HOW TO BEGIN EVERY DAY WITH GOD
by Matthew Henry, an abridgement from Works, 1.198–213 [Baker, 1979]
Being the first of three discourses entitled “Directions for Daily Communion with God”

Part 1 of 2


“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD;
in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.”

(Psalm 5:3)


To the end that your daily worship may become more and more easy, and, if I may so say, in a manner natural to you, I would recommend to you holy David’s example in the text. David, having resolved in general (verse 2) that he would abound in the duty of prayer, and abide by it (“unto thee will I pray”), here fixes one proper time for it, and that is the morning: “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning.” Not in the morning only. David solemnly addressed himself to the duty of prayer three times a day, as Daniel did; “Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud” (Ps 55:17). Nay, he does not think that enough, but “seven times a day do I praise thee” (Ps 119:164). But particularly in the morning. This, therefore, is the doctrine of our text: It is our wisdom and duty, to begin every day with God.


Let us observe in it,


(a) The good work itself that we are to do. God must hear our voice, we must direct our prayer to Him, and we must look up.


(b) The special time appointed, and observed for the doing of this good work; and that it in the morning,—and again in the morning,—that is, every morning, as duly as the morning comes.


The Good Work of Prayer


For the first, the good work which, by the example of David we are here taught to do, is in one word, to pray;—a duty dictated by the light and law of nature, which plainly and loudly speaks, “Should not a people seek unto their God?” but which the gospel of Christ gives us much better instruction in, and encouragement to, than any that nature furnishes us with, for it tells us what we must pray for,—in whose name we must pray, and by whose assistance,—and invites us to come boldly to the throne of grace, and to “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19). This work we are to do not on the morning only, but at all times. We read of preaching the Word out of season, but we do not read of praying out of season, for that is never out of season; the throne of grace is always open, and humble supplicants are always welcome, and cannot come unseasonably.


But let us see how David here expresses his pious resolution to abide by this duty.


A. “My voice shalt thou hear”


Two ways David may here be understood: Either,


(a) As promising himself a gracious acceptance with God. Thou shalt (i.e., thou wilt) hear my voice, when in the morning I direct my prayer to Thee. He had prayed, “Give ear to my words, O LORD” (v. 1); and “Hearken unto the voice of my cry” (v. 2); and here he receives an answer to that prayer, “Thou wilt hear”; I doubt not but Thou wilt; and though I have not presently a grant of thing I prayed for, yet I am sure my prayer is heard, is accepted, and comes up for a memorial, as the prayer of Cornelius did.


We may be sure of this, and we must pray in the assurance of it,—in a full assurance of this faith, that wherever God finds a praying heart, He will be found a prayer-hearing God. Though the voice of prayer be a low voice,—a weak voice, yet if it comes from an upright heart, it is a voice that God will hear,—that He will hear with pleasure,—it is His delight, and He will return a gracious answer to; He hath heard your prayers, He hath seen your tears. When we come to God by prayer, if we come aright we may be confident of this, that notwithstanding the distance between heaven and earth, and our great unworthiness to have any notice taken of us, or any favour showed us, yet God does hear our voice, and will not turn away our prayer, or His mercy. Or,


(b) It is rather to be taken, as David’s promising God a constant attendance on Him, in the way He has appointed. “My voice shalt thou hear,” i.e., I will speak to Thee. Because Thou hast inclined Thine ear unto me many a time, even to the end of my time. Not a day shall pass but Thou shalt be sure to hear from me. Not that the voice is the thing that God regards, as they seemed to think, who in prayer made their voice to be heard on high (Isa 58:4). Hannah prayed and prevailed, when her voice was not heard; but it is the voice of the heart that is here meant. God said to Moses, “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” when we do not find that he said one word (Ex 14:15). Praying is lifting up the soul to God, and pouring out the heart before Him: yet as far as the expressing of the devout affections of the heart by words may be of use to fix the thoughts, and to excite and quicken the desires, it is good to draw near to God, not only with a pure heart, but with a humble voice; so must we “render the calves of our lips” (Hos 14:2).


