During last week’s Easter service, my church did a responsive reading based on excerpts from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. It gave a wonderful picture of how Christ took the consequences of our sin and gave us undeserved blessing in exchange. Here’s the original section that our responsive reading was based on, from a chapter called “Love Lustres at Calvary.”
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell's worst that I might attain heaven's best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
– Puritan prayer, from The Valley of Vision
As a continuation from my last post, The Sacrament of Living, here is more of A. W. Tozer’s thinking on that topic. After the passage I quoted last time, he explains how difficult it will be to put this truth into practice. We’ll need to change a habitual thought pattern – and we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit! But beyond that, Satan will try to stop us, as he always does when someone wants to deepen their commitment to God. (Back to the “all of life is a battleground” side of the coin!) Tozer says:
We can meet this successfully only by the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.
Sounds like hard work! But somehow, the thought of it makes me want to rise to the challenge, rather than feeling overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because of the incredible results that Tozer describes in this summary at the end of the chapter:
It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.”
– A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
One of the lessons I learned as a young believer was that everything I do can be an act of worship to the Lord. But to be honest, my heart attitude had fallen back into the old sacred-secular dichotomy: feeling that certain things (like ministry or bible study) are spiritual, but anything personal (like leisure or even housekeeping) is not.
A couple of months ago, my pastor spoke on spiritual warfare, and showed how Satan can take advantage of us when we think this way, because all of life can be a battleground. Then last week I read the last chapter of A. W. Tozer’s classic, The Pursuit of God, which describes this same false division between sacred and secular. It goes on to speak of what I see as the flip side of the coin: that all of life can be a sacrament.
Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; It is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament.
If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace then we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By one act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration.
– A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
I think what really hit home was that all my actions – all of them! – can be a sacred act, holy to the Lord. Being disciplined at duties like cleaning or doing laundry can be an outward expression of God’s grace at work within me. (That’s huge for me, because those of you who know me well know how messy my house usually is!) How I spend my leisure time can demonstrate my consecration to Christ. I haven’t been thinking like this, but I want to. I want to honor God with every action, not just the ones that I’ve thought of as “spiritual.” I want my whole life to be a sacrament.
Merry Christmas! In honor of the birth of Jesus, here is a wonderful prayer from a book that has become one of my favorites, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.
O source of all good,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on
wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me
to the uttermost
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child
to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much
that heaven can give no more.
– Puritan prayer, from The Valley of Vision
A week or so ago, I saw this prayer on the blog of a fellow Campus Crusade staff member, and decided to do a web search for some information on it. I found that it’s an adaptation from a prayer by John Wesley (1703-1791), whose teachings are the foundation of the various Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness denominations. Over the years it has appeared in various forms in Methodist service books and hymnals. The version below is the one I saw quoted most often (including on wikipedia.org). It’s an incredibly powerful prayer of dedication to the Lord, which needs no further comment.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
– John Wesley (1703-1791), Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church (1936)