Hymns and Hearts of Contentment

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Philippians 4:11b-12

 

I love hymns. Old ones, new ones, it doesn’t matter; it’s my heart music. I blame my dad. He was always going on and on about the theological truths found in some of his favorite hymns. For example:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Though the darkness hide thee,

Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.

Only Thou art holy, There is none beside Thee,

Perfect in Power, in love, and purity.

(Reginald Heber, 1826)

 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light.

My chains fell off, my heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed thee!

(Charles Wesley, 1738)

 

I bought in and fell in love with hymnody. A few years ago I discovered the 18th century Baptist hymn-writer Anne Steele. Many of Anne’s hymns reflect the tremendous suffering she faced in her own life. Her hymn, When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene, is one of my favorites:

When I survey life’s varied scene, Amid the darkest hours,

Sweet rays of comfort shine between, And thorns are mixed with flowers,

Lord, teach me to adore thy hand, From whence my comforts flow,

And let me in this desert land A glimpse of Canaan know.

 

She expresses her desire to praise God in all things at all times, whether in need or plenty, hardship or ease. Much like the Psalms of Lament (e.g. Ps. 3-5, 13, 42, 44), she cries out to God, acknowledging that life is filled with pain but turning to focus on God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His providence.

What is your lamentation? Is someone in your church causing dissension? Is your job situation unstable or stressful? Do you feel overwhelmed as you homeschool your children? Are you having difficulty just paying your bills? Are your children rebelling?

Sisters, let us cry out to God: tell Him how tough life feels, ask Him for wisdom, and then praise Him. Praise Him because we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139). Thank Him for the faithful believers in our churches, for the jobs we have, for the opportunity to teach our children, for His provision, and for the blessing of our children. And as we thank Him, let us also pray that we, like Paul, will be able to be content in any and every circumstance.

The final verse of Anne Steele’s hymn sums it up beautifully:

 

Give me a calm, a thankful heart, From every murmur free,

The blessings of thy grace impart, And let me live to thee.

Let the sweet hope that thou art mine My path of life attend,

Thy presence through my journey shine, And bless its happy end.

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Jennifer McConnell

About Jennifer McConnell

Jason and Jennifer McConnell and their four children live in Franklin, Vermont where they have served in small-town church ministry for the past 13 years. Jason is the Senior Pastor of Franklin United Church and East Franklin Union Church. Jennifer leads worship each Sunday and teaches music four days a week in the public elementary schools in Franklin and nearby Sheldon. She earned a Church Music degree from Moody Bible Institute, where she and Jason met. She enjoys networking with other small-town pastors’ wives.

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