Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness. Nothing happened outside his will. He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13). Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.
Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . .
“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .
Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .
So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”
The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).
“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).
I draw two conclusions. One, my illness is God’s will. Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life. Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.
Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure? Or can I pray for healing? If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified. How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory. So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.
I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing. So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up). And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
And I pray: “Jesus see me. Look on me with compassion. And please heal me.”
I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will. So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith. Often I’m just confused.
Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it. Everything in me wants to fight back. To stubbornly refuse to give ground. To stomp it out. (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)
Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.” I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have. I can focus my thoughts on the Lord. (Sounds so spiritual. Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)
Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter). The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life. He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing. (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!) And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer. I can seek contentment in him. I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious: I am utterly dependent on him. Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him. I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10). I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .
“LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,
Thou hast 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 the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the 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.
( I will inevitably sneak in: “And if you want to heal me today, please do!” That’s okay, right? Ah, my muddled prayers!)