The impossible

I started 2017 off with the best of intentions and by that I mean I attempted to implement a new Bible reading plan, a new Scripture memory plan, and a new plan to journal.

Please, please, don’t ask me how any of those plans are going currently. Let’s just say there’s grace, much grace, for those of us with the best of intentions and the worst of follow through.

Just keepin’ it real.

Anyway, so in order to effect my newfound determination to journal more regularly (yeah, I know), I began to write out my thoughts regarding these ten questions for the new year. Self evaluation is always good, and biblical too. We are to examine ourselves and to ask the Lord to search us and expose any grievous way in us. What better use of my journaling endeavor? And, hey, automatic fodder for writing so win-win.

Question 2 asks, “What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?”

I have to confess: my first thoughts skewed toward the more personal, wildest dreams kind of answers. The sorts of things that are, if I am honest, more improbable than impossible, and certainly more about me, my comfort, my ambition, my happiness.

But as I pondered a little more and scribbled a little longer, I had to ask myself: what sorts of things are humanly impossible? What is it that only God can do and what among those things will I dare to persist in prayer for?

Among the list of humanly impossible things I came up with: The saving of souls. The spread of gospel zeal across churches and communities and around the world. Partnership and community that spans socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial divides. Babies no longer aborted but wanted and welcomed and loved.

We cannot effect any of these apart from the power and providence of God.

I grew ashamed of how little I ask for these impossible things.

When I ask for what only He can do, I am asking to see His power, to see His kingdom accomplished on earth as it is in heaven, ultimately to see His glory. The smallness of my prayers–confined only to my world, my life, my concerns, my wants–reflect the smallness of my faith. When I am only asking for my own comfort and the granting of my deepest desires, it is no wonder I find prayer difficult to the point of nonexistence.

What humanly impossible thing will I ask God for? What will you? Let us pray big and bold prayers, prayers that stretch beyond the reach of the probable into the realm of the impossible, prayers that dare to believe that God can and will answer according to His providence and His wisdom. Let us believe that the humanly impossible can be made possible by the working of the will of our good and gracious God. May we see His kingdom advance in power to save, to inflame, and to transform, and may we rejoice with the humble wonder of knowing we asked Him for it.

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Sunday Prayer: Resurrection

From The Valley of Vision,

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons,
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.

Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.

He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.

Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.

Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in him I rose,
in his life I live, in his victory I triumph,
in his ascension I shall be glorified.

Adorable Redeemer,
thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.

Thou, who as Man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.

Once, no shame more deep than thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.

Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.

Thou art in the triumph car leading captive thine enemies behind thee.

What could be done than thou hast done!
Thy death is my life,
thy resurrection my peace,
thy ascension my hope,
thy prayers my comfort.

Happy Easter, friends! He is risen!

Sunday Prayer: Truth in Jesus

From The Valley of Vision,

LIFE-GIVING GOD,
Quicken me to call upon thy name,
for my mind is ignorant,
my thoughts vagrant,
my affections earthly,
my heart unbelieving,
and only thy Spirit can help my infirmities.

I approach thee as Father and Friend,
my portion forever,
my exceeding joy,
my strength of heart.

I believe in thee as the God of nature,
the ordainer of providence,
the sender of Jesus my Saviour.

My guilty fears discourage an approach to thee,
but I praise thee for the blessed news
that Jesus reconciles thee to me.

May the truth that is in him illuminate in me all that is dark,
establish in me all that is wavering,
comfort in me all that is wretched,
accomplish in me all that is of thy goodness,
and glorify in me the name of Jesus.

I pass through a vale of tears
but bless thee for the opening gate of glory at its end.
Enable me to realize as mine the better, heavenly country.
Prepare me for every part of my pilgrimage.
Uphold my steps by thy Word.
Let no iniquity dominate me.

Teach me that Christ cannot be the way if I am the end,
that he cannot be Redeemer if I am my own saviour,
that there can be no true union with him
while the creature has my heart,
that faith accepts him as Redeemer and Lord or not at all.

On walking the dog and persisting in prayer

I just took my dog Darcy for a walk. I didn’t want to. I mean, it’s a dark and drizzly sort of morning, the humidity is high, and I have a headache. But I walked anyway.

