ministers, who have many souls to look after and public work to do, must take heed of neglecting any of this, that they may be longer and oftener in private prayer. Always remember that when two duties are at once before you, and one must be omitted, that you prefer—all things considered—that which is the greatest. Understand what makes a duty greatest: usually what is greatest tends to the greatest good, yet sometimes what is greatest at one time cannot be done at another time, when others may. Praying, in itself considered, is better than plowing, commerce, or discourse; and yet these may be greater than it in their proper seasons, because prayer may be done at another time, when these cannot.
6. Family Worship
Let family worship be performed constantly and seasonably, twice a day, at that hour which is most free of interruptions, and do not delay it without just cause. Make sure it is performed reverently, seriously, and spiritually.
Begin with a brief invocation of God's name and an earnest desire for His help and blessing through Christ, and then read some part of Holy Scripture in order. Either help the hearers to understand and apply it, or if you are unable to do that, then read some profitable book to them for such ends. If there be enough to do it fitly, sing a psalm. Earnestly pour out your souls in prayer.
If unavoidable occasions will not give way to all this, then do what you can, especially in prayer, and do the rest at another time. However, beware lest you try to cover up unwillingness or negligence under the guise of "necessity" so as to alleviate yourself from any duty.
The lively performance of family duties is a principal means to keep up the power and interest of godliness in the world; all of which decays when these grow dead, slight, and formal.
7. Keep in Mind Your Ultimate Purpose
Keep afresh in your memory your ultimate purpose when you set yourselves to your day's work or upon any notable business in the world. Let HOLINESS TO THE LORD be written upon your hearts in all that you do. Do no work which you can neither entitle God to nor legitimately claim that He set you about. Do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify, and enjoy Him. And remember that whatever you do must be done as a means to these, and as by one who is going on to heaven. All your labor must be as the labor of a traveler, which is all for his journey's end; and all your respect or affection to any place or thing in your way must be in respect to your attainment of the end—as a traveler loves a good way, a good horse, a good inn, a dry cloak, or good company; but nothing must be loved here, as your end or home. Lift up your hearts to heaven and say, "If this work and way did not tend there directly or indirectly, it is no work or way for me." "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
8. Diligence in Your Calling
Follow your employment carefully and diligently. From hence will follow many blessings:
- You will show that you are not sluggish and servants to your flesh, as those who cannot deny its ease; and you will further the mortification of all fleshly lusts and desires, which are fed by ease and idleness.
- You will keep out idle thoughts from your mind, which swarm in the minds of idle people.
- You will escape the loss of precious time, which idle people are daily guilty of.
- You will be in a course of obedience to God, when the slothful are in a constant sin of omission.
- You may have more time to spare for holy exercises, if you follow your employment diligently. Idle people have no time for praying and reading because they lose time by loitering at their work.
- You may expect God's blessing for the comfortable provision for yourself and family, and have enough to give to those in need. The slothful, however, have nothing to do good with, but are in need themselves, and cast by their poverty into abundance of temptations.
- It will also tend to the health of your body, which will make it the fitter for the service of your soul. Slothfulness wastes time, health, estate, wit, and grace—everything.
9. Temptations and Evil Company
Be thoroughly acquainted with your corruptions and temptations, and watch against them all day long—especially the most dangerous sort, including those temptations which your company or business will unavoidably lay before you. Be still watching and working against the master sins of unbelief, hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, sensuality, or flesh-pleasing, and the inordinate love of earthly things. Take heed lest, under pretense of diligence in your calling, you are drawn to earthly-mindedness and excessive cares or covetous designs for advancing in the world. If you are to trade or deal with others, beware of selfishness, which desires to obtain as much money as you can from others, for your own advantage. Take heed of all that resembles injustice or uncharitableness in your dealings with others.
If you converse with vain talkers, guard yourself against the temptation to indulge in vain speech. If you converse with angry people, fortify yourself against their provocations. If you converse with lewd people, or such as are tempting those of the opposite gender, maintain that modesty and necessary distance and cleanness of speech which the laws of purity require. If you converse with flatterers or those who greatly admire you, be fortified against swelling pride. If you converse with those who despise and injure you, be fortified against impatient, revengeful pride.
If you have servants who are still faulty, guard yourself against the temptation, that their faults may not make you faulty, and you may do nothing that is unseemly or unjust, but only that which tends to their amendment. If you are poor, be vigilant against the temptations that accompany poverty, lest it brings upon you an evil far greater than itself. If you are rich, be most diligent in fortifying your hearts against those more dangerous temptations of riches—which very few escape.
These things will at first be very difficult, while sin has any strength in you, but when you have formed a habitual apprehension of the poisonous danger of every one of these sins and of the tendency of all temptations, your heart will readily and easily avoid them with little effort and forethought.
10. Meditation in Solitude
When you are alone in your occupation, make the most of the time in practical and fruitful meditations (and not empty speculations). Let your chief meditations be on the infinite goodness and perfections of God, and the life of glory, which in the love and praise of Him you must live forever; and next let Christ, and the mysteries of grace in man's redemption, be the matter of your thoughts; and next your own heart and life. It is best if you are able to manage meditations methodically, but if doing so will hinder and distract you from your work, it is better to let your meditations be more short and easy; only let them be beneficial to your heart.
11. Behavior in Company
If you labor in company with others, maintain yourself with matter, skill, resolution, and zeal, to improve the time in profitable discourse and to avoid distractions.
