Oratio, meditatio, tentatio

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

I have recently finished reading John Piper’s short and superb little biography, Martin Luther: Lessons from His Life and Labour (free to download here). Piper focuses on the significance of Scripture to Luther’s life and ministry, drawing out certain lessons to exhort those in gospel ministry.

Many of the points from the Luther story are largely expected — the importance of keen study of the Scriptures; original languages as the key to understanding the text; the necessity of prayer and utter dependency on God; and so on.

But the bit which caught me off guard, and which left the deepest impression on me, is what Luther called the “touchstone” of understanding Scripture: trials.

Reflecting on Psalm 119, Luther said:

I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself […] The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119 […] Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial).

Oratio, meditatio, tentatio. Prayer, meditation, trial.

And trials Luther called the “touchstone”, for they

teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme.

And Luther again, reflecting on his own experiences, said:

For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you and will make a real doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself […] owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they should have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached.

The language of “trials” or “afflictions” feels so foreign to many of us who live in the developed world. More so if we are in our 20s and 30s. Most of us have yet to encounter any real suffering; many of us still view ourselves as invincible.

And so it is for me, someone who lives a relatively comfortable life in 21st century London.

Lately, though, I’ve been going through quite a difficult period. I’ve been forced to strip away many things I held dear and placed my hope in. It’s been humbling and painful.

But in each painful instance, Jesus has welcomed me with outstretched arms, saying, “I’m enough for you; if you have me, you have everything“.

Much like when Eustace is “undragoned” by Aslan in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this pain is the necessary restorative work of turning me back to my loving Saviour. Or much like Luther (above), this trial is teaching me to know my Lord Jesus more deeply. Indeed, I am becoming a better theologian.

By no means am I holding myself out to be an expert or “holier than thou”. I don’t even think I’ve fully come out of this trial as yet. And in any case, my pain does not even begin to compare to the ordeals some of my brothers and sisters in Christ have endured, let alone to the anguish my Saviour suffered.

But I can testify that in my state, His Words bring me great comfort. They are sweeter, truer, lovelier. He is the living water who truly satisfies my deepest thirst; he is the bread of life who truly satisfies my deepest hunger; he is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?

His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in my weakness.

He has a plan; He is sovereign and will bring it to pass; He who promised is faithful, He will surely do it.

Dear brother or sister, if you are going through a similarly difficult situation, don’t neglect the tentatio which God will no doubt use to deepen your knowledge of Him. May this fiery trial bring you closer to Him and fill you with inexpressible joy.

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

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Some lyrics are just “too true sometimes, to sing all the time”

“All you need is love” is a lie ’cause
We had love, but we still said goodbye
Now we’re tired, battered fighters

And it stings when it’s nobody’s fault
‘Cause there’s nothing to blame at the drop of your name
It’s only the air you took and the breath you left

***

And I know it was me who called it over, but
I still wish you’d fought me ’til your dying day
Don’t let me get away

‘Cause I can’t wait to figure out what’s wrong with me
So I can say this is the way that I used to be
There’s no substitute for time
Or for the sadness

Split screen sadness

Stay – Jimmy Needham feat. Lizi Bailey

Hi there, it’s me again.

It’s been a while; 658 days since I last posted anything, to be precise. I’ve been going through a really difficult period lately and thought blogging again might be a helpful catharsis.

May I ask you a question? Have you ever felt that momentary sense of joy in Jesus? It’s often just a fleeting moment — like the soft landing of a butterfly on a flower petal only to take off again — but it’s no less real or tangible.

I wanted to share a song with you, which I think captures this feeling so well. The rapture of knowing God; no, better than that — of being known by God himself.

Have a listen here on Spotify (or a short stripped out sample on YouTube). The rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you’ve listened to the song. Here are the lyrics (the post continues below):


You lead me like the dawning of the day
You lead me like April leads into May
You lead me like the stone you rolled away
You take my hand and we will run… away

Just like a child I rest upon your knee
Just like a song, your love, it sings to me
Beside your arms I find a symphony
You take my hand and then we run… away

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay… here

Remember all those years ago we met
All I recall are days of past regret
And you felt so far but I had never left
Just wanting you to take my hand… and run

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay
If only I could stay

In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper
In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
Linger forever
If only I could stay
If I could stay… here


 

I could wax lyrical about this song: about its acoustic quality, about the lovely harmony between Jimmy and Lizi, about many other musical features.

But I just want to focus on how perfectly it captures the momentary sensation of rapture that the soul experiences when it is full of the joy of being known by God. It is like being transported “to the place where my fears have no voice at all / The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call”. That moment is frozen; and you know that it’s you and the Lord Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, who has poured His love into your heart by the Spirit (Romans 5:5).

In the words of St Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

In those moments, your heart has found this rest.

Sadly, though, we know only too well that these moments are ephemeral, fleeting, temporary. You would “linger forever” if you could. But it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a bit like the Apostle Peter on the mount of transfiguration, yearning for Jesus, Elijah and Moses to stick around (Mark 9:2ff).

Thus the wistful tenor of the song: “If only I could stay…”

It’s what C.S. Lewis called an “inconsolable longing”; a “lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside” (the Weight of Glory).

But it’s not all bad. Captured so well in the third verse of the song is the great encouragement that the Holy Spirit is with us always as believers. When we are despondent, the Spirit (represented by Lizi in the song) says to us, “Remember all those those years ago we met?” Remember that moment when you knew it was Him? It may have been the night when you prayed to receive Jesus; it may have been that awe-full sense you had while meditating on Scripture; it may have been when you were on your knees singing in praise; indeed, it may have been in all of these moments.

How often do we think that God isn’t with us, just because that fleeting sense of joy has faded away! How easily we slip into thinking, “all I recall are days of past regret.” But the Spirit says, “You felt so far but I had never left / Just wanting you to take my hand.”

Indeed, he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And so we do not lose heart (cf 2 Cor 4). We take courage and wait on the LORD, thanking Him for these moments of pure joy along the way, but longing eagerly for His return to rescue His bride.

And when He does, those moments of rapture — of pure joy — will no longer be fleeting. For we shall be with Him forever. He shall wipe away every tear from our eyes.

I have a strong and perfect plea: Jesus

This song gets me every time. Perfect theology, perfect lyrics, perfect Saviour.

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there, who put an end to all my sin

Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is justified to look on Him and pardon me.”