The Gift of Gifts

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 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.

Praise and Thanksgiving

It has been too long since I posted an excerpt! In light of that, this week’s will be longer. This is another prayer from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. When I read this, I thought it would be particularly appropriate for the Thanksgiving season.

O my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
   my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
   for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
   and I would pour out all that fullness before thee
      in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee
   ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
   ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
   ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
   crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created,
   for adorning it, sanctifying it,
      though it is fixed in barren soil;
   for the body thou hast given me,
   for preserving its strength and vigor,
   for providing senses to enjoy delights,
   for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
   for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
   for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
   for a full table and overflowing cup,
   for appetite, taste, sweetness,
   for social joys of relatives and friends,
   for ability to serve others,
   for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
   for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
   for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
   for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
   for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express,
   for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.
   
- Puritan prayer, from The Valley of Vision.
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