Valley of Vision Prayer

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast 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.

Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett

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Everyday Easter

It’s so tempting to ‘move on’ from Lent and Holy Week. But that to me would be religion. A meaningless habit aimed to impress others and earn ‘brownie points’ with God.

Yet I chose to see the festivals as a spiritual chance to reboot and refresh my relationship with God. What I have discovered and rediscovered during this season ought to affect the way I live in the mundane environments from now on.

• Seeing Jesus passionate resolve to obey the will of the Father, causes me to subscribe to the same longing for an uncompromising obedience.

• His ‘I couldn’t care less about popularity’ makes me want to please God vs. man more than ever. Remember, Jesus never won a popularity contest and neither should we expect to win one….

• I love the fact the fact that suffering hallmarks the entire salvation story. It isn’t edited out. This confirms that God is IN the midst of our stark and dark realities of a fallen world.

• He extends grace to the undeserving. To the sinner. To the condemned and despised thief. That’s me. And that’s such good news.

• He despises the self righteous. Those who see themselves about the need for grace. Those who make excuses and justify sin. Those who spend more time judging others. And that’s me too, at times.

• The resurrection proclaims a new start, a myriad of supernatural possibilities: miracles, transformed lives, an otherworldly Kingdom breaking out in people’s lives and circumstances. And to that I’m addicted!

Day Seven

If there has ever been a comeback, this is it. When all the dreams seemed shattered and all the hopes dashed – it happened. Not even the most optimistic of followers expected it. And many didn’t believe it. It was THAT good!

The unlikely heroes are in fact the usual suspects. Someone like Mary, the poster girl for Jesus’s grace and power. And Peter, who didn’t take heed of Jesus’s warning and despite his natural bolshiness, betrays Jesus repeatedly. They are the ones to discover the greatest surprise of all times… so like Jesus.

This truth is an experience. A personal one. A significant one. One that Christ followers have built their lives ever since.

It’s awesome because it proves that what He said was true, and therefore He can be trusted with everything else! It’s awesome because it proves that He defeated, evil, sin and death on the Cross! It’s awesome because transformation and victory is therefore possible for us too!

Let Easter come into your life too, for the first time maybe or for the umpteenth time afresh this year.

Let His unflinching resolve towards the Cross be your talisman of love.
Let His grace be your whisper of love as you look on the cross.
Let His victory fuel your hopes and dreams.
Let the empty tomb be assurance that because He lives you too can face tomorrow.

Christ is rIsen!

Day Six

It’s very quiet. The quietness of broken dreams. The quietness of grief and loss. The quietness in which you can only hear the sighs and see the tears. It’s all gone wrong.

You know that maddening quietness that occurs after a sudden diagnosis, loss or breakup, as you’re almost to confused and shocked to even utter anything.

When it’s quiet it’s so much easier to be assaulted by so many questions. I guess that’s why we fill our lives with noise, in the hope that the questions will go away. But they don’t….

How could they do this to Him?
Why didn’t He do something to stop His enemies?
How does this all tie in with His words?
Have I believed a lie?
Will I be next?

Today is a hard day. Exactly because maybe, just maybe, someone amongst the disciples night have remembered His words about rising from the dead. Sure, they didn’t do a Bible Study on it. If there was some faith it was almost to fragile to parade it. Therefore there is that mixture of fear and anticipation. Like the one before the exam results. You paint the two alternative pictures of the future, in your mind’s eye, and hope, just hope…

And wait….

We have been there and will be there. The dreadful and dreaded inbetween. Where we wait and we hope. The place where we pray that our human full stop becomes the divine comma. Take comfort, dear friends, you’re not alone in how you feel. You might feel weak but it’s this kind of weakness that opens the door for God’s mighty power.

Day Five

This is the day with the paradoxical name. Good Friday. But at first glance it was anything but good. Jesus is betrayed and arrested, tortured, humiliated, betrayed again, wrongly accused and crucified.

Everything screams ‘injustice!’. The supporters who seemed to vanish. The blind Jewish religious elite who seemed determined to eradicate the heresy of His teaching. The Romans who could not wait to show shone muscle in dealing with alleged nationalist insurgents.

Funny how evil aligns all those diametrically opposed forces. These people could not agree for five minutes if out in a room together yet they all seem to be on the same side in that day.

Yet go beyond the horror of the gruesome spectacle. This isn’t an accident. He isn’t a victim.

This was the most daring and selfless act of sacrifice humanity has ever seen. Jesus was dying to pay for our sins. All of us. All of them. Once and for all. The Jewish people would understand this as they brought the sacrifice to the temple. Yet Jesus became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

He did intentionally. He did it voluntarily. He did it Himself. Even on the cross you see and hear the clues of who He really is: loving, forgiving, saving, surrendering to the Father.

The ultimate suffering is betrayed by his anguished cry, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. That’s what was worse than thorns and nails and whips. The separation from God.

Because of sin. Because of me. And you. Us all.

Look at the cross afresh and ask yourself today. Who is He to me? Teacher? Wizard? Prophet? Socialist revolutionary? Lamb of God? King?

The shortest sentence, it’s the most stunning. That word the Greeks would use: tetelestai. It is finished! Not a cry of relief but of victory. And that my friend can be our password into hIs kingdom. And that’s why this ugly, evil, dark Friday is known as Good Friday!

Day Four

What would you do in the last day before your execution? Do something selfish? Be with those whom you love? Hide away?

If yesterday seemed like a slow day, today it really picks up pace. Jesus seems to focus on spending with the disciples, not for His encouragement but for edification.

He distils the essentials. His sacrificial death and the link to salvation (Last Supper). The importance of a divine relationship (abide). The upside down nature of Kingdom servanthood (foot washing). He demonstrates it practically, not just in words, with a stark visual reminder. Just so they will not be ignorant or forget.

