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.
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.
Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
People enjoy getting Christmas cards and personal letters from old friends at Christmas. But did you know that God has Christmas letters for you, as well? We can easily spell C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S from the New Testament:
C- Clay. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As amazing as wrapping Jesus’ body in human flesh, is that He passes on the treasure of this gospel to humans to share, in our fleshly “jars of clay.”
H- Humble. “He humbled Himself, taking on the form of a man” (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus chose to empty His glory for a time, mysteriously humbling Himself in human form.
R- Rich. “He was rich but for your sake became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Creator of the universe was born in a stable to offer the riches of salvation to us.
I- Image. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is God in flesh!
S- Son. “God sent His Son.” (Galatians 4:4).
T- Thanks. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). No gift you get for Christmas can be better than God’s gift of Jesus.
M- Manger. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12.
A- Angel. “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called holy– The Son of God'” (Luke 1:35).
S- Savior. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt (Published by Parables, 2016), by C. Wayne Harrison, is a 98-page book that tells stories of war, grouped together for devotional reflection. That may sound like an unusual approach, but Harrison makes it work.
Harrison was a private in the U.S. Army, who fought in the jungles in the Vietnam War in 1969-1970. Today he is Baptist minister in Booneville, Mississippi. In ten short chapters, he recalls his desire to be a soldier and relates in vivid detail the horrors he experienced in the war. Although the stories tend to move chronologically from early in his life through his year in Vietnam, the chapters are more thematic in nature, with titles such as, “The Heart of a Soldier,” “The Hands of a Soldier,” “The Hardships of a Soldier,” etc. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Bible, then focuses on stories that relate to the theme of the chapter, followed by some discussion questions and a prayer.
The reader identifies with the young man, who is nicknamed “Snoop” because of his lapel pin of Snoopy, the dog who imagined he was a fighter pilot, in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Some descriptions of war in the book may be disturbing to young readers, and the stories certainly are sobering even to mature readers. I believe Harrison’s writing will connect well with soldiers who read the book, and would make an excellent resource for military chaplains or anybody, especially soldiers, who are willing to reflect on God’s purpose for their lives.
The book is well-written, using excellent images and descriptions, and is easy to read, although I noticed a typo on p. 64, where the word “scar” was spelled “scare.” There are black-and-white photos of Harrison as a young soldier in the back of the book. In interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, with no obligation to write a favorable review.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Mark 11:12-19 says that Jesus returned to the temple on Monday of Holy Week, and when he found the money changers and people selling animals in the temple complex, he overturned their tables, and ran them out, cleansing the temple.
When you read Matthew and Luke’s gospel, it sounds like the temple cleansing happened on Palm Sunday, since those gospels simply tell about the triumphal entry and then say that Jesus cleansed the temple. However, Mark seems to be more precise about the time, while Matthew and Luke are not as concerned to give that detail. However, the way Jesus cleansed the temple is more important than the day He cleansed the temple. He does it with authority, demanding that the house of prayer should not be turned into a hiding place for thieves. All of this buying and selling was going on in the court of the Gentiles, the only place that Gentiles were allowed to worship near the temple. So their merchandise was a distraction from others being able to pray.
Just as Jesus cleansed the temple that day, He wants to cleanse our lives today.
Psalm 24:3 asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer comes in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol, or swear by what is false.”
Do my actions prevent others from worshiping God? Am I a distraction? Then I must repent and change my ways.
Monday, the day of cleansing, teaches us to cleanse our lives.
The Gospel of Mark spends six chapters, one–third of the entire book, describing what happened in just one week. The fact that the gospel gives so much attention to the final week of Christ should tell us how very important that Holy Week was. There must be important lessons for us to learn from these days. So let’s review the entire week, and learn from God the holy ways from the holy days of Holy Week. Each day, starting with tonight’s post on Palm Sunday, I will share some thoughts on lessons we can learn from the events of Holy Week, from the Gospel of Mark.