Friday, September 29, 2017
Hymn: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
Translated by Catherine Winkworth
Tune: LOBE DEN HERREN
First of all, let me say that I love this hymn all the way through.
This hymnline calls on the people of God to sound the truth again… it seems to imply that this should be done with fervor, maybe because of the way the melody rises at that point.
The very word “amen” has been curiously interpreted for us throughout history. Although it has come to mean “I agree with what you just said (or sang),” at its center is more of an agreement with the truth of faith; in Scripture, it is sometimes translated “verily, verily” or “I tell you the truth.” It is a uniquely Judeo-Christian word – though in Islam a similar “Amin” is used.
My point here is simple: I think this hymn is calling the church to stand firmly for the truth, using a uniquely sacred word. We might even think of it as “Let God’s truth sound from his people again.” No more standing back and waffling on the issues; in agreement, speak the truth… and do so “gladly” – not coerced or because it is expected – but because you want to.
The next time this phrase comes across your lips in worship, let it stir up within you its intended call to speak the truth… stand for the truth… live the truth – individually and corporately because we are his glad people.
Hear Fernando Ortega Sing This Hymn
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth” – Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)
Our youngest grandson turned three a few weeks ago. When Carlita and I had our first opportunities to watch him when he was a baby, we truly "watched" him, spending a lot of time just looking at him, watching him react to this new world into which he had been thrust.
Every hour… no, every waking moment… for Jude was filled with wonder. Every flash of light, sound, shape, face, smell – it was all approached with wonder. It was almost as if he said to himself, “I wonder what that is?” I love that he seemed so curious... and still is, thankfully.
Most of us have lost that childlike wonder… and sadly so. Few if any things truly surprise us and astonish us anymore. We think we’ve seen it all and done it all… and maybe worst of all, know it all. And in our spiritual life, we may have convinced ourselves that we’ve experienced it all.
Let’s try an experiment, you and I – those of us who have connected ourselves to these hymnlines posts. Let’s allow ourselves to be amazed at least once an hour by all that goes on around us, especially that which is outside the realm of the everyday, the routine. Let’s find as many things as we can that astound, startle, flabbergast… or even leave us dumbfounded. And time we encounter these marvels, let us say (or sing) what the final phrase of each stanza of this hymn exclaims: “Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”
Here’s one to get you started being astounded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNe6fsaCVtI
Then listen to John Rutter’s setting of this text sung by a fine high school group.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
|"Goober" - Elizabeth Ann Lanham|
Hymn: “Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Common Tune: MANOAH
I’m most often trying to get my tongue to stop! I sometimes think the letter from James was assigned to me; in that short book, there are six references to keeping the tongue under control.
Here, Isaac Watts calls upon the tongue to express praise and to tell of God’s faithfulness and power, pointing out the flip-side of the negative uses of the tongue.
Most hymns are addressed to God, to believers, to non-believers. Occasionally we come across one addressed to a Rock of Ages or to ourselves (Be Still, My Soul). This one is more unique because it is addressed to a body part! We are actually singing this hymn to our tongue!
There are many heavenly themes: kindness, grace, hope, encouragement, healing, assistance, etc. So beyond calling our speech patterns to the on-going praise of God, we are also reminding ourselves to start speaking words of kindness, grace, hope --- all of the above!
At some point in my ministry – probably too late – I made a blatant commitment to never intentionally say anything hurtful to anyone. The important key in that mantra is not to hurt someone “on purpose”, because as hard as we try, we are going to occasionally hurt someone with what we say. But if I set out to damage you with my speech, I am counter to the nature of Christ.
All of us who write would love to capture just once “some boundless thing” – a turn of phrase that encapsulates some profundity in a way that expresses it best. We all want to have an “All we have to fear is fear itself,” “Ask not what your country can do for you,” or “I have a dream” phrase that sticks in the mind of all who read/hear it... forming our speech (tongue) into a group of words whose theme might be boundless - eternally remembered.
For most of us though, I guess we need to put the brakes on our not-so-positive tongue and release our tongue of blessing to glorify God, exhort our fellow pilgrims, and make stronger attempts at saying something worth remembering.
Ready? Set? Begin.
This Hymn (MANOAH tune)
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Hymn: “Faith of Our Fathers” – Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)
Tune: ST. CATHERINE
The quote “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” has long been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. In recent years, this has been un-attributed to him, but whoever said it in whatever century it came up was onto something.
