Every Wednesday, we begin our time of study with a time of worship. Worship is not just a "must-have" for a Christian gathering, but the worship leaders and musicians have carefully picked the songs to help prepare our hearts for the Bible study. Most, if not all, of the songs seek to teach us truths about God and also serve to shape our hearts to respond to Him. When we sing, we set our minds on the things above and intentