God gives grace to the humble…

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'”
(1 Peter 5:5)

As I prepare for this Sunday’s message from 1 Peter 5:1-5, I realize that there’s just not enough time to go into full detail on everything that is touched upon in this passage.  The final point that Peter makes, urging all to humility in their relationships with one another, is a vital aspect of our life together as the body of Christ.  In all honesty, this one verse could occupy an entire series of sermons on what it means to be humble, how and why God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and how humility is demonstrated in the life of faith.  That series isn’t in the works, yet, but perhaps it should be.

In the midst of study on this passage, I read again a prayer from the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  I’ve shared prayers from this collection before. I’ve even read them in worship on occasion.  The prayer I read today is called “Humility in Service.”  It’s written primarily for the Elder in service of the church, but could be applied to everyone who aspires to serve the Lord in faithfulness.

The prayer, as with most of the Puritan Prayers, is devastating in its candor and vulnerability, and is absolutely Christ-centered in its hope.  I offer it to your for prayer and reflection today.

Humility in Service *

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected, words ill-advised,

I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps, my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behavior, provoking bitterness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;

If I have turned cold from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me;

If I have withheld relief because of my poverty and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me;

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive, the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness
arising from the depravity of my nature,
my omitted duties, my unimproved advantages,
thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy
may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.

Amen

* Bennet, Arthur. The Valley of Vision (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009) Pg. 178.

A Need for Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
(2 Peter 3:18)

In the midst of this Lenten Season, a time of devotion, dedication, and discipline, I thought I’d offer the following prayer from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions:

O Lord,
Thou knowest my great unfitness for service,
my present deadness,
my inability to do anything for thy glory,
my distressing coldness of heart.
I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable,
and loathe and abhor myself.
I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do,
for I feel amazingly deserted by thee,
     and sense thy presence so little;
Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth,
and the dreadful sin of my nature,
so that I feel all sin,
I cannot think or act but every motion is sin.
Return again with showers of converting grace
to a poor gospel-abusing sinner.
Help my soul to breathe after holiness,
after a constant devotedness to thee,
after growth in grace more abundantly every day.
O Lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness,
and am ready to sink because I fall short of my desire;
Help me to hold out a little longer,
Until the happy hour of deliverance comes,
for I cannot lift my soul to thee
if thou of thy goodness bring me not nigh.
Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender,
lest I offend my blessed Friend
in thought and behavior;
I confide in thee and lean upon thee,
and need thee at all times to assist and lead me.
O that all my distresses and apprehensions
might prove but Christ’s school
to make me fit for greater service
by teaching me the great lesson of humility.

Grace and peace,

SDG

The Uninspired Life

In case you were wondering, its been a great week for me.  Yes there’s been the added stress and work after my wife’s surgery, but she’s recovering and doing well, and I’ve managed to not burn the house down – so I’d call that a success.

The Easter Service went well.  We had a full house in church. My sermon rocked.  I didn’t really have a lot to confess during that quiet time of reflection.  Success!

Work is going well.  I’ve got this whole “exegetical method” down pretty well — it only took me about 10 years to get it down.  I start with some Greek study, write out some preliminary thoughts, read through some commentaries, write out the sermon.  All in all, it is an enjoyable discipline of studying Scripture – another success.

I’ve started running again.  Now that I’ve written that, something will probably come up and keep me from running tonight, but I’ve been doing well, feeling stronger with every run, going a little further every night, maintaining a steady pace per mile, and even losing a bit of weight along the way.  Winning!

So after my run last night the little voice in my head started in with the praise, “Yup, its been a pretty good week, Big E, keep up the good work.”  Then here was the kicker, “You haven’t had to ask God for anything, way to go!”

Crap!

(I’m sorry if that offends, but its the only word that truly signifies the sudden shift from self-congratulatory hubris to a Spirit led conviction – I stand behind, not in, the word.)

