‘Nah!’ is a word I’ve been hearing more in our house recently. I think it’s teenage-speak for ‘that’s ludicrous, pointless, irrelevant, wrong.’ And I have to make a confession. A good few years ago now, a friend gave me a bag full of old books. As I explored the collection, some caught my eye. There was an old set of the Treasury of David by Spurgeon. ‘That will look amazing on my bookshelf,’ I thought. One book, The Valley of Vision, made me think, ‘Nah.’ Pointless. Irrelevant. Old. Yes, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover and all that. I did.
Everyone knows that the Puritans were a rather stern bunch who took everything so seriously. Who would ban mince pies after all? And the cover of this book simply confirmed all of my worst suspicions. And yet, as I eventually opened The Valley of Vision, the more I read, the more I realised that while the Puritans were serious men and women, they were deeply serious about joy.
If you’ve never opened up this book, it is a collection of rich, deep, honest and humble prayers. Honestly, I don’t think any other book has taught me to pray ‘your Kingdom come,’ quite like this one. And as I read it for the first time, one particular prayer caught my eye. It was all about joy.
What is Christian joy?
The first line started to unpick everything I knew about joy.
‘All thy ways of mercy tend to and end in my delight.’
Surrounded by theologies that teach a warped version of Christianity, one in which God intends us to be happy because of good health, financial success, nice cars and so on, we are tempted to shy away from saying ‘the chief end of mercy is our delight.’ It somehow sounds superficial and self-centred. Does God really want me to be happy?
The Puritans think so. In fact, their prayers are continually filled with joy. Not of a shallow and fleeting kind, but one rooted deeply in the soil of God’s grace. A soul-filling, God-glorifying happiness. As I read these words for the first time, I found my own joy to be lacking.
‘Thou art preparing joy for me and me for joy.’
Could it really be that God had shown mercy to me, loved me when I was his enemy, and was now sanctifying me all that I might know him to be my supreme joy?
I fear that we are reluctant to speak of joy like the Puritans did, because for many of us it is an alien concept. ‘We are far too easily pleased’, as C.S. Lewis wrote. We are content to satisfy the deep longings of our hearts with the shallow joys of possessions, comfort, holidays and entertainment. We find our appetites for joy quickly satiated by spiritual fast food when a banquet of grace is laid before us in Christ.
A joyful God
As I continued to read this prayer I felt an appetite for joy that I hadn’t known before.
‘Give me more joy than I can hold, desire, think of.’
Like many people today I’d found joy to be a fleeting concept, an idea, a hope. Unfulfilled. Why? Because unlike the Puritans, I had separated joy from God, I had divorced happiness from the gospel. I had never grasped that God’s great, redemptive desire for my life was that my soul delighted in him. For me, joy was an end in itself, and it was unthinkable that God sought my joy for his glory’s sake.
Yet these Puritans knew more truth than I did; their prayers were not vain or an empty hope. They were built on the faithful promises of God. The Apostle Peter knew that as Christians hold on to Christ in faith, even through the bleakest of circumstances, they can ‘rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.’ And that joy-filled reality fills these great prayers.
This prayer warns 21st century Christians. Do not overestimate this world’s joys and securities, and do not underestimate God. The God of the gospel is supremely joyful: what else could he be? If we are serious about knowing him, we’ll be serious about pursuing joy in him for joyful is what he is.
So, open this book and read these prayers. But I warn you, prepare to be deeply dissatisfied with the shallow joys of this world, deeply unnerved by the shallowness of our pursuit of God, and deeply moved by the mercy of God towards lost sinners! As you read these truth-filled, heart-rending cries of the Puritans, you’ll hear the call that C.S. Lewis wrote of: ‘Come further up and further in.’ And one day, of course, as this prayer exalts, we shall find that “there is no joy like the joy of heaven”, and on the glorious day our joy will finally be complete as we gaze on the face of joy itself.
All thy ways of mercy tend to and end in my delight.
Thou didst weep, sorrow, suffer that I might rejoice.
For my joy thou hast sent the Comforter,
multiplied thy promises,
shown me my future happiness,
given me a living fountain.
Thou art preparing joy for me and me for joy;
I pray for joy, wait for joy, long for joy;
give me more than I can hold, desire, or think of.
Measure out to me my times and degrees of joy,
at my work, business, duties.
If I weep at night, give me joy in the morning.
Let me rest in the thought of thy love,
pardon for sin,
my title to heaven,
my future unspotted state.
I am an unworthy recipient of thy grace.
I often disesteem thy blood and slight thy love,
but can in repentance draw water
from the wells of thy joyous forgiveness.
Let my heart leap towards the eternal sabbath,
where the work of redemption, sanctiﬁcation, preservation, gloriﬁcation
is ﬁnished and perfected for ever,
where thou wilt rejoice over me with joy.
There is no joy like the joy of heaven,
for in that state are no sad divisions, unchristian quarrels,
contentions, evil designs,
weariness, hunger, cold,
sadness, sin, suffering,
persecutions, toils of duty.
O healthful place where none are sick!
O happy land where all are kings!
O holy assembly where all are priests!
How free a state where none are servants except to thee!
Bring me speedily to the land of joy.
‘The Valley of Vision’ is a devotional book edited by Arthur Bennet and published by Banner of Truth. It contains a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions.