I've been brought back to the old hymns lately. It's taken some weeks of pulling away from contemporary tunes and lyrics to begin to hear the old ones singing in my head again. But I need the old ones. I need their eternal no-nonsense perspective. When I wake stiff-necked, when the old body just ain't what she used to be, when joints don't work as well as they once did, (when I can't think of anything better to complain about than my body's petty ailments!) I need the old hymns. They point me to the Savior who came to save me not just so I can feel good today while I'm 'worshiping' but so that I can live for His glory today despite what ails me! and what’s more, I can look forward to an eternity of joy in beholding His glory in the hereafter! They point me beyond myself and my present state, beyond the way I feel to my great and unchanging Hope--this great and unchanging Savior whose glory is the purpose of life the universe and everything!
So many of the old hymns give evidence that everything is not sunshine and happy times in this lifetime but that we are safe in His care and certain of better things to come… We've lost this sense of living with a hope of eternal joy. We want Eden now, and expect it to be restored post haste as part of the 'deal' we 'accepted' when we came to Jesus. But look at the old lines: "Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment! There will I hide till life's trials are o'er; Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me; Resting in Jesus I'm safe evermore" (William Cushing, 1823-1902)
"Be still, my soul: the hour is hastning on When we shall be forever with the Lord, When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past, All safe and blessed we shall meet at last." (Katharina von Schlegel, 1697)
Or how about this old one: "Fade, Fade, Each Earthly Joy". The last stanza reads: "Farewell, mortality; Jesus is mine. Welcome, eternity; Jesus is mine. Welcome, O loved and blest, Welcome, sweet scenes of rest, Welcome, my Savior's breast; Jesus is mine." (Jane Bonar, 1821-1884) I need the old hymns because I need to be reminded of a theology that emphasizes the Kingdom of God as yet future in its fullness. We have been made new creatures in Christ, it is true, but these old bodies are waiting a future redemption. When Christ returns to set up His Kingdom all will be well. Until then we live in hope and no matter how good it gets here, it's not Eden. No matter how bad, (and it will get worse before it gets better!) there is a Kingdom coming! And the only thing certain in this lifetime is that it's subject to change without notice!
I escaped to the garden one morning this week when the house was too chilly and the sun far too inviting to think of hunkering down to desk work! It was one of those days where the bottom seemed to have dropped out of all the carefree summer fun. You know the kind-- you wake to the awareness that physically speaking, life is not getting better. Maybe your neck is stiff; your joints are sore… You're getting older. You can tell it's happening when all your yesterdays seem sweeter than your todays. And your tomorrows? Well, they just draw a bleak blank. Maybe you're just tired from all the summer fun (?)…So I turned my small energies to wrestling with weeds in the hot morning sun. And as I worked Sunday's hymn came singing through my head: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness…" (Edward Mote, 1797-1874) It stirred me to think beyond my petty self-absorption. What was I hoping for anyway? A forever body in the here and now?! Endless carefree summer days?
I reflected on what a good thing it is that I have an Unchanging Savior. He never tires, (never grows old!) never loses perspective, and never puts aside His purpose of revealing His glory to me, in me, and through me. No wonder Paul said that rejoicing in the Lord would be a safeguard! (Phil. 3:1) He's the only One who does not and will not change. I am fickle. My energies are finite. I'm in trouble if rejoicing in me is all I have.
One day I'm pedaling with the ocean breeze in my face, on top of the world. The next I'm hunkered over lesson plans with a stiff neck and sagging confidence. One day I'm floating serenely on a quiet lake without a care in the world, the next I'm troubled over a dozen dilemmas…. My salvation is about more than my fickle here and now, my pleasure in the moment---where I can be rejoicing in the feeling of sun and water on skin and the delight of wind in my hair one moment and the next be plunged into weary malaise… There's no stability there; not unless in everything I'm turning my focus back to the glory of God, rejoicing in this moment because it is His doing, and trusting Him with whatever the next moment holds. My salvation is about rejoicing that I have a Savior whose agenda doesn't change with the weather, who never tires or gives up on His plans for me…He has redeemed me for a purpose bigger than me. "When darkness veils His lovely face, I trust in His unchanging grace. When all around my soul give way, He then is all my hope and stay." He has redeemed me for His glory.
Somehow, as I rejoice in all He is, I fulfill His purpose for my days. He intends for me to reflect His glory whether I'm sweating in the garden on my knees in the dirt or inhaling the essence of sweet peas on a summer's evening. Whether I'm reveling in sunshine while floating on a secluded lake or bent over a desk grappling with lesson plans… In everything I'm meant to look to Him as Source and Solace, my beginning and ending, and my Song in the meantime. He's the One constant in a lifetime of change. My hope can be built on nothing less.
"….for apart from God who can eat or who can have enjoyment?" Eccl.2:24,25
"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." I Cor.10:31
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” Phil.3:1