However, God understands the language of the heart, and that is the language in which we must speak to God. David prays here, not only “give ear to my words” (v. 1), but “consider my meditation,” and “Let the words of my mouth, [proceeding from] the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight” (Ps 19:14).


This therefore we have to do in every prayer, we must speak to God, we must write to Him. We say we hear from a friend from whom we receive a letter; we must see to it that God hears from us daily.


This must be so, for:


God Expects and Requires us to Pray

(1) He expects and requires it. Though He has no need of us, or our services, nor can be benefited by them, yet He has obliged us to offer the sacrifice of prayer and praise to Him continually.


(a) Thus He will keep up His authority over us, and keep us continually in mind of our subjection to Him, which we are apt to forget. He requires that by prayer we solemnly pay our homage to Him, and give honour to His name, that by this act and deed of our own, thus frequently repeated, we may strengthen the obligations we lie under to observe His statutes and keep His laws, and be more and more sensible of the weight of them. “He is thy LORD, and worship thou him” (Ps 45:11), that by frequent humble adorations of His perfections, you may make a constant humble compliance with His will the more easy to thee. By doing obeisance, we are learning obedience.


(b) Thus He will testify His love and compassion towards us. It would have been an abundant evidence of His concern for us, and His goodness to us, if He had only said, “Let me hear from you as often as there is occasion; call upon me in the time of trouble or want, and that is enough.” But to show His complacency to us, as a father shows his affection to his child when he is sending him abroad, he gives us this charge, let me hear from you every day, by every post, though you have no particular business; which shows, that the prayer of the upright is His delight; it is music in His ears. Christ says to His dove, “Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:14). And it is to the spouse the church that Christ speaks in the close of that Song of Songs, “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, (in the original it is feminine) the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it” (8:13). What a shame is this to us, that God is more willing to be prayed to, and more ready to hear prayer, than we are to pray.


We have Much to Pray

(2) We have something to say to God everyday. Many are not sensible of this, and it is their sin and misery. They live without God in the world, are not sensible of their dependence upon Him, and their obligations to Him, and therefore for their parts they have nothing to say to Him. He never hears from them, no more than the father did from his prodigal son, when He was upon the ramble, from one week’s end to another. They ask scornfully, What can the Almighty do for them? And then no marvel if they ask next, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?” And the result is, they say to the Almighty, “Depart from us,” and so shall their doom be. But I hope better things of you my brethren, and that you are not one of those who cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God. You are all ready to own that there is a great deal that the Almighty can do for you, and that there is profit in praying to Him. Therefore resolve to draw nigh to God, that He may draw nigh to you. We have something to say to God daily.


(a) As to a friend we love and have freedom with; such a friend we cannot go by without calling on, and never lack something to say to, though we have no particular business with Him. To such a friend we unbosom ourselves, we profess our love and esteem, and with pleasure communicate our thoughts. Abraham is called the friend of God, and this honour have all the saints. “I have not called you servants,” says Christ, “but friends.” His secret is with the righteous. We are invited to acquaint ourselves with Him, and to walk with Him as one friend walks with another. The fellowship of believers is said to be “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ,” and have we nothing to say to Him then? Have we not a great deal to say to Him in acknowledgment of His infinite perfection and of His condescending grace and favour to us, in manifesting Himself to us and not to the world?


God hath something to say to us as a friend every day, by the written Word, by His providences, and by our own consciences. And He hearkens and hears whether we have any thing to say to Him by way of reply, and we are very unfriendly if we have not. When He saith to us, “Seek ye my face,” should not our hearts answer as to one we love, “Thy face, Lord, we will seek”? When He saith to us, “Return ye backsliding children,” should not we readily reply, “Behold we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God”? If He speaks to us by way of conviction and reproof, ought not we to return an answer by way of confession and submission? If He speaks to us by way of comfort, ought not we to reply in praise? If you love God, you will not need to seek for something to say to Him,—something for your hearts to pour out before Him, which His grace has already put there.


