Puritan prayer in verse and song

Posted: 20th February 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

m4175-00-21_m.jpgI’ve received several recommendations to check out some of the music from Sovereign Grace Ministries, especially for lyrics that are God-centered rather than me-focused. So I did. I downloaded their album “Valley of Vision“, which was inspired by a book of Puritan prayers of the same name†. And I like it, a lot.

The lyrics have a far greater depth and richness compared to some of the repetitive drivel that’s out there today, and the music is diverse, but restrained in presentation without any hint of showmanship. The vocals are front and center, and never overwhelmed by the music such that the lyrics become unintelligible.

0851512283.jpgBeing the somewhat obsessive collector that I am, I went looking for the prayer book and found a copy (to my complete surprise) in our local Christian bookstore. This is not a review of that book. I’ve barely had time to crack it open; but I will admit that my eye was drawn to the prayer “God All-Sufficient” in the index:

O Lord of grace,
The world is before me this day,
and I am weak and fearful,
but I look to thee for strength;

If I venture forth alone I stumble and fall,
but on the beloved’s arms I am firm as the eternal hills;

If left to the treachery of my heart I shall shame thy name,
but if enlightened, guided, upheld by thy Spirit,
I shall bring thee glory.

Be thou my arm to support,
my strength to stand, my light to see,
my feet to run, my shield to protect,
my sword to repel, my sun to warm.

To enrich me will not diminish thy fullness;
All thy lovingkindness is in thy Son,
I bring him to thee in the arms of faith,
I urge his saving name as the one who died for me.
I plead his blood to pay my debts of wrong.

Accept his worthiness for my unworthiness,
his sinlessness for my transgressions,
his purity for my uncleanness,
his sincerity for my guile,
his truth for my deceits,
his meekness for my pride,
his constancy for my backslidings,
his love for my enmity,
his fullness for my emptiness,
his faithfulness for my treachery,
his obedience for my lawlessness,
his glory for my shame,
his devotedness for my waywardness,
his holy life for my unchaste ways,
his righteousness for my dead works,
his death for my life.

I am looking forward to exploring this collection with more attention and time.

The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
Edited by Arthur G. Bennett
Published by Banner of Truth (1975)

  1. Bryan says:

    I absolutely love this book. (which means I need to check out the cd)

    There is so much that I draw from the Puritans, and their prayers are so humbling and God centered. Sometimes I pray through them, sometimes I simply read them as a devotional.

  2. Bryan, thanks for the comments. The book+CD would make a marvelous gift, in my opinion.

    Do you have the paperback or leather-bound edition? If I warm to this as it seems likely, I’d like to find a copy of the latter in hopes that it is a little more durable. But the paperback will work too – the layout is very generous with whitespace for making notes of response.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    Is this supposed to be an example of “lyrics that are God-centered rather than me-focused”? If so, give me Matt Redman any time.

  4. Uh, no, Peter. That’s a prayer from the prayer book, not lyrics from the album. I hope you can forgive the Puritans for not speaking 21st century English.

  5. Lingamish says:

    Touche, Peter. There’s a lot of “I” and “my” in that hymn. Can we really talk about God without referring to ourselves?

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    It’s not the language I am worried about so much as the sentiments. The world and people’s needs have changed since the 17th century. While we can of course benefit from reading about how people of old related to God, I don’t think we should be restricting our devotion today to these old experiences. Rather, we should centre it, all of course within a biblical framework, on contemporary experiences of God which connect with people today.

  7. Thanks for expanding on your comment, Peter.

    After yours and David’s comments, I thought twice and did strike out the comment about “lyrics that are God-centered rather than me-focused” from the post. It really wasn’t the focus of what I was saying anyway, at least not in the sense that I jotted this blog post down.

    David’s question about whether we can “really talk about God without referring to ourselves” can probably be answered in the negative, especially when lyrics are developed from prayer, which almost necessarily refers to our condition.

    When I get a chance, I’ll post an original prayer and the song lyrics that were developed from that. That might be an interesting exercise in comparing modern interpretation with a text from another time.

    Of course, being the tradition-less Christian that I am, I have found irony in finding personal benefit in reading something written more than 400 years ago.

