Grace In Trials

I love reading, and nowadays usually have several books I’m working through at any given time. But one book I have been spending time with lately isn’t of the kind you read cover to cover, but rather a book you take in slowly, allowing its wisdom to soak into you.

It’s The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers and devotions.

Recently, my husband and I have gotten into the habit of reading just one of these short prayers together in the morning, to start off our day. The rich language often makes me feel as if I’m peeking into a very intimate moment in the relationship between God and the writer. One prayer in particular, called “Grace In Trials,” has been resonating deeply with me as we read it over and over. I suppose it’s because Warren and I have, in the course of our seven-year marriage, been through many trials, and even now are going through another season where our trust in God is being tried, deepened, pressed.

So I thought I would share this prayer with ESI readers, along with a few thoughts as to why it speaks so deeply to me:

Grace in Trials

Father of Mercies,
Hear me for Jesus’ sake.
I am sinful even in my closest walk with thee;
it is of thy mercy I died not long ago; Thy grace has given me faith in the cross
by which thou hast reconciled thyself to me and me to thee,
drawing me to thy great love,
reckoning me as innocent in Christ though guilty in myself.
Giver of all graces,
I look to thee for strength to maintain them in me,
for it is hard to practice what I believe.
Strengthen me against temptations.
My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin,
a river of corruption since childhood days,
flowing on in every pattern of behaviour;
Thou hast disarmed me of the means
in which I trusted,
and I have no strength but in thee.
Thou alone canst hold back my evil ways,
but without thy grace to sustain me I fall.
Satan’s darts quickly inflame me,
and the shield that should quench them
easily drops from my hand:
Empower me against his wiles and assaults.
Keep me sensible of my weakness,
and of my dependence upon thy strength.
Let every trial teach me more of thy peace,
more of thy love.
Thy Holy Spirit is given to increase thy graces,
and I cannot preserve or improve them
unless he works continually in me.
May he confirm my trust in thy promised help,
and let me walk humbly in dependence
upon thee,
for Jesus’ sake.

“It is hard to practice what I believe.”

I love this statement in the prayer for its simple honesty. Who among us cannot say that we find it hard to actually practice what we say we believe, particularly when the reality of our current situation is pressing in? We can say we trust God, that we believe Romans 8:28 is true, but when our lives don’t go the way we want them to, it’s hard to actually live as if you believe that God truly is working all things for the good of those who love Him. I think it’s probably because we have in our heads what we think that particular flavor of “good” should look like, and we often forget that the very next verse defines what God means by “good” – that He is using all things to conform us more to the image of Christ. That good is our sanctification. In the midst of that sanctification process, it is hard to practice what I believe – and it is a relief to me to speak those honest words to God. “I find it hard to do what I say I want to do, to believe what I say I believe.”

“Thou hast disarmed me of the means in which I trusted.”

Trials are often a season in our lives when something we love is damaged or altogether lost. That may be a marriage that has disintegrated, a child who is rebelling, a career that’s taken a downward spiral, or any number of other things. These things we love can easily become the things in which we put our hope and our happiness – the things in which we trusted, so to speak. It’s God’s mercy to “disarm” me of those things I am trusting in – because often my heart deceives me, and I don’t even realize how much I’ve allowed my heart to turn toward those cherished created things in my life, rather than my Creator. He disarms me of those things in which I trusted, and I have no other recourse but to lean into His strength. It is a mercy, and speaking these words back to God in prayer, this hard truth, has the effect of helping me to accept that this is the kind of harsh mercy I need to bring me back into His fold.

“Satan’s darts quickly inflame me, and the shield that should quench them easily drops from my hand.”

How often do we fail in fighting off the fleshly responses to whatever trial we find ourselves in? If you’re like me, the answer is “pretty often.” The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians about spiritual warfare, offering up a great visual, that of a man equipping himself for battle by donning various weapons and defensive clothing, the obvious message being that we, too, should arm ourselves against Satan’s attacks (Ephesians 6:10-18). The shield of faith, he writes, can be used to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one (verse 16). And yet when hardships come to us, our faith is often the first thing that’s shaken. It’s as if we all know in our heads that God hasn’t promised us a life of ease, but as soon as we don’t get just that – a life of ease – our hearts begin to question God, or his goodness at least, and our faith wavers. This line of the prayer – “With thy grace to sustain me” – this is the reminder I need to cry out to God for the strength to remain faithful. It helps me to remember that just as I could not within myself be drawn to Christ until He first drew me, neither can I of myself have the strength to hold that shield of faith effectually without His sustaining grace.

“Let every trial teach me more of thy peace, more of thy love.”

Unless you’ve found a bubble to live in, safely away from the rest of us, you’re going to have hardships in life. Your marriage is going to have rocky periods, maybe long ones, and that relationship may not survive. Your children are going to defy you at some point, and that defiance may be heartbreaking. Jobs will be lost, money will be tight, friends will be scarce. At some point in life, you almost undoubtedly will feel betrayal from one source or another. Life in this broken world is hard, and somewhere down the line, you are going to have to face trials.

So the question becomes, how will you face them? What will you get out of them? Will you allow hardships to harden you? Will trials make you bitter, cynical and more mistrusting of God and everyone around you? Or will you allow God to use trials to teach you something very valuable – that it’s not the circumstances of your life that ground you in hope, joy and contentment, but the depth of your relationship with the One who created you? Will you allow trials to introduce you to the love of God, and to deepen your faith in the One who loves you perfectly?

We are all in such desperate need of God. But when life is going well, we have a hard time remembering the truth of that statement. It’s only in trials that we can mercifully be reminded of how much we need him. This is why I love this particular prayer. It reminds me that it was Christ who drew me in from the beginning, Christ who uses these trials for my benefit, and Christ who sustains me through them, drawing me deeper into relationship with Him. These Puritan prayers written by people much more faithful than I am or may ever be, help me to stay honest with God, and myself, about who I am and my deep need for Christ as Lord and Savior.

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