There’s also been some discussion as to whether preaching has to be verbal to be called preaching at all. I am confident that a preacher started that argument, but imagine: Christian scholars debating such things?! Yeah, right!
Either way, Faber put it well in this hymn-line. I agree with him, of course; otherwise I would not have included this in my postings! Although I’ve done some pulpit-preaching in my career, most of my sharing what I know of Christ has been by imitating his attitude and actions; the same is probably true of you.
What a pulpiteer ‘tells’ us in a sermon may not be consistent with what he/she does when they are not behind the sacred desk. We’ve all heard sermons on forgiveness delivered by people who refuse to forgive, or tirades on specific sins with which the deliverer struggles. However, our sharing the gospel by kind words and lives trimmed in virtue are truly “where the rubber meets the road.”
It’s a shame that we relegate this hymn to the Sunday we Americans (probably Hallmark!) have dubbed Father’s Day, because the text is about the faith of those who’ve gone before us; it’s more akin to Steve Green’s song, “O may all who come behind us find us faithful.” It is the faith that is living still, not the fathers; the faith has survived dungeon, fire and sword, and when we are aware of that lasting faith, our hearts beat high with joy. The hymn is addressed to our faith, not to God; this is made more obvious in most hymnals because the word “thee” is not capitalized. In that final phrase, we’re declaring our allegiance to our faith… the faith of our forebears; most of us have probably thought we were singing our allegiance to God himself. But after all, it is our faith through which we commit ourselves.
I would guess that most of the people who read this blog are not preachers… or pastors… those we associate with sermonizing on Sunday mornings. Most of you are like me: simply striving to be Christ to those with whom we come into contact during the next eighteen hours or so. We are “the only Bible some people ever read,” like we were told in early Sunday School years.
I’m pretty sure consistent Christ-like living will have a lasting effect on our comrades… more so than street-corner shouting… more so than any properly prepared statement of our dogma. So today and all your days, “Preach it, sister!” (or brother!)
Monday, September 25, 2017
Hymn: “He Leadeth Me” – Joseph H. Gilmore (1834-1918)
Tune: HE LEADETH ME
We’re sort of back to that and he walks with me and he talks with me hymn again, but I see this one to be more like a child who grabs ahold of an adult’s hand, fully believing there is safety in that grasp. Walking hand-in-hand with the Savior is something we all aspire to … shoulder-to-shoulder in locked step… going only where his trajectory leads.
Picture this, if you will: The Lord Jesus extends his hand and looks you in the eye. You’re invited to place your hand in that nail-scarred hand, but you are not forced to accept the gesture – you don’t even feel obligated. But you clasp your palm into his, and you feel the sudden strong squeeze that reassures you that you have made the right move. Although we may visualize the two of you walking together, that may not happen; he may just stand there with you – perfectly still in the midst of chaos. Sometimes that’s what we need: not necessarily a walking buddy but a standing companion. “Just hold my hand while I work my way through this situation,” might be our request – sort of like “All I need is a hug.”
I get into this hymn-line every time I sing it, and I’ve been singing it most of my life – since my earliest memories of congregational singing in the white wood-frame church that was Pigeon Forge Baptist Church before we moved over into the big brick building on the parkway… next door to what is now Dwight Maples’ motel… and changed our name to The First Baptist Church of Pigeon Forge.
I love to imagine hanging on for dear life to hand of my Lord the Christ. And I like promising him that I won’t complain about my life – that I’ll be content in whatever state I find myself… even Texas! :)
It is not an easy promise to make because we seem to need to vent our frustrations and our unhappinesses. But unlike a fairly recent best-seller, I have never been disappointed with God. I have been disappointed with my own decisions and mistakes. I have been disappointed by God’s people. But I have never been disappointed with God. And despite having sung this promise for over sixty years now, I have occasionally complained to God about my situation and have not always been as contented as Elsie.
It is still my intention. It is still my prayer because this hymn-line concludes with “content whatever lot I see, since ‘tis thy hand that leadeth me.” ‘Tis still his hand… and sometimes he has to squeeze a little harder to remind me of my promises and my commitments to him and to his Kingdom.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Hymn: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” – Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)
Tune: HYMN TO JOY
I love a good play on words. That’s probably why I like country music! One of my favorite turns-of-phrase is the title of one of my high school friend Stella Parton’s song “I’m Not That Good at Goodbye.”