  8. Bryan says:

    Elshaddai, I do have the leather-bound edition.

    Also, being God-centered does not mean that there is no mention of ourselves, but that even when we are talking about ourselves it is in a way that is Christ-honoring and glorifying.

    The last stanza is Christo-centric in it’s pleas for the imputed righteousness of Christ, that God would look on the perfect obedience of Christ and not our own weak, sinfulness. Yes, every line says “my” but we can’t just say that it is man-centered when we see “I” and “my,” but only when we look at what it’s saying about us.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Well, Bryan, do you accept the allegation that many contemporary Christian lyrics are man- (and woman-) centred? If so, please give us some examples of widely known songs which are not “talking about ourselves … in a way that is Christ-honoring and glorifying”. Otherwise I will tend to think that this allegation is based on little more than dislike of anything new.

  10. Peter, I want to apologize for the tone of my first response to you. I know better than to blog when I’m distracted at work and you unfortunately caught me full of vinegar. Please forgive my retort.

  11. Peter, wouldn’t “Let my words be few” by Redman fall close to that category?

    You are God in heaven
    And here am I on earth,
    So I’ll let my words be few-
    Jesus I am so in love with You.

    And I’ll stand in awe of You,
    Yes I’ll stand in awe of You,
    And I’ll let my words be few-
    Jesus I am so in love with You.

    The simplest of all love songs
    I want to bring to You,
    So I’ll let my words be few-
    Jesus I am so in love with You.

    The main thoughts seem to be (a) “I’ll stand in awe of you” because God is in heaven and I’m not, and (b) “I am so in love with you” without expressing why. Obviously I get the idea that Redman doesn’t want to use a lot of words to express these thoughts, but it teeters on putting the focus on the singer’s emotions as emotive rather than responsive, yes?

  12. Steve says:

    The world and people’s needs have changed since the 17th century. While we can of course benefit from reading about how people of old related to God, I don’t think we should be restricting our devotion today to these old experiences. Rather, we should centre it, all of course within a biblical framework, on contemporary experiences of God which connect with people today.

    Wha…?

    Who said anything about restricting? Rather, we don’t want to have to relearn the lessons of old (reinvent the wheel). Besides, have “contemporary experiences” really rendered that poem irrelevant? That poem is about God’s greatness overshadowing and overcoming the poet’s weaknesses. Has the modern world gotten us past all that? I think it really was the language that turned you off, and more so because you apparently had already developed an aversion to the appeal to the past (which can be taken too far).

    Most troubling to me of your statements, what exactly are today’s “needs”? Does the modern obsession with feeling and expressing “in love” sentiments trump our need to glorify God and seek His help to overcome our daily hardships and failures? I’m confused.

  13. Peter Kirk says:

    ElShaddai, I had no problem with your tone, I expect robust responses to my robust comments! But on “Let my words be few”, although I have some problems with the idea of being “in love with” Jesus, surely these words are “Christ-honoring and glorifying”? We have a wonderful balance here of love and awe towards Jesus. Of course there is not deep theology expressed here, although the concept of Jesus being God in heaven certainly has its depths, but I assume that this song is intended as a response to expression, perhaps in a sermon, of why we should love Jesus.

    Steve, the negative comments about modern worship songs seemed to be a suggestion that we should restrict our worship to older ones, as in fact happens in some churches, or to new ones based on old words. But why do you suggest that I was turned off by the poem ElShaddai quoted? It is beautiful and speaks to me. My only criticism is that it is very me-focused and so gives precisely the opposite message to what ElShaddai was saying in the original version of the post.

  14. But on “Let my words be few”, although I have some problems with the idea of being “in love with” Jesus, surely these words are “Christ-honoring and glorifying”?

    I guess, for me, this starts to have some of the John 3:16 issues… is it “Jesus, I am **so** in love with you…”, i.e. I love you lots, or is it “Jesus, this is how I love you…”, i.e. focusing on why we love Jesus – what is it about Jesus/God that we love. And if it’s the latter, than I’m missing the “what” in the lyrics.

