Reflections on the Valley of Vision: Sincerity, Part 2: Commentary on the Prayer

reflections-of-sincerity


“You desire truth in the inward being;

Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV

(Full prayer may be read here)

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on sincerity and authenticity, and I ranted about Christians who don’t seem to appreciate authentic Christianity. Maybe they only want authenticity when it’s nice, neat, and doesn’t have to do with struggling with the really dirty sins. Regardless of the reason, I’ll probably rant about it later in another blog post or even on the podcast. Right now, I mostly want to talk about the Sincerity prayer found in the Valley of Vision.

The Elector of Saints


“Elector of Saints,”
Notice how the prayer opens up. It addresses God as Elector of Saints. The prayer recognizes the sovereignty of God in the election and predestination of His people. If you read the Bible and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture then you can’t deny that God is sovereign in salvation and the author of this prayer is making it clear that he is thankful for this divine sovereignty.

Blessed is the Man…


“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest
     and callest to thyself.
With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance,
   Forgiveness;”

When I read this portion of the prayer, my mind immediately goes to Romans 4:4-8 (particularly verses 7 and 8) which reads like this:

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” – Romans 4:4-8, NRSV

In this prayer, we acknowledge God as the one who elects His saints, and calls them to Himself by grace through faith. Pay close attention to verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 states something that’s common sense. We know that if someone works then they deserve a wage, and when you give the worker their wage that is something that they have earned by their work. Then Paul contrasts that idea in verse 5 when he says that God justifies the ungodly without works so that when faith is granted to them God counts it as righteousness. I think the NIV communicates verse 5 the best when, instead of using the word, “reckoned,” it uses the word, “credited.” God “credits” righteousness to us according to the very faith that He grants to us.

Now, when we examine justification, we see in Romans 5:1 we see that the only way a person can be justified is by faith. So, where does the faith come from? I believe we just established that faith comes from God.

So, we see Scripturally that God calls us, and justifies us by faith that He grants to us therefore we say with the Puritans in our prayer, “With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance, forgiveness.”

Deliverance from the Pit


“Thou hast lifted me, a prisoner, out of
   the pit of sin
 and pronounced my discharge,
   not only in the courts of heaven,
   but in the dock of conscience;
 hast justified me by faith,
   given me peace with thee,
 made me to enjoy glorious liberty as thy child.”

The beginning of this passage of the Sincerity prayer seems to be inspired by the words of Psalm 40.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the Lord.”
– Psalm 40:1-3, NRSV

Psalm 40 gives us a picture of God’s delivering power. In the Sincerity prayer we see the author using the idea of a pit to describe sin, and I think it’s important to note that right after he talks about the ‘pit of sin’ he says that God has ‘pronounced [his] discharge not only in courts of heaven, but in the dock of conscience.’ The author has a clear understanding of his assurance. In this prayer the author points out that Christ not only declares us righteous before our Father in heaven, but He speaks to the storm of thoughts that ask these questions:

“What if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough?”
“What if I can’t really be assured of my salvation?”
“What if I have blown it and presumed the grace of God too many times?”

One of my favorite quotes is from Jon Acuff. If you know anything about Acuff you know that he’s a Christian comedian and is very quick with his witty observational humor, but he made a very serious statement: “”It is finished.” May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.” I almost want to speak in tongues every time I read that. God’s grace is sufficient bring us up from the pit of sin. It is finished.

And notice the last part of this section, the author says that God has made us to enjoy glorious liberty as a child. We’re free. I can spend a dollar on a scratch-off lotto ticket (as unwise as that may be) without some old fart telling me that I’m “scratching my soul into hell.” (Yes, I’ve actually heard that in the pulpit.)

I can have a cigar and a scotch to the glory of God. I’m not free to rebel against God because I won’t want to rebel against God. A circumcised heart has no desire to turn away from the One that has set it free.

Assurance, Sincerity, and the Difference Between These Two Animals


“Save me from the false hope of the hypocrite:
May I never suppose I am in Christ unless I am
   a new creature,
 never think I am born of the Spirit
   unless I mind the things of the Spirit,
 never rest satisfied with professions of belief
   and outward forms and services,
     while my heart is not right with thee.
May I judge my sincerity in religion
 by my fear to offend thee,
 my concern to know thy will,
 my willingness to deny myself.”

The author believes that the standard for sincerity in our religion comes from our fear of offending God, our concern to know God’s will, and our willingness to deny ourselves. No doubt these are good things and these are signs that God is at work in our lives in a positive way. However, let us be careful not to assume that we can look to these things for the assurance of our salvation. Our assurance is only found in Christ. There will always be someone who fears God more. There will always be someone who is more concerned to know God’s will more than we are. There will always be someone who is more willing to deny themselves than we do.

