Finding it tricky to nail down morning devotions is hardly the stuff of guilt-ridden confession any more. The club it admits me to is large and accepting, citing forgiveness for failure and wisdom in recognising that different approaches work in different seasons. The rhetoric is compelling—try again. Keep going. Discipline doesn’t just happen, it hurts.
Being a bit of a junkie for morning devotionals, this year has seen me playing to other peoples strengths. As well as Bible reading, I usually read 3 wildly different daily reflections: ‘Morning and Evening’ by Spurgeon, ‘My rock my refuge’ with Tim Keller and, the impetus for today’s post, ‘New Morning Mercies’ by Paul Tripp. I have a funny and fastidious routine with these books. Spurgeon is first. His is the book my parents read (and still read) most mornings of my life. He is steeped in Scripture, and creative with the way he applies it to verses plucked from their context. If anyone can write a devotional this way, it is surely him. It’s a ‘don’t try this at home’ approach which has deeply ministered to my heart and my home over the years.
Keller is next. I ‘won’ this book in a Secret Santa last December, and have been thankful for the way it reproduces a chunk of Psalms each day and gives a bite-sized reflection on it and a prayer at the end. There isn’t much page space for depth—most reflections are pretty basic—but as a springboard into mediation on the meaning of the Psalm, it’s very good.
Paul Tripp is last, in a cliché ‘save the best’. I hate to think how mercenary this all sounds—these precious men of God who love and have loved him, lined up in some weird, unhelpful rank. What I mean, only, is that it is God who uses these human words to minister to my soul, and it happens to be Tripp’s which often tear me open and expose the darkness in my heart and my need for grace.
Spurgeon’s words invariably comfort. Tripp’s confront, but they are the wounds of one who excises to heal. I think I relate to Tripp personally because his failings are my own. Anger and pride, all the time pride which is never starved enough. He writes a lot about the dangers of forgetfulness in the Christian life, where forgetting grace and mercy invariably turns us inward, self-reliant. He writes about worship, the need for our all-of-life to be lived in awe of God, in return to him.
Today’s entry cut through my hurried attempts at reading it and stilled my racing mind, so preoccupied with other thoughts. It put a new song in my heart—literally—as it lifted my eyes to see my Saviour, again. In it, Tripp quotes a song in full, which performed the same heart reorientation on him, one Sunday morning:
No list of sins I have not done,
No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,
Can earn myself a place with You.
O God! Be merciful to me—
I am a sinner through and through!
My only hope of righteousness
Is not in me, but only You.
No humble dress, no fervent prayer,
No lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth
Can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life,
My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,
My weary load was borne by Him
And he alone can give me rest.
No separation from the world,
No work I do, no gift I give,
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again—
The pow’r of death is overthrown!
My God is merciful to me
And merciful in Christ alone.
By Eric Schumacher & David L. Ward
© 2012 ThousandTongues.org, admin by Thousand Tongues
You can find the lyrics, sheet music, and a rough demo here. At first the lyrics I read seemed forced and a bit clunky. How do you sing “recitation” for goodness sake? It’s also all about me, kind of. But what exactly is it saying?
As I kept reading, I was reminded forcibly of that verse in ‘Rock of Ages’ which begins ‘Not the labours of my hands’. I have always loved that verse for the way it starkly paints my inability to work for the salvation offered freely in Christ. And this entire song is essentially a laundry list of ways we cannot make ourselves right with God. It’s repetitive—but that’s what my fickle, sneaky heart needs. Without such reminders, I am prone to seek forever, alternate ways to be righteous. I need the slamming doors to wake me up. Not like this. Not like this. Not like that either. Nope, don’t look there. Barking up the wrong tree again. And in every verse, the turning point, the ‘but’ you have been waiting for. God has done it, in Jesus. Salvation can be yours, mine—finished, full and free.
I love this song and the reminder of all that I cannot offer to God, however I may try. I don’t know about you, but I get so caught up in measuring my worth based on praise or lack thereof. I am confident when I feel confident in my abilities. I am insecure when there is a lack in me. How is this still a thing, so many years after taking hold of Christ who in fact took hold of me?
Thank God he does not measure me the way I do! In actual fact, my lack is infinitely more terrible than I can conceive. Before God, “I am a sinner, through and through”. At the same time, because of Jesus, my confidence is infinitely surer than I could ever imagine, because it isn’t in me—“My righteousness is Jesus’ life”. I love this song for reminding me that what I need is not a bit of help, alongside, but mercy to lift me out of death. Someone else to pay for my sin and bear my weary load. To overthrow the power of death and cause my soul to live.
I am thankful for the way God uses others to minister his word to me. These books are just some ways he does so, in this season, and maybe they can be that for you?
From one struggling devotion commitment-phobe to another, perhaps, may I exhort you to keep reading your Bible. Keep reading those who encourage you to keep reading your Bible. These devotionals are a poor substitute indeed for God’s word, but alongside it, illuminating it, they can help unpack its richness. I recommend particularly ‘New morning mercies’ to you, if you’re seeking a supplement to your Bible reading. Today, and so many days, it has reminded me to slow down, and sing the song in my heart which often gets crowded out by other melodies.
“My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’ death. My weary load was borne by him, and He alone can give me rest.”