The way we pray reveals a lot about what we believe and about the depth of our faith. Is ours a God-centered faith, or a self-centered one? Is God conceived as kind of a spiritual vending machine, or as the Sovereign Lord? Are we focused more on Christ and his work, or on our own efforts?
The turning of a year is a good time to consider our reading and devotional plan for the next twelve months. The Valley of Vision, a relatively new spiritual classic will definitely add vitality to your prayer life. The simple exercise of reading a prayer a day (there are about 250 in all) will stretch and deepen you.
The Valley of Vision is a book of prayers drawn from a largely forgotten deposit of Puritan devotional literature. Its writers were both serious Christians and serious pray-ers. No names are attached to the individual prayers, but the introduction tells us that the prayers come from those in the Puritan tradition such as Thomas Shepherd, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, David Brainerd, Charles Spurgeon, etc..
While the authors clearly hold to the doctrines of grace, this is coupled with a passionate love for God, concern for others, longing for heaven, and a fixation on joy!
I will admit my own natural bias against prayer books. I have often thought that praying someone else’s prayers is like wearing someone else’s shoes—they never fit perfectly. Besides that, they lack the freedom of extemporaneous prayers. However, the older I get the more I see how much I still need to grow in the school of prayer. Deep spiritual mentors like the Puritans can be immensely helpful in learning to pray better.
Besides that, in my extemporaneity, I often get into deep spiritual ruts. My prayers can become monotonously predictable and dull, lacking definiteness and power. The Valley of Vision exposes me to great souled people whose very praying challenges me. They give me prayers to pray for those times that I get stuck, and new models of prayer that add richness to my extemporaneous praying.
Consider the way they address God in prayer. Their prayers take us beyond a repetitive “dear Lord,” or “God…” There is variety here in each prayer, addressing him as “Sovereign Lord,” “Life-giving God,” “O God of my delight,” “Merciful God,” “Three in one, one in three,” “God of my salvation,” “O God whose will conquers all,” “Fountain of all goodness,” “O thou incomprehensible but prayer hearing God,” etc..
They understand the depth of our sin. Consider some of their prayers of confession:
“Move, I pray thee, upon my disordered heart.” “Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper, born in my birth, alive in my life, strong in my character, dominating my faculties, following me as a shadow…..”
Their praise is robust and uplifting: “I bless thee that great sin draws out great grace.” “Thou art beyond the grasp of my understanding, but not beyond that of my love.” “Thou art worthy of an adoration greater than my dull heart can yield; invigorate my love that it may rise worthily to thee.”
Their prayers speak well of Jesus Christ: “Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace.” “In him the enslaved find redemption, the guilty pardon, the unholy renovation; In him are everlasting strength for the weak, unsearchable riches for the needy, treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant, fullness for the empty.”
Yet there are prayers to the Holy Spirit as well, asking him to “come as power, as teacher, as love, joy, light, sanctifier, helper and beautifier.”
When they pray they affirm the preciousness of the cross. “Open for me the wondrous volumes of truth in his ‘it is finished.’ Increase my faith in the clear knowledge of atonement achieved, expiation completed, satisfaction made, guilt done away with, debt paid, my sins forgiven, my person redeemed, my soul saved, hell vanquished, heaven opened, eternity made mine.” “Show me the cross.”
Their prayers also abound in instructive petition. They pray with faith—“I ask great things of a great God.” There is a longing for Christ-likeness—“I wish not so much to do as to be, and I long to be like Jesus.” They do not want to live blandly—“O God, may I never be a blot or a blank in life.” They are mindful of the need to preach the gospel to themselves—“Glorious trinity, impress the gospel on my soul.” They want God’s grace to transform the way they deal with others—“Help me to be a dispenser as well as a partaker of grace.”
They pray with heart—“Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God….He who is the ground of thy faith, should be the substance of thy joy.” “Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and give thee praise so that the more feeble I am, the more fit to be used, for thou doest pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.” “Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips.” “May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened, that I may honor thee.”
There is a practical urgency in their prayers. One of the morning prayers ends, “If my life should end today, let this be my best day.”
The Valley of Vision, not only helps us pray better, but see God more clearly, even in life’s valleys. “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, thou has brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory. Let me learn by paradox, that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime, stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.”