Puritan Prayers: Need of Grace

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve decided that the 50 minutes I spend at night waiting for my laundry to get finished cleaning so that I can dry overnight is really some of the most relaxed time I can have in any given period of time. It is usually at the end of a long day, and by that point there is simply nothing left to do – or nothing I have energy to do.

So tonight I sit, and as my conscience begins to remind me once again of my need for grace, I am reminded of a prayer I’ve been reading a lot recently in The Valley of Vision. In it, the author reflects on the coldness of his heart, and his utter inability perform a good act. As I find with so many of these prayers, I can relate down to my deepest being, both with his diagnosis and with his prescription. What I find I appreciate most, and what I find so compelling about the historical narrative of Christianity, is that I am both more condemned of my sin than in any possible way, yet I am forgiven by the only source of Justice and Love capable of forgiving.

Utterly helpless, completely powerless – yet helped and empowered by a power greater.

~~~

O LORD,
Though knowest my great unfitness for service,
my present deadness,
my inability to do anything for thy glory,
my distressing coldness of heart.
I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable,
and loathe and abhor myself.
I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest
have me do,
for I feel amazingly deserted by thee,
and sense thy presence so little;
Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth,
and the dreadful sin of my nature,
so that I feel all sin,
I cannot think or act but every motion is sin.
Return again with showers of converting grace
to a poor gospel-abusing sinner.

Help my soul to breathe after holiness,
after a constant devotedness to thee,
after growth in grace more abundantly every day.
O Lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness,
And am ready to sink because I fall short
of my desire;
Help me to hold out a little longer,
until the happy hour of deliverance comes,
for I cannot lift my soul to thee
if thou of thy goodness bring me not night.
Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender,
lest I offend my blessed Friend
in thought and behaviour;
I confide in thee and lean upon thee,
and need thee at all times to assist and lead me.
O that all my distresses and apprehensions
might prove but Christ’s school
to make me fit for greater service
by teaching me the great lesson of humility.

Amen.

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Puritan Prayers: After Prayer

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Growing up, I heard a lot of generic Christian rock.  I still remember that old six-disc cd changer in my dad’s Ford Explorer. It was always stocked with Steven Curtis Chapman, Audio Adrenaline, Switchfoot, and on occasion a few others (Red, Coldplay, etc). As a jr-higher, I listened, half asleep, in the back seat on summer Sundays on the way home from church.  Later in high school I would listen to those same CDs as I drove to work or when I came home late from youth group. On those rare instances that I go home, I still listen to the same CDs. I’ve heard the same songs over and over, but I alway manage to find something new every once in a while. Every now and again, I’ll see a phrase or hear a song that reminds me of all of those times sitting in the back seat listening to those same lyrics over and over, sometimes with a perspective different enough to pull more meaning out.

Something similar happened tonight as I was reading through a few more Puritan prayers out of the Valley of Vision. I found one where the author prays for God to make his dead prayers alive. It reminded me a lot of the Switchfoot song “Sooner or Later,” specifically the line “Oh God, I believe. Please help me to believe.” I always found that thought paradoxical, but in a beautifully reassuring way. It is a wonderful thing to know that on the days I am having a hard time believing, I can rest on my commitment to Him and pray that He strengthens me.  In the same way, when our prayers are dry and mechanical, we needn’t hide ourselves from God. We don’t have to give up hope or stop praying. Instead, we can do what this author does – offer up those dry prayers to God to be touched by His grace. When our emotions run dry or we feel left alone (or that through sin we have made ourselves alone), we can resist the urge to despair and instead offer up our very prayers for his redemption.

I wish I had more I could say to explain, but one of the characteristics of dryness is a sort of tired inability to express.

~~~

After Prayer

I bewail my cold, listless, heartless prayers;
Their poverty adds sin to sin.
If my hope were in them I should be undone,
But the worth of Jesus perfumes my feeble
Breathings, and wins their acceptance.
Deepen my contrition of heart,
Confirm my faith in the blood that washes
from all sin.
May I walk lovingly with my great Redeemer.
Flood my soul with true repentence
that my heart may be broken for sin and unto sin.
Let me be as slow to forgive myself
as though art ready to forgive me.
Gazing on the glories of thy grace
may I be cast into the lowest depths of shame,
and walk with downcast head
now thou art pacified towards me.
O my great High Priest,
pour down upon me streams of needful grace,
bless me in all my undertakings,
in every thought of my mind,
ever word of my lips,
every step of my feet,
every deed of my hands.
Thou didst live to bless,
die to bless,
rise to bless,
ascend to bless,
take thy throne to bless,
and now thou dost reign to bless.
O give sincerity to my desires,
earnestness to my supplications,
fervour to my love. 

Puritan Prayers: Sleep

April 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Have you ever read a love poem that resonated so much it gave you that “aha!” moment?  The moment that you read another’s articulation of thoughts and feelings that both communicate and clarify your own?  What the love poems of Shakespeare, Daniel, and Solomon are to love between two souls, so the Puritan prayers of The Valley of Vision are to my joys, vexations, and frustrations toward God. I find myself constantly amazed at the ability that these pastors have to articulate what I want to say to God.

Tonight’s prayer, appropriately enough, is about sleep.  You see, for some people, the thought of getting into bed at night doesn’t always bring positive feelings. Some are kept awake with racing thoughts. Others with racing hearts. Instead of respite, some only find nightmares they can’t escape. And for many, going to bed only means idle hands and straying thoughts.  Anger, hatred, lust, worry, despair – all find captive audience at night.

I can’t help but feel as if this pastor understands the dual nature of sleep. I’m also reassured by his understanding that in the darkness we are not alone. But enough from me.

~~~

Sleep

BLESSED CREATOR,

Thou hast promised thy beloved sleep;

Give me restoring rest needful for

  tomorrow’s toil;

If dreams be mine,

  let them not be tinged with evil.

Let thy Spirit make my time of repose

  a blessed temple of His holy presence.

May my frequent lying down make me familiar

    with death,

  the bed I approach remind me of the grave,

  the eyes I now close picture to me their

    final closing.

Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance

    to thy presence.

Weaken my attachment to earthly things.

May I hold life loosely in my hand,

  knowing that I receive it on condition

    of its surrender;

As pain and suffering betoken transitory health,

  may I not shrink from a death that introduces me

    to the freshness of eternal youth.

I retire this night in full assurance of one day

    awakening with thee.

All glory for this precious hope,

  for the gospel of grace,

  for thine unspeakable gift of Jesus,

  for the fellowship of the Trinity.

Withhold not thy mercies in the night season;

  thy hand never wearies,

  thy power needs no repose,

  thine eye never sleeps.

Help me when I helpless lie,

  when my conscience accuses me of sin,

  when my mind is harassed by foreboding

    thoughts,

  when my eyes are held awake by personal anxieties.

Show thyself to me as the God of all grace,

    love and power;

  thou hast a balm for every wound,

    a solace for all anguish,

    a remedy for every pain,

    a peace for all disquietude.

Permit me to commit myself to thee

    awake or asleep.

For you John Singer Sargent fans…

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a photo you’ll really enjoy – John Singer Sargent in his studio with Madame X. The photo was taken in 1885, apparently after he had already made the necessary adjustments to Madame X’s dress.

Sargent, Paris, 1885 - Click to Enlarge

Puritan Prayers: The Grace of the Cross

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

After the Good Friday service last night, this Puritan prayer seems appropriate.  During the season of Easter, we Christians spend time meditating on how Christ committed himself in total obedience to the will of the Father. Christ’s final words, found in Luke 23:46, are a testament to this obedience: “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.”  That we Christians are called to make a similar commitment with our faith and our lives is reflected in this prayer.