In this hymnline from one of the truly great hymns of the Christian faith, the turn of phrase – the play on words – is not just clever: it is true. The One who is always giving in abundance is also constantly forgiving with similar lavishness! While Christ is in the business of providing for our good, he is at the same time erasing our not-so-good… our mistakes, our wrongs.
From the same generous hand comes both good gifts and forgiveness… provision and clemency… blessing and pardon.
This is a simple-yet-profound reality… one which seems too basic to even mention. It is that kind of truth about which we need to be reminded, because it can be so easily overlooked or – God forbid – forgotten.
Today, keep in mind that our Savior is constantly available to afford us blessing upon blessing… even the most basic provisions for our earthly existence. At the same time, when we mess up, he is standing by, ready to apply his merciful eraser. We don’t use the word ‘err’ much anymore, but we are consistently doing it! We continue to be errant children of God; and in his ‘mercy higher than the heavens, deeper than the deepest sea,’ the Head of the family is erasing our errors. Best of all, he is forgetting them! That still baffles me.
The next time you sing this hymn, add a measure with the words “and forgetting.” It’s four syllables, so it fits! Just add four notes to the Beethoven tune, then keep singing!
“Thou art giving and forgiving and forgetting, ever blessing, ever blessed.”
A Grand British Singing of This Hymn
at the BIG SING event
at the BIG SING event
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Typical Tune: ARLINGTON
Long before Baynard Fox wrote the hymnline “I’m not ashamed his name to bear” [from “I’ll Tell the World that I’m a Christian”], Isaac Watts was posing the same question. It is a haunting question for all of us who claim the cross… and a query we need not take too lightly.
Patriotic songs like “I’m Proud to Be an American” seem to be easy for some of us to sing… perhaps because being proud of one’s country is an acceptable behavior and a tolerated attitude. I am however concerned that displaying the red-white-and-blue star-spangled banner by the curb is easier than planting a cross in my front yard.
I am not suggesting that we should erect crosses and other symbols around the exterior of our homes, but I am suggesting that we not be ashamed of our faith… that we not blush to speak the name of Jesus outside the walls of our sanctuaries and Bible study rooms. T-shirts, bumper stickers, highway billboards – I’m not sure those are the best way to be unashamed. But I am sure that we should not cower from opportunities to say, “Yes, I believe in Christ,” or “Yes, as a matter of fact I am a Christian.” If necessary, I may have to give definition to what I mean by that so they’ll know what I mean by those church-y phrases.
We avoid the use of soldier-ing hymns nowadays; martial hymns with battle analogies are not as politically correct – and I get that. But if I fear to take ownership of the cause of Christ, or if my face turns red when confronted with my position in the Kingdom – then I am concerned. And I must admit, this sometimes happens for me.
I – and perhaps you – need to make some adjustments in our own sense of pride… the good kind of pride… and say that we are PROUD to be children of the King, followers of the Lamb, people of the cross. May our fearful, blushing days be behind us. May we be confident with heads-held-high when the name of Christ is mentioned, and we have opportunity to stand up, stand up for Jesus as soldiers of the cross.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Hymn: “Close to Thee” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tune: CLOSE TO THEE
When my grandfather Smelcer decided to stop farming his acreage in Pigeon Forge, he apportioned it out equally among his children, keeping only the large corner lot on which the homeplace stood. My mother received her portion and lived on that plot of land the rest of her life. This kind of event helps me understand some hymn texts – and in turn, the hymn texts improve my limited understanding of who God is and how he works among his people.
In the Old Testament, God does a lot of apportionment of his land… and of his Spirit. We also read about his distribution of himself:“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
"The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." (Lamentations 3:24)
In the New Testament, we are referred to as “partakers” or those who share in the inheritance:
“You will joyfully give thanks to the Father who has made you able to have a share in all that he has prepared for his people in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:12)
Even after my grandfather divvied up his farmland, it was still the Smelcer Farm… but now it belonged to his children. The acreage in east Tennessee was my mother’s inheritance… which eventually became my inheritance… which is now just a block off the road into Dollywood and has been re-zoned as commercial property and sold to provide for us in our retirement!
