Up Before the Enemy

By Ross Engel

It’s early. The sun won’t be up for another two and half hours. My alarm was set to go off at 4:45am, but it’s 4:26am, I’m already up, and my obnoxiously large cup of coffee is about to be consumed. In the words of Jocko Willink, it’s time to “Get After It.”

Jocko. I feel like I know the guy. Thanks to Twitter, his weekly podcast, and his book, it’s like I’ve got my own “cornerman” yelling instructions to me as I grapple along in life.

A little over a year ago I picked up the book “Extreme Ownership.” I wasn’t necessarily looking for tips to be a better pastor (though the book has benefitted several areas of ministry), but I was looking for a book to give me some insight on performing more effectively in my stations of life. I felt like I was in a rut in my various vocations. Husband. Father. Pastor. Leader. Friend. You name the vocation, I wanted to do it better!

“Extreme Ownership” delivered. I adopted the mantra, “Discipline Equals Freedom.” I started getting up earlier than I ever had before. Like a well-oiled machine, tasks on my to-do list are decimated, books are devoured. I’ve been eating smarter too. Since I get up before the sunrise, I have more time to do things during the day, so I don’t miss a morning workout, I even do some “metcon” (metabolic conditioning) work! I started doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve been feeling pretty good and I don’t miss the 30 pounds that I’ve lost. It pays to be, “up before the enemy,” just like the shirt says.

The first casualties of a hectic life are typically one’s health, followed by the gifts of spouse, children, house and home. These First Article gifts that God gives to us are truly blessings that can easily be neglected. Making the time to pay better attention to these gifts has certainly made me feel healthier and more alive! I think my family and congregation appreciate that. Discipline is good!


The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about self-control, moving with purpose, and discipline:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” -1 Corinthians 9:24-27

As good as it has been for me to incorporate ownership and discipline into my life, like making time for God’s beautiful First Article gifts of this body and life, including watching the sun rise each day; the greatest benefit has been that I no longer feel like I’m living in a reactive state. I don’t feel like I’m showing up late to the situations of life and having to scramble to try and make sense of what’s going on. Now there are occasions when that still happens, but for the most part, I don’t feel like I’m walking into a room full of people nervously looking at me and saying, “Thank God you’re finally here, deal with this.”

When one goes through life, merely reacting to the things going on around them, it can be a recipe for unnecessary and undue stress. It’s hard to find joy in God’s beautiful gifts in this world when you’re stuck in a reactive state. You end up on the defensive and can only respond to the situations that come upon you.

But isn’t that exactly how our life in Christ works? We may strive and struggle and push and train, but ultimately, the good that we do, God has already prepared in advance for us to do. Paul says to the church in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The forgiveness of sins and the salvation that we have, is given to us as a gift, it is something we receive and benefit from by faith (which also is a gift from God), and so, it is something we can only respond to! We cannot work for it or earn it by any reason, strength, or effort of our own! We receive it as a gift of God’s grace, and respond to it with praise and thanksgiving!

Eugene Peterson in his book, “Working the Angles” introduced me to the following concept. “We wake up in a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.”  And also, “Human effort is honored and respected not as a thing in itself, but by its integration into the rhythms of [God’s] grace and blessing.” When we look at the account of Creation in Genesis, we see that God marks the days, “it was evening, then morning, the first day(Genesis 1:5). It is worth noticing that from the perspective of Genesis, the sequence of a new day begins with evening, midday happens with the rise of the sun and our waking up. One could argue, that while we slumber and sleep, God is at work, preparing in advance, works for us to do when we awaken. God’s day is half done when we wake up, and when we do finally awaken, we have the opportunity to take part in what God is already doing in us and among us.

In the tasks that God has given us to do, whatever they may be, we are to be disciplined, focused, and faithful. We are indeed to take care of our First Article gifts, so get after it! But in the midst of this, we must always remember that it is God who is at work, and by His grace, we are brought into God’s mighty deeds so that we would love Him and love and serve our neighbor in whatever arenas of life God puts us in.

So set your alarm. Get up early. Take care of your First Article gifts! Discipline is good. But never forget that the imperishable gifts of God do not depend on you or how well you “get after it” each day. The imperishable gifts of God depend solely on His gracious love for you in Christ!