We can’t confuse assurance and sincerity. In the context of soteriology proper, I would say that sincerity is being sure of the substance that supports our profession of faith and assurance is being sure of what Christ has done to give us that substance.

One Thing Needful: Learning at the Feet of Jesus


“Let not my temporal occupations injure
   my spiritual concerns,
 or the cares of life make me neglect
   the one thing needful.”

At the end of Luke 10, we encounter Jesus teaching in the home of Martha. Her sister, Mary is there and she has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house.

“She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:39-42, NRSV

Without getting into the revolutionary aspects of the thought of a woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, we see that Jesus is showing us that the “one thing needful” for us is to learn at his feet. The author of the prayer is praying for empowerment to recognize that nothing is more important than learning at the feet of Jesus, and the first step to learning is admitting that we know nothing.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3, NRSV

““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV

Life is a burden and Jesus wants to see that we can’t carry the load on our own. We need Him. The only time we’re going to see any progress in our relationship with God is when we admit that He’s our source of life, our source of salvation, our source of joy. In Psalm 87:7, the New Living Translation poetically says it this way, “As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”

To the Laodecian church, in Revelation 3, Jesus says, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

How do you convince people that believe they are rich and have need of nothing that they’re actually naked, poor, and blind? Until we can admit that we’re blind we’ll never see Jesus clearly, and we’ll never see that the invitation to sit at His feet and learn is for us.

God’s Dealings


“May I not be inattentive to the design
   of thy dealings with me,
 or insensible under thy rebukes,
 or immobile at thy calls.”

As Christians we have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of us and He is the means by which God deals with our hearts, and we must be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation we are exhorted, “He that hath an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit saith.”

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30, NRSV

Ephesians 4:30 is one of my favorite verses because it clearly states that the Holy Spirit has sealed us until the day that Jesus comes back. And what Paul, the author of Ephesians, is saying is that we can grieve the Holy Spirit by harboring bitterness towards others in our heart. We harbor bitterness when we remember the pain and grief that someone else has caused us. Instead of listening to the voice of pain and grief, we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and be sensitive, as this prayer says, to God’s dealings with us.

A Holy Art
“May I learn the holy art of abiding in thee,
 of being in the world and not of it,
 of making everything not only consistent with
   but conducive to my religion.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” – John 15:4-6, NRSV

Abiding in Christ is the intention of God for His elect sons and daughters. According to Ephesians 1, God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4) God’s choice of our election does not alleviate us of any responsibility to abide in Christ, but at the same time because God has chosen us in Christ, we are held firm by His grasp and can never be removed from His hand. It’s a paradox of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

Our abiding in Christ doesn’t come from our own ability to stay in Him because we just don’t have that ability in and of ourselves. As an old hymn writer has said, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Our ability to abide comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in us. If you read John 15 without considering the context of Jesus’s talk about the Holy Spirit abiding with us in John 14, then you’ll walk believing that abiding is entirely dependent upon you.

This is why we pray. We pray because in prayer, God empowers to keep abiding and to lean on him for our every need. This is the holiest of arts.

Reflections on the Valley of Vision: Sincerity, Part 1: Some Thoughts on Authenticity

reflections-of-sincerity

“You desire truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV

(Full prayer may be read here)

In this post, I mostly want to share some introductory thoughts going into the prayer, and in the next post, I’ll give some personal thoughts and commentary over the prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I have doubts about my salvation. Sometimes the thought plagues my mind that I could be one of those to whom  Jesus says, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who practice evil!” (Matthew 7:23, ISV)

When this happens, I often pray from the Valley of Vision because there are times when I know what I want to pray, but I can’t seem to find the words, and usually when I read the prayers I think, “This is exactly how I’m feeling and this is exactly what I want to say to God.” I had one of those moments this past Sunday as I was flipping through the Valley of Vision and came across the prayer for sincerity. It was so fitting because I believe that God’s people just aren’t authentic enough in their faith.