It is an uninspired life that does not depend on the power of the Spirit of God for everything.

I am so weak that I begin to think I am strong.  I practice carefully to discipline myself so that I can stand on my own two feet, independent of anyone – especially God.  I consider it an accomplishment if I don’t have to ask God for anything to help me get through the week, the day, the hour.  I consider it a sign of strength if all my prayers are for those around me, but I’m just fine on my own.  Why would I need God to guide me in my sermon prep, I’ve got commentaries for that.  Why would I need God to help me teach and raise my kids, I’ve read books about that.  I am independent. I am strong.  I am the master of my own life.

I am full of it. (Refer here to the offending word above.)

What I need, I think, is a case of “Learned Helplessness.”  Usually this is considered a bad thing, where, faced with the overwhelming and uncontrollable flow of events, individuals feel helpless and unable to cope with life.

But for the Christian, learned helplessness is the starting point for saving Grace. Being helpless before the Lord is not weakness, rather it is finding true strength. I cannot save myself, I must trust in my Savior.  I cannot be the master of my destiny, I must trust in the One who is.  I cannot get my life together, I must trust in the One who holds my life in His hands.  I am weak, but in my weakness His strength is made perfect.

So where do I turn to learn weakness in the Spirit?  I’ve found the Puritans often help.

Here’s my prayer for the day (from The Valley of Vision):

O Thou Most High,
It becomes me to be low in thy presence.
I am nothing compared to thee;
I possess not the rank and power of angels,
but thou hast made me what I am,
and placed me where I am;
help me to acquiesce in thy sovereign pleasure.
I thank thee that in the embryo state of my endless being
I am capable by grace of improvement;
that I can bear thy image,
not by submissiveness, but by your design,
and can work with thee and advance thy cause and glory.
But, alas, the crown has fallen from my head:
I have sinned;
I am alien to thee;
my head is deceitful and wicked,
my mind an enemy to thy law.
Yet, in my lostness thou hast laid help on the Mighty One
and he comes between to put his hands on us both,
my Umpire, Daysman, Mediator,
whose blood is my peace,
whose righteousness is my strength,
whose condemnation is my freedom,
whose Spirit is my power,
whose heaven is my heritage.
Grant that I may feel more the strength of thy grace
in subduing the evil of my nature,
in loosing me from the present evil world,
in supporting me under the trials of life,
in enabling me to abide with thee in my valleys,
in exercising me to have a conscience void of offence
before thee and before men.
In all my affairs may I distinguish between duty and anxiety,
and may my character and not my circumstances chiefly engage me.

Humbly yours…

Longing for God

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
(Psalm 42:1 ESV) 

When embraced with the goodness, the mercy, the gracious love of God, it is only natural to cry out in praise.  I just read in a devotion this morning, our theology must lead to doxology, the study of biblical doctrine is not an exercise in pointless intellectual speculation; rather, its end is to lead us to a greater knowledge and worship of the person and work of the Almighty. 

On the flip side, though, when presented with the glory of God, filled with a longing to worship Him in Spirit and truth, we are confronted by reality: we are sinners, and even with our best of ambitions, our worship before God is less than what it ought to be. 

This morning I came across the following prayer in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, that I wanted to share.  It is my prayer, may it be yours as well.

My God,
I feel it is heaven to please thee,
    and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
                         pure as Christ is pure,
                         perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!
These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
     and shall I break them? must I break them?
     am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?
Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
                            that I grieve this blessed God,
                                 who is infinite in goodness and grace!
O, if he would punish me for my sins,
     it would not wound my heart so deep to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
     he continually repeats his kindness to me.
At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
     but how can I dishonor this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings?
O that I could consecrate my soul and body to his service,
     without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
     so as never more to attempt to be my own!
     or have any will or affections
          that are not perfectly conformed to his will and his love!
But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
     and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
          before the blessed King of heaven!
I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
But when I have done all I can to eternity
     I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage
          that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

SDG