Singing in the midst of fires and floods

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Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

When life is hard or the way forward seems dark, singing can often lighten the load, if only for a few moments. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (NKJV)

The Bible is full of songs, particularly in the book of Psalms, but the old hymns, the ones that the church has been singing for generations, also tend to be full of sound theology and Biblical truth. While there are many hymns I love, one that especially helps in times of sorrow is How Firm a Foundation.

1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2 “Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

3 “When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

5 “E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

6 “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.–“K” in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787

While we don’t know for sure who penned the words to this hymn, it’s almost certain that Isaiah 43:1-3 was in the author’s mind as he wrote the words.

Isaiah writes:
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43:1-3 (NKJV)

As I read and sing these words, I am assured that the Lord is with me, and that no matter how difficult times will get, whether floods or fire, storms or attacks, He has called me by name and I am His forever.

This verse and the hymn do not promise us an easy way, but they do tell us that we have a Redeemer, who goes with us, who will be our refuge and fortress (Psalm 91), who will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who will save us in the end, even if we must walk through fiery trials and the waters of sorrow now.

Are you passing through deep waters right now or walking through the fire of affliction? The Israelites walked through the midst of the Red Sea and were not drowned for the Lord held back the water (Exodus 14). Daniel’s three friends walked in the midst of the fiery furnace and they were not even singed for an angel or perhaps even the Lord Himself walked with them (Daniel 3).

Go to Jesus. He is your refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46).

Flee to Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are His precious child and He has not saved you to destroy you, but to refine you and remake you to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8).

Trust in Jesus. He has called you by name, you are His forever, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:28-29).

Sing to Jesus. Sing hymns and spiritual songs to yourself, sing them to your children, sing them to your friends who are suffering. Use the words and the truths they contain to comfort your heart and strengthen your resolve to walk with the Lord, knowing that whatever trials you are facing, whatever sorrows are overwhelming you, however thorny your pathway and however steep your road, that God Himself walks with you and helps you to persevere to the end.

What hymns and spiritual songs bring you comfort in times of need? Please share them in the comments so that we all may have additional truths to hold us up in difficult paths.

 

Finding God in the Ordinary – Book Review

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I first heard about Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs while listening to the podcast Mortification of Spin. As the author spoke about his book, I knew that this was something I would love to read since looking for God in the small things is an activity I have long practiced.

My copy is a beautiful hard-bound book with a lovely cover and easily readable fonts. However, the treasure is in the words. Pierce Taylor Hibbs takes ordinary events like drinking coffee, shadows, dust, birds on a telephone wire, snow falling, wind, and light and shows the reader how to find God in these every day, ordinary events.

It’s not just that his prose is delightful, but his choice of words approaches poetry in many places within these essays. And his references to the Trinity, creation, language, God’s majesty and providence, and other theological subjects within his musings about “ordinary” events so enrich those events that I will never look at dust floating in the air or shadows on the grass the same again.

Let me share just a few quotes:

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight. p. 6

The beating heart of the Trinity is thumping underneath every human word, no matter how trivial or commonplace. p. 16

While darkness is an arena for the light of faith, it is the Lord of light himself that brings our feeble faith to fruition. pp. 26-27

Mistakes are not just markers of our depravity. They are more than that. They are the triune God’s spadework in the soil of the soul. They are opportunities for the great gardener to tend our lives and help us grow. p. 32

I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read these essays over and over again.

His Love is All Around Us

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Almighty Father, Thy love is like a great sea that girdles the earth.
Out of the deep, we come to float for awhile upon its surface.
We cannot sound its depth nor tell its greatness, only we know that it never faileth.
The winds that blow over us are the breathing of Thy spirit;
the sun that lights and warms us is Thy truth.
Now Thou does suffer us to sail calm seas;
now Thou dost buffet us with storms of trouble;
on the crest of waves of sorrow Thou dost raise us,
but it is Thy love that bears us up;
in the trough of desolation Thou dost sink us,
that we may see nought but Thy love on every side.
And when we pass into the deep again, the waters of Thy love encompass and enfold us.
– Anonymous

From The Book of Comfort by Elizabeth Goudge, p. 265

Book Review: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy

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I finished reading Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons this afternoon and want to run out and shove this book into the hands of all of my friends. Instead, I will tell you all about this wonderful book and know that if you love it even half as much as I did, you will have a new favorite.

As I’ve been reading the book, I’ve been looking at her book suggestions on her blog, listening to some of her podcasts, and thinking, “Here is a kindred spirit.” She writes about many of the books I’ve loved and the thoughts I’ve thought and the truths I believe.  Plus, she celebrates and loves Advent and Christmas even more than I do.