(b) As to a master we serve, and have business with. Think how numerous and important the concerns are that lie between us and God, and you will readily acknowledge that you have a great dealt to say to Him. We have a constant dependence upon Him. All our expectation is from Him;—we have constant dealings with Him;—He is God with whom we have to do (Heb 4:13).


Do we not know that our happiness is bound up in His favour; it is life, the life of our souls, it is better than life, than the life of our bodies? And have we not business with God to seek His favour, to entreat it with our whole hearts, to beg as for our lives that He would lift up the light of His countenance upon us, and to plead Christ’s righteousness, as that only through which we can hope to obtain God’s loving kindness?


Do we not know that we have offended God, that by sin we have made ourselves obnoxious to His wrath and curse, and that we are daily contracting guilt? And have we not then business enough with Him to confess our fault and folly, to ask for pardon in the blood of Christ, and in Him who is our piece to make our peace with God, and renew our covenants with Him in His own strength to go and sin no more?


Do we not know that we have daily work to do for God, and our own souls, the work of the day that is to be done in its day? And have we not then business with God to beg of Him to show us what He would have us to, to direct us in it, and strengthen us for it? To seek to Him for assistance and acceptance, that He will work in us both to will and to do that which is good, and then countenance and own His own work? Such business as this the servant has with his master.


Do we not know that we are continually in danger? Our bodies are so, and their lives and comforts, we are continually surrounded with diseases and deaths, whose arrows fly at mid-night and noon-day; and have we not then business with God going out and coming in, lying down and rising up, to put ourselves under the protection of His providence, to be the charge of His holy angels? Our souls much more are so, and their lives and comforts; it is those our adversary the devil, a strong and subtle adversary, wars against, and seeks to devour; and have we not then business with God to put ourselves under the protection of His grace, and clad ourselves with His armour, that we may be able to stand against the wiles and violence of Satan; so as we may neither be surprised into sin by a sudden temptation, nor overpowered by a strong one.


Do we not know that we are dying daily, that death is working in us, and hastening towards us, and that death fetches us to judgment, and judgment fixes us in our everlasting state? And have we not then something to say to God in preparation for what is before us? Shall we not say, “Lord make us to know our end! Lord teach us to number our days!”? Have we not business with God to judge ourselves that we may not be judged, and to see that our matters be right and good? Do we not know that we are members of that body whereof Christ is the head, and are we not concerned to approve ourselves living members? Have we not then business with God upon the public account to make intercession for His Church? Have we nothing to say for Zion? Nothing in behalf of Jerusalem’s ruined walls? Nothing for the peace and welfare of the land of our nativity? Are we not of the family, or but babes in it, that we concern not ourselves in the concerns of it?


Have we not relations, no friends, that are dear to us, whose joys and griefs we share in? And have we nothing to say to God for them? No complaints to make, no requests to make known? Are none of them sick or in distress? None of them tempted or disconsolate? And have we not errands at the throne of grace, to beg relief and succour of them?


Now lay all this together, and then consider whether you have not something to say to God every day; and particularly in days of trouble, when it is meet to be said unto God, “I have bourn chastisement”; and when if you have any sense of things, you will say unto God, “Do not condemn me.”


No Hindrance to Prayer is too Great

(3) If you have all this to say to God, what should hinder you from saying it? From saying it every day? Why should not He hear your voice, when you have so many errands to Him?


(a) Let not distance hinder you from saying it. You have occasion to speak with a friend, but he is a great way off, you cannot reach him, you know not where to find him, nor how to get a letter to him, and therefore our business with him is undone; but this needs not keep you from speaking to God, for though it is true God is in heaven, and we are upon earth, yet He is nigh to His praying people in all that they call upon Him for, He hears their voice wherever they are. “Out of the depths I have cried unto thee,” says David (Ps 130:1). “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee” (Ps 61:2). Nay, Jonah says, “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice” (2:2). In all places we may find a way open heavenward. Thanks to Him who by His own blood has consecrated for us a new and living way into the holiest, and settled a correspondence between heaven and earth.


