The Valley of Vision

I came across this prayer from the Puritan book “The Valley of Vision” this week over on Justin Taylor’s blog, and it has spoken really powerfully to how I’ve been feeling lately:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has 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 deepest wells,
deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter
Thy stars shine;

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
that every good work or thought found in me
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

Sometimes as Christians it’s all too easy to fool ourselves and each other that all is fine, that we’re all basically doing alright, until we all appear so “sorted” that we’re each afraid to admit to the other just how desperately messy our lives are and how much life really gets us down. Well, this week God has really reminded me that that’s not Christianity – far from it. True Christianity is a message about a saviour who came to a people who were far from sorted – why else would they need rescuing? God didn’t send his son lightly – he sent him because there was no other way: we cannot fix ourselves or dig ourselves out of this hole we’re in. Our sin is too severe for that – too all encompassing and destructive. Even if we were to build for ourselves a perfect world, our sin would keep us from enjoying it – why, even the good already in this world I can’t seem to appreciate without screwing it up somehow or other. Yet Jesus came as the rescuer who reaches out with open arms to pull us from the miry bog and out of the clutches of the tangled weeds of sin. He DIED for my sin and PAID the price. In him I am made perfect even whilst I am yet such a messy work-in-progress. And at the very point where I am brought so low by awareness of my sin and my helplessness that I can barely dare to hope that Jesus would want me – in the valley, so to speak – that is where I find the vantage point I need to see things clearly, that is where I feel my need keenly enough to cry out, and so the broken heart becomes the healed heart.

In the words of Horatio Spafford:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


Doing Things Badly is the First Step Towards Doing Them Well

Whenever an idea for a project first starts to germinate, it’s inevitable that it contains a lot of holes and flaws. If I were really smart I’d accept that fact, write the idea down and begin to slowly work on those holes and polish the idea up until it was really great. But in my pride I object to the fact that it’s not perfect straight away, and the fear of failure often makes me give up prematurely. As consumers we tend to only ever see the finished product – be that a movie or a novel or a piece of music that we’ve particular enjoyed. We tend to think of them as though they’d been spun out of the author’s mind in that completed form, directly onto paper. But such thinking is fatal to creativity. As a creator, it just makes me wallow in self-pity rather than getting on with things.

Whilst working on my Old Testament adventure game, Ebenezer, I’ve been struggling with this problem on and off. I’ve spent the last few months sketching out a very rough version of the game in Unity, but I keep being hindered by doubts that it’s not up to scratch. Well, buddy, it’s not supposed to be perfect! Having a bad version of a project together in working form is an important first step towards making it better. It doesn’t matter that it sucks – that just helps me know what areas to focus on so that the finished product doesn’t suck.

To that end, today has been an incredibly helpful day. I talked a friend through my prototype version, and it both helped me realise that it’s not half as bad as I thought it was, and also showed me that with a few simple tweaks suggested by my friend, it instantly became a whole heap better. So consider that my tip of the day: doing things badly is the first step towards doing them well.

The True Secret of Monkey Island

What is the Secret of Monkey Island? Created by Ron Gilbert and his team in 1990, in my opinion the greatest video game of all time, the Secret of Monkey Island, teased us with the notion of a great mystery, but never actually reveals what it is. As explained in this interview, Ron Gilbert planned to make a trilogy of games, and it was the third that was to explain the secret to us. But he left LucasArts before ever getting to make it.

For years various theories have circulated on the Internet, and by far the most popular view is explained by an article by Jorrin Quest. I’ve put together the following video to explain (Warning – contains BIG spoilers to MI1+2):

I hope you enjoy it!

To God Be the Glory

It can’t be denied that as a species, human beings have an enormous capacity for kindness. Time would fail to tell of the occasions when friends of mine have gone far beyond and above the call of duty in their love for me and for others. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we sometimes feel these good works of ours are grounds for pride, as discussed previously. But the gospel destroys our grounds for pride by reminding us that these good works of ours are really God’s works, prepared in advance for us:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

In the sovereignty of God, he planned where we would end up, and the circumstances in which we would find ourselves. Both the specific needs we will be confronted with, and the gifts and resources we will be equipped with to meet those needs are ordained by God. Instinctively, I think we recognise that fact when others help us out of a situation of dire need – at least for the Christian person, it feels natural to thank God for their support.

We see this illustrated for us in the Old Testament, where even the greatest victories of the people of God are not attributed to them and their strength, but to the Lord and his mighty power. Take, for example, one the best-known victories in the Bible: that of David over Goliath. The situation makes it clear that the credit doesn’t belong to David – this young, scrawny shepherd boy armed only with five tiny pebbles and a sling clearly didn’t stand a chance against the gigantic Philistine, the shaft of whose spear was as thick as a weaver’s beam. But David never doubted what the result would be. His motto:

“All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:47)

For sure, David was the human agent God used to deliver his people from the Philistines. It was David who had to gather up his pebbles from the stream; it was David who had to make the effort to stand up to Goliath and confront him when nobody else would dare; it was David who had to take aim and sling his pebbles and slay the mighty tyrant. But David saw the truth throughout: the battle was the LORD’s. Without the Lord governing and directing his every step, David would never have been so confident of a favourable outcome for the Israelites. If God could subdue the mighty Philistines by the hand of this single shepherd boy, then he could do it with anyone – David knew it wasn’t his right to take the credit for himself.

We see the same story over and over again in the Old Testament. Gideon is another example, where God deliberately thins out the Israelites army again and again until only a few hundred men remain, “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2). The victory had nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with God.

So next time you find yourself tempted to feel proud about something you’re doing for God, ask yourself who put you in this position? Who gave you the gifts and abilities that made you able to do this? Who instilled in you the desire to serve in this way? And just see if the credit isn’t really due to God, and not to you.