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May 31, 2009

Through the past couple of weeks I have been fighting for joy, fighting to find joy in the journey. It has been one of those times that I’ve been longing for God but have seemingly found so little of him. And so this morning, when I opened up The Valley of Vision, as I so often do on a Sunday morning, I was encouraged by this prayer titled “Longings After God.”

My dear Lord,
I can but tell thee that thou knowest
I long for nothing but thyself,
nothing but holiness,
nothing but union with thy will.
Thou hast given me these desires,
and thou alone canst give me the thing desired.
My soul longs for communion with thee,
for mortification of indwelling corruption,
especially spiritual pride.
How precious it is to have a tender sense
and clear apprehension of the mystery
of godliness,
of true holiness!
What a blessedness to be like thee
as much as it is possible for a creature
to be like its Creator!
Lord, give me more of thy likeness;
enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness;
engage me to live more for thee.
Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,
and when I feel at ease after sweet communings,
teach me it is far too little I know and do.
Blessed Lord, let me climb up near to thee,
and love, and long, and plead,
and wrestle with thee,
and pant for deliverance from the body of sin,
for my heart is wandering and lifeless,
and my soul mourns to think it should ever
lose sight of its Beloved.
Wrap my life in divine love,
and keep me ever desiring thee,
always humble and resigned to thy will,
more fixed on thyself,
that I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.

May 17, 2009

Here is another selection from Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision. This old prayer confesses to God a reliance on self, and as it does so, it teaches both the folly of such reliance and the joy of relying fully on God. “When thou art angry towards me for my wrongs I try to pacify thee by abstaining from future sin.” Who can say that he has not, at one time or another, done this same thing? For those who stumble this way, read the prayer and make it your own.


My Father,
When thou art angry towards me for my wrongs
I try to pacify thee by abstaining from future sin;
But teach me that I cannot satisfy thy law,
that this effort is a resting in my righteousness,
that only Christ’s righteousness, ready made,
already finished, is fit for that purpose;
that thy chastising me for my sin is not
that I should try to reform, but only
that I may be more humbled, afflicted, and separated from sin,
by being reconciled, and made righteous in Christ by faith;
that a sense of my sufficiency and ability in him
is one means of my being immovable;
that I can never be so by resting on my own faith,
but by trusting in thee as my only support, by faith;
that if I cast away my faith I cast away thee,
for by faith I apprehend thee,
and as thou art very precious,
so is my faith very precious to me;
that I fall short of the purity thou requirest,
because in thinking I am holy I do not
seek holiness, or, believing I am impotent, I do no more.
Humble me for not being as holy as I should be,
or as holy as I might be through Christ,
for thou art all, and to possess thee is to possess all.
But to make the creature something
is to make it stand between thee and me,
so that I do not walk humbly and holily.
Lord, forgive me for this.”

May 03, 2009

Here is another prayer from Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision. This is a prayer titled simply “Happiness.” As I read the prayer I was particularly drawn to these words: “How precious is time, and how painful to see it fly with little done to good purpose! I need thy help.” How much time I waste and how painful it is to me to see if fly on by, wasted, unused, with little done to good purpose.


O Lord,
Help me never to expect any happiness
from the world, but only in thee.

Let me not think that I shall be more happy
by living to myself,
for I can only be happy if employed for thee,
and if I desire to live in this world
only to do and suffer what thou dost allot me.

Teach me
that if I do not live a life that satisfies thee,
I shall not live a life that will satisfy myself.

Help me to desire the spirit and temper of angels
who willingly come down to this lower world
to perform thy will,
though their desires are heavenly,
and not set in the least upon earthy things;
then I shall be of that temper I ought to have.

Help me not to think of living to thee
in my own strength,
but always to look to and rely on thee
for assistance.

Teach me that there is no greater truth than this,
that I can do nothing of myself.

Lord, this is the life that no unconverted man
can live,
yet it is an end that every godly soul
presses after;

Let it be then my concern to devote myself
and all to thee.

Make me more fruitful and more spiritual,
for barrenness is my daily affliction and load.

How precious is time, and how painful to see it fly
with little done to good purpose!
I need thy help:

O may my soul sensibly depend upon thee
for all sanctification,
and every accomplishment of thy purposes
for me, for the world,
and for thy kingdom.