(b) Let not fear hinder you from saying what you have to say to God. You have business with a great man it may be, but he is far above you, or so stern and severe towards all his inferiors, that you are afraid to speak to him, and you have none to introduce you, or speak a good word for you, and therefore you choose rather to drop your cause; but there is no occasion for your being thus discouraged in speaking to God; you may come boldly to the throne of His grace, you have there a liberty of speech, leave to pour out your whole souls. And such are His compassions to humble supplicants, that even His terror need not make them afraid. Nor is this all, we have one advocate with the Father. Did ever children need an advocate with a father? But that by those two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, we have not only the relation of a Father to depend upon, but the interest and intercession of an advocate; a High Priest over the house of God, in whom we have access with confidence.


(c) Let not His knowing what your business is, and what you have to say to Him hinder you, you have business with such a friend, but you think you need not put yourselves to any trouble about it, for He is already apprised for it. He knows what you want and what your desire is before God, He knows your wants and burdens, but He will know them from you. He hath promised your relief; but His promise must be put to suit, and He will for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them (Ezek 36:37). Though we cannot by prayers give Him any information, yet we must by our prayers give Him honour. It is true, nothing we can say can have any influence upon Him, or move Him to show us mercy, but it may have an influence upon ourselves, and help to put us into a frame fit to receive mercy. It is a very easy and reasonable condition of His favours, Ask, and it shall be given you. It was to teach us the necessity of praying, in order to receiving our favour, that Christ put that strange question to the blind men, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” (Mk 10:51). He knew what they would have, but those that touch the top of the golden sceptre must be ready to tell, what is their petition and what is their request?


(d) Let not any other business hinder our saying what we have to say to God. We have business with a friend perhaps, but we cannot do it because we have no leisure; we have something else to do, which we think more needful; but we cannot say so concerning the business we have to do with God; for that is without doubt the one thing needful, to which everything else must be made to truckle and give way. It is not all necessary to our happiness that we should be great in the world, or raise estates to such a pitch. But it is absolutely necessary that we make peace with God, that we obtain His favour, and keep ourselves with His love. Therefore no business for the world will serve to excuse our attendance upon God, but, on the contrary, the more important our worldly business is, the more need we have to apply ourselves to God by prayer for His blessing upon it, and so take Him along with us in it. The closer we keep to prayer, and to God in prayer, the more will all our affairs prosper.


Shall I prevail with you now to let God frequently to hear from you; let Him hear your voice, though it be a voice of breathing (Lam 3:56) that is a sign of life; though it be a voice of your groanings, and those so weak that it cannot be uttered (Rom 8:26). Speak to Him, though it may be in broken language, as Hezekiah did; “Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter” (Isa 38:14). Speak often to Him, He is always within hearing. Hear Him speaking to you and have an eye to that in every thing you say to Him: as when you write an answer to a business letter, you lay it before you; God’s Word must be the guide of your desires, and the ground of your expectations in prayer, nor can you expect He should give a gracious ear to what you say to Him, if you turn a deaf ear to what He says to you.


You see you have frequent occasions to speak with God, and therefore are concerned to grow in your acquaintance with Him, to take heed of doing any thing to displease Him; and to strengthen your interest in the Lord Jesus, through whom alone it is that you have access with boldness to Him. Keep your voice in tune for prayer, and let your language be pure language, that you may be fit to call on the name of the Lord (Zep 3:9). And in every prayer remember you are speaking to God, and make it appear that you have an awe of Him upon your spirits; let us not be rash with our mouth, nor hasty to utter any thing before God, but let every word be well weighed because “God is in heaven, and [we] upon earth” (Ecc 5:2). And if He had not invited and encouraged us to do it, it had been unpardonable presumption for such sinful worms as we are to speak to the Lord of glory (Gen 18:27). And we are concerned to speak from the heart heartily, for it is our lives and for the lives of our souls that we are speaking to Him.


