Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Great Thou Art (Strength in Hymn)

"How Great Thou Art"

Swedish poem by Carl Gustav Boberg (1885)
English translation and two verses by Stuart K. Hine (1920's)

O Lord my God, 
when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds 
thy hands have made,
I see the stars, 
I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout 
the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

When through the woods 
and forest glades I wander

And hear the birds 
sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down 
from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook 
and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

And when I think that God, 
his Son not sparing,

Sent him to die, 
I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, 
my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died 
to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

When Christ shall come 
with shout of acclamation

And take me home, 
what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow 
in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, 
My God, how great thou art!

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

About the Hymn:  "How Great Thou Art" started out as a Swedish poem in 1885. In the early 1920's, British missionary Stuart Hine was ministering in Poland and heard the words sung in Russian to the original Swedish melody. He translated it to English and added two verses, partly inspired by a hike in the Carpathian Mountains. Read more of the story here: HymnSite.

Why I Chose the Hymn: I first remember this from my teen years in the Presbyterian church, but I've probably sung it in every church I've been a member of since then.  It ranks as one of the all-time favorite Christian hymns, after "Amazing Grace."  I was thinking of it recently in light of my love for nature as a means of communicating God's glory and grace. I had it running through my head one evening as we passed by a lake on our way home from a church event. Two of my kids were bickering rather loudly. I asked them to stop, but I don't think they heard me, or at least they weren't paying attention. I thought, "Well then, Mama is just going to have to start singing!" And I did -- loudly, to drown out the conflict. Miracle of miracles, within a minute or so, they stopped the argument. Blissful silence reigned, only broken by calm apologies from both parties. Was it the hymn? Maybe not, but I tend to think it helped. I know words like these help to quiet my soul when a storm is raging inside. Yesterday I had a rough time of it - lack of sleep, kids not cooperating with my dreams of a clean house, and yes, a bit more bickering. I finally fled the house in the evening and drove to our church's ladies' Bible study at the home of a friend, even though I hadn't been in a year. I got there late, and stayed mostly silent during the study to keep my composure, but during prayer time, my tears flowed freely. The sweet ladies, some of them strangers to me, gathered around, laid hands on me, and prayed. They didn't need to know everything going on, just that a sister in Jesus needed a wee bit of encouragement and intercession. When I arrived home again, I was greeted with warm embraces from some of my children. Though I love the beauties of nature - clouds, trees, birds, flowers, lakes, and more - I think God's most awesome creation was human compassion and fellowship. That, and his Word, which assures us: "
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, 
He bled and died to take away my sin."  That's enough to make a soul sing.

About the Photos:  I took these pictures while walking around Crane's Roost, a suburban lake park. I like to take the time to really notice nature. I see the difference between the two palm trees.   One has great clumps of pollen on it; the other does not. They stand separately, but need each other for fruitfulness. I quietly followed the young blue heron as he strutted along the boardwalk and fluttered up to the railing. He evaded me with his amazing gift of flight. The squirrel, too, escaped my attentions by climbing a tree. Shadows, bare branches, small creatures, the vibrancy of purple pansies  and luminous yellow snap dragons, all there for us to enjoy. Glory to God. "How great Thou art!"

This post is part of my Strength in Hymn series, which combines vintage hymn lyrics, nature photography, and inspiration for those who have struggled in the Christian faith community.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What a Friend We Have in Jesus (Strength in Hymn)

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

by Joseph Scriven, 1855

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded
there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.


The Story Behind the Hymn:  Joseph Scriven, no stranger to grief himself (two fiances died) wrote this as a poem of comfort for his ailing mother back home in Ireland when he was living in Canada. He never married, and spent most of his life spreading the love and compassion of Jesus to those less fortunate. You can read the story here: What a Friend We Have in Jesus, The Story and the Song.

Why I Picked This Hymn:  

Like many of the other hymns in this series, this is one I sang quite often with my own children when they were younger. It is now all the more poignant to me as I have gone through so many more "sins and griefs" since then. During times of disillusionment, I would think, "At least there is Jesus. I can do life with Jesus. He is good and kind." At times, it was all I could do to say, "Dear sweet Jesus, help me. Have mercy on me."

This morning as I drove to work, I reflected on yet another story of abuse in a prominent conservative ministry. Tears came to my eyes thinking of those families who have been hurt and even destroyed over the course of decades through legalistic authoritarian teaching coupled with credible reports of immorality among leaders. My heart is so heavy just thinking of it. Yes, my own family was negatively affected too. Even though we were never close followers of the organization, its influence permeated some of the churches we attended, as well as the home schooling movement for the 20+ years we did that. What is particularly sad to me is that this is not the only group or leader with this magnitude of problems. One by one they go down - after they've already taken so many others down in the process. "Dear sweet Jesus, help us. Have mercy on us all."  

To be honest, the temptation for so many of us is to throw away Christianity as corrupt. Maybe not trashing Jesus himself - we will consider keeping him, though sometimes at a bit more of a distance. But we just can't bear all the flawed people who claim to follow him but lead others astray, all the people who claim to have all the right answers but haven't even learned to ask the right questions yet.

But pitching our shared community of faith is not the answer, even if we need to move on to another congregation for our own spiritual sanity. If anything, we need more people who follow and exalt Jesus rather than human leaders. We need more people who give their lives away in humble compassion, rather than grabbing for power and prestige in the name of piety. We need more people to bring us the authentic Jesus rather than a system of rigid rules and regulations. Let's be those people for others.

The call in this hymn is to prayer. Through the gracious gift of prayer, we bring it all to our dear friend Jesus - all the doubt, all the pain, all the anxiety, all the fear, all of whatever we can't even name. We bring that and then we sing, sing this sweet old hymn into our souls, whether in sound or in sacred silence. Let's take these vintage words and reclaim them for a new generation.

About the Photos:  All of the pictures in this post were taken at Lake Giles in Orlando when I went to a silent Refresh Retreat hosted by my friend Sandy. The rippled clouds caught my attention, as did the trees. Sometimes we soar upward into the sky like the tall palms. Sometimes we hang down low in grief, like the weeping willow. Sometimes we are all tangled up like the branches in one photo, and other times we're stuck in the mud like reeds. Wherever we are, Jesus is our blessed and precious friend, and he will help us.  

You might like these posts about the retreat: Kaleidoscope and Refresh Retreat

Other related posts on my blogs:
On other sites, a little background to this story:

Virginia Knowles