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.
God the Father, who gave us Your Son,
What shall I render You for the gift of gifts?
Here is wonder of wonders:
He came down below to raise me above,
was born, like me that I might become like Him.
Here is love:
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.
Here is power:
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated with the created.
Here is wisdom:
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him, and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God in flesh, to save me completely,
as man to die my death.
O God, as the watchful shepherds enlarge my mind,
to hear good news of great joy, and hearing to praise You,
Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith.
In Him You have given me so much that heaven can give no more.
Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.
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 by Bob Rogers.
There are more things to worry about than sand on the seashore. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life… or about your body” (Matthew 6:25, CSB). Jesus followed that statement with five reasons why we don’t need to worry. In each of these reasons is a truth that teaches us how to replace worry with something else!
1. Life is about more than things (6:25). Jesus said, “Don’t worry… Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” This question teaches us to overcome worry by changing our priorities in life. Once Jesus turned down lunch from his disciples and said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (John 4:32). He was referring to the satisfaction in His soul of leading the Samaritan woman at the well to faith. Jesus didn’t worry about things, because His priority was spiritual.
2. Since God provides for His creation, you can trust that He will provide for you (6:26). “Consider the birds of the sky,” said Jesus. “They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?” This truth teaches us to replace worry with faith. Instead of turning over negative things in your mind, meditate on positive gifts from God. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).
3. Worry doesn’t change your problem (6:27). Jesus asked, “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” This truth teaches us that worry is a waste of time—time that could be spent doing something useful, such as taking action to deal with the problem. My friend Melisa Grubbs says, “I can be a worrier or a warrior.”
4. If you focus on God instead of your problem, God will provide (6:33). When you hold a small object close to your face, it looks bigger than any object in the room. Worry is like holding your problem close to your face, instead of looking to God. Jesus promised, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” He was teaching us to replace worry by looking closely at God instead of looking closely at the problem. Scripture and prayer help us focus on God. Some helpful verses are: Psalm 27:1, Psalm 34:4, Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 11:28-30, Philippians 4:7, and 1 Peter 5:7.
5. Learn to live in the present (6:34). Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.” How often have you fretted in anticipation of something out of your control, and later learned it was not an issue after all? So, replace worry about tomorrow by living in the present. Don’t miss the beauty of today by imagining things that may not even happen tomorrow.
No wonder Jesus Himself could sleep through a storm, and then wake up and calm the sea (Mark 4:38-40). Rest in the Savior, and He can calm your storm, as well. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).
In case you missed them, here are the top five blog posts that I wrote in 2017, in order of how many reads they received. Click on each link to read the post:
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many people enjoy displaying the Christmas cards that they receive during the holiday season, but what do they do with them after the New Year begins? Stick them in a drawer? Throw them away? Several years ago, my wife Mary and I adopted a simple tradition of praying over our Christmas cards in the New Year.
When we receive Christmas cards, we enjoy looking at them, and then put them in a basket. We place the basket on our dinner table, and sometime in early January, we begin to pray for the people who sent each card, one card at a time, one week at a time. Here’s how we do it: On Monday evening when we sit down to eat dinner, we draw a Christmas card from the basket and look to see who sent it. We share memories of that person or family, and needs they may have. Then as we say the blessing for our meal, we include that household in our prayers. We pray for them at each dinner that week. The next week, we draw the next card from the basket, praying for that family each day of that week. We continue the process throughout the year, and sometime in the fall we empty the basket, as we finish praying for all of the people who sent us cards. Then the basket is ready to refill during the next Christmas season!
Many times we have drawn a card and prayed for somebody at just the time that we know that person has a special need. At other times, we have prayed for them with no idea what they are going through, only to learn later that the timing was perfect. Of course, there is no bad time to pray for another person! This simple tradition has been a blessing to us, too. During the busy Christmas season, we have little time to savor each Christmas card when we first receive them, but later in the year, we have a whole week to reflect on each and every one. It’s an easy and meaningful tradition that you could adopt in your own home.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Here are four lessons I have learned from a thorough study of Jesus’ prayer life:
1. The priority of prayer. He made prayer a high priority. Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 6:12-13; 11:1. If prayer was so important for Jesus, how much more necessary is it for us?