12. Holy Motives in All Duties
Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, let the day be spent not merely in external bodily duties, but especially in the inward activity and exercise of the graces of the soul. Every external duty must have some internal grace to animate it, otherwise it is unacceptable to God. For example, when you are praying, the graces of faith, desire, love, repentance, etc., are to be exercised. When you are alone, meditation may help to actuate any grace as you find most needful. When you are conferring with others, you must exercise love to them and to that truth about which you are conferring, along with other graces as the subject shall require. When you are provoked or forced to suffer, you have patience to exercise.
It especially must be your principal daily business to keep your hearts warm in the love of God and your dear Redeemer by the exercise of faith and in the hopes and delightful thoughts of heaven. The love of God and of eternal life must be the constant tenor and constitution of the mind, as being the final grace into which the exercise of every other mediate grace culminates. Never take up any work unless your heart is also employed in it, and holy breathings after God or motion towards Him are in the sincere internal part of the duty which you perform to men. Justice and love are graces which you must still exercise towards all that you have to deal with in the world. Love is called the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10), because the love of God and man is the soul of every outward duty, and a cause that will bring forth these as its effects.
13. Redeeming the Time
Maintain a high value of time. Each day be more diligent not to waste any time than you would be not to lose any money. Do not allow worthless recreations, entertainment, idle talk, unprofitable company, or excessive sleep to rob you of any of your time; if they prove to be temptations, heighten your watchfulness and firm resolutions against them accordingly. Be more careful to escape that person, action, or course of life which would rob you of any of your time, than you would be to escape thieves and robbers. You must especially make sure not only that are you never idle, but also that you are doing the greatest good that you can with the time that you have—and do not prefer a lesser over a greater good.
14. Eating and Drinking
Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health, not for unprofitable pleasure. Most carefully avoid excess. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it tends to the detriment of your health. God calls us to deny our unnecessary, sensual delights, and to use the body so that it may be most serviceable to the soul and to Him. Eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness (Ecclesiastes 10:17).
Take heed of intemperance and excess. Let your diet incline rather to the coarser and cheaper than to the finer and costly sort—more to sparing abstinence than to fullness. I would especially advise those who are rich to write in great letters on the walls of their dining rooms these verses:
"Sodom's sins were pride, laziness, and gluttony, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door." (Ezekiel 16:49)
"There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed and who lived each day in luxury. … Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony!" (Luke 16:19, 25)
Paul wept when he mentioned those "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things, being enemies to the cross" (Philippians 3:18-19). O live not after the flesh, lest you die (Romans 8:13; Galatians 6:8; 5:21-24)!
15. Prevailing Sins
If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sin, immediately lament it and confess it to God. Do not spare the flesh or by excuses palliate the sore, but rather make haste to rise by a true and thorough repentance, immediately without delay, whatever the cost; for it will certainly cost you more to remain impenitent. Do not make light of your besetting sins, but confess them and daily strive against them, lest you aggravate them by impenitence and contempt.
Every day look to the special duties of your various relations: whether you are husbands or wives, parents or children, masters or servants, pastors or people, or magistrates or subjects. Remember that every relation has its special duty and advantage for the doing of some good, and that God requires your faithfulness in these as well as in any other duty. Furthermore, remember that in these a person's sincerity or hypocrisy is usually more tried than in any other areas of our lives.
17. Evening Worship
In the evening return to the worship of God—both as a family and individually in secret—as was directed for the morning. And do it all with seriousness, as in the sight of God and in the sense of your necessities; and make it your delight to receive instructions from the Holy Scriptures. Praise God and call upon His name through Christ.
18. Personal Inventory
If you have any extraordinary impediments one day to hinder you in your duty to God and man, make it up by diligence in the next. Likewise, if you have any extraordinary helps, make use of them, and do not let them slip away.
19. Daily Review and Self-Examination
Before returning to sleep, it is wise and necessary to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may:
- Be particularly thankful for all special mercies
- Be humbled for your sins
- Renew your repentance and resolutions for obedience
- May examine yourselves, whether your soul grew better or worse, whether sin or grace increased, and whether you are more or less prepared for suffering and death
However, be careful not to waste too much time in the ordinary accounts of your life. Rather, by a general and sincere repentance, bewail your unavoidable daily failings, and take refuge in Christ for a daily pardon and renewed grace. But in the case of extraordinary sins or mercies, be sure to be extraordinarily humbled or thankful.
Some think it is best to keep a daily catalog or journal of their sins and mercies; if you do so, do not be too particular in listing those things which are the matter of every day's return, for it will be but a temptation to waste your time and neglect greater duties; and the many daily recitations will make you grow customary and insensible of such sins and mercies. But let the common mercies be more generally recorded, and the common sins generally confessed—yet, neither of them being slighted—and let the extraordinary mercies, and greater sins, have a more particular observation. And yet remember that sins and mercies which are not appropriate for others to be acquainted with are more safely committed to memory than to writing—a well-humbled and thankful heart should not easily let the memory of them slip, anyway.
20. Retiring for the Night
When you prepare for sleep, again commit yourself to God through Christ. Entreat His protection, and close the day with some holy exercise of faith and love. And if you should lie awake in the night, let your meditations be holy and exercised upon subjects that are profitable to your soul.
May you engrave these directions upon your mind and make them the daily practice of your life. If sincerely adhered to, they will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness, and quietness of your life, and to your peaceful and comfortable death.
This article was originally published on 09/15/2013 and has been revised.