In Praise of Hymns
Has anyone ever asked if you were more of a mountain or a beach person? I expect that the answer to that question for many people has a lot to do with where they were raised. Hailing from the hills of Western New York, my spirit is most at rest when I’m roaming through a forest dappled in sunlight (or, more likely, a forest blanketed in snow!). In “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Sir Walter Scott penned the famous lines:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with hymns! Well, in the same way that people often resonate with a landscape from their youth, I believe many are also drawn to a worship style that is familiar to them. For me, this means hymns.
I spent the first 20 years of my life attending a Wesleyan church. Wesleyan churches are named in honor of an Anglican priest, John Wesley, who is considered the founder of Methodism. John’s brother, Charles, composed over 6,500 hymns, so, as you can imagine, most Wesleyans love hymns! Our son, Wesley, is named in recognition of the legacy of these two men.
While I have matured enough to recognize the beauty in other forms of music, hymns will always have the greatest spiritual impact on me. So often they have fascinating (and usually heart-wrenching) stories behind why they were composed (i.e., “It is Well with My Soul,” “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” etc.).
In closing, I’d like to share the lyrics to a hymn written by Isaac Watts (the father of English hymnody) in the 1700s and titled, “O God our Help in Ages Past.” He patterned this song after Psalm 90 which scholars believe was composed in the midst of tremendous political upheaval (sound familiar?) due to the death of King Josiah. Similarly, Watts’ England was facing a national crisis (nothing new under the sun?) over the Protestant/Catholic divide when he wrote these confident words:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of your throne
Your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stand,
Or earth received its frame,
From everlasting you are God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in your sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream.
Soon bears us all away
We fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
May we cling to Him who has been and ever shall be our Hope, our Help, and our Shelter from the storm!
A New Look at Matthew 6
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25, 27)
Whether you have been a Christian for one day or your entire life, it’s likely that you have heard some version of Matthew 6 quoted. It is part of a passage referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus plainly lays out many of the teachings He will spend His next few years proclaiming. Contained in this chapter are countless Gospel truths to encourage us in our pursuit of Christ.
Before last week, though, I often viewed these words about anxiety and worry as a little bit of a reprimand. We all know that worry should not take over our thoughts…yet it often does. We all understand that our God in heaven can take care of our every need…but knowing this fact often does not calm our anxieties. No matter how many times I have heard these verses, I still struggle at various times with worrying about the past, present, and future, and I can’t help but feel chastised when I am reminded again that I am doing the very thing Jesus warned against.
Last week, as I opened my Bible to this familiar passage, though, I saw these words in a whole new light.
The beautiful truth hidden in the verses here is that Jesus took the time to show His deep care for our worry. Rather than simply saying “do not worry” and moving on, He gave us reason after reason why we can trust our heavenly Father in the midst of these worries. His words are not dismissive and unkind. In this passage, we can understand that:
In the final verse, Jesus acknowledges that we experience difficult days and seasons; in fact, He chose to live like us so that He could sympathize with our struggles, (Hebrews 4:15), not stand at a distance and tell us that our worries are not real enough or big enough to matter.
Knowing the truth of this passage does not erase our worries, nor does it make every day easier. But understanding that Jesus spoke with deep compassion towards us should be an immense comfort.
In the next few days and weeks, I would encourage you to re-read these familiar words from a new light, understanding that the One who spoke them was filled with so much love that He would lay down His life to bring us peace in this life and the next (John 15:13).
“Can I share a story with you?”
(This blog is a follow-up to the blog “Who’s Your Oikos?“ and “Can I pray for you?” If you haven’t read those blogs, you may want to go back and do so.)
In my previous blogs about evangelism, I suggested a couple of ways to offer to pray for someone who God brings into your path (see the blog post posted on December 7). After praying for someone out loud while you are with them, you can easily segue into your “30 second testimony.” In Mark 5:19, we see Jesus send out a formerly demon-possessed man to “go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” We can all have a short testimony ready to share about how the Lord has worked in our lives.
To construct a short testimony:
First, describe two things about you before Jesus.
Second, talk briefly about when/how you came to know Jesus.
Finally, tell how those two things changed after you knew Jesus.
Each part should be just a few sentences long. For example:
I used to be very materialistic. I grew up in a place where people cared a lot of about what jeans you wore or purse you had. And there was a lot of pressure to perform well in school and other places. In college, I felt anxious about my life. But I met some Christians, and they had a peace and joy that I wanted to experience. So I started to read the Bible and decided to follow Jesus. I no longer make material things the center of my life because He is the center of my life. And I know I serve a God that loves me no matter what I accomplish according to the world’s standards. I’m free of that burden and feeling that peace and joy I saw in others.
The next time you pray for someone while you are with them, you could say, “I’d like to share a really short story with you. It will take about a minute.” Just maybe the person listening will want to know more.
Mary David is the pseudonym for a global worker from PCC. She enjoys spending time with her family, sharing the Gospel, and watching God work.
By Invitation Only
While driving home from church recently, I heard a radio conversation that powerfully impacted my thinking, which I hope will change me this coming year.
I am praying that I will extend “Intentional Invitations.” Let me tell you what I mean. The thing is, a lot of the casual welcoming I do (Covid aside), just happens. Good friends just get together for all the usual reasons. Traditions with family and friends assume that birthdays and graduations will be celebrated together. We have people over because, well, they’re our neighbors, we like them, or they had us over.
But as I listened to the conversation, things started to change in my mind. The discussion was about the transformative, life-affirming power of an invitation. Pastor Bill Golderer the founder of the Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia described a very unusual, ongoing series of events the ministry has developed over the years, called “Philadelphia’s most Dangerous Dinner Party” Unlike many soup kitchens, where people line up and wait for food, (humbling in itself) special invitations were given to the homeless and the lonely to come to a sit down, table-clothed and thoughtfully served dinner.
Invitations also went out to banks, government buildings and parks. Everyone arrived with a handwritten invitation. The volunteers served the guests with dignity and respect. Guests felt more than served, they felt honored. The radio conversation went on about people meeting at the dinner party, and even the story of a wedding. Pastor Golderer shared how a couple came to him one evening at the “Dinner Party” and asked if he would perform their wedding. He said he was getting his phone out to check his schedule and they said, “Oh that won’t be necessary. We want to be married right here during a dinner. We met here, fell in love here and served here. This is our family.” The Pastor went on to share that an older gentleman who attended that wedding came to him with tears in his eyes and said, “This is the first wedding I have ever attended in my life.” He told how he was such a drunk and derelict that his only daughter, for reasons he understood, forbade him to come to her wedding because he would ruin it. He had made such a mess of his life. He went on to say to the bride and groom, “You can’t know how much it meant to me to be included and invited.”
Don’t we all long to be included and invited. The conversation challenged me to think how I might develop an invitational lifestyle. I’m not sure what that will look like, exactly, but I’m thinking. Matthew 22 and Luke 14 give us a glimpse into what Jesus thought about the power of invitation. It is an active, compelling exercise that impacts the person doing the inviting as well as those who are sought out.
My African friends often told me that it was when I finally sat in their homes and drank their tea that they knew I was truly their friend. What a joy it was for me to feel included.
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.