But in the case of God, he has subdivided this inheritance among all his believing, accepting children. It is mine for all time… I have an eternal share of stock. He IS my everlasting portion - more than friend or life to me. I am delighted to have been allotted a piece of the Kingdom.
We live in a subdivision here in Waxahachie, Texas. When I lived here 35 years ago, this was the Cook Farm; it has since been re-apportioned into lots for home-building. The plot on which our house is built, however, was not given to us: we bought it. In the case of our share in Christ, it was bought for us and given to us freely… as was my mother’s slice of the farm.
Seems like I took way too much verbiage to say that singing this opening line of a Fanny Crosby hymn text makes more sense to me when I break it down into a situation I can get my mind around. Sometimes, that’s the only way I can get at the truth: talk it out until it makes sense!
Now, go and enjoy your allotment… your everlasting portion of God!
Friday, September 15, 2017
Let ev'ry kindred, ev'ry tribe on this terrestrial ball, to him all majesty ascribe and crown him Lord of all."
Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” – This stanza by John Rippon (1751-1836)
Tunes: DIADEM, MILES LANE, CORONATION
I know it was politically incorrect, but as a child we sang “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Even as a youngster, I learned from a simple song that we are all in this together, regardless of our race, our kinfolk, or our lineage. I’ve tried to maintain that attitude… and extending those groupings and moving the stakes out further until the tent can contain us all.
This hymnline conjures up for me another one of those mental pictures. In this one, I see a multi-colored throng of all the world’s people standing together in what in my mind at least looks like a huge city square; I would say it looks sort of like the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, but I know somebody would be offended that I had a Catholic vision! Anyway, all those people are singing at the top of their lungs, but their fortissimo-singing is very much under control. It’s not yelling; the sound is very, very musical. They are all lifting up their praise to the One who sits on the throne – although in this glimpse, I don’t see HIM; I just see and hear THEM!
For a brief moment during the singing of this great hymn, I am transported into that scene where I join the everlasting song… and I realize what a wonderful place it is… and will be. This is not something we have to wait for; we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow believers from every background, race, gender, lifestyle, and denomination to honor the One who loves us all and equally accepts our ascription of praise. So let’s.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Hymn: “I Need Thee Every Hour” – Annie S. Hawks (1835-1918)
The people who research those sorts of things say that there are over 3,500 promises of God in the Bible. In the New International Version, the word “promise” occurs 69 times… and not once in the Gospels. I found THAT interesting, don’t you?
I’m not sure how many promises I would find if I read through the whole of Scripture notating everything that I consider to be a promise of God to his people; I’d be even more confused if I tried to narrow that down to the promises that apply to ME!
I don’t need to do that, however, to know that the Word of God is filled with promises and that he has stood behind (or will yet stand behind) every one he has made. Given my personal understanding of Jehovah God, he wouldn’t ‘waste his breath’ on any promise if it were not significant… important… or as this hymn-line says rich.
I looked up the word ‘rich’ in Webster’s, and found a lot of synonyms which apply to the promises of God: abundant, of high value or quality, well-supplied, magnificently impressive, highly productive, full of nutrients, pure. Annie Hawks may not have turned to Webster when she wrote this text, but having dissected the word, I think she selected the perfect word to describe the promises and blessings of God.
Fulfill means to complete or carry out. I’ve always thought of it as being filled-full… to the point of overflowing. In this case, I think that applies and makes the prayer-line even more powerful. I guess I want to not only be standing on the promises; I want to be drowning in them!
Simply put, may this be our prayer today: Let your rich promises be realized in my life. Amen.
P. S. – As is the case in so many hymns, this hymn-line is tucked into stanza three – the one we too often skip. In fact, I couldn’t find an online recording that included it! As usual, the third stanza has the truth that has been stolen from those of us who worship corporately. Let’s add a new commandment for worship-planners: “Thou shalt not steal a stanza from any hymn that thou shalt sing with thy thinking congregants, especially the third.”
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Hymn: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
* - a sound, word, or phrase that is repeated by someone who is praying or meditating; a word or phrase that is repeated often or that expresses someone's basic beliefs
Okay, it’s really three hymn-lines today, but they hang together well! It’s all about water spraying, drenching and springing up.
