Learning from Spurgeon’s daily priority
Spurgeon’s first and nonnegotiable order of business each day, before he met with anyone else or put his hand to any other work, was devotional exercises.
Spurgeon’s productivity staggers the imagination. To pastor a mega-church, write as prolifically as he did, lead 60 ministries that were connected to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, write upwards of 500 letters per week, and faithfully care for his wife and two sons, required a uniquely disciplined manner of life.
Spurgeon wrote about the burden that he felt beneath his responsibilities:
“No one living knows the toil and care I have to bear. I ask for no sympathy but ask indulgence if I sometimes forget something. I have to look after the Orphanage, have charge of a church with four thousand members, sometimes there are marriage and burials to be undertaken, there is the weekly sermon to be revised, The Sword and Trowel to be edited, and besides all that, a weekly average of five hundred letters to be answered. This, however, is only half my duty, for there are innumerable churches established by friends, with the affairs of which I am closely connected, to say nothing of those cases of difficulty which are constantly being referred to me.”
Though Spurgeon left behind no hourly breakdown of his activities, his top daily priority is easily discernable, providing the essential key to understanding his productivity. In his devotional book, Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith, the Scripture reading for August 23 is Proverbs 8:17: “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Spurgeon commented first on the importance of seeking Jesus in the days of one’s youth. He then expanded his initial thought by applying the passage to pursuing God early each day:
“Thriving tradesmen are early risers, and thriving saints seek Jesus eagerly. Those who find Jesus to their enrichment give their hearts to seeking him. We must seek him first, and thus earliest. Above all things Jesus. Jesus first, and nothing else even as a bad second.”
Spurgeon encouraged his readers to seek Jesus “first, and thus earliest,” just as a thriving businessman rose early to engage in trade. He believed Jesus should be the all-consuming, first priority of a godly person’s day. For Spurgeon, pursuing Jesus meant seeking him through Bible intake and prayer. In his sermon “How to Read the Bible,” Spurgeon asserted that Bible reading was important because “the Lord speaks to us in these words [from the Bible].” Spurgeon encouraged thoughtful, meditative, prayerful, and Christ-centered Bible reading. Such reading was important to him because when he read Scripture, Jesus was present:
“He [Jesus] leans over me, he puts his finger on the lines, I can see his pierced hands: I will read it as in his presence. I will read it knowing that he is the substance of it, that he is the proof of this book as well as the writer of it; the sum of Scriptures as well as the author of it. This is the way for true students to become wise. You will get to the soul of Scripture when you can keep Jesus with you while you are reading.”
Spurgeon developed several resources to assist Christians in their devotional times. One such example is Morning by Morning: or Daily Readings for the Family or Closet. (5)
Scholar Timothy Larsen notes,
“As the subtitle ‘closet’ is biblical language for a private, individual time of prayer (Matt. 6:6), and thus Spurgeon was commending this volume as an aid to either personal or household devotions. As to the former, Spurgeon suggested that private morning devotions should be completed before meeting another human being; to go straight to work without doing this would be like neglecting to get dressed.”
Therein Spurgeon’s priority is unveiled. Spurgeon’s first and nonnegotiable order of business each day, before he met with anyone else or put his hand to any other work, was devotional exercises. He remarked, “It is a good rule never to look into the face of man in the morning till you have looked into the face of God; and equally a good rule always to have business with heaven before you have any business with earth.”
By the phrase “business with heaven,” Spurgeon was referring to private prayer. Beyond a set time for prayer, Spurgeon was concerned that Christians maintain “continued communion with God through prayer throughout the day.”
Wisdom for the busy minister and layperson
You may wonder how a person as accomplished as Spurgeon was able to spend so much time reading the Bible and praying. Perhaps it is most accurate to conclude that the key reason Spurgeon was so fruitful in his work was because he had his priorities in order. His first priority was to seek Jesus. Everything else was secondary.
In the day in which we live, no doubt you are very busy. How do you discern what to do each day, and how can you be more productive in your daily responsibilities? It all starts with priorities. Do you seek Jesus early by immersing yourself in Scripture and crying out to God in prayer? Perhaps Spurgeon’s example will help you in organizing your busy schedule, in order to experience spiritual growth and blessing.