2. The privacy of prayer. He constantly prayed in private. Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 9:18. Oh, how we need to get alone with God like Jesus did.
3. The pinnacle prayer principle. He loved to pray on mountains: Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; 9:28. However, the fact that He often withdrew to “deserted places” (Luke 5:16) shows that the important thing was to be alone in God’s creation. Your place in nature may be a lake, a small garden, or front porch, or backyard swing. Even if you live in a crowded city, you can find a balcony or quiet room to focus your thoughts on God. The point is that Jesus knew that He had to be in a place where His total attention was upon the Father.
4. The people prayer principle. The more people, the shorter the prayer, the fewer people, the longer the prayer. His public prayers were short. Luke 10:21; John 11:41-42; Matthew 27:46. He condemned long prayers for show in Mark 12:40. His longest recorded prayer, John 17, was with a small group, while His longest prayer of all was totally alone (Luke 6:12). Too often we reverse this and pray too long in public and don’t pray enough in private.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many people say that they believe in Jesus but don’t believe in the church. Yet I submit that it is impossible to be a disciple of Christ apart from the church. Why do I say that?
1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers.
3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there.
4. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.
Christ died for the church. Christ is the builder of the church. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the shepherd of the church. Christ is the groom for His bride, the church. Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!
Here are the words of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson’s prayer, offered at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, January 20, 2017:
We thank You, Father, for letting us share this great moment together. Let us not take for granted the air we breathe, or the life You’ve given us. We were all created by You with one blood, all nations to dwell on this land together. We’re not enemies; we’re brothers and sisters. We’re not adversaries, but we’re allies. We’re not foes, but we’re friends. Let us be healed by the power of Your love, and united by the bond of Your Spirit.
Today, we pray for our 45th president, the vice-president, and their families. Give them the wisdom to guide this great nation, the strength to protect it, and the hands to heal it. We bless President Donald J. Trump. We ask that You give him the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph, and the meekness of Christ. Solomon, who kept peace among many nations, Joseph, who dreamed better for the people, and Christ who accepted us all. Oh Lord, mend our hearts, and stitch together the fabric of this great country.
In the spirit of the legendary gospel songwriter, Mahalia Jackson,
Deep in my heart, I do believe/ the Lord will see us through, I do believe / We are on our way to victory, I do believe/ we will walk hand in hand, I do believe / We shall live in peace, I do believe/ Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe / America, we shall overcome.
And may the Lord bless and keep America, and make His face shine upon us, and be gracious unto us, and give us peace. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
Read “5 reasons to pray for President Trump (even if you didn’t vote for him)” here: https://bobrogers.me/2017/01/20/bishop-jacksons-inauguration-prayer-for-president-trump/
Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)
Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.
1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?
2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.
3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”
Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.
Article Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Once I met a guy in the gym who had muscles of steel. I was amazed when he told me that he used to be fat, until he decided to get into shape.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Many of us are spiritually fat. But just as my friend got physically fit, you can get into spiritual shape. Here’s how:
I. Put your heart into it.
Dotsie Bausch was riding a mountain bike one day when a group of competitive road cyclists flew past her. Dotsie chased them and stayed on their heels for two miles. That night, she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team. Her heart was all in. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” You must put your heart into it.
II. Remove hindrances.
In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense.
In the spiritual life, sinful obstacles block us, too.
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!
III. Exercise your spirit daily.
There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Healthy athletes have a balance of both. Likewise, you need a balance of spiritual exercises, often called the “spiritual disciplines.” These include Bible reading and prayer, but they also include meditation and memorization of scripture, service and stewardship, worship and witness. A healthy spiritual life develops from regular practice of these spiritual disciplines.
As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
In 2008, I was about 35 pounds overweight. I was breathing hard just walking to the second floor. My pants were too tight. I didn’t like how I looked. I made a decision to change, and put my heart into it. It was a lifestyle change, as I got serious about exercise, eating right, and sticking with it. Over a year, I took off the weight. Today, nine years later, I have maintained my lower weight and healthier lifestyle.
I had tried fad diets before, but I finally had success when I kept my focus on a goal and stuck with it.
In a much greater way, the same principle applies to your spiritual life.
How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?