We lived in the Kansas City area for a few years in our trek across the country; it seemed God was saying, “Go east, young man.” Denver, Kansas City, Chapel Hill. While serving in that great Midwestern city, we learned it is a beautiful town – sort of a hidden jewel. It is nicknamed the City of Fountains; they say it has more fountains than Rome. In the downtown sector, you can literally see a fountain every couple of blocks, especially around their famed Plaza. Not only are most of them spectacular, but they seem to symbolize refreshment! I loved the sound of water splashing – sometimes roaring. They are the life, the fountain art of the city!
Like most cities, people were forever jumping into the pools beneath the statuary – frolicking about, acting childish, cooling off. Remember the opening of FRIENDS, when the six young adults were acting silly in one of New York’s fountains? There is something magnetic about fountains, drawing us into their liveliness… bringing us joy. There is something freeing about taking off your shoes and wading in the effervescence. There is something invigorating about sensing the spray across your face.
Jesus, the lover of my soul is all that (magnetic, freeing, invigorating) and more. He is the original Old Faithful, spouting forth blessings at exactly the right time! He is not only the redeeming fountain filled with blood… he is also the sustaining fountain of life – life!
My relationship with Christ is constantly bubbling up within me, restoring my joy, renewing my outlook, reviving my spirit, bracing my hope.
The kicker in these hymn-lines is the two brief, sincere, needful prayers: “O great Fountain of Life, spring up within my heart. Amen.” “O wonderful Refresher of all souls, let me freely take of thee. Amen.”
If you don’t live in Kansas City, you may not walk past a grand sculpture spewing forth refreshing liquid today; but I encourage you to pray those two short prayers over and over throughout the day… and maybe all your days. Jot them down on a Post-It Note and repeat them to God almost as your mantra* for the day. Let’s see if it makes a difference in our outlook and our attitude.
Christ stands with his watering can in hand, ready to pour. Come, stand under the stream. Run through the sprinklers. Have a more-refreshing-than-usual kind of day.
Monday, September 11, 2017
This was published online by LifeWay the week after 9/11 for churches to download and use the following Sunday. Several did... and have used it for other similar tragedies since then. I thought maybe I'd re-share it on Facebook, just in case anybody needs it, especially with all that's going on in the world right now... hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, uprisings, etc.
Hymn: “There Is a Name I Love to Hear” – Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904)
Tune: OH, HOW I LOVE JESUS
The ‘it’ in this sentence hearkens back to the name I love to hear – that is, of course, the name of Jesus. The recurrence of the communicating-name of Jesus reminds me of many things, but one is the reassurance that God knows the plans he has for me – that he knows what he has stored up for me today.
I just returned from a trip to the local supermarket. They were not stocked up with all the things I went to purchase for this week. So I had to go to Wal-Mart to get the remainder of the things on my list. That’s one of the real drawbacks to living in a small town with limited grocery access! I was already singing these words to myself, so the words in store became even more evident.
As it is with most realities about the wisdom and wonder of Almighty God, what he has in store – shelved for me - is an unknown… until it happens – until I start shopping my way through the day. “Clean up on aisle fourteen,” has to be a part of some of our days, you understand!
But the next line of this hymn says, “And though I tread a darksome path, (his love) yields sunshine all the way.” In other words, there is hope with each new day’s path, even those which may be dark. And we must admit that sometimes there are several darksome days in a row. Even so, Lord Jesus quickly comes and brightens some part of our path… enough to see us through.
The love of Christ indwelling me makes it possible for me to be kind, generous, helpful, appreciative to people I come across on my darksome path because they, too, may be in the same seemingly endless forest in which I find myself today. I can spare a little sunshine through my God-provided good graces.
Keeping my chin up may not be easy on those funk-filled days – sometimes brought on by others, sometimes self-imposed; however, I keep reminding myself that God knows, and that his love is reminding me to stick with his plan and to walk in the light provided.
I have little concern about the life which is to come: the afterlife, if you will. I have that taken care of – signed, sealed, one day to be delivered into the presence of Christ himself. The things of this earth: these are the things that weigh upon me. From another hymn: And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
PS: Because this is the third stanza in most books, you may not know this one as well as the others. In fact, I couldn’t find an on-line recording that includes it! Oh, the poor, unappreciated plight of the third stanza – often times the meatiest of all!