Not all Christians feel this way. Some people think, I suppose, that we should drink lemon juice for communion so we look holier. Bill Muehlenberg wrote, what I would describe as, an almost scathing article against the idea of “authentic” Christianity. He made statements like, “Forget this foolishness of avoiding hypocrisy by embracing and settling for carnality and second-rate Christianity….Forget this lousy talk about “authenticity” and start talking about biblical holiness.” Now, all that talk of ‘biblical holiness’ sounds nice to the red tie-wearing, conservative, church goer that arrives to worship 15 minutes early every Sunday, makes sure they always have the same spot in the sanctuary, but reality is that biblical holiness is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. Holiness is given to us in Christ. That’s the only way one can reconcile Ephesians 2:8 (“by grace you are saved and not of works”) and Hebrews 12:14 (“without holiness no man shall see the Lord) without believing that you can lose your salvation or that you have to finish the work of salvation.

We’re not perfect. We struggle. We fall. We sin. And we have a tendency to hide behind a mask and we may (intentionally or unintentionally) lead people to think that we’re better than what we are. Dr. Steve Brown said “Christians are masters at hidden agendas and masks” and I couldn’t agree more. We all have a mask that we like hiding behind because it’s comfortable so that’s when I read the prayer for Sincerity in the Valley of Vision, I feel convicted of my sin and yet at the same time I’m comforted because I access to the Father by His grace so I don’t have to wear a mask in front of Him. He knows how bad I am and He loves me anyway.

There’s no reason to have a mask on before the throne of grace. Jesus has seen all the ugly parts and He’s not going anywhere. In Hebrews 13, the writer reminds his audience in verse 5 that Jesus has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and then in verse 8 the writer says boldly that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Life is unstable and the challenges that we face in life can cause us to become unstable, but Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus is stable foundation you can build your life on. Trust Him.

Resources:

The Valley of Vision

Agendas and Masks by Steve Brown

Hidden Agendas with Steve Brown

And if you thought the Muehlenberg article was bad, check out “Has ‘Authenticity’ Trumped Holiness?” by Brett McCracken on The Gospel Coalition.

The Ultimate Distraction of the Digital Age

technologyquote1As great as the advent of technology and social media is, it has distracted us from our own devotional time with God, and I’m not even talking about basic Bible reading and “quiet time.” I mean that it has distracted us from the reality of our own sin.

We see some injustice happening across the world and we think it’s our duty to start some holy war on social media when we can’t even declare war on our flesh. All it is is one giant distraction. If the devil can keep you focused on all the wars, rumors of wars, crimes, and heresies taking place then that means less time for you to spend working on your bitterness problem or your unforgiveness issue.
The reality of the situation is this: the news is so depressing that if you keep watching it and following it, you’ll allow yourself to become jaded, bitter, depressed, and sometimes even nihilistic all in the name of “being an informed citizen.” So, for God’s sake, turn off your TV, take a break from Fox News, and just meditate on God’s Word.
This is something that I’ve noticed in my own life so let me confess my sins. I make a habit of trying to stay informed so I’ll sit in the living room and watch Fox News or TheBlaze and I will just listen to all the terrible things going, and unless I stop myself, I will become angry, scared, and worried over issues that I have no direct control over. When I feel this way, instead of praying or reading the Word, I lash out on social media. What good does it do? None at all.

So, here’s my challenge to you as someone who also struggles with this: shut everything out for a while, listen to some psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, just read the Bible, and meditate deeply on the Word and rest in His promises.

The Closet Concept

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
– Matthew 6:5-6 (NRSV)

“Prayer is the most powerful resource we have in this life; yet, many only turn to it as a last resort. When unbelievers pray for repentance of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness, prayer is the spiritual dynamite that obliterates the darkness and despair of a sin-soaked soul.” – Franklin Graham

A while back I preached on the subject of the Prayer Closet. I’ve found myself being gripped again by the conviction of the Holy Spirit about this subject. I’ve failed in my own life to pray like I should. I have a great head knowledge of prayer, but the journey from my head to my heart seems to be longer than it seems.

God has been showing me recently that effective prayer will always do one of two things. It will change the situation or it will change how you view the situation.

When Jesus tells us to pray, He tells us to go into our room. I’m old school, so I prefer how the King James renders the word “room”. It calls it the “closest”. The word “closest” might give us the mental imagery of that miscellaneous room in our house where we keep coats, jackets, old clothes, board games, and various other things. But, what do we put in the closet? What do the coats, jackets, old clothes, and various other things have in common? Why do we put them in the closet? It’s simple. We don’t want to deal with them.

So, what is Jesus saying when He tells us to go into our closet? Is it so we can have private time with God? Certainly that’s part of it because Jesus even says that the hypocrites love to stand in the street corners and the synagogues and pray publicly, and He tells us not to be like them. But I think there’s another aspect of the closet that we’re missing. The closets in Jesus’ day weren’t much different than our closets today. They were storage spaces, and guess what went in their closets. That’s right. Crap they didn’t want to deal with.

