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A Word About Hymns

Lisa Barry: Here's a pop quiz for you. How many Christian hymns do you think you could recite from memory right now? Some of you might have to think back to your childhood. Others might not know any at all. Today on Gateway to Joy, Elisabeth Elliot talks about hymns and the miraculous way they reach down into the depths of our pain. If you're going through a tough time right now, maybe you need to dig out your old hymnbook and blow the dust off, because in it is balm for your soul. Let's learn more as we head back to Kansas with Elisabeth Elliot for today's edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me." I want to put in a plug for hymns. I talk about this often. My husband and I, of course, travel around and are in very many churches, few of which really know any of the old hymns. We get invited to many churches where they don't even have hymnbooks. All they have is the overhead projector with song sheets. Even when it is a church where a few hymns get sung, it doesn't seem as though very many people know them anymore. That was one of the great blessings and privileges of growing up in the home in which I did, because my father herded us all into the living room every morning after breakfast and we always sang a hymn. Both my parents played the piano, so one or the other would sit down at the piano and we would go straight through a hymnbook. We sang every stanza, one hymn per day, all the stanzas. That's been a priceless heritage, because all six of us know probably hundreds of hymns by heart. We just consider that a very great gift that our parents gave us.

Now you can do that in your home, even if you don't have a piano. You can teach your children to sing. Again I emphasize how miraculously children can memorize. They can not only a language very quickly, but they can memorize very easily, as you know if you have a television. They can pick up the commercials without any problem at all. So if they're going to stuff their heads with a lot of junk, you might as well stuff them with something highly worthwhile, including the memorization of Scripture.

Hymns are so much more meaty theologically than so many of what are called praise songs. I have nothing against them. Please don't misunderstand me. But many praise songs are very thin theologically. The really meaty ones, the old hymns of the church, are the ones that mean the most to us in the deepest waters and the hottest fires. One of our favorite hymns as a family was "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled." The next two verses are taken directly from Isaiah 43. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow. For I will be with thee thy trials to bless and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress. When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply."

One of the great hymns that I want to mention is by William Cowper: "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm." Have you ever seen any footsteps in the sea? "He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm." Then there's a stanza that says, "Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and will break in blessing on your head. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower." The older we get, the more we realize the truth of that. The more experiences we have to look back on, experiences that we just dreaded and hated when they happened and we just couldn't imagine what God was doing and how this could ever do us any good spiritually, we look back and realize that the bud did have indeed a bitter taste, but sweet has been the flower.

I think of all the ways of God in my own life. One of the blessings of keeping a journal is that you can go back and read things that you have completely forgotten. I've been keeping journals for just about 60 years. So I can go back and look in those journals and realize that if somebody asked me if this thing or that thing ever happened, I would say, "No" and I wouldn't be lying, because I had completely forgotten it. It's a chronicle of the faithfulness of God. I love going back to a simple little hymn, like "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." We need the very simplest reminders at times, don't we? We don't just need profound theological truths, but we need very simple little things that God in His mercy reminds us of.

I remind you again of His Word, "Are not many sparrows sold for a farthing?" When the sparrow gets sold, of course that means the sparrow has been caught, which has been painful for the sparrow. The sparrow is probably jammed into a cage full of other sparrows. I've been in an Arab market where they were still being sold. They're treated very cruelly. When they are bought, then either they're kept in another cage or they're eaten. Very often they're just eaten. We wonder what in the world is the kind of meat you could get off of a sparrow.

I think back to my days in the jungle when my daughter had a little friend who was very good with a blowgun. He was only ten years old, but he was a crack shot with that blowgun. He would come back with the tiniest birds, as small as hummingbirds sometimes, beautiful, iridescent colors. Just lovely little creatures. Of course, they were all dead by the time he brought them back. He would string them on the string around his waist. This was a little Auca boy. The only piece of clothing that they wore was a piece of string, so they had no pockets. But he would hang them by their necks inside this little string around his hips. When I got to the point where I could ask questions, I asked why the Indians wore that string. It was the standard regulation costume of everybody, men and women and children. They looked at me with utter shock and said, "Well, you wouldn't expect us to go around naked, would you?"

But the sparrows fall and the sparrows get sold and the sparrows get eaten and the sparrows have lice. So there's all sides to this life, aren't there? There are wonderful things, thrilling things, unexpected things, hoped-for things, and there are very unexpected things and things we never in the world would have chosen. All of them are a part of God's sovereign, sanctifying work in us.

I want to give you for your memorization a commitment. I don't know the author of this and maybe someone does. If you do, I'd be glad to hear who it is. This is a very sobering kind of commitment to make to God and it's one that helps me again and again. "I'm willing to receive what You send, to do without what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer anything You inflict, to do what You command, to be what You ask me to be, at any cost now and forever."

We have a loving Heavenly Father who loves us with an everlasting love. We know that there's never a time when those arms are not underneath us, whether we feel them, whether we sense His presence or not. There maybe someone here who lost something or someone this week. Why does God allow us to lose things? I don't know anything more irritating to my very organized soul than losing something, because I am so proud, I guess I have to admit, of being organized. I know where things are. In our house, we have a place for everything and everything is supposed to be in its place. But then every once in a while my pen, for example, is not in its place. I have a pen holder right on my desk, so of course that's where the pen belongs. It's not always there. I can just get frantic turning everything upside down and emptying all the waste baskets and doing everything possible to try to find that thing. The Lord very often has to remind me I'm not perfect. I do make mistakes. I do lose things. Sometimes He disciplines me about my attitude in losing something by saying to me, "You don't need that pen right now. You had already turned on your computer. Now you sit yourself down to that computer and you do what you were going to do this morning and forget about the pen."

You know what happens? It's amazing, but this has happened again and again. When I get all upset about something that I think must be done right now, the Lord says, "No, that is not the thing that must be done right now. The next thing is what you had already determined to do when you noticed that the pen was gone. Do the next thing and then maybe I'll show you where the pen is." You know, He has done that. That has happened. I'm telling you the truth. I spend two hours on the computer. When I stop, suddenly the one place I haven't looked comes into my mind. God gives it back to me.

Now maybe someone here has lost something much more precious and irreplaceable than a pen. Can you receive that as from the Lord? Can you pray that prayer that I just dictated to you? "I'm willing to relinquish what You take." Perhaps there is someone who has suffered a very hard setback, maybe in business, in finances, in a project that you were embarked on. What is your attitude? God has given us a will and He has given us emotions. It is our emotions that give us the worst trouble, because we get all uptight and upset about something that we had to suffer, the setback or whatever it is. The Lord is reminding us that He is totally in control. He allowed that thing to happen. "To suffer anything You inflict. To be what You ask me to be, at any cost now and forever."

Lisa Barry: If you're ready to make that commitment, then you may want a little support for the journey. Let me recommend your Bible and an old hymnbook. Beyond that, it might be helpful to meditate on hymns and learn their origin. I would suggest getting a copy of the book The One Year Book of Hymns. You'll be using it for years and years. The cost is $18.50, and you can purchase it by sending that amount with your note to Gateway to Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. That's Gateway to Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or toll free, 1-800-759-4JOY. That?s 1-800-759-4569. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible. There's more to come next time, so plan to be with us then for the next Gateway To Joy.

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