April 19, 2009

It has been too long, I think, since I’ve posted a prayer from The Valley of Vision. This one, titled “Humility in Service,” seems appropriate for a Sunday morning as the day will undoubtedly bring us many opportunities to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and many opportunities to share the Good News with those who do not yet know the Lord.

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected,
words ill-advised,
I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps,
my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behaviour, provoking pettiness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;
If I have turned coldly from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me:
If I have withheld relief from penury and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me.

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive,
the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;
Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness arising from
the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties,
my unimproved advantages, thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy may I remember
that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.

April 08, 2009

In the past week or two I have been thinking a lot about my times of personal devotion, trying to see where I have allowed them to become just the “same old”—where I may have fallen into bad habits or lazy customs. I have been thinking about what I can do to make these times that will serve to help me grow in godliness while at the same ensuring that they are opportunities to bring worship to God. This is something I find that I need to do on a regular basis. My reflections on prayer coincided with reading 1 Timothy in my times of personal worship. In 1 Timothy we read Paul’s command that “in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” This set me to thinking about the posture of prayer. The chapter has quite a few things to say about the content of prayer (e.g. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…”) but it also includes these words about posture, the actions of a person’s body in prayer. I began to think about how I pray; not just the words, but also the posture.

Of course we need to affirm that God is far more concerned with the content of our prayers than the posture of our prayers. It is far more important to examine the heart than to examine the feet or the hands. At the same time, there is no doubt that our bodies can be an expression of our hearts (as you see when you shake your fist at the car that cut you off or when you clap your hands at the end of an inspired performance). And so it is useful, I think, to examine what the Bible says about our bodies during prayer.

I turned to Philip Ryken’s excellent commentary on 1 Timothy and found that he highlights several of the ways the Bible tells us to pray. I will summarize them just briefly, hoping that you find it useful, as I have.


The Bible, and the Psalms especially, describe bowing during prayer. This is a posture we often use today and one we teach our children when we tell them to bow their heads (out of respect) and to fold their hands (probably out of respect and so they do not fidget!). Psalm 5 says “I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you” while Psalm 95:6 says “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Bowing is a sign of respect and honor. Even today we may bow toward a king or dignitary, expressing in that action our respect for that person.


The Bible mentions several people who knelt during prayer, among them Daniel (Daniel 6:10) and Stephen (Acts 7:60). And of course Jesus himself knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He “withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41). Kneeling is a sign of humility and a sign of dependence. A person might kneel in the presence of a king or queen and he would do so as a sign of his deference to that person. It is difficult to be proud when kneeling before another. And so kneeling is a very natural posture for the Christian as he prays to the Lord. It seems a very natural position for bringing petitions to God, acknowledging God’s superiority and our utter dependence on him.


The Bible often mentions people standing to pray in public worship. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he knelt before God to pray while all the people stood (Chronicles 6:3, 13). In the same vein, Jehoshaphat “stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:5). It became customary for Jewish people to stand for prayer while in their synagogues. Such posture has roots in the Christian faith as well. Ryken shows that Justin Martyr, Origen, Jerome and Augustine all wrote of standing for public prayer. Today we stand in the presence of a judge when he enters his court room. Until recently students would stand when their professor entered the room. And, until recent days, many churches encouraged people to stand during prayer. Standing is, of course, a sign of respect. We stand in the presence of those we respect (or at least as a sign of our respect for their position or their authority). And so standing for prayer is a natural position especially for times of corporate prayer as the people stand in God’s presence out of respect for his authority.

Lying Prostrate

Scripture also mentions people praying flat on the ground with their faces pressed to the earth. Moses fell in the presence of the Lord (Numbers 16:22, 20:6) as did Joshua (Joshua 5:14). Job fell to the ground and worshiped when he was in the depths of his despair. And, of course, the angels and elders who pray before God’s heavenly throne fall on their faces. “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”” (Revelation 7:11). This is a sign of utter respect. A man may fall to the ground before another person when that other person has absolute power of life or death. To do so is to acknowledge one’s absolute unworthiness and to beg the grace of the other person. And so in prayer laying prostrate is a natural position for those who are overwhelmed either by trouble and woe or by a sense of the glory and majesty of God (or both!).

