Hanging Up Your Harp

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By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? Psalm 137:1-4 (NKJV)

 

In my last post, I talked about how singing can help in hard times. However, sometimes singing seems impossible—our eyes are full of tears, our throats are choked with sorrow, our emotions are so fragile that even a word will cause us to break. 

The Israelites faced a similar situation. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried away most of the Israelites to Babylon to live. The sorrow of the Israelite captives overwhelmed them. Jeremiah wrote:
    For these things I weep;
    My eye, my eye overflows with water;
    Because the comforter, who should restore my life,     
    Is far from me. 
    My children are desolate
    Because the enemy prevailed. Lamentations 1:16 (NKJV)

How could they sing when they were in a foreign land and most would never see their homeland again? So they hung up their harps and did not sing. Notice that they did not break their harps or throw them away. Even in the darkness of their despair, they put their instruments carefully away so they could use them again.

We see just a flicker of hope in the preservation of their harps. Perhaps they couldn’t sing today, but one day, when they returned to Zion, they could sing again. They kept their harps for that future day when the Lord relieved their hardship.

We can also have hope that our songs of lament or even silence in the night will again turn to songs of joy. Yes, today is full of sorrow, so much so we cannot sing, we cannot rejoice, we cannot even speak without crying. But it will not always be that way. Even if in this life we never reach the point of singing joyfully again, just as some Israelites died in Babylon and never saw Jerusalem again, we know that one day, we will sing again in the New Jerusalem, when we are with the Lord. Then we will join with the saints in songs of praise to our God, our Deliverer, our Savior and King.

The Lord knows our hearts. He knows that we are frail children of dust, as the hymn writer said, and if we are too full of sadness to do more than groan, the Holy Spirit will speak for us, will sing for us, before the throne of God. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26(NKJV)

What a merciful God to provide even words for us when we have none for ourselves. He never leaves us by those willows by ourselves but meets us there. Jesus was there Himself in Gethsemane, and He knows firsthand our sorrow and our pain. The fact that the Lord has endured the most crushing pain of all and has been victorious gives us hope.

Paul wrote, We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8-9(NKJV). When our strength is gone, He will intervene, and the gospel will shine through as we trust in Him in our darkest days.

If you are in a time when you cannot sing, do not despair. Put your harp carefully away, knowing that you will pick it up again when the storm has passed, when your exile is over, when you can once again sing praise to the Lord in the storm’s midst. Do not fear that He will abandon you if you cannot sing right now. Our Lord is tender towards us and will be gentle with our weakness. Isaiah wrote,

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Isaiah 42:3-4(NKJV)
He will deliver you out of this difficult time just as He delivered Israel out of exile and brought them back, singing, to Jerusalem:
So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 (NKJV)

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.

 

Abide With Me

September 12, 2018 at 0629AM - Sunrise Day 3

There are times in life when hard things happen and you seek comfort in the Lord. One of the hymns I most love to read and sing in those difficult times is Abide With Me. Henry Francis Lyte wrote the hymn just a few months before his death. Since then, his words have helped many Christians to seek the love and peace of the Lord Jesus as they walked through dark days of pain and suffering and grief.

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

–Henry Francis Lyte, 1847

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. .

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.”

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever. — Martin Luther

What is your focus today?

Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on.  And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.  Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?  Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?  Does this test not give the clue?  Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter

Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.

How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.

A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter.  The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.

*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.