If you don’t have a copy of The Valley of Vision, you need to get one. It is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. I have found great encouragement in this little book. In particular, I love the prayers of Service and Ministry. Reading these prayers remind me that the things I am tempted with as a pastor and the struggles I face are no different from other pastors who have come before me. Here is one that blessed me today.
O my Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
or merely win the esteem and affections
But do the work of grace in their hearts,
call in thy elect,
seal and edify the regenerate ones,
and command eternal blessings on their souls.
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Water the hearts of those who hear thy Word,
that seed sown in weakness may be raised
Cause me and those that hear me
to behold thee here in the light of special faith,
and hereafter in the blaze of endless glory;
Make my every sermon a means of grace to myself,
and help me to experience the power
of thy dying love,
for thy blood is balm,
thy presence bliss,
thy smile heaven,
thy cross the place where truth
and mercy meet.
Look upon the doubts and discouragements
of my ministry
and keep me from self-importance;
I beg pardon for my many sins, omissions,
as a man, as a minister;
Command thy blessing on my weak,
and on the message of salvation given;
Stay with thy people,
and may thy presence be their portion
when I preach to others let not my words
be merely elegant and masterly,
my reasoning polished and refined,
my performance powerless and tasteless,
but may I exalt thee and humble sinners.
O Lord of power and grace,
all hearts are in thy hands,
all events at thy disposal,
Set the seal of thy almighty will
upon my ministry.
Jim Hamilton tells us how:
The best thing a man can do for his personal Bible reading is join a strong local church where the Bible is preached and the gospel is clear. Likewise, the best thing a man can do for his personal prayer life is join a strong local church where the Bible is preached and the gospel is clear.
I found great encouragement from this prayer today.
O God whose will conquers all,
There is no comfort in anything
apart from enjoying thee
and being engaged in thy service;
Thou art All in all, and all enjoyments are what to me
thou makest them, and no more.
I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is,
or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair
I would choose to refer all to thee,
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there.
Then prayer turns wholly into praise,
and all I can do is to adore and bless thee.
What shall I give thee for all thy benefits?
I am in a strait betwixt two, knowing not what to do;
I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
and can only rejoice that thou doest all,
that none in heaven or on earth share they honour;
I can of myself do nothing to glorify thy blessed name,
but I can through grace cheerfully surrender soul and body to thee,
I know that thou art the author and finisher of faith,
that the whole work of redemption is thine alone,
that every good work or thought found in me
is the effect of thy power and grace,
that thy sole motive in working in me to will and to do
is for thy good pleasure.
O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much
about man’s creaturely power and goodness,
when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment,
we should be devils incarnate.
This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.
The Valley of Vision, p. 4
As I study the New Testament the essential ethic that the apostles teach the church is “be who you already are in Christ.” Yet the question I often get asked is, how? How can I be who I already am in Christ? Well, the simple answer is start reckoning in your mind the truth of what Christ has done at the cross for you and begin to live that truth out. However, for many, more practical suggestions are needed to help think about our position in Christ. Several weeks ago I finished preaching through Titus and one of the applications I made was to be who you are in Christ, but I followed that statement up with three ways to help the believer in this task. These points are in no way exhaustive, but hopefully prove helpful.
1.) Understand the Gospel
The way in which we understand the full depth of who we are in Christ is by understanding what God’s Word says about the gospel. Specifically, we must understand the Old Testament promises to God’s people. It says in Galatians 3:8 that Abraham had the gospel preached to him when God said, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The gospel began in the Old Testament. For us to appreciate and savor the richness of who we are in Christ demands that we know and understand what was promised in the Old Testament. We need to believe that what was promised in the Old Testament has now been given to us through the preaching of the gospel and our union with Christ. Since we are the recipients of the Old Testament promises then we must live as we truly are in Jesus because he has accomplished all these things for us.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12
2.) Meditate on the Gospel
We must not only know and understand what Scripture teaches concerning the gospel, but we must constantly subject our minds to meditating on gospel truths. Meditation means thinking and reflecting seriously and thoughtfully about the gospel. And the way we do this is when we give our attention to God’s Word. We must constantly be reminded of who we are in Christ and what we have been given in him. How do we meditate on the gospel? We read it, we listen to it, and we memorize it. One of the greatest benefits in your life can be memorizing God’s Word.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
3.) Pray the Gospel
We must pray to God and thank him for the gospel. When we pray this way, we recount the gospel and remind ourselves of it. One of the best things you can do is read the prayers in the New Testament and see how they are packed with gospel content. Paul is especially fond of reminding his hearers of what they were before Christ and who they now are in Christ because the gospel has changed them. Our prayers need to be full of gospel content giving thanks to God for what he has done in his Son.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14.
You see the progression here: Understand the gospel (i.e., understand the content, how it fits together, what it means), meditate on the gospel (i.e., internalize it, make it part of who you are, fill yourself up with it), and then pray the gospel (i.e., verbalize it, give thanks, pray always with this goal in mind). Notice that we need all three, but also notice that one cannot be done without the other. True Christian growth must begin with the gospel. We grow by knowing the gospel, teaching the gospel, preaching the gospel, meditating on the gospel, memorizing the gospel, writing out the gospel, listening to the gospel, and praying the gospel. We must do this minute-by-minute, day-by-day, and year-by-year because the gospel is the total work of God in our lives. We must think, live, and reflect in every sphere of our existence the promises of God that are now fulfilled in Christ and given to all those who believe in him.