Tag Archives: Hymns

Rainbow through the rain


By Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia (English Wikipedia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte was a charming, friendly, happy person. We met when I was on a pastoral exchange with a minister in Michigan. She was the victim of a palsy and did not have the control of body that you and I enjoy. She managed to walk short distances but had to be well supported from behind. Otherwise she relied upon her wheel chair to get around. She had a serious speech problem but made a valuable contribution to any conversation, provided there was someone around who knew her well enough to interpret. She communicated through the poetry she wrote.

Some years ago she learned to dance lying on the floor, moving to the rhythm of the music. I learned from friends that she was committed to teaching others with similar needs this fairly recent technique. In one of her poems she describes the struggle, and the ultimate elation of being able to dance. Here are a few lines.

Music filled the space about me . . . . . Move!

I must move … I must dance . . . .And so I did.

This unwarranted ego will not deny me

The pure freedom and enjoyment of which dance does bring.

On her tummy!

Charlotte – a brave woman of high intellect and profound faith.

Rainbow 02

By Jerry MagnuM Porsbjer (www.magnumphoto.se) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

You entered by the front door from the pavement into the narrow vestibule, turned left into the living room. You did not see Jess immediately, although she would probably have seen you coming, depending on the direction of your approach. You called because she was house-bound, permanently bed-ridden. You called in friendship, to offer comfort and good cheer. If you happened to be the pastor, nothing less was acceptable.

She sat in bed – her body virtually immobile, the prisoner of rheumatoid arthritis. But not her tongue, her mind, her spirit. Faith was alive in her! You called and in a short time you knew it was not you but she who would minister: encourage, restore hope, cheer you on your way. She was the ministering angel.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

and feel the promise is not vain,

that morn shall endless be.

Singing the Faith 637: George Matheson, (1842 – 1996).


My help will come from the Lord; who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121.

2008 Jungfrau

Jungfrau seen from near Interlaken
Image credit: Earth Explorer via Wikimedia

I am not a mountaineer, nor am I a hill climber and I have never harboured a restless driving ambition to become either one. When on a holiday in the less popular side of the Lake District, away from the mountains and amidst the challenging fells, my wife and I had a marvellous week of congenial weather for our type of holiday – nothing too ambitious or too strenuous. However much to our own surprise we awoke on glorious summer morning resolved to get to the top of the nearest fell and undaunted we set off. But, please do not get the wrong idea; we took the easy way up – on the Ravenglass/Eskdale Railway. We were glad we had broken the mould, a wonderful experience. We felt great; almost like walking on air; spellbound by the beauty of it all; inspired by the wonders of creation; refreshed as we took our leave. Once on top we realised there was more to it than midsummer madness!

Better still was the breath-taking experience of being on top of the Jungfrau in Switzerland and walking on the snowy glacier with the sun above in a clear blue sky and the magnificent view. A sense of wonder and awe stays with me still. Like the Psalmist? Maybe! As he looked to the hills, whichever they may have been, he found great comfort and encouragement in them. “My help comes only from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” The thought of the verse leaps beyond hill and mountain to the Universe, beyond the universe to its Maker. Here is living help, personal, immeasurable; the Lord who is present, to protect ‘”in our going out and in our coming in, from this time forth and evermore.” Not just to the end of time – but into time without end.

O, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds thy hand has made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed, Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee; How great thou art, how great thou art! (Singing the Faith. 82)

Not all will be happy

I was the visiting preacher conducting worship in a church where I was not much known. At the end of the service, as the congregation left for home, I was surprised to hear so many of them say, “I did enjoy the hymns.” No mention of the sermon!

In the vestibule of the church a small group of worshippers were busily engaged in conversation. I joined them – they were discussing the service. One of the ladies turned to me and said, “We get so many hymns we don’t know and don’t greatly like, it’s good to have someone who gives us a good old-fashioned sing.” I was quite chuffed; whether or not I should regard those comments as a compliment, I’m not sure – probably not! Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy standing in the way of progress by, in the current context, sticking with those old-fashioned hymns, to the neglect of new songs and choruses. “Ah!” I exclaimed to the group, “it would be different if I was here every week; you would probably get some really difficult and unfamiliar ones!” As a visiting preacher, not knowing the congregation’s tastes, I would play safe and choose hymns (songs too!) that are certain to be known, even at the expense of some I considered more suitable. “You just go on playing safe”, one lady said, “especially when you come here. Come again soon.”