Let me tell you a bit about the book. Christie Purifoy, her husband, and three children (plus one on the way) move into an old farmhouse called Maplehurst in late summer. The narrative follows their first year in the house as they are dreaming dreams, planting gardens, mending broken things, inviting neighbors, and welcoming a new baby.

The memoir is full of truth, beauty, and goodness wrapped up in every day living. Christie meditates on faith and God’s promises, eternity and tomorrow, dirt and tomatoes. Other books I’ve read about homes and gardens were enjoyable, but I think that Roots and Sky hit something deep inside of me because of Christie’s constant reminder of the Lord and His work in her life and in ours. Her metaphors are lovely and get at truths that are often hard to encapsulate.

Here are just a few of the dozens of quotes I underlined:

Our lives are stories built of small moments. Ordinary experiences. It is too easy to forget that our days are adding up to something astonishing. We do not often stop to notice the signs and wonders. The writing on the wall. But some days we do.

Homecoming is a single word, and we use it to describe a single event. But true homecoming requires more time. It seems to be a process rather than a moment. Perhaps we come home the way the earth comes home to the sun. It could be that homecoming is always a return and our understanding of home deepens with each encounter.

I see how each season lies tucked up inside another. How fall’s warm yellow is hidden within summer’s cool green. How even the scented explosion of spring lies sleeping within winter branches that seem brittle with death.

What if gratitude is more about seeing the face of God? Of locking our eyes on his and remembering where our help comes from? Perhaps gratitude is not only a discipline but also a gift, one we are given in special measure just before we pass through the door to suffering.

It reminded me of three books I love all wrapped up in one: The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill, The Crosswick Journals by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Country Diary of an English Lady. Christie Purifoy has a new book coming out next month. I can hardly wait to read it.

What books have you read that touch your soul and fill your heart with singing?

O Come, Emmanuel

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A devotional I have been reading this year for Advent includes the O antiphons, the prayers of the Christian church, which they prayed during the Advent season for centuries. Traditionally, they were sung each night from December 17 through December 23 in preparation for Christmas: O Sapientia [O Wisdom], O Adonai [O Lord], O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse], O Clavis David [O Key of David], O Oriens [O Dayspring], O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations], and O Emmanuel. A fuller explanation and translations can be found here.

One of my favorite hymns during this season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. With it’s haunting melody and beautiful words, it rings with the longing and expectation of the world for the coming of the Savior. Each year I sing it, thrilling that Jesus has come, that He did not leave us in our sin and misery but came to save us from ourselves and our rebellion against Himself. I rejoice that He will come a second time in glory and majesty. The hymn comes from those antiphons. Each one tells us something about Christ and then says “come”.
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. – Isaiah 60:1-3

His prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

O Light of the World, You whose glory shines brighter than the sun, come. Lord Jesus, come to us in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of the long December nights, in the darkness of our selfishness and loneliness and bitterness. Come and heal us. Come and make us like You. Come and make us shine as lights in the darkness around us. Come…

May your Christmas be full of the One who came to save us and may your New Year be full of His mercy, grace, and peace. .

Penny Plain by O. Douglas

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I had another blog post planned for today, but I just finished Penny Plain by O. Douglas and had to share about this new to me author.

I had heard of O. Douglas, a pseudonym for Anna Buchan, because my boys and I have long loved John Buchan’s books. I still enjoy reading about Richard Hannay and his adventures, especially Mr. Standfast. Did you know that John Buchan is the father of spy novels? His first, The 39 Steps, was written in 1915 but set just before World War I. The first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s so full of hair-raising adventures and last minutes escapes that you find that you must read one more chapter to see if Hannay escapes the current tight corner.

Anyhow, because of my enjoyment of Richard Hannay, I had read about Buchan’s sister, Anna Buchan/O. Douglas, and had seen her books reviewed by other middlebrow novel enthusiasts. However, until this weekend, I had never read one for myself.

I downloaded Penny Plain for free onto my kindle. (As an aside, while I still adore real books, being able to read out of print, unaccessible books is one of the definite upsides of the digital book revolution). I’ve spent the last two days in Scotland with Jean Jardine and her three brothers, whom she is bringing up by herself after the death of her parents and her aunt.

It’s a charming little story with wonderful characters and a happy ending, the best kind of book. Jean is making do with little money but lots of books and love when Pamela Reston comes to the village of Priorsford to escape the social whirl for a while. The book is set just after World War I and the sorrows of the loss of so many young men come across from time to time. In a way, it is more poignant than a modern novel about the losses because the author knew those aching gaps in a way we modern readers never will.

However, the book itself is upbeat and tells about the kind heart of Jean, her genius for helping others, and the way her life takes an unexpected turn as a result of her kindnesses. Also, there are numerous quotes from Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, and poetry, which I will have to track down to their sources one of these days for the sheer fun of it. I love books that are full of quotations.