Friday, September 8, 2017
Hymn: “Just When I Need Him Most” – William C. Poole (1875-1949)
The man who wrote this hymn died the year I was born, so it’s obviously an old hymn!
This gospel song is all about the constant availability of Jesus in our lives, and it describes for us who he is. According to this text, Jesus is
- never forsaking
- bearing my burdens
- giving a song.
What a great description of the friend we have in Jesus – and a great list for us to follow when we seek to be a friend to others… or when we are seeking out friends for ourselves.
The hymn also says “he is my all.” That puts him at the top of my list of loved ones. It’s a hard concept to understand or describe, but it prioritizes all others somewhere beneath him.
For me, it is comforting to know that “Jesus is”… period. Within all the descriptors included in this hymn text, I am reminded of the perpetual presence of Christ. He is persistent in his hanging around to be sure he is carrying out all the things on that list… continuous, unceasing – even relentless.
Just when I need him, Jesus is.
Sung by Catherine Gorman
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” – Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)
This hymn text doesn’t get enough ‘air time’ in worship because it has yet to land on just the perfect tune. The ones assigned to it over the years have never matched the words in such a way to truly display the depth of the text. That’s too bad, because it is a rich discourse on the mercy of the heavenly Father penned by the English hymn-writer who gave us “Faith of Our Fathers.”
Because it is chock full of my personal theology, this hymn-line is one of three from “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” that I have covered in this blog.
I’m forever telling my students that art doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective… or perhaps even beautiful. Some visual artists have so much happening on the canvas that we just move on to the next one because we are confused. Music may be the worst offender here, especially in the past hundred years, producing harmonies and melodies that are so intricate and convoluted that normal listeners cannot comprehend them – and in congregational music, people can’t sing them with any ease, negating the sometimes engaging message.
For our spiritual development, simplicity is preferred according to Christ’s admonition in Mark 10:15: “You must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a little child." (New Century Version) We know how the Jewish leaders of Old Testament times had added rule upon rule until it was almost impossible to be a worthy God-follower; historically, that trend has continued into the Christian church… and still does.
If our love and our faith-processing were simplified, we would readily accept what God tells us in his Word as truth. In my experience, this is not a limiting exercise; rather, it is freeing!
Why have we developed into questioning, suspicious people when it comes to God and matters of faith? Why can we not simplify our belief system and take him at his word? After all, another hymn tells us ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word; just to rest upon his promise, just to know thus saith the Lord.
After all, 'tis a gift to be simple.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Hymn: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – William Whiting (1825-1878)
|Rembrandt - "Storm on the Sea of Galilee"|
Known as the Navy Hymn, this hymn of mariners, seafarers… especially those involved in the conflict of battle is the kind of song we use in a service when we highlight the armed forces or perhaps to celebrate one of our annual national holidays. The fact that most of the stanzas end with “O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea,” limits our using it unless the sermon is centered on one of the sea-storm New Testament stories.
But this short hymn-line is a valid prayer – on sea or land – because many of us spend at least part of every day confused about something. We may not be overwhelmed by confusion on a regular basis, but most of us have spent enough time there to know that sinking feeling.
Wild confusion brings to my mind larger, public events that are thrown into turmoil by some senseless act of an individual or group: school shootings, the bombing of the Murrah Building, the 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon, etc. Those times of wild confusion cause people to go running for safety, seeking loved ones who have been involved, cowering in corners – chaos. In recent days, hurricane-prompted flooding and the fear of yet another land-fall have created wild confusion.
We watch those events unfold on the screens of our televisions and computers, and we ask “why?” Then most of us immediately in our own words pray today’s hymn-line.
I remember in the Aladdin story, the merchant chanting through the street, “New lamps for old. New lamps for old.” – at least that was in the cartoon version! This is basically what this hymn-line is doing: asking God to trade peace for confusion… or to replace a dreadful situation with a tranquil one. “Settle us down, Lord. Things are out of our control.”
There is a peace that only Christ can provide – a peace that over-rides understanding. When it is achieved in a world situation, a local uproar, a church conference, or our own personal lack of clarity, one of the great spiritual miracles comes into play. It is as if the Great Ancient Mariner stands again at the rear of boat and commands the winds and waves to return to their calm.
The next time we’re in wild confusion, may we with him speak peace.