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A Meditation on Two Obscure Hymns

by Daniel Szczesniak
 
This last Sunday we sang an old hymn by John Newton – author of
Amazing Grace – written way back in 1779. It’s a great poem, but even with the updated music by Indelible Grace I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow can be a tough one to wrap your mind around at first.
 
However, if you take the time to read through it, think through it, and meditate on what the hymn is saying, I think you’ll warm up to it as you recognize the truth in your own experience.

I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow

The hymn starts off with a prayer: “I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

“Lord, please increase my faith.”

“Help me to love You and others more.”

“God, I want to experience more of your grace.”

We recognize that prayer because we’ve all prayed it ourselves in various ways. But then (in our hymn text) we find a twist. God answered the prayer, “but it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.”

I don’t know about you, but singing the word “despair” on a Sunday morning still gives me a bit of a shock. And especially so when I realize that I’m singing about how it is the Lord who has “driven” me to that place (verse 2).

In praying that prayer for Him to increase my faith, I was hoping (verse 3) that He would “at once” answer my request by helping me resist sin and give me peace and rest in my heart. But no; it would not be so simple. Instead of this (verse 4), He made me more aware of my sin and depravity. And to top it off, He even let the enemy with “all the angry powers of Hell” attack me!

This was not what I had wanted at all. Now, instead of some great joy-filled plateau of a spiritual Instagram-worthy sunrise, I’m feeling guilty and discouraged. I’m alone except for those who would attack and accuse me. I might even say – despite the “faith” I claim to have – that God Himself was purposefully aggravating me (verse 5), destroying the image I had in my head of my great life of faith, and basically knocking me down.

“Why is this happening to me?” I cried (verse 6). “I know You’re sovereign over my trials, but this is ridiculous!” What is going on?

Perhaps it strikes you as odd that it is at this point that God finally speaks.

Wouldn’t you think I would hear His voice when I was at my high point, praying for increased faith and love? In this hymn, God doesn’t answer there. No; at least, not in the way we typically think. He answers when I get to the point of feeling like a stupid worm being hunted to death.

An aside – this is pretty strong language for the average Sunday morning. It feels weird to sing, “Are You going to pursue me, someone who is just a worm, to death?” But the language is actually fairly typical when you compare it to the Psalms.

So how does God answer when He finally speaks? Verses 6-7: “This is how I answer these prayers, My child: I use these trials to cure you of self and pride, so that you would cast aside your schemes of earthly joy and seek Me as your all in all.”

That’s quite a lesson in seven short stanzas.

Here’s the full text:
 
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face
 
Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair
 
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest
 
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part
 
Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed
Cast out my feelings, laid me low
 
Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith
 
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”
 

So this first old hymn provided an illustration for us of how God answers prayer and builds up our faith through trials. These trials teach us to lay aside our self and our pride and cling to the Lord.

But how do we do this? Where do we get the strength to endure while God does His sanctifying work? That question brings us to our next obscure hymn.

God is My Strong Salvation

Written in 1822 by James Montgomery, God is My Strong Salvation is a loose paraphrase of the twenty-seventh Psalm. The hymn’s theme is that it is God Himself who supplies our strength to endure trials: in darkness and temptation, when faint and desolate, God is our strong salvation.

The third verse describes our part in this: “Place on the Lord reliance; my soul, with courage wait.” The way this is done is presented with an archaic term – “His truth be your affiance.”

When you hear the word affiance, think “fiancé.” It means “pledge (in marriage); trust; confidence.” When we sing “His truth be your affiance,” we’re reminding ourselves that God’s Word is His pledge to us. His Word is like an engagement ring. It’s something that we can hold on to, something that promises us that in Him, in His strong arms, we find all that is good for us.

That is why the hymn concludes as it does with verse four; and that final verse is the true and full answer to our initial prayer to grow in faith and love and every grace.

God is my strong Salvation:
What foe have I to fear?
In darkness and temptation
My Light, my Help is near
 
Though hosts encamp around me
Firm to the fight I stand
What terror can confound me
With God at my right hand?
 
My soul, with courage, wait:
His truth be your affiance
When faint and desolate
 
His might your heart shall strengthen
His love your joy increase
Mercy your days shall lengthen:
The Lord shall give you peace.

Amen.



Bear Bulletin – 01/29/2017

See who’s visiting with us this Sunday, and check out something small and something BIG on the book table.
 


Bear Bulletin – 01/22/2017

Look for details for Sunday’s “Walk for Life.” Also, check the upcoming events, and see what’s new at the book table.