~~~

The Grace of the Cross

O MY SAVIOUR,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

  for thy wondrous grace and love

  in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

  as the tree that sweetnes my bitter Marahs,

  as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,

  as the brazen serpent that calls forth

    the look of faith.

By thy cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort,

  the liveliness of all my duties,

  the sum of all thy gospel promises,

  the comfort of all my afflictions,

  the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,

  the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

    the rest of ceaseless praise.

O MY LORD AND SAVIOUR,

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me

    to take up and carry,

  a cross before thou givest me a crown.

Thou hast appointed it to be my portion,

  but self-love hates it,

    carnal reason is unreconciled to it;

  without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,

    walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring

    with thee!

Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,

  heavy because I shirk thy load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,

  that with my cross thou sendest promised grace

    so that I may bear it patiently,

  that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,

    and thy burden which is light.

Puritan Prayers: Living by Prayer

April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

I decided with all of the Puritan prayers I’ve been reading lately, I may as well start a series on here sharing my favorites with everyone else. They’ve been a huge blessing to me, and I imagine the same could be true for others. The first is Living By Prayer. Unfortunately, the author’s name is not easily apparent – maybe I’ll search this prayer out later and see if I can find the author.

~~~

O God of the open ear,

Teach me to live by prayer

as well as by providence,

for myself, soul, body, children, family, church;

Give me a heart frameable to thy will;

    so might I live in prayer,

    and honour thee,

    being kept from evil, known and unknown.

Help me to see the sin that accompanies all I do,

    and the good I can distil from everything.

Let me know that the work of prayer is to bring

    my will to thine,

    and that without this it is folly to pray;

When I try to bring thy will to mine it is

    to command Christ,

  to be above him, and wiser than he:

    this is my sin and pride.

I can only succeed when I pray

    according to thy precept and promise,

    and to be done with as it pleases thee,

    according to thy sovereign will.

When though commandest me to pray

    for pardon, peace, brokenness,

  it is because though wilt give me the thing promised,

    for thy glory,

    as well as for my good.

Help me not only to desire small things

    but with holy boldness to desire great things

  for thy people, for myself,

    that they and I might live to show thy glory.

Teach me

  that it is wisdom for me to pray for all I have,

    out of love, willingly, not of necessity;

  that I may come to thee at any time,

    to lay open my needs acceptably to thee;

  that my great sin lies in my not keeping

    the savour of thy ways;

  that the remembrance of this truth is one way

    to the sense of thy presence;

  that there is no wrath like the wrath of being

    governed by my own lusts for my own ends.

Tonight’s Poetry – “The Spanish Dancer” by Rainer Rilke

February 4, 2011 § 5 Comments

Tonight I had some time to sit down and read poetry. Unfortunately, I’ve exhausted all of my poetry so I stole some from my roomate. Actually, he recommended it. So I took about an hour to skim through a translation of the German poet Rainer Rilke.  I found three or four poems that I resonated with, but none of them caught my imagination like “The Spanish Dancer.”   At the beginning of Fall semester two years ago, my house went out to dinner at the Boat Basin cafe where we learned that the night’s entertainment was a  flamenco dancer.   The sun had begun to set, and as she danced in the orange light we all forgot about the food.  Rilke explains what I saw.

 

The Spanish Dancer

————-

As in the hand a match glows, swiftly white

before it bursts in flame and to all sides

licks its quivering tongues: within the ring

of spectators her wheeling dance is bright,

nimble, and fervid, twitches and grows wide.

 

And suddenly is made of pure fire.

 

Now her glances kindle the dark hair;

she twirls the floating skirts with daring art

into a whirlwind of consuming flame,

from which her naked arms alerty strike,

clattering like fearful rattlesnakes.

 

Then, as the fire presses her too closely,

imperiously she clutches it and throws it

with haughty gestures to the floor and watches

it rage and leap with flames that will not die–

until, victorious, surely, with a sweet

greeting smile, and holding her head high,

she tramples it to death with small, firm feet.