    It’s like when I tell my wife, “I love you” and she responds, “why?” “Because I do” usually doesn’t get a warm reciprocation – it comes off as formulaic and me-centered, as opposed to digging deeper and putting the focus on what I love about her. Which, as a selfish fallen wretch, is hard for me to do consistently.

    We have a wonderful balance here of love and awe towards Jesus.

    Can mankind be proactively expressive of love and awe toward Jesus? Or do we fall mostly responsive to what we perceive around us? Do we worship God for who we have discovered Him to be, or do we worship God for what he has done in our lives? Is there a difference?

    (I’m just vamping questions now, so feel free to ignore anything that just seems trite.)

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    ElShaddai, I am sure we are responding to what we see of Jesus.

    But what sort of answer to your wife’s question “Why?” would please her? Surely not you reciting a list of the things she does for you. So, since you seem to admit that human love for God can be likened to human love relationships, should we expect God to be pleased by us loving him simply because of what he has done? I am sure your wife wants you to tell her how wonderful she is. Similarly God wants us to say that of him, surely. So, I suggest, “we worship God for who we have discovered Him to be”.

  16. I am sure your wife wants you to tell her how wonderful she is. Similarly God wants us to say that of him, surely.

    Exactly. And my comment on “Let my words be few” is that I am missing the lyrics that describe “how wonderful God is”. All I hear is “I love you, I love you, I love you”. To which, God, if He is like my wife, will have one of two responses: “tell me more!” or “show me”.

  17. Peter Kirk says:

    Well, I would recommend that this song be sung either after a sermon about how wonderful God is or after another song in which this has been clearly declared. I would not suggest it as the opening song of a worship service. I expect that Matt Redman would agree. Its whole genre is that of a worshipful song, to follow rousing praise choruses and lead a congregation into a quieter and more contemplative mood.

  18. Bryan says:

    Peter Kirk said:
    “Otherwise I will tend to think that this allegation is based on little more than dislike of anything new.”

    Er… not quite. Or otherwise I’m definitely in the wrong church. [The curse of being emerging, but not emergent. Most will think I’m in the wrong church anyways, and lump me in with the rest of the guys.]

    I’m not sure why you would make such an assumption because I like the puritan prayers and ideas. I could do the same and say maybe you just have an aversion to what is old?

    I was just asserting that those lyrics/word/poem/prayer were in fact God centered. I said nothing of newer music. I like a lot of newer music. My church records a lot of their own newer music, and old hymns.

    I’m honestly a little confused.

  19. Bryan says:

    Oh, I do think a lot of modern music is man-centered. I also think a lot of it is God-centered. And a lot of it has a good balance depending on what it’s trying to say.

  20. Thank you very much for mentioning this.

    I don’t have the book yet but have printed these out:
    http://www.eternallifeministries.org/prayers.htm
    and pray though one of them every now and then. I never get tired of them. They are very Scriptural. As I understand it these are from the book.

    I generally don’t like any music with words. I prefer classical, electronic and a few other genres that I sometimes listen to while reading. However I’m buying this CD.

    They also have some free Scripture memory songs that are available taken from their Scripture memory CDs:
    Free Scripture Songs
    In general I don’t want to memorize Scripture to music but these are nice supplements and they get in my head and replace all the other crazy stuff that goes on in there. (smiley would go here)
    Jeff

  21. Would these be “me” lyrics?

    O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for youin God.”
    But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
    I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill.
    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
    Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
    Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!
    Psalms 3:1-8 NRSV

    Psalms 4:1-8 NRSV
    1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
    2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? (Selah)
    3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
    4 When you are disturbed, [3] do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. (Selah)
    5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

    6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
    7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
    8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

  22. Peter Kirk says:

    Bryan, since you answered my question, thank you, I no longer think that “this allegation is based on little more than dislike of anything new”. I entirely agree with this:

    Oh, I do think a lot of modern music is man-centered. I also think a lot of it is God-centered. And a lot of it has a good balance depending on what it’s trying to say.

    Scripturezealot, if your point is that many of the psalms are “me-centred”, you are of course correct. But there are much better examples of it than the ones you quote. Look for example at Psalm 26. Perhaps this can be a lesson to us not to be afraid of using lyrics of this kind, as part of a proper balance in out worship.