A Prayer For Cleansing

This prayer by English reformer Thomas Cranmer is one I memorized growing up from hearing it repeated so often in the liturgy of my church. The words often come back to mind when I feel the need for God to cleanse my heart.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Book of Common Prayer

I’m amazed at the amount of solid biblical theology that’s packed into these few phrases. First comes the acknowledgement that God is not only all-powerful but all-seeing. I may be able to hide my real desires from other people and even from myself, but my heart is an open book to God. That thought used to scare me, but now it feels incredibly safe to know that He knows me better than I know myself, and still loves me.

Next comes the request. I cannot purify my own thoughts and desires, no matter how hard I try – and believe me, I’ve tried! Only God the Holy Spirit can make me clean as He supernaturally applies the work of Christ to my heart. That’s the “through Christ our Lord” part, which I used to think was just the proper way to end a prayer, like saying “please” and “thank you” and “may I” instead of “can I”. But it’s really a crucial part of the prayer itself, because Christ is the means through which the prayer is answered. His sinless life and atoning death make my forgiveness and possible:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

What’s more, Christ’s resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence in my life. Jesus said:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” – John 16:7 (NASB)

Cranmer’s prayer also includes the purpose for cleansing. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that many times – maybe even most times – the reason I confess sin is so I won’t feel guilty anymore. But to God, confession is all about restoring my love relationship with Him, which will transform my life into one that brings honor and glory to Him.

Teach Me To Listen

Again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, because life feels “crazy-busy” right now. In fact, I think this prayer by A. W. Tozer is exactly what I need to pray:

Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, ?Speak, for thy servant heareth.? Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking Voice. Amen.

– A. W. Tozer, from The Pursuit of God

My Faith Has Found A Resting Place

After a couple of crazy months, I finally have the time and motivation to post again! One of the things that kept me busy was planning and leading worship at my church a couple of weeks when our regular worship leader was out of town.

On the day we started a new series from the book of Jude on contending for the faith, I had the congregation say the Nicene creed (see this post) followed immediately by this hymn. At first glance that combination may seem odd, considering the first two lines of the hymn say “My faith has found a resting place, Not in device or creed.” But here’s what I told the congregation:

I grew up in a church that said the Nicene Creed probably every other week, and I think I saw it as a part of a ritual I was relying on to make me right with God. After I came to trust Christ to give me a right relationship with God through His death on the cross, I had a really negative opinion of religious ritual. But since then I’ve learned some things about the Nicene Creed that have made me appreciate it more. It is a statement of faith hammered out by the early church during a time of heresy, and now I see it as a way to publicly declare my faith in the one true God.

Even though this hymn was written many centuries later, and in a more emotional style, it too is a public declaration of faith in the one true God.

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s Name,
Salvation through His blood.

My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed,
For me His life He gave.

– Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920), under the pseudonym of Lidie H. Edmunds

Focusing On God

This week a dear friend sent me this quote from Oswald Chambers’ devotional book, My Utmost For His Highest :

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin” – they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon – all of these simply are as well – yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful. Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not worry about being of use to others; simply believe on Me.” In other words, pay attention to the Source, and out of you “will flow rivers of living water”. We cannot discover the source of our natural life through common sense and reasoning, and Jesus is teaching here that growth in our spiritual life comes not from focusing directly on it, but from concentrating on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows our circumstances, and if we will stay focused on Him, instead of our circumstances, we will grow spiritually – just as “the lilies of the field.”

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

This is such a great reminder! How often I try to fix myself and make myself grow by trying to change my habits or be more self-disciplined, when really all I need is to focus on my relationship with God, and let Him take care of changing me. Or else I get so caught up in my service for God – or as Chambers puts it, “being of use to others” – that I let it become a substitute for relating to Him.

This lesson was reinforced to me this weekend in listening to a couple of old audio tapes by the late Texas Baptist preacher Ron Dunn. In commenting on Hebrews 11:6, he said that the primary thing God wants from me is not my service but my searching. Service is merely the overflow of a life that seeks Jesus.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

Wrestling With God

I’m going to stretch the definition of "classic" once again with a book that may well be at least a "modern classic." I’ve been re-reading The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul, and this morning I was challenged by his thoughts in chapter 7 on Jacob wrestling with the angel of God in Genesis 32.

First, Sproul gives some cultural background that changed how I view this event:

"The discussion with the angel about names is significant. The angel demanded the name of Jacob. The demand for the name was similar to the custom we have today of indicating surrender by saying "uncle." For the combatant to yield his name meant that he was acknowledging the superiority of the other party. The yielding of the name was an act of submission. When Jacob surrendered his name, he surrendered his soul. He relinquished authority over his own life. With the surrender came a new name, a new identity, Israel."

The curious thing to me is that when the angel gave Jacob his new name, he said this: "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." So it seems that the way Jacob prevailed with God was by yielding to Him. How typical of God to turn the world’s values upside down and say that victory comes through surrender!

A bit later, Sproul says this (boldfacing is mine):

"The Holy One cannot be defeated in personal combat. But there is some consolation here. Jacob wrestled with God and lived. He was left crippled, but he survived that battle. At least we can learn from this that God will engage us in our honest struggles. We may wrestle with the Holy One. Indeed, for the transforming power of God to change our lives, we must wrestle with Him. We must know what it means to fight with God all night if we are also to know what it means to experience the sweetness of the soul’s surrender."

God gives me permission to wrestle with Him! My natural tendency under pressure is to withdraw, but God would rather have me question Him or even express anger at Him than withdraw from Him. In fact, if Sproul is right (and I think he is), struggling with God is necessary to spiritual growth, because struggle leads to surrender, and surrender brings true victory.

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