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.
I was attending a writer’s conference, and a publisher who was speaking to us said that books often sell well because of marketing and famous authors, not because of the quality of the books. Someone asked the publisher to name a book that did not sell well but was such a quality book that he was glad it was published. The publisher said, “Yes, the book is Lord, Show Me Your Glory by Ethel Herr.”
The book was out of print, so I ordered it from amazon.com. I’m glad that I did.
I spent the year of 2008 going through this devotional. A wonderful journey it was. The book is divided into 52 chapters to be used as 52 weeks of devotions. But each “Week” actually has two or three qualities of God to study, so it really amounts to about two or three devotionals for each week. For example, Week Four is a devotional on God is Carpenter, Potter, and a Working God, Week Twelve is on God as Living Bread and Manna, and Week Twenty is on Discipliner, Teacher/Master and Rabbi. You get the idea.
Herr has a very descriptive writing style. For example, in Week Eleven she describes God’s omniscience by saying, “grace without God’s omniscience would be as elusive as a hollow wind whistling through the broken window panes of an empty church” (p. 72). She also has keen insights into the character of God. In Week Eighteen, she says this about God’s as Resurrection and the Life: “So, when He chooses to let our dreams die so He can give us a resurrection rather than a healing, we sometimes feel abandoned” (p. 114). Each section lists scripture readings for further meditation on that particular quality of God. I found that looking up those scriptures was almost as enriching as the text of her book.
The experience of going through this book will help you understand the character of God in a powerful way. If you are looking for a practical devotional that is all about you and how you live your Christian life, this is not it. But if you are looking for a devotional that will make you forget yourself and will leave you in awe of our wondrous God, bowing before Him in worship, then find a used copy of this rare gem of a book online and order it.
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