Hands Raised

And Scripture describes those who raise their hands in prayer. This was the way the priests worshiped in the temple (Psalm 134, 141, etc). And from extra-Scriptural sources we know that raising hands in prayer was customary in the early church. Ryken quotes Tertullian who said, “We Christians pray for all emperors, &c., looking up to heaven, with our hands stretched out, because guiltless; with our heads uncovered, because we are not ashamed.” Early Christian artwork often portrays those who prayed doing so with their hands raised. Such a posture signifies praise. Think today of a rock concert where people may raise their hands toward the stage in what looks almost like an act of praise and worship. And, of course, many Christians raise their hands when they sing, using this as a physical manifestation of their praise. Raising hands is appropriate in prayer especially during times of praising God. Ryken says “This posture is especially appropriate for the minister who leads in public prayer. When he stands in God’s presence to offer prayer on behalf of God’s people, he may raise his hands to show that the church’s prayers are offered to God as a sacrifice of praise.”

Nowhere does the Bible command us that we must set our bodies in one position or another during prayer. Yet it does describe a variety of positions that each have their own significance. You may find it useful to practice some of these postures in your times of private prayer, allowing that posture to be a reflection of your heart, whether it is a heart overwhelmed with the cares of life, a heart rejoicing in the majesty of God or a heart quieted in humble obedience to God.

March 08, 2009

While Charles Spurgeon has justly gone down in history as “the Prince of Preachers,” he was also a man who prayed very powerfully. Tony Capoccia has gone to the trouble of updating just a few of Spurgeon’s prayers, removing some of the antiquated language and replacing it with language that is a bit more familiar to us. Though these prayers are clearly geared to corporate prayer, they are valuable even to individuals as we seek to pray better, more powerfully, to our God. Here is one that Tony has titled “The Wings of Prayer.” I marked with bold type my favorite portion of the prayer.

Our Father, Your children who know You delight themselves in Your presence. We are never happier than when we are near You. We have found a little heaven in prayer. It has eased our load to tell You of its weight; it has relieved our wound to tell You of its hurt; it has restored our spirit to confess to You its wanderings. No place like the mercy seat for us.

We thank You, Lord, that we have not only found benefit in prayer, but in the answers to it we have been greatly enriched. You have opened Your hidden treasures to the voice of prayer; You have supplied our necessities as soon we have cried to You; yes, we have found it true: “Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

We do bless You, Lord, for instituting the blessed ordinance of prayer. What could we do without it, and we take great shame to ourselves that we should use it so little. We pray that we may be men and women of prayer, taken up with it, that it may take us up and bear us on its wings towards heaven.

And now at this hour will You hear the voice of our supplication. First, we ask at Your hands, great Father, complete forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings. We hope we can say with truthfulness that we do from our heart forgive all those who have in any way trespassed against us. There lies not in our heart, we hope, a thought of enmity towards any man. However we have been slandered or wronged, we would, with our inmost heart, forgive and forget it all.

We come to You and pray that, for Jesus’s sake, and through the virtue of the blood once shed for many for the remission of sins, You would give us perfect pardon of every sin of the past. Blot out, O God, all our sins like a cloud, and let them never be seen again. Grant us also the peace- speaking word of promise supplied by the Holy Spirit, that being justified by faith we may have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us be forgiven and know it, and may there remain no lingering question in our heart about our reconciliation with God, but by a firm, full assurance based on faith in the finished work of Christ may we stand as forgiven men and women against whom transgression shall never be mentioned forever again.

And then, Lord, we have another mercy to ask which shall be the burden of our prayer. It is that You would help us to live such lives as pardoned men should live. We have but a little time to live here, for our life is but a vapor; soon it vanishes away; but we are most anxious that we may spend the time of our sojourning here in holy fear, that grace may be on us from the commencement of our Christian life even to the earthly close of it.

Lord, You know there are some that have not yet begun to live for You, and the prayer is now offered that they may today be born again. Others have been long in Your ways and are not weary of them. We Sometimes wonder that You arc not weary of us, but assuredly we delight ourselves in the ways of holiness more than ever we did. Oh! that our ways were directed to keep Your statutes without slipping or flaws. We wish we were perfectly obedient in thought, and word, and deed, entirely sanctified. We shall never be satisfied till we wake up in Christ’s likeness, the likeness of perfection itself. Oh! wake us to this perfection, we beseech You. May experience teach us more and more how to avoid occasions of sin. May we grow more watchful; may we have a greater supremacy over our own spirit; may we be able to control ourselves under all circumstances, and so act that if the Master were to come at any moment we should not be ashamed to give our account in His hands.