In Darcy’s economy walking ranks right up there with “cheese” and “ride” (as in riding in the suburban with the window down and ear flapping in the breeze).

And for her hope springs eternal. Every morning she follows on my heels and refuses to allow me out of her sight. There are many able bodied walkers in our home but it is on me which all her hopes reside. If I dare to sit down at the computer she barks. In fact if I dare to sit anywhere for any length of time she barks. She is on constant alert for the telltale signs of an impending walk: my shoes, my hat, the leash. Her effusion of joy upon me slipping the leash from its hook is nothing less than full-bodied, unbridled excitement.

We walk most mornings. There are those mornings when we can’t, either because it’s raining or I have things to do and places to go. And some mornings I just don’t want to. She doesn’t realize this. She has a singular desire, to walk, and a singular focus, me. In other words she nearly drives me CRAZY.

She’s like that persistent widow of Jesus’ parable, you know the one who keeps after the judge for justice against her adversary until he finally relents and gives her what she asks? In the parable the judge, worn down by the widow’s persistent pleas, says to himself “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming (Luke 18:5).” I understand. I gave into Darcy this morning because she was bothering me and beating me down with her continual whining and barking!

Jesus explains to us the point of the parable at the outset: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).” It may seem a little strange to us, a parable about prayer featuring an exasperated judge who finally gives in merely to gain some relief. Yet Jesus is arguing a lesser to greater truth. If it’s true that an unrighteous judge will, however reluctantly, grant the petition of the widow woman, how much more will our righteous Judge hear and answer the prayers of His people?

So the widow–and to some degree my dog Darcy–becomes an example of persistence. The widow and Darcy both know where to take their plea and neither relents in their determination to gain what they most desire.

We are to be persistent in prayer, Jesus says, and not to lose heart. This kind of persistence is work and requires a confident faith in the righteous Judge who knows what I need before I ask and who is at work accomplishing His good, acceptable and perfect will. I confess how easily my faith wavers and I give up. In fact, as I think on it, there are very few things about which I have consistently and persistently prayed over the long haul. Often, too often, I doubt the Lord’s provision and seek answers elsewhere. How I long for the kind of God-honoring desperation that persists in seeking Him in prayer!

Sunday Prayer: Grace Active

From The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest,
Thou hast opened a new and living way
by which a fallen creature can approach thee with acceptance.

Help me to contemplate the dignity of thy Person,
the perfectness of thy sacrifice,
the effectiveness of thy intercession.

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
when under all the trials that weary me,
the cares that corrode me,
the fears that disturb me,
the infirmities that oppress me,
I can come to thee in my need
and feel peace beyond understanding!

The grace that restores is necessary to preserve,
lead, guard, supply, help me.

And here thy saints encourage my hope;
they were once poor and are now rich,
bound and are now free,
tried and are now victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.

To thee I repair for grace upon grace,
until every void made by sin be replenished
and I am filled with all thy fullness.

May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened,
that I may honour thee by my entire dependency
and the greatness of my expectation.

Do thou be with me, and prepare me for all
the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity,
the losses of substance, the death of friends,
the days of darkness, the changes of life,
and the last great change of all.

May I find thy grace sufficient for all my needs.

Sunday Prayer: The Broken Heart

From The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

O LORD,
No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in thy sight.
Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart;
Praise has been often praiseless sound;
My best services are filthy rags.

Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in thy appeasing wounds.
Though my sins rise to heaven thy merits soar above them;
Though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell,
thy righteousness exalts me to thy throne.

All things in me call for my rejection,
All things in thee plead my acceptance.
I appeal from the throne of perfect justice
to thy throne of boundless grace.

Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me:
that by thy stripes I am healed,
that thous wast bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of thy concealing blood.

I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.

Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.

Sunday Prayer: New Year

From Valley of Vision

O LORD,
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in thy presence,
in thy service to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,

that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,

and give me a desire to show forth thy praise;
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters on this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.

May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.

Sunday Prayer: Resting on God

From The Valley of Vision

O GOD MOST HIGH, MOST GLORIOUS,

The thought of thin infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but thou art for ever at perfect peace.

Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.

Thy power knows no bond,
thy goodness no stint.

Thou brings order out of confusion,
and my defeats are thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to thee,
every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood;

Revive deep spirituality in my heart;

Let me live near to the great Shepherd,
hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls.

Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.

Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;

Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
vindicate it,
see Jesus as is essence,
know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget thee.

Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;

Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee,
that all else is trifling.

Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.

Abide in me, gracious God.

Sunday Prayer: The Deeps

From The Valley of Vision

LORD JESUS,

Give me a deeper repentance,
a horror of sin,
a dread of its approach;

Help me chastely to flee it,
and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust,
that I may lose myself to find myself in thee,
the ground of my rest,
the spring of my being.

Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself
as Saviour, Master, Lord, and King.

Give me deeper power in private prayer,
more sweetness in thy Word,
more steadfast grip in its truth.

Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action,
and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee.

Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly Husbandman,
that my being may be a tilled field,
the roots of grace spreading far and wide,
until thou alone art seen in me,
thy beauty golden like summer harvest,
they fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no Master but thee,
no law but thy will,
no delight but thyself,
no wealth but that thou givest,
no good but that thou blessest,
no peace but that thou bestowest.

I am nothing but that thou makest me,
I have nothing but that I receive from thee,
I can be nothing but that grace adorns me.

Quarry me deep, dear Lord,
and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

Open my eyes that I may see…

In Bible study this week, we will be discussing Psalm 119, that longest chapter of the Bible that extols the benefits and blessings of knowing and obeying and delighting in the Word of God. In my preparation, I’ve been greatly encouraged by reading a couple of John Piper’s sermons on the psalm, most specifically verse 18:

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law

In his sermon Open My Eyes that I May See, Piper reminds us of three wonderful truths gleaned from this verse:

1. There are wonderful things in the Word of God, things that transform us and sustain us and empower us and compel us. Things sufficient for life and godliness and for victory over sin. There in His Word we the glory and beauty and surpassing greatness of God and His Son.

2. We cannot see these wonderful things without God’s supernatural enabling. I am guilty and fallen and corrupt and ignorant and blind apart from God’s saving, illuminating work. Piper says “The point of teaching this and knowing this is to make us desperate for God and hungry for God, and to set us to pleading and crying out to God for his help in reading the Bible.” Oh, yes, I am desperate. How I need Him.

3. We must pray and ask God to open our eyes to see. Since we cannot see without His gracious illumination, we must ask Him for it!

So, then, we desperately need His Spirit to teach us and to help us in our weakness, opening our eyes so that we may see the glorious truths of His Word. Piper goes on to say, “if we would stay alive in God and be real and authentic and intense in our love for him, we must be desperate to have this enabling every day. So pray, pray, pray.” If we would see Christ, we must pray. Yet where do we look to see Him? In the Bible. Where is Christ revealed? In the Word of God. We do not seek the kind of vision only God grants in order to gain some new sort of revelation. We need only to look into God’s living Word, the Bible. We need eyes to see what God has revealed to us in His Word!

Borrowing Piper’s points once more, this from his follow up sermon Wonderful Things from Your Word, if we would press on to the deeper things of the Lord, earnestly seeking Him with a wholehearted determination and devotion, we must not only pray, but pray and read the Word, pray and study, pray and think, and pray and ransack. Proverbs 2:1-6 states:

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding

I love Piper’s point that if there are hidden treasures, act like it! Seek the knowledge of the Lord with a singleminded intensity! Let us ransack His Word, inclining our hearts, crying out, seeking, searching, confident in His promise that those who seek Him will surely find Him. What treasure!

True confessions: I want to be a better student of God’s Word. I want that kind of ransacking, passionate pursuit. I want to memorize and meditate and know and read and study and delight in the Word of God. I love God’s Word, I do; I want to love it more. I want Psalm 119 to be my prayer and my testimony. For quite some time, I’ve wanted to be more disciplined in Scripture memorization, specifically in terms of memorizing longer passages of the Bible.

It seems I’m always late to a good bandwagon, but now that all the original participants have completed their Scripture memory journey, I’ve decided to embark on the Partnering to Remember project, an organized approach to memorizing the entire book of Philippians. Yeah, the whole thing. Want to join me? You can find out more here.

May the Lord grant us a hunger and a thirst for His Word! May we say with confidence: I have stored up your word in my heart that I may not sin against you; in the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches! You, O Lord, are the treasure of my life! Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your Word!