On a rare but enjoyable morning run listening to some of my favourite old hymns in the sunshine, I stopped mid-run and chuckled to myself. Many who know me will know, that isn’t very me – ‘apparently my joy is deep’. It was a momentary relief for my lungs, as they wanted to leap out of my torso and flee the home they have endured for so long. But why stop – I never stop!
I was listening to a great old hymn, the tune is very familiar ‘O Waly, Waly’ (often used to accompany ‘When I survey’); the words, certainly this side of the Atlantic less familiar. The hymn was ‘I asked the Lord’, written by the British gem of hymnody John Newton. In the words of Kevin De Young on his blog highlighting this hymn, he summarised it like this…
‘It’s a beautiful poem about how the Lord afflicts us that he might comfort us’. (See the blog and the hymn words here)
The words are personally poignant; but for brothers and sisters that I know and pray for, this, along with just a handful of other songs, ought to both teach and comfort us in our ‘trials of many kinds’. Interestingly Newton wrote this just one year before leaving his parish in Olney, leaving his friend and co-hymnwriter William Cowper. Newton had loved and pastored Cowper through paralysing depression over many years – but what a song to leave him with, what a gift for the darkest hours to come.
But it wasn’t the words that stopped me in my tracks this morning.
I was listening to a recording of this song from the brilliant ‘Together for the Gospel Live II’ album (click here for the recording and sheet music). Listen to the whole song if you can: I stopped running and chuckled in verse 6 at 3:30 on the recording, after the phrase ‘wilt thou pursue’.
“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
You will notice I stopped when Bob Kauflin played a truly sublime fill on the piano, I don’t know what it would be called technically, or even how to begin to describe it – but it made me chuckle. Why?!
Well you will know that sometimes when you look upon God’s creation; whether that a magnificent mountain vista, or a sea rolling with crashing waves – God speaks subjectively and it enlivens our hearts in that Psalm 19 way. For me, it often just makes me chuckle. Perhaps it’s just my instinctive reaction to something so beautiful and awesome.
Now you may be thinking ‘this is such subjective drivel’ – you may be right. Having listened to the words of this great old hymn, having heard that Kauflinesque piano moment of genius…it may have just completely passed you by. That is ok.
But personally at that moment, whilst running in the park, whilst praying about stuff and listening to such words. I was moved and for that I am very thankful! I was moved to respond with a chuckle to something so subjective; but it righty prompted a continued response as I reminded myself of the objective truths that I know in the gospel Word that was being sung and that needed to dwell in me richly (Col 3).
Life would be so very dull if we were unable respond in such ways and what else should we expect of a creator God? Subjective drivel this maybe – but if it draws me to the objective realities of life in Christ…well that has to be a winner! Practically…
- Does that mean that every time I hear that few seconds of piano in that hymn I should respond identically – NO.
- Should I try and ape such piano licks on Sunday and be disappointed that the congregation don’t respond in the same way I did – NO.
The temptation to make subjective moments into objective tools for the gospel must be avoided (especially in music ministry). Recreation and dependancy on subjective moments has no place in the local church and they must never replace an authentic response to God’s Word as it is proclaimed and sung.
Yes I would love to play the piano in that way – I can’t, very few can. But the piano playing didn’t stop me running in the park to ponder the musicality; if it had then it would be more a distraction than an edification. I stopped because the subjective vehicle of music drew me to ponder the objective beauties of Christ and it made me chuckle with joy 🙂
Whether Kauflin practiced and prepared that wonderful lick, or spontaneously ripped it out of his repertoire of magical piano fills; it just doesn’t matter. God knew before the creation of the world that it would happen and whether prepared or spontaneous; both would be equally works of the Spirit to enliven the Word being sung through that wonderful hymn.
Equally under God’s sovereignty, He knew that early one sunny morning in south west London an unfit bloke would don his running shoes, put on his iPod a selection of old favourite hymns and stride out puffing his way round a park. The beautiful location and stirring music, yes they are wonderful were gifts from God, subjective moments of kindness.
But I stopped running…I audibly chuckled and what matters most is that I authentically responded to the Sovereign God as I heard his objective, truthful, lifesaving, joy-giving Word sung…and that I did.