English: Charles Wesley

English: Charles Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hymns are dicey anyway. From the pulpit you can see those who don’t like the “modern stuff”. They stand tight-lipped and silent. On the other hand, I’ve seen enthusiasm unbounded accompanying modern religious songs, swaying, clapping hands stretching to the ceiling, but when asked to sing a good Charles Wesley, or an Isaac Watts hymn it’s their turn to stand silent, hymn book superfluous. Hymns or whatever – the most we can hope for is to please some of the people, some of the time. If anyone could have succeeded in pleasing everybody, surely it was Jesus. But not even He achieved such fame. He displeased the religious Pharisees and Sadducees so much that they formed an unusual coalition to get rid of him. The man or woman able to please everybody hasn’t been born yet. It is unlikely there ever will be such a superhuman; questionable if it is even desirable. What kind of world would it be if everyone shared the same likes and dislikes? The variety and the character would vanish from life.

In almost every church (and community) I’ve known, at some time or other there has been a difference of opinion in the fellowship. Sadly, the cause may be trivial but, on the other hand, serious enough to threaten the harmony and joy of discipleship with folk taking sides, people getting hurt, taking offence and becoming disillusioned. You cannot please or even agree with everyone; no one should expect it; life would lose some of its interest and colour. A favourite hymn of mine has the line, Didst thou not make us one, that we might one remain.

We cannot please everybody all of the time but we should always try to please God. When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church at Rome about the ethical requirements of Christian faith that ought to be the hall-mark of the Christian life, he was anxious that the Christian should be distinctive. “Being a Christian”, he said, “means being able to discern what God wills for us that our life may be lived to please Him”. (Romans 12:2). Well, what should our mantra be? An Old Testament one comes to mind, from the Book of the prophet Micah (6:8):

He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


When I recall my first efforts as a preacher, I marvel at the tolerance of my congregations. How they suffered from the excesses of youth; I was 18 years old when I first began. There was the occasion when we sang Charles Wesley’s popular hymn, And can it be (Hymns & Psalms 216), often referred to as “The Methodist Anthem”. I got carried away at the end of it, telling the congregation that I was so moved we should be dancing down the aisle of the church. Dance does have a place in worship today but not in those far distant days! Not my cup of tea, actually it does nothing for me, but it doesn’t stop me from singing gustily and I hope tunefully, Sydney Carter’s Lord of the Dance. Anyhow I don’t and never could dance! It would be nice to think of myself as a prophet, or an early charismatic Christian. Neither would be the true “me”! My utterance that Sunday morning was simply naively over enthusiastic, and perhaps a wee bit foolish trying it out with a Scots congregation. It would be different today.

Sadly, the older I become, the more I realise how staid is much of our spirituality and discipleship. The more I reflect, the more I realise how great the need to recapture something of the zeal with which the early Christians invaded the post-Pentecostal world. The sort of enthusiasm which got them into trouble when they were accused of “turning the whole world upside down” (Acts 17: 1 – 9 AV); a statement that infers utter chaos and, in my view, a picture that loses much of its point in new translations of Acts where it is replaced with “they have caused trouble all over the world.”

It was William Barclay who said the trouble is that with the passing of the years we wrap Jesus up in so much stained glass.

A constant babble

Word Cloud by Anabel Marsh

Word Cloud by Anabel Marsh

For most of us today, and every day, words will feature prominently wherever we are and whatever we do: a bombardment of words, words, words, words!

Words – they come at us from radio and from television. They come at us in the home and, since the arrival of the mobile phone, whether we like it or not, we are destined, travelling on public transport or going about our own business, to hear publicly in a loud voice about the goings on of the fellow next to us. Words – even in Church we face a plethora of words in worship time. Here I plead guilty! Words – a great volume to which we will undoubtedly all contribute.

Silence may be golden, but to live in a world of total silence must be awful – beyond the imagination of those of us with our hearing and speech unimpaired. We need to remember those who don’t hear, can’t speak and, along with them, those whose sight is imperfect. Apart from any little practical help we can give, a constant prayer must be that our friend’s disability may be compensated with friends who understand and care.

Words may seem to flow from our lips readily and easily but, in spite of that we may have learned from bitter experience, it is just as easy to lose control, to join the “I wish I had never said that” syndrome. We need to remember how words influence our humble and honest attempt to live our life honestly and well, and in pursuit of that goal words will have a large role to play, influencing your life, mine and others – for good or ill.  Words can assassinate character with ease; or with a little more effort and patience restore reputation; betray and rehabilitate; wound and heal; hate and assure that love abounds; words can incite war and make peace – to name a few contrasting facts. Some of us struggle to find the right word. Others are wordsmiths whose skill and insights we cannot but envy as we listen, and read, be it poem, hymn or song book, debate, lecture, conversation or sermon. One thing is certain: our need to treat and use words carefully and to turn to them for enjoyment, instruction and inspiration.

If at one time you attended Sunday School or sang the Hymns associated with Sankey and Moody and Redemption Songs, you may remember the song with the refrain

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life

The words of Jesus – all in the Gospels of the New Testament – highly recommended! Words to be cherished and treasured. Have a read and enjoy a sing!