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Book review: “The Valley of Vision”

TheValleyOfVision

I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.  

To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.

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Book review: The Best Yearly Devotionals

Devotionals

Many people like to get a book with devotional readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for an annual devotional book, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.) Both of these devotionals are strongly rooted in the scripture, with penetrating insights that will drive you to deeper prayer and faithfulness.

Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring.  Keller has also published a new devotional on the Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.)  Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus.

Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day, and while they are well-written, they lack as much substance as the other devotionals mentioned above.

Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries.

If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.

Five truths about predestination. Truth #2: Predestination is not unfair.

PotterClay

Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.

(This is the second in a series of five articles on predestination.)

John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans 9:18, said, “the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” This implies that God is arbitrary and unfair, creating some people who are already predetermined to go to hell, with no will to resist this. Yet Paul reminded us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
When Romans 9:18 said that God shows mercy on whom he desires and hardens whom he desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, whom Moses confronted, demanding Pharaoh let the Jewish people go from slavery in Egypt. Exodus says that Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay; and the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” (Charles Spurgeon, “The Lesson of the Almond Tree,” Sermon No. 2678, April 7, 1881. Accessed on the web at: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2678.pdf.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. He is simply revealing what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey. God’s predestination is not unfair.

 

Devotionals for the New Year

Daily prayer and Bible reading is critical to grow in the Christian life, and a helpful tool is a daily devotional.

Monthly and quarterly devotionals. There are many excellent monthly and quarterly magazines, including the non-denominational publications, Our Daily Bread, The Word for You Today, and Seeds of Hope. Our Daily Bread usually has an interesting illustration for a Biblical truth, and each daily devotion is written by a different author. The Word for You Today, written by Bob Gass of Northern Ireland, makes a practical application to a Biblical truth, often using humor. Seeds of Hope (formerly Seeds from the Sower), written by Michael and Lawrence Guido from Metter, Georgia, often uses humor to share an uplifting thought.

Southern Baptists publish Stand Firm (for men), Journey (for women), and Open Windows (written for all adults, it includes a middle section to pray by name for missionaries on their birthday). United Methodists publish The Upper Room.

Yearly devotional books. However, many people like to get a book with readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for a yearly devotional, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.)

Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. Keller has also published a new daily devotional on the Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are very brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.)  Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus. Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day, and while they are well-written, they rarely cause you to think deeply. Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries. If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.

Bible reading. Of course, no devotional is a substitute for reading the Bible itself. If you have never read through the Bible, perhaps you could begin with a chapter of the New Testament every weekday, which would get you through the entire New Testament in a year. Or if you are ready to do more, you could add one Psalm a day and read through the Psalms twice in a year. If you read one chapter of Proverbs each day, you will read through the Proverbs in a month. If you wish to read the whole Bible in a year, read about three Old Testament chapters and one New Testament chapters a day. Try something different: A friend of mine says she starts her daily Bible reading in December, rather than January, so that she can read the Gospel of Matthew in the Christmas season. You may also want to consider using a new translation each year, so that you learn fresh insights. The Message and the New Living Translation are easy to read, but are not literal translations. Christian Standard Bible is a new revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible; the CSB balances accuracy with clarity in reading. The English Standard Version is an accurate, literary translation that follows the traditional wording of scripture.

May God bless you as you dig into His word and seek His heart in prayer!