I’m reading a little book right now that doesn’t have a copyright page or date, but the inscription on the inside cover (to a Mrs. Keziah Parr – a name you still hear everyday!) is dated March 8, 1905. I know it’s nothing special; not even really that antique in the grand scheme of things; but there’s something about holding a book in my hands that was held and read over a hundred years ago that makes me feel connected to a picture and world much bigger than my current one. Then, as I begin to read, this becomes even more true. The book is a collection of poems from great Christian writers of the past titled “Gems of Christian Poetry.” The words of familiar hymns, many originally poems, weave their way through the pages, surrounded by numerous pieces I had never read before, and which I doubt remain in too many a number of books (though not for lack of quality). Among the authors’ names is practically a who’s who of Christian poetry and hymn writing greats: George Herbert, Christina Rosetti, Spurgeon, Isaac Watts, Milton, John Newton, Whitefield. But then there are other poems labeled with names such as ‘Mrs. Browning,’ or simply ‘Pope,’ and many more with no name at all, in itself an interesting tribute to the memory of the innumerable saints of old whose names may be remembered by no one, but who have deeply affected our current lives and faith.
I read their words and feel smaller, realizing there is nothing of all that seems big in my life that has not been faced before. No questions unasked, no depths unsounded. Not that I am of any less worth to the Lord, but I am one of an innumerable procession of saints that have passed over this earth for thousands of years, praising and loving and serving the same God, and suddenly He, and His promises to never forsake the righteous, seem much larger than their specific fulfillment in my life. At the same time, though, I read these words and feel bigger. I feel connected to this procession, united with it by the very fact that we have dived into the same waters and drunk deeply in them of the same truths. Reading the saints of old makes me believe for a moment that I have perhaps begun to understand what the body of Christ truly means, and that it is so much bigger than members of one congregation in one place at one time. And suddenly, by that fact, my role as a hand or an eye or a toenail matters immensely, and I feel convicted and strengthened to do it well, for the Lord’s glory and the body’s good, which is then also my good.
The theme of my life of the past month has been change. A new city, a new home, a new job, new ministry, new faces. And usually, the more newness I am thrust into, the deeper I search for the unchanging promises of the Lord to cling to through it. In the midst of the first week in this new city and new job, I found my reminder of those promises in the words of these “gems” of poetry, these saints who have gone before:He Chose this Path for Thee He chose this path for thee.
No feeble chance, nor hard, relentless fate,
But love, His love, hath placed thy footsteps here;
He knew the heart would often sink with fear;
Yet tenderly He whispers, “Child, I see
This path is best for thee!” He chose this path for thee
Though well He knew sharp thorns would tear thy feet,
Knew how the branches would obstruct thy way,
Knew all the hidden dangers thou wouldst meet,
Knew how thy faith would falter day by day;
And still the whisper echoed, “Yes, I see
This path is best for thee!”
and the next, “I Will Guide Thee,”So I sang in childhood’s days
“Father, thou shalt guide me.”
So I sang in darker ways,
Whatsoe’er betide me
Young feet turn so oft aside,
But the older need a guide,
And I pray
Father, father guide me. Thou hast led o’er mountain slope,
And in deeper hollow;
Thee through many a vale of hope
Have I learned to follow.
In the dark and in the light,
Gladsome dawn and blackest night,
I have been
In changing scene,
Safe with Thee to guide me. Now I wait, as oft before,
Where the way is hidden;
Till the journey shall be o’er
I will go as bidden;
Naught there is for me to fear
When I know that thou art near.
Here I stand
Take my hand,
O my Father, guide me.
I think what I love in these words, besides the truth they speak, is the comfort that although believers over thousands of years have dug into, asked questions of, discovered, cherished, and written about countless truths of the character of God, they have never found Him unfaithful, they have never found Him untrue, and they have never found His end. And I; as one privileged to have this wealth of information and testimony from those who have gone before; in times when I am most aware of my need for Him – I can dig deeply and desperately into His character and find no end of knowledge, growth, or assurance of His promises. It is like Aslan remarks to Lucy in Prince Caspian: “Every year you grow you will find me bigger.”
As I am thrown into this new world of changes, transitions, and responsibilities, I find Him all the more bigger, more beautiful, more capable, more gracious, for it, if only I will turn and see Him in it. Then, as I learn more of His character, I hope, by His grace, to grow in my reflection of Him. I guess it’s just a different way of seeing the age-old adage that change causes growth – not my growth independently, but first His growth in my eyes of understanding. And so change, though often hard, is not only necessary but beautiful. A chance to see Him bigger.
Maybe I’ll keep sharing some more gems from this book…