Just a few bits to give you the flavor of the book:

“You know the people,” said Pamela, “who say, ‘Of course I love reading, but I’ve no time, alas!’ as if everyone who loves reading doesn’t make time.”

She has been nowhere and seen very little; books are her world, and she talks of book-people as if they were everyday acquaintances.

She was glad she lived among people who had the decency to go on caring for each other in spite of lines and wrinkles—comfortable couples whose affection for each other was a shelter in the time of storm, a shelter built of common joys, of “fireside talks and counsels in the dawn,” cemented by tears shed over common sorrows.

It wasn’t sad to be old, Jean told herself, for as the physical sight dims, the soul sees more clearly, and the light from the world to come illumines the last dark bit of the way….

The other rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says tea, and a fire and a book and a friend—the four nicest things in the world.”

If you love books with kindness and laughter and true values and happy ever afters, even in the midst of life’s sorrows, then you will enjoy Penny Plain.

 

An Opportunity to Trust

White Arum Lilies by Tony Hisgett

A few months ago, I received a call from one of my children. He was sitting in a parking lot an hour away from school with a smoking vehicle. The car was dead.

Usually, this particular young man is more than capable. However, this situation was beyond his experience, and he was unsure about what to do next. After discussing the situation, we agreed that the only thing to do was to call a tow truck. I had to leave for a meeting with my pastor and said I would call him later to decide the next step.

As I drove to my meeting, I worried and prayed. I told the Lord how J needed a car to work this last year in school. I told Him that he had food to buy and school bills to pay. Without that car, J couldn’t get to work. What if he would be forced to drop out of school a semester before graduation? None of us had the money to buy him even a junker car to last until May. What were we going to do?

At my meeting, I shared my anxiety. My pastor prayed with me for my son and his situation. As I was leaving, he said, “This is an opportunity to trust, to trust that God will provide for J’s needs.”

An opportunity to trust. How often do we see difficult or perplexing circumstances as opportunities to worry and to fuss and to run around, crying and complaining instead of seeing them as opportunities to trust God? We can have faith that our loving Heavenly Father, who created the world, who owns all things, and knows our needs before we are even aware of them, has every new circumstance in control. He wasn’t caught by surprise when J’s car broke down. He wasn’t wringing His hands in heaven because of the school bills or food needs or lack of transportation.

No, God had all of this in His sovereign control. He knew the exact minute that car would die, and He allowed it to happen for His own glory and J’s good. The Lord already had the provision ready to meet J’s need before the circumstance occurred. He wants His children to depend on Him just as the sparrows depend on him for food and the lilies of the field depend on Him for clothing. He wants us to depend on Him for our daily bread and for our every need.

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Matthew 6:31-32]

Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11]

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [Romans 8:31-32]

In our proud independence, we think that we need to take care of our own needs, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, instead of relying on God’s gracious, abundant provision. Scripture says that the Lord doesn’t let the children of the righteous beg for bread I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. [Psalm 37:25].

Here I was anxiously seeking provision for my son when God has promised to take of J. In myself, I am not righteous, but because of Christ, God the Father regards me as righteous so I can trust Him to not allow my children to be in need, physically or spiritually.

How many times over the years have I seen His provision! Over and over again I have been in need, sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, often spiritually. Yet, I have never been abandoned by our God. He has always supplied my every need in His perfect time and usually gave me more than I asked for. His generosity never fails. Sometimes His timing wasn’t what I thought it should be, but it was always exactly right for the situation.

There is a hymn that I would sing with my children when they were small. The words even now remind me of the Lord’s provision when my faith is weak:

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given

God, His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne?er forsaketh
His, the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy

Lo, their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev?ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev?ry foeman must surrender

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given –Caroline V. Sandell-Berg

Christian friend, are you in need today? Is there a circumstance in your life where you are poor and needy. Go to your Heavenly Father. Take this opportunity to trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He always gives good gifts to His children.

For my readers who don’t yet have the Lord as your Heavenly Father, are you in need today? He is willing to meet your needs—spiritually in Christ first and also physically and emotionally and in every other way. Go to the Lord, ask Him to save your soul and to provide for your needs. You can list those needs, but He already knows exactly what you are lacking in your life. Take this opportunity to trust that Jesus died for you, that He rose again from the dead to save you, and that He will lead you for the rest of your life.

As for J’s need, a friend had a van that he is not using. He graciously loaned it to J for the remainder of the school year until J graduates and can buy a new car.

God provided quickly and abundantly. He will provide for you, too. The next time a need arises, remember my pastor’s words: “It is an opportunity to trust.”