It makes me wonder how many of the essentials get lost in unimportant details? Because these very things are challenging.

We don’t want a broken Saviour because it makes Him look weak, and oh, how we despise weakness…
We prefer a contract signed sealed and delivered, without any further interference, rather than abiding…
We love to see the towel and the basin used, just not by us but for us…

Then Jesus retreats. His only seemingly ‘me’ time is in prayer. And how much this does not resemble our prayer. This is maybe where the battle of Calvary was half won. This is maybe where the resolution is sealed and the emotions are strengthened. This is the unedited Jesus. The One I can relate to every time I intercede for those not yet answered prayers. Yes, he understands…

Day Three

After the avalanche of emotions and conflicts, this feels like a quiet day. After resting in Bethany, Jesus comes back into Jerusalem in the temple complex, continuing to teach. To the naive onlooker it seems like a victory. But little do they know.

The plot is in full flow and the dice has been roled. His demise at the hand of the religious elite is imminent. This truly is the calm before the storm. Church history often referred to this day as Spy Wednesday, and it’s not hard to guess that Judas takes centre stage.

The man who has witnessed Jesus power and heard Jesus incredible teaching finds himself turned to betray him. It was mostly about money but not just about money. The culmination of his exasperation with Jesus was the wasteful anointing by Mary. That was the ‘enough is enough’ tipping point.

The son of David, experiences the betrayal of one of his close followers, just like David himself. At some point something happened to Judas. A small spiritual gateway that allowed the evil one to come and whisper and stir-up his frustrations with the way of the Master.

There’s a Judas lurking in every one of us. We have our own agendas. We see a kingdom with a small ‘k’ that somehow seems more appealing than hIs Kingdom. We want pleasure, power and possessions.

When it comes to our affection for the Saviour and our allegiance for the King, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ compromise. This is the time to examine, be ruthless and close the door.

Watch out for frustrations, unmet expectations, puzzling outcomes, challenging words and anything else that might cause you to steer away from the King’s way. May the Judas inside of us come to light in repentance and meet the gracious Saving King!

Day Two

If there were any PR people amongst the disciples, on that Tuesday they must have had a nightmare day. This was like a public war of words, betraying Jesus’ deep disappointment with the self righteous.

They tried to trap Him with both political and religious questions but with no avail. He knew more than they thought He knew and His time just wasn’t finished. How often do we play this game too…We get so engrossed in relatively insignificant trivia, while ignoring the blatant spiritual issues that marr our lives.

It’s frustrating to see such an opportunity yet those who saw themselves ‘in’ were either too deluded or arrogant to see themselves in need of grace.

Like a good prophet He paints the picture of the future, offering yet another chance of repentance. He does it with creativity and simplicity, through the power of the story. But so many just don’t want to know. The ‘here and now’ of power is a strong spiritual narcotic that deters us from understanding the future.

This is the day that Judas does His dirty deal. It might have been about money but I suspect that the shattered expectations of worldly success provided most of the motivation for ‘selling Jesus out’. You make a customised IJesus and when it does not ‘deliver’ – you betray Him. That story gets repeated again and again.

Day One

The crescendo towards the Cross is in full flow. Jesus left behind the adulation of Palm Sunday and was heading for the most trying few days in Jerusalem.

There is a new picture of Jesus emerging. He is anything but a meek and mild pale Galileean. He weeps over the current rejection of his message and the future destruction of Jerusalem. He curses the fig tree who was barren and that is the prophetic picture of the fruitless Israel who was meant to be a refreshing for the other nations.

As he steps into the temple, He is enraged by both the sinfulness of transforming a house of prayer into a den of thieves and the injustice of exploiting people in the name of God. Man turning a place of an upward focus of comfort, reflection and inspiration into a place of greed, deceit and noise.

Many would be uncomfortable with this image. It would not look good on a poster. It offends our sensibilities and shatters our idolatrous preconceived ideas about His identity.

Yet that’s the real Jesus. Emotional. Ruthless. Passionate.

Don’t edit Him. Don’t customise your own personalised version of the comfortable Jesus you like.

Have a spiritual health check. Has sin made itself at home in your life masquerading as religion?

Let his broken heart become your broken heart. For those distracted and perhaps deceived. And the oppressed.

10 for Holy Week

I confess: I love Holy Week. I love seasons and rhythms. I love the variety and the opportunity. Many church traditions can become devoid of significance and perhaps empty rituals. Yet they can also be a missed opportunity. Next week can be just like that. Make it different.

Every year I re-journey with Christ. This prepares me for the depths of the Good Friday ‘low’ as well as the ‘highs’ of Easter Sunday. Yes, it’s both intelligent and emotional, and it strengthens my affection for Christ, it reminds me of how amazing grace is and it reinforces my identity as a disciple.

Here is what you might find helpful too – and none of these are exclusive to Holy Week:

  1. reflect on the relevant gospel passages each day – I’ll post something later
  2. join in with other disciples: Palm Sunday, Thursday, Good Friday and other gatherings
  3. take time to serve the ones you love and maybe you’re taking for granted
  4. take time to be quiet, you will hear people and God more clearly
  5. do some cleaning – not to show off and feel self-righteous but almost as an act of putting off the old and putting on the new
  6. gossip the good news of Easter bringing hope in a pretty hopeless world
  7. let the ugliness of sin and the beauty of grace collide again in your soul
  8. learn to rejoice like you never did before – knowing that Jesus is alive
  9. get outside and experience the Resurrection of nature – through spring , a mirror of God’s redeeming power
  10. do something for the least: maybe unwell, imprisoned, poor or lonely