At the bottom, looking up

I’m seeing the need and trying to be more simple, more sincere, more honest in prayer. To dig out one genuine thought than a hundred repetitions. But doing this is kind of scary, and I don’t always expect the hopes and dreams and disappointments that come out of my heart. And sometimes, I’m not sure what’s really on my mind — can’t really articulate it without giving up early and not even making the effort of trying.

One way to ameliorate the situation could be to learn from how the forerunners in the faith uttered their heart’s groans and cries — consider the Puritans, for example, with the seemingly simple, overwhelmingly sincere and scathingly honest prayers and devotions found in The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur Bennett. Yes, these are not my words. But if we can stand on the shoulders of giants in science and maths and art and music, why not in prayer? When I read prayers like these, my heart and soul and mind combine mightily to say amen and amen and amen:

The Valley of Vision

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.

I learnt in church history class that converts in the early church (the 1st 300 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) had to go through baptism preparation for 3–4 years, memorising a version of the Apostles’ Creed. What’s more, they weren’t even allowed to be physically present during the Lord’s Supper (which we will take in remembrance of Him until His coming again) during this period. This arduous process of drumming in the core beliefs and upholding the sacraments as, well, sacred, meant that when persecution arose and became ever harsher, these believers were more able to stand up to the test of faith and mind and body.

A far cry from a line I’ve heard before: 我是因為有感動 。。。(It’s because I felt moved …)

My hermeneutics teacher likes to emphasise that spirituality is not separate from the mind. If you were to replace your heart with an artificial one, you would still be able to love. Our emotions, our thoughts, etc. are concocted in the brain. By the same token, just because you don’t feel anything doesn’t mean you’re not connecting with God, and just because you put on your thinking hat(s) while reading the Bible doesn’t mean you’re not communicating with God, since everything from Him is of Him — for example, your brain.

Here are a few very cool points I picked up thanks to the two classes above:

  • The work of the Holy Spirit is not in ‘making’ you understand Scripture. It’s in convicting you of the truth you are reading. The Spirit of God is what makes the teaching in the Bible go from your head to your heart to your hands.
  • Rather than think about how much you have of the Holy Spirit — He’s a person, not an amorphous jug of God juice — the real question should be how much does the Holy Spirit have of you?
  • Live each day with zero expectations. Take joy in the little things. Trust in and embrace God’s provision. This is how you navigate past even the most despairing of shoals in this life of suffering we have joyfully, miraculously signed up for.

So, to sum up: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5 NRSV)

If you know you’ve gone off on the wrong tangent, and are getting further and further away — “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love” — there’s never a better time to renew your commitment to Him than at once. Here are the Puritans again, with a prayer that glows brighter than the full moon tonight:

A Convert’s First Prayer

My Father,
I could never have sought my happiness in thy love,
unless thou had’st first loved me.
Thy Spirit has encouraged me by grace to seek thee,
has made known to me thy reconcilation in Jesus,
has taught me to believe it,
has helped me to take thee for my God and portion.
May he grant me to grow in the knowledge and experience of thy love,
and walk in it all the way to glory.
Blessed for ever be thy fatherly affection,
which chose me to be one of thy children
by faith in Jesus:
I thank thee for giving me the desire to live as such.
In Jesus, my brother, I have my new birth,
every restraining power,
every renewing grace.
It is by thy Spirit I call thee Father,
believe in thee, love thee;
Strengthen me inwardly for every purpose of my Christian life;
Let the Spirit continually reveal to me my interest in Christ,
and open to me the riches of thy love in him;
May he abide in me that I may know my union with Jesus,
and enter into constant fellowship with him;
By the Spirit may I daily live to thee,
rejoice in thy love,
find it the same to me as to thy Son,
and become rooted and grounded in it as a house on rock;
I know but little —
increase my knowledge of thy love in Jesus,
keep me pressing forward for clearer discoveries of it,
so that I may find its eternal fullness;
Magnify thy love to me according to its greatness,
and not according to my deserts or prayers,
and whatever increase thou givest, let it draw out greater love to thee.

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