Lord, we are not what we want to be. This is our sorrow. Oh! that You would, by Your Spirit, help us in the walks of life to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. As men of business, as work-people, as parents, as children, as servants, as masters, whatever we may be, may we be such that Christ may look on us with pleasure. May His joy be in us, for then only can our joy be full.

Dear Savior, we are Your disciples, and You are teaching us the art of living; but we are very dull and very slow, and beside, there is such a bias in our corrupt nature, and there are such examples in the world, and the influence of an ungodly generation tells even on those that know You. O, dear Saviour, do not be impatient with us, but still teach us at Your feet, till at last we shall have learned some of the sublime lessons of self-sacrifice, of meekness, humility, fervor, boldness, and love which Your life is fit to teach us. O Lord, we beseech You to mold us in Your own image. Let us live in You and live like You. Let us gaze on Your glory till we are transformed by the sight and become Christlike among the sons of men.

Lord, hear the confessions of any that have backslidden, who are rather marring Your image than perfecting it. Hear the prayers of any that are conscious of great defects during the past. Give them peace of mind by pardon, but give them strength of mind also to keep clear of such mischief in the future. O Lord, we are sighing and crying more and more after Yourself. The more we have of You the more we want You; the more we grow like You; the more we perceive our defects, and the more we pine after a higher standard to reach even to perfection itself.

Oh! help us. Spirit of the living God, continue still to work in us. Let the groanings that cannot be uttered be stilled within our Spirit, for these are growing pains, and we shall grow while we can sigh and cry, while we can confess and mourn; yet this is not without a blessed hopefulness that He that has begun a good work in us will perfect it in the day of Christ.

Bless, we pray You, at this time, the entire church of God in every part of the earth. Prosper the work and service of Christian people, however they endeavor to spread the kingdom of Christ. Convert the heathen; enlighten those that are in any form of error. Bring the entire church back to the original form of Christianity. Make her first pure and then she shall be united. O Savior, let Your kingdom come. Oh! that You would reign and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray You use every one of us according as we have ability to be used. Take us, and let no talent be wasted in the treasure house, but may every dollar of Yours be put out in trading for You in the blessed market of soul-winning. Oh! give us success. Increase the gifts and graces of those that are saved. Bind us in closer unity to one another than ever. Let peace reign; let holiness adorn us.

Hear us as we pray for all lands, and then for all sorts of men, from the Sovereign on the throne to the peasant in the cottage. Let the benediction of heaven descend on men, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

February 28, 2009

Many weekends I like to post a prayer from that collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. I do this because I need to learn to pray and because I know there is much I can learn from this book. Though it is not an instruction manual, there is a sense in which is serves in just that way. Most of us (perhaps all of us) learn to pray by imitating others. And the people who prayed these prayers and recorded them for us are worthy of imitation. These are not prayers to be read as if just reading the words has any power or worth; they are prayers to be prayed as if they were your own words. As you speak them, offering them to God, they become just that.

This is the prayer that gave its name to the book. It is called “The Valley of Vision.”

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

February 22, 2009

It was a long but beautiful day today. I spent just about all of it, from beginning to end, with God’s people—time spent with them worshiping God, time spent with them in fellowship. Early this morning I had hoped to post a prayer from the Valley of Vision but time got away from me. It seems even more appropriate to do so now, with the day drawing to a close. Here is “Evening Praise,” a prayer that brings to a close a glorious day.

Giver of all,
Another day is ended
and I take my place beneath
my great Redeemer’s cross,
where healing streams continually descend,
where balm is poured into every wound,
where I wash anew in the all-cleansing blood,
assured that Thou seest in me no spots of sin.
Yet a little while and I shall go to thy home
and be no more seen;
help me to gird up the loins of my mind,
to quicken my step,
to speed as if each moment were my last,
that my life be joy, my death glory.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world—
the refreshing air,
the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength,
the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters,
the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night,
the summer breeze,
the flowers’ sweetness,
the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.
Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort.
My cup runs over.
Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings:
Thy power averts evil.
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith,
the cheering presence of thy Spirit,
the strength of thy restraining will,
thy spiking of hell’s artillery.
Blessed be my sovereign Lord!