B. We must direct our prayer unto God


He must not only hear our voice, but we must in deliberation and design address ourselves to Him. In the original it is no more than “I will direct unto thee,” but our translation supplies it very well, “I will direct my prayer unto thee.” That is,


Our Prayers must be Focused

(1) When I pray to Thee I will direct my prayers. This notes a fixedness of thoughts, and a close application of mind, to the duty of prayer. We must go about it solemnly, as those that have something of moment much at heart, and much in view therein, and therefore dare not trifle in it. When we go to prayer, we must not give the sacrifice of fools, that think not what it is to be done, or what is to be gained, but speak the words of the wise, who aim at some good end at what they say, and suit it to that end, we must have in our eye God’s glory and our own true happiness, for so well ordered is our covenant of grace, that God has been pleased therein to twist interests with us, so that in seeking His glory, we really and effectually seek our own true interests. This is directing the prayer, as he that shoots an arrow directs it, and with a fixed eye and steady hand takes aim aright. This is engaging the heart to approach to God, and in order to that disengaging it from everything else. He that takes aim with one eye shuts the other; if we would direct a prayer to God, we must look off all other things, must gather in all our wandering thoughts, must summon them all to draw near and give their attendance, for here is work to be done that needs them all, and is well worthy of them all. Thus we must be able to say with the psalmist, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed” (Ps 57:7).


Our Prayers must be Directed to God

(2) When I direct my prayer, I will direct it to Thee. This speaks of the sincerity of our habitual intention in prayer. We must not direct our prayer to men, that we may gain praise and applause with them as the Pharisees did, who proclaimed their devotions as they did their alms, that they might gain a reputation. Men commend them: “Verily… They have their reward” (Mt 6:2), but God abhors their pride and hypocrisy. Let not self, carnal self, be the spring and centre of your prayers, but God. Let the eye of the soul be fixed upon Him as your highest end in your application to Him. Let this be the habitual disposition of your souls, to be to your God for a name and a praise. And let this be the design in all your desires, that God may be glorified, and by this let them be directed, determined, sanctified, and when need is, over-ruled. Our Saviour hath plainly taught us this, in the first petition of the Lord’s prayer; which is, “Hallowed be thy name,” in which we are taught that all our prayers must be directed to the glory of God, in all that whereby He has made Himself known. A habitual aim at God’s glory is that sincerity which is our gospel perfection. That single eye, which where it is, the whole body, the whole soul is full of light. Thus the prayer is directed to God.


Directions on Directing our Prayers

(3) When I direct my prayer, I will direct it to Thee, speaks also of the steadiness of our actual regard to God in prayer. In our prayers, we must continually think of Him, as one with whom we have to do in prayer. We must direct our prayer, as we direct our speech to the person we have business with. The Bible is a letter God hath sent to us, prayer is a letter we send to Him; now you know it is essential to a letter that it be directed, and material that it be directed right; if it be not, it is in danger of miscarrying: which may be of ill consequence. You pray daily, and therein send letters to God; you know not what you lose, if your letters miscarry. Will you therefore take instructions how to direct to Him?


(a) Give Him His titles as you do when you direct to a person of honour; address yourselves to Him as the great Jehovah, God over all, blessed for evermore; King of kings, and Lord of lords; as the Lord God gracious and merciful; let your hearts and mouths be filled with holy adorings and admirings of Him, and fasten upon those titles of His, which are proper to strike a holy awe of Him upon your minds, that you may worship Him with reverence and godly fear. Direct your prayer to Him as the God of glory, with whom is terrible majesty, and whose greatness is unsearchable, that you may not dare to trifle with Him, or mock Him what you say to Him.


(b) Take notice of your relation to Him, as His children, and let not that be overlooked and lost in your awful adorations of His glories. I have been told of a good man, whose journal, discovered after his death, records that at a certain time in secret prayer, his heart at the beginning of the duty was much enlarged in giving to God those titles which are awful and tremendous, in calling Him “the Great,” “the Mighty,” and “the Terrible God,” but going on thus, he checked himself with this thought, “and why not my Father”? Christ hath both by His precepts and by His pattern, taught us to address ourselves to God as our Father; and the spirit of adoption teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father.” A son, though a prodigal, when he returns and repents, may go to his father, and to say unto him, “Father, I have sinned”; and though no more worthy to be called a son, yet humbly bold to call him father. When Ephraim bemoans himself as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, God bemoans him as a dear son, as a pleasant child (Jer 31:18–20). And if God is not ashamed, let us not be afraid to own the relation.


