Years ago, a colleague introduced me to a book that has become a mainstay of my reading routine.
It is a collection of prayers and devotions by Puritan pastors titled The Valley of Vision. The leather-bound copy on my desk is published by The Banner of Truth Trust. We have come to love and appreciate the book so much that my wife and I give copies of this book as part of the graduation gifts we make to kids of our friends, and friends of our kids.
Some years ago, we gave copies to all of our major donors at the University. Of all the gifts we ever gave to this group, this one was far and away the favorite.
I think the reason we are so fond of it, and why others seem to find it so meaningful, is at least three-fold. Firstly, it is a quick and easy book to grab for daily inspiration. Secondly, there is a historical and evocative connection to a group that many would not typically view as being inspirational, poetic, and expressive.
Thirdly, the prayers it contains are so honest, authentic, and refreshingly counter to much of our language and sentiments in today’s culture. They grab you in very practical ways that challenge you to think about faith and life differently. Simply put, The Valley of Vision is instructive, inspiring, and insightful. And this is why I read from it almost daily and why I encourage others to explore this little gem as well. We need opportunities to step back and consider the things of life in a meaningful and grounded way.
The opening prayer does this very powerfully. It challenges the reader to rethink the difficult aspects of life, outlines the beauty of spiritual paradoxes that give us a different perspective, strengthens our faith, and elevates our vision. In a world preoccupied with smoothing out the rough spots of our individual lives — one that deceives us into thinking that life should be either a continuous “mountaintop” experience, or too often is a relentless bog of misery and despair — this particular prayer pierces through to inspire us to see life for what it is and beseeches Almighty God for grace, strength, and perspective. This is something I, and most people I know, could use more of.
The Valley Of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou has brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
Let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
Let the words roll over you. Ponder the lines and their implications. Reflect on how much the sensibilities of the day pull us into unrealistic expectations for how life “should be” or into unrelenting disappointment with what is “actually is.” Consider these lessons of paradox and the faith they require to not only embrace, but revel in and rejoice over. See the beauty of life with all of its ups and downs, ebbs and flows for what it truly is: an opportunity to view the glory and grace of a loving God as stars shining brightly in the midst of deep darkness.