An Empty Vessel

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen Thou me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust Thee altogether. O Lord, help me.

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
(as quoted in Ken Gire’s Between Heaven and Earth)

Martin Luther’s prayer reminds me not to stop at confessing my sin, but move beyond that to a place where I trust in God’s transforming power. Sometimes when God shows me a weak area in my life or convicts me of a sin, all I look at is that flaw. “What a horrible person I am! I’m hopeless!” I forget in my heart what I know in my head: that God has the power to not only cleanse me, but change me. When I wallow in self-condemnation and defeat, it amounts to nothing less than unbelief — it’s like saying Christ’s death on the cross was not enough to provide forgiveness and new life for me.

God is able to fill my emptiness, give me strength for weakness, and warm my cold heart, but He will only do that when I place my faith in Him. When I trust Him to change me, my flaws and failures can become wonderful opportunities to experience His power at work within me.


Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
– 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, 4:7; 12:9 (NIV)

The Motive for Loving God

When I was a child, I used to look forward to the evenings when my Aunt Angie would come to have dinner with us while my Uncle Bill was at his Kiwanis meeting. Why? Because she usually brought me a gift! But when I grew up, that changed; I liked visiting with her simply because I enjoyed her personality and her vibrant heart. I think this pictures, in a small way, what Bernard of Clairvaux is getting at in the following excerpt.

The motive for loving God is God Himself… He is such that a love to Him is a natural due… Our love is prepared and rewarded by His. He loves us first, out if His great tenderness; then we are bound to repay Him with love; and we are permitted to cherish exultant hopes in Him…

He has no better gift than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward; He is the refreshment of the holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

– Bernard of Clairvaux, from On Loving God
(as quoted in 90 Days With The Christian Classics)

Bernard’s comments lead me to ask myself this: do I really love God, or do I just love what He gives me? To put it another way, do I appreciate His gifts merely because of what I get out of them, or because they show me His heart? Gratitude is vital, but a “grown-up” relationship with God also includes loving Him for who He is and valuing Him because He is valuable in and of Himself.

On this Valentine’s Day, may we see God Himself as our prize and reward, as Bernard did!

 I said to the Lord, "You are my Master!
      Every good thing I have comes from you."
...Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
      You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
      What a wonderful inheritance!
- Psalm 16:2, 5-6 (NLT)

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

First my apologies for some technical difficulties: last week, the service that sends out my posts had some sort of “hiccup” and sent an old post from October! Then this morning my blog decided to post an unfinished entry that’s not supposed to go up until next week (February 14). So here’s the “real” item for today!

Liturgical churches celebrate today as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a season of self-examination, repentance and even fasting in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. The following prayer was written by English reformer Thomas Cranmer to be used in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Thomas Cranmer, 1928 Book of Common Prayer

I see several biblical truths in this prayer, including echoes of both 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 51. My sin is a genuine offense against God, and I must truly repent if I want to experience the forgiveness Christ purchased for me. Look how repentance is described: being penitent, having a contrite heart, lamenting my sin, acknowledging my wretchedness. How often I substitute self-hatred for this kind of healthy mourning for my sin! But if God doesn’t hate me when I sin, what right do I have to hate myself? Especially when He is the God of all mercy who graciously gives me a new heart, complete with all the repentance I need to enjoy His forgiveness!

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me...

Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me...

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart,
    O God, you will not despise.

- Psalm 51:1-3, 9-10, 17 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

Father’s Love Letter

A couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to Father’s Love Letter, a wonderful presentation of paraphrased scriptures in print, audio and video formats. This link will take you to a version you can read (and listen to) online, and if you look elsewhere on the site you’ll find it in many other formats. I think it makes a wonderful valentine from God to us!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

And Can It Be

The first time I heard this hymn was when I was in college, at the baptist church attended by most of the Christian students on campus. The lyrics totally blew me away because of the picture they gave me of what Christ accomplished for me on the cross. The God of the universe has such an incredible love for me that He died in my place to provide forgiveness, life, deliverance, righteousness, a new identity, and direct access to His presence! “And Can It Be” remains my favorite traditional hymn.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain –
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace –
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray-
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

– Charles Wesley, 1739

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