There is something very calming and relaxing about waking up early, starting your day as everyone else is asleep.

This past week, I've been waking up every weekday at around 6 a.m. (for some, that's not early, but for the rest of us who are actually OK with having an inkling of humility, 6 a.m. is pretty early). Let me tell ya something:

Waking up early has been changing my life.

Here's my typical, morning routine: Wake up at 6 a.m., get to the gym by 6:30, work out, get back to the house and in the shower by 7:45, breakfast until 8:30, keep a last thirty minutes or so to get dressed, check emails, go over my daily schedule.

Then comes the fork in the road. My earliest day, I have meetings at 10 a.m. or work shifts at 10:30. If my day begins early, I bolt out the door. If my day begins later, I may relax for a bit before leaving. But that's not the ultimate "fork in the road," aka the choice I make each morning that truly solidifies my routine.

The ultimate heartbeat of my morning routine is spending time alone, praying to God and reading/reflecting on Scripture.

For me, this component serves to be the most crucial of all the elements that go into my morning routine, and I think it should be just as crucial for you, too!

First of all, most of these other elements can really be pushed around throughout the day. Working out in the morning feels good, but I can just as much go to the gym the night before. Same with taking a shower (I never understood people who take showers in the morning instead of at night. Like what are you doing? You get dirty during the day. Clean ya dang body after a long day, not right when you get up. Good grief. Then again, I have turned into a morning shower person, but I chalk that up to my fallen, sin nature).

Breakfast? You can make and have that on the go. Why are you wasting your time cooking a gourmet meal every morning? You ain't that special. You don't deserve that, cut it out.

Plan your day in the morning? Maybe go searching for a little thing called forethought and organize that, you know, the day before! I can't imagine planning my day the day of. Sure, I review it, but ain't no way I'm going to bed tonight being all like "Eh, let's see what happens tomorrow, can't imagine it'll be anything I need to prepare for in advance!"

All of these things stack up as making a productive morning for sure, but there is a reason why prayer and reading Scripture matter the most to me when going through my daily routine.

When we spend time alone with God, there are no expectations. I'm not doing it for societal pressure. I'm not doing it so others can see my being holy (I'm doing it alone, after all). Every other aspect of my morning routine is produced from these expectations, these pressures.

Now, none of these pressures are evil in and of themselves. Exercise, hygiene, nutrition, preparation: these are all good, but they are not God. They all shape us, but they do not save us.

It is from hearing God's voice each day and reading about Him, I am reminded why any of this matters. I am reminded that this life I have is not my own, that I can't just have my selfish morning routine just for my own sake. This spiritual heartbeat of my morning reminds me that everything I am doing in the morning is preparing me to serve and love others better: I'm in good shape to be at the ready, I have appropriate hygiene to be welcoming to others, I am well fed so as not be hangry or driven by emotion, and I have reviewed my day, full of appointments and meetings to encourage and serve others.

There is a story in one of the biographical accounts of Jesus. He "[leaves] the house and [goes] off to a solitary place, where He [prays]" (Mark 1:35, NIV). Once His followers find Him, Jesus responds by immediately leading them where God has told Him to go: to the nearby villages, to preach of God's Love and call to follow Him.

Ultimately, if meeting with God was the heartbeat of Jesus' day, the single component that mattered the most in guiding Him in using His time and helping Him pursue God, it should be the exact same way for you and me. For us to assume otherwise is simply a sign of God not truly being God to us, just as another "good" we stack into our day.