The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
You have brought me too the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see you in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your 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 the stars can be seen from the deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;
Let me find in your light my darkness, your life in my death, your joy in my sorrow, your grace in my sin, your riches in my poverty, your glory in my valley. Amen.
Dear New Hope,
This is the first devotion that we will be sending out over the next little while, as we practice “social separation” to try and slow the advance of the Corona virus. The prayer above is the opening prayer in a little book that I often go to personally to help guide my heart into prayer, (especially if I find that I am struggling or distracted). It is from a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions by men like Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, David Brainerd and others. [If you don’t have a copy of this book, you ought to consider it! Amazon gives me no percentage of sales!] My point in sharing this gem of a prayer today is that it is a great perspective on the life of a Christian as we struggle to live in God’s grace in this fallen world. I am reminded that God’s ways, and God’s values are far too often not the ways and values that my heart is drawn toward, so I appreciate this prayer’s perspective as a correction to my self-centered heart and affections. Let me encourage you to pray the words above out-loud as you read them. Sometimes I think hearing my own voice speak these truths helps cement them into my own thinking.
So, as I thought about what direction I would point us for today’s thoughts I scanned the shelves in my library here at the church, just sort of looking for something that would spark my interest and be encouraging for you. I almost don’t want to tell you that on one of my shelves the books are pretty unorganized. Here is a sequential list of titles: 101 Portraits of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures, 52 Children’s Sermons, Master’s Secrets of Turkey Hunting (how did that book land there?), The Spirit of Revival, Respectable Sins, What do Presbyterians Believe and Mere Christianity. There are more, but you get the point… unorganized, random titles. It sort of represents the way I think sometimes. Reflecting on the random clutter on my shelves I was again pointed to the fact that I often see life in the same kind of way. And sometimes not at all from the perspective of grace! One of the men who mentored me as a young pastor, Paul Settle published a short book called Changeless Truths in a Changing World wherein he takes the chapters of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and using anecdotes and application teaches the truths those chapters contain. There! That’s it! That’s what we need… changeless truths in a changing world!
In the third chapter of the WCOF the writers look at the Scriptures and what they have to say about the decrees of God. That chapter of the confession, as much as any other one, helps us to see that life is not just a jumbled conglomeration of unconnected events that have no design, meaning or purpose. The truth is that sometimes we look at life like that because we cannot see the whole picture. We don’t have the drone’s eye view from our GoPro cameras. We see less of the world than the ants on our driveway sees of our front yard! (Yes, the ants are bad in my yard again, this spring.) This has always and will always be one of man’s problems, until we are in Glory. We just don’t see and know all of God’s design and decree.
The Westminster Confession tells us that there is a big picture, and that God is now wringing His hands and trying to figure out how He is going to deal with this situation. There is a real world order out there. All that happens in it has been wisely and lovingly determined by a sovereign Creator who is shaping everything into an overall masterpiece for His glory! The opening statement in the chapter on God’s Decrees says: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. These wise preachers and Biblical scholars have made a strong and true summary of what the Bible teaches are the “purposes of God’s heart”. God’s plan stands firm forever! The entire history of the world (even the outbreak of Covid -19 we endure now) are part of our Heavenly Father’s unchangeable sovereign plan. Psalm 33:10 reminds us: The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
Maybe the most encouraging words I can share with you come from the pen of the writer to the Hebrews, where in Chapter 6 he says: 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Consider this thought that is so familiar to us that we just let it pass by us… Even the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred according to God’s plan. God is working all things and events and circumstances with the purpose of His will. Acts 4:27ff for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Do you know that only a sovereign God could make the promise that He is working all things for our good and His glory, and keep it! Only a child of God could believe it, and live in its strength and victory. Maybe we really are in what the Puritan prayer called “The Valley of Vision”!
Love, Pastor Richard Burguet