In Jesus’ command for us to go into the closet and pray is not just a command to pray privately, but a command to confront issues in our life that we’ve dismissed and just don’t want to deal with anymore. Maybe there is habitual sins in our lives that we’ve tried to hide away from everyone else and shove into our proverbial closet, but Jesus clearly sees what we choose not to see and implores us to to go to Him in our prayer closet confront everything that might hinder from a deeper walk with Him.

In the NKJV, Matthew 6:6 reads like this:

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

It actually implies that our Father is in the secret place waiting on us to come to Him in prayer. He’s excited to hear from us in prayer, and He longs for us to allow Him to work in our lives and deal with those issues that we’ve shoved away for so long.

Knowing and Praying the Will of God

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” – [Colossians 1:9-12 ESV]

Lately I’ve been thinking about the will of God for my life. I’ve been praying and earnestly seeking Him about some decisions that have to be made, and while I was working on my commentary for Colossians I kept coming across these verses and it occured to me, God’s will for my life isn’t some big mystery that He wants to hide and let me go off on a wild goose chase to find. I would even dare say that it is the father’s good pleasure to share His will with His children for their lives. I believe that God not only wants to share His will with us, but He wants us to want His will. For those of us who have been in church for forever and a day, this sounds like an elementary concept, but the fact is there are people out there who are really trying to figure what God wants for them and they are having a hard time figuring it out because we often make out to be this angry guy living in the attic of the universe ready to strike someone down for even thinking about the word ‘sin’. I was raised under the impression that if I didn’t say the blessing over my food then God would allow it to be poisoned and kill me for being an unthankful wretch. People who are under this impression need to know that God is more merciful and loving than that. He has a deep love for all us and longs for us to know what He has in store for us. As a matter of fact, He even wants us to pray for His will.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples.” – [John 15:4-8 RV]

Normally, I’m an ESV man, but in John 15:7 the ESV uses the word, ‘wish’. The word ‘wish’ to me has almost a fairy tale meaning. As one who studies the Greek, I’m not sure that Jesus was implying that God is like a fairy godmother that grants wishes, but rather He is a loving and generous Father and care-giver that gives us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).

I love John 15 because it shows us that we will know the will of God for our lives if we continue to abide in Him. What a profound thought that knowing the will of God is a direct result of abiding in Christ.

I want us to look now at Psalm 34:7 and see what exactly God is speaking to us through the psalmist.

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – [Psalms 37:4 ESV]

What’s interesting about this verse is that it doesn’t mean that if you make yourself happy in God, He’ll give us a nice Lincoln or a big house if that’s what your heart desires. It actually means that God will give you the desires of your heart, if your submit yourself to Him.

The Hebrew word for ‘delight’ that is used here is ‛ânag which means ‘to make soft or pliable’. A more accurate translation would be ‘Make yourself pliable before God, and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ When you make yourself pliable before God He can mold you and make you. When He begins to mold you and make you, He often changes the desires of our heart so when God is changing our desires, we begin to want what God wants and then when we pray for what God wants, He gives it to us, because He knows what is best for us.

“The desires of God and the desires of the righteous, agree in one; they are of one mind in their desires.” – John Bunyan

I hope this has blessed you and encouraged you today.

Don’t Waste the Hot Water

“Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:18 (HCSB)

For those of you who know me well, know that I pray the most when I’m in the shower. It seems like that’s the only time that I can get alone and with God. (Besides, he’s not afraid to see me naked. :P) Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that I have a problem. It seems like I have an ADD prayer life. I get in the shower and I’ll start praying, and then I’ll start thinking about something else. Maybe not something that’s bad, but something that steals my attention. I can’t seem to focus when I pray. When I get in the shower, I use u all the hot water because I want to stay in there longer with just me and God, and when I get distracted I waste the time that I have thinking about other things. Maybe you’re reading this and you have this same problem. You may spend 30-45 minutes in your prayer time with only 3 minutes of actual prayer and the rest of time just thinking because your mind got distracted. Honestly, I don’t know how to fix this problem because I don’t even know I’m doing until I feel the cold water run down my back and I realize I’ve wasted the hot water on issues that don’t mean a thing when compared to eternity. I challenge you today, as I challenge myself also. Don’t waste the hot water. Don’t waste your prayer time being distracted. I realize that it’s easier said than done. Pray for focus. Pray for guidance. Pray for God to bring issues to your attention that need prayer and consideration. Time is a depleting resource to those of us on this side of the veil. Don’t let it go to waste.