(c) Direct your prayer to Him in heaven; this our Saviour has taught us in the preface to the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Not that He is confined to the heavens, or as if the heaven, or heaven of heavens, could contain Him, but there He is said to have prepared His throne,—not only His throne of government by which His kingdom rules over all,—but His throne of grace to which we must by faith draw near. We must eye Him as God in heaven, in opposition to the God of the heathen, which dwelt in temples made with hands. Heaven is a high place, so we must address ourselves to Him as a God infinitely above us. Heaven is the fountain of light, so to Him we must address ourselves as the Father of lights. Heaven is a place of prospect, so we must see His eye upon us, from thence beholding all the children of men. Heaven is a place of purity, and so we must in prayer eye Him as a holy God, and give thanks as the remembrance of His holiness. Heaven is the firmament of God’s power, and so we must depend upon Him as one to whom power belongs. When our Lord Jesus prayed, He lifted up His hands and eyes to heaven, to direct us whence to expect the blessings we need.


(d) Direct this letter to be left with the Lord Jesus, the only Mediator between God and men; it will certainly miscarry if it be not put into His hand, who is that other angel that puts incense to the prayers of the saints, and so perfumed presents them to the Father (Rev 8:3). What we ask of the Father must be by His hand, for He is the High Priest of our profession, that is ordained for men to offer their gifts (Heb 5:1). Direct the letter to be left with Him, and He will deliver it with care and speed, and will make our service acceptable.


C. We must look up


(1) We must look up 
in our prayers, as those that speak to one above us, infinitely above us, the high and holy one that inhabits eternity, as those that expect every good and perfect gift to come from above, from the Father of lights, as those that desire in prayer to enter into the holiest, and draw near with a true heart. With an eye of faith we must look above the world and everything in it, must look beyond the things of time. What is this world, and all things here below, to one that knows how to put a due estimate upon spiritual blessings in heavenly things by Jesus Christ? The spirit of man at death goes upward (Ecc 3:21); for it returns to God who gave it and therefore as mindful of its origin, it must in every prayer look upwards, towards its God, towards its home, as having set its affections on things above, wherein it has laid up its treasure. Let us therefore, in prayer, lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens (Lam 3:41).


(2) We must look up 
after our prayers.


(a) We must look up with an eye of satisfaction and pleasure. Looking up is a sign of cheerfulness; as a down look is a melancholy one. We must look up as those that having by prayer referred ourselves to God, are easy and well pleased, and, with an entire confidence in His wisdom and goodness, patiently expect the issue. Hannah, when she had prayed, looked up, looked pleasant; she went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad (1 Sam 1:18). Prayer is heart’s ease to a good Christian; and when we have prayed, we should look up as those that through grace have found it so.


(b) We must look up with an eye of observation, to see what returns God makes to our prayers. We must look up as one that has shot an arrow looks after it to see how near it comes to the mark. We must look within us, and observe what the frame of our spirit is after we have been at prayer, how well satisfied they are in the will of God, and how well disposed to accommodate themselves to it. We must look about us, and observe how providence works concerning us, that if our prayers be answered, we may return to give thanks; if not, we may remove what hinders, and may continue waiting. Thus we must set ourselves upon our watchtower to see what God will say unto us (Hab 2:1), and must be ready to hear it (Ps 85:8), expecting that God will give us an answer of peace, and resolving that we will return no more to folly. Thus we must keep our communion with God; hoping that whenever we lift our hearts to Him, He will lift up the lights of His countenance upon us. Sometimes the answer is quick, while they are yet speaking I will hear; quicker than the return of any posts. But if it be not, when we have prayed we must wait.


Let us learn thus to direct our prayers, and thus to look up; and be inward with God in every duty, to make heart-work of it, or we make nothing of it. Let us not worship in the outward court, when we are commanded and encouraged to enter within the veil.

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