by Addie Zander, Associate Director of Student Ministry
The collection of Puritan prayers The Valley of Vision contains words that have stirred my heart to repentance and affection like few other books outside of Scripture. Lately, I have been drawn back, time and time again, to the prayer entitled “A Minister’s Confession.” And though this may have been written expressly for a vocational minister or pastor, I find its lines to be very pertinent and convicting in my own life.
The first lines say,
O God, I know that I often do thy work without thy power,
and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving without thy help.
How true this is for me! The thing compelling my actions of ministry, worship, or service, is sometimes duty rather than delight. And, even worse, my motivation is often appallingly tied to others’ thoughts of me. The next lines of the prayer confront this.
I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation of others;
This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion my rule, whereas
I should see what good I have done, and give thee glory,
consider what sin I have committed and mourn for that.
I am so aware of my pride and my sinful idolatry of man’s opinion of me. The Lord’s mercy in revealing these sinful areas is surpassed only by his pardoning work through Jesus, and the Spirit continually effecting change and repentance in my heart. Though I know the Lord is growing and sanctifying me, I still struggle with this and look for worth, approval, and validation from people instead of the cross. Am I alone here? I don’t think so.
Jesus confronted this during his ministry. I find myself brought to my knees at his rebuke, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father, who is in heaven (Matt. 6:1).
I feel convicted with the Israelites as the prophet Jeremiah says, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:12-13). In looking to man for approval, I have turned to a source that can’t fill me. And with the instinctive urge to “people-please,” I find myself disappointed and crushed again and again when my worth can’t be affirmed like I want it to be. The Lord, the “fountain of living waters,” wants me to turn to Him alone! But I don’t! And so I must turn and repent, again and again, and be humbled and broken in the face of my sin and the greatness of God’s mercy and kindness.
But thou dost show power by my frailty,
So that the more feeble I am,
the more fit to be used,
For thou dost pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.
Please, Lord, let it be so. Even as I am humbled by need for Him, as I struggle to serve Him out of a pure heart, God uses me. He sees my weakness and my selfish desire for approval and validation, and He gently convicts, instructs, and changes. And in the midst of this, still, he uses me! What grace.
Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and give thee praise,
To acknowledge my deficiencies before others,
And not be discouraged by them,
That they may see Thy glory more clearly.