First Things First; or, Why I Drink Coffee in the Morning
by Mike McKinniss
The day doesn’t begin without coffee. Maybe it does for other people. I’ve heard rumors about such a race of men, though I imagine they must live in a land far from here—Mars, perhaps.
Morning coffee is no mere conveyance for caffeine, mind you. Sure, the miracle drug graciously plays its role, but it’s more than that. It’s the warm mug in your cupped palms, assuring you the world is a safe place. It’s the steam whispering up like a siren song, beckoning you, not toward rocky shoals, but toward a calm haven. It’s the aroma of your childhood home. It’s the deep rich color calling you toward the depth of character you desire. It’s the subtle intermingling of sweetness and bitterness—a complexity with which you identify.
For these reasons, and a thousand others, the day does not begin without coffee.
I’ve set as a goal for myself, similarly, to begin my day with another brand of nourishment, as well. I am seeking to put before myself at the dawn of each day a reminder, a single line of text with which to greet the sun.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (Ps 118:1, 29).
This is both the first and the last verse in Psalm 118, a psalm with a remarkably dense story to tell.
On the surface, it’s a psalm celebrating the Lord’s great faithfulness in the midst of terrible hardship. It has the author surrounded by enemies, threatened from every side. It bears within its lines brutal and humiliating defeat. And yet, despite the tragedy, the writer sings out again and again, “His love endures forever!” Yes, even after crushing, deadly destruction, the psalmist turns this familiar phrase:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 118:22).
It’s familiar because Jesus used it of himself in Luke 20:17 during a critical confrontation with the Pharisees.
Speaking of Jesus, I believe he turned to this psalm also at a particularly difficult time in his life, and drew sustenance.
In Mark 14, Jesus shares the last supper with his disciples. Then, after supper, Mark says this of Jesus and his crew: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mk 14:26). What happens next will be familiar to most of us. Jesus prayed in agony in Gethsemane; he was betrayed and arrested; he was tried before the Jewish authorities; he was, ultimately, crucified.
What did Jesus and his compatriots sing just before this evil string of events? The meal they shared was, of course, a Passover dinner. Traditionally, faithful Jews recite or sing a particular set of psalms during the Passover meal, psalms called the Hallel Psalms—”Praise Hymns”. They begin with Psalm 113 and end right here in Psalm 118.
Now, whether the practice of reciting this particular set of hymns goes all the way back to the first century is unclear. And whether Jesus specifically sang Psalm 118 right before heading to his arrest, trial and death is not certain. Yet the psalm fits Jesus’ circumstance perfectly. And it’s a remarkable thing to think of the last words leaving Jesus’ lips before Gethsemane being “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Did he not know what he was about to endure? Did he not know his own death was imminent? How, then, could he declare God’s goodness above all else?
Because it’s true. Because it’s always true. Because tragedy doesn’t alter the Lord’s goodness. Because success doesn’t change his faithfulness. Because God’s goodness is the very foundation of reality, and grounding ourselves in that will always put the peaks and valleys in their proper perspective.
This is why I desire to set this simple refrain before me at the start of each day. Whatever else may happen during my waking hours, I need to feed on this truth. I need to know, deep in my bones at all times and in all places that the Lord’s intentions for me, for everyone else and for the very creation itself is 100% for our benefit. I need to ingest, with my eyes still groggy, the basic fact that the Lord is good, completely good and only good. Always. Just like my coffee.