Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“Listening, ever listening, for the still small voice.”

Hymn: “Serve the Lord with Gladness” – Word and Music B. B. McKinney (1886-1952)
Tune: LEE

When reading or studying scripture, we often compare ourselves to the characters we encounter there. There are times I identify with Joseph the dreamer or David the musician. I try not to cast my lot with Jacob the deceiver, Judas the betrayer, or Thomas the doubter. Lately I’ve felt more like Methuselah!

In my encounters with God, however, I seem to relate more to Elijah than to Paul. I tend to find my richest moments… even guidance for decision-making… in the quieter experiences. Unlike Paul who was struck down in a dramatic on-the-road light show with the booming voice of God questioning his destructive tendencies, I have consistently found God in something that more resembles a still small voice – an inner tugging – a gentle nudge.

In the stillness of the quiet, God’s voice I hear.

I’m sure this is why I prefer the more contemplative worship experience to the bombastic… why I yearn for silence in worship – a practice which has slowly been absorbed into constant sound. With Jesus, I sometimes need to “get away from it all” and get myself recentered spiritually.

One of my all-time favorite minister retreats was sponsored by the Cooperative Baptists but held at a convent. Much of our time (including most meals) was spent in total silence. I was invigorated by the absence of instruction, energized by the lack of lecture.

Today’s hymn-line comes from another one of those rollicking gospel songs familiar mostly to Baptists, I’m afraid. Loping along in 6/8 time, the jig-like melody almost obscures the depth of this tiny phrase:
            Listening, ever listening, for the still small voice,
            His sweet will so precious will be our choice.

If we are going to make it through this life with any degree of success at holiness, we likely need to be constantly (ever) aware of the still small voice of God at work – alert to those directives from deep within – choosing the precious, sweet will of our Lord in order to serve him in gladness. If you are anything like me… if you identify more with Elijah than Paul… that is a must-do assignment.

“Let those who have ears, listen, hear and heed.” (Mark 4:9 RGV)

An Organ Setting by Ron Boud played by Garrett Martin
written in honor of Sharron Lyon

Monday, June 18, 2018

“No voice can sing, no heart can frame, nor can the memory find a sweeter sound than thy blest name.”

Hymn: “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” – 12th Century Latin Hymn
            Translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
Typical Tune: ST. AGNES

What is it about the very speaking of the name of Jesus that warms us like it does? Or why is it when we hear someone using his name as a form of swearing that we are so chilled to the bone? Unless you’re sitting at your desk at work surrounded by lots of other people, take a minute and speak that wonderful name of Jesus out loud a few times… naturally, not forced… as if you were talking to him face to face, starting or ending a sentence with that declaration.

Now wasn’t that brilliant? Isn’t it magnificent to magnify the precious name of Jesus? To quote Gloria Gaither, “There IS just something about that name.”

But even better is when those two syllables are intoned… sung! That is why congregational singing is one of the most electrifying experiences we Christians can enjoy together. Truly, when we sing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: sweetest name I know! It fills my ev’ry longing and keeps me singing as I go,” something in us is stirred because for those of us to whom singing is a priority, we have sung exactly what we believe!

As whole-heartedly as we may try to express (frame) our faith, words will never do. We can bring back to mind some of the greatest sounds we’ve encountered during our entire lives, but even then we cannot seem to find a sweeter sound than those two syllables.

Ponder these three lines, praying them one at a time:
·         In my best voice, I am not able to sing a sweeter sound than thy blest name, O Savior.
·         My heart cannot frame (construct) a sweeter sound than thy blest name, O Savior.
·         Nowhere in my memory can I find a sweeter sound than thy blest name, O Savior.

This hymn-writer said it so well, so succinctly – so beautifully. That’s why when we stumble across this kind of hymnody, we are drawn back to it over and over again. And I am here to remind you why!

Brigham Young Combined Choirs Sing This Hymn

Friday, June 15, 2018

“O Jesus, ever with us stay. Make all our moments calm and bright.”

Hymn: "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" - 12th Century Latin, translated by Edward Caswal
Typical Tune: ST. AGNES

Although this great hymn text is often omitted from newer hymnals, these hymn-lines still speak to me every time I hear them:

O Jesus, ever with us stay.
Make all our moments calm and bright.
Chase the dark night of sin away.
 Shed o'er the world thy holy light.

In the Road to Emmaus account recorded in Luke's gospel, after the people ended their walking/talking time with the risen Christ on the road, they say to him, "Stay with us because it almost evening and the day is now nearly over." (24:29)

This hymn-line voices that same desire, imploring the Lord to 'stick around'... to always be near us like that stanza in "Away in a Manger." Beyond that, however, this is a prayer for bright attitudes and a calm spirit.

The Bible never uses the word "fun"; I'm not even sure the most contemporary translations include that term. But the Bible repeatedly talks to us about "joy" and "happiness." When I pray for bright moments, that is what I have in mind: times when my life is rich with moments spent with people I love and enjoy, projects completed successfully, a sense of accomplishment, a little spell to laugh and sing (or hum) a hymn. After all, hymn-humming is one of my favorite pastimes! 

But the word that jumps out of this text and grabs me most is "calm." In my asking Jesus to stay close by me forever, I plead that he would keep me calm no matter what may come my way. As one who too often has been known to "fly off the handle," this prayer for calmness is sincere. Keep the top of my lake placid with as few ripples as possible-- and no major splashes or wake from passing boats. It is not exactly listed with the spiritual gifts, but it underlies them all; without the sense of calm, none of the spiritual gifts can be successfully carried out. But make no mistake: calmness is a spiritual gift!

I don't want to 'do' calm -- that is, force myself to be at peace; I want to 'be' calm naturally... by the power of the Living Christ who walks with me and talks with throughout the day -- and tells me I am his own. At the end of the day when I change into my comfortable clothes and slip on my house shoes, before I fall into my easy chair, I need to speak those same words Jesus' roadies spoke to him with all earnestness: "Stay with us." -- "Stay with me."

O Jesus, ever with us stay. (sigh) (smile)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)