10.25.22 | Shepherding | by John Jones


    At our staff meeting last Wednesday we pondered a prayer written by Jeremy Taylor, a Church of England minister in the seventeenth century. This prayer is included in Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship, a devotional by Jonathan Gibson. Over the course of our study, we sought to learn how to pursue life objectives even while struggling with adversity.
    More than 100 years ago, hymn-writer Reginald Heber became captivated by the devotional writings of Jeremy Taylor. Heber wrote the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy!” which many of us know and love. As an aside, I recall a young outdoorsman in Anchorage who regularly requested a different, more obscure Heber hymn, “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” We sang it often, even as the third stanza imagines the disciples of Jesus defying the “tyrant’s brandished steel” and the “lion’s gory mane,” and finally bowing “their necks the death to feel.” Rough stuff. Heber then asks, “who follows in their train?” It’s a less-popular hymn.

    Heber was an enormous fan of Jeremy Taylor - not only writing a small biography but also gathering together his complete works. While Taylor liked Presbyterians only fractionally more than he liked Roman Catholics (which was none at all), his Evangelical and Puritan credentials are hard to dispute. He not only poignantly understood the essence of the Christian life, but he also communicated it with elegant and imaginative language, stirring both the mind and the heart of the reader. He was deservedly known as the “Shakespeare of the Divines” (Taylor was three when Shakespeare died).
    Taylor’s prayer begins with the character and work of God, then moves to the humble requests of a devoted Christian, and closes with the hope, not of better things in this life, but better things in the life to come. The entire prayer is below, but first, let me commend two things to you.
    First, Taylor reminds us that we are to seek God not just in our adversity, but in our prosperity as well. So often our prayers are measured in coffee spoons of suffering and trial heaped before God. Our particular struggles and unmet desires get front-row seating in our prayer life, while the life of faith amidst prosperity gets a seat in the nosebleed section. We ask for His help in our difficulties and praise Him for our successes, but we seldom think we need help living in that success. Taylor asks God to grant meekness and patience in adversity, but not until he first asks God to meet him in his prosperity. He prays that his prosperity would be accompanied by temperance. By this, he seems to be asking God to teach him how to celebrate prosperity with balance, selflessness, and calm. Taylor also asks that his prosperity would not distract him from his duty to follow the God of mercy. He is worthy to be followed not just when we are needy, but especially when neediness seems far away.
    Second, Taylor asks that God would grant him the ability to peer through the cloud of life to see the redemption behind it. So much of the Christian life is about waiting for the return of Jesus. Waiting is not an excuse for lethargy or delusion. It is about squinting our eyes and shifting our posture to see what’s behind that cloud. For Taylor, this meant continuing to do his duty with “unwearied diligence” and “undisturbed resolution,” to which he adds the image of looking through a cloud.
    These two warnings of Taylor blend together nicely, though in a bittersweet way (much like the hymn by Heber). We need God to help us walk well in our prosperity. Perhaps we fail to notice our prosperity because real hardship is before our eyes. The hardship is but thin precipitation. God has made us individually and corporately prosperous, and He has caused us to walk and work as before a cloud of translucent vapor. We squint to see ahead even as we make our way through it with diligence, resolution, and, ultimately, hope. All of our life is like this. For the Christian, the prosperous life is anxiously awaiting the strong wind of Christ’s return to blow away every cloud and vapor, even as we make our way through that vapor. This is the ordinary and beautiful Christian life that men like Jeremy Taylor help us to see and appreciate.
    Here is the prayer in full:

    O Almighty God, Father and Lord of all creatures, you have disposed all things and all chances so as may best glorify your wisdom, and serve the ends of your justice, and magnify your mercy, by secret and undiscernible ways bringing good out of evil; I most humbly implore you to give me wisdom from above, that I may adore you, and admire your ways and footsteps, which are in the great deep and not to be searched out; teach me to submit to your providence in all things, to be content in all changes of persons and condition; to be temperate in prosperity, and to read my duty in the lines of your mercy; and in adversity to be meek, patient, and resigned; and to look through the cloud, that I may wait for the consolation of the Lord, and the day of redemption; in the meantime doing my duty with an unwearied diligence and an undisturbed resolution, having no fondness for the vanities or possessions of this world, but laying up my hopes in heaven, and being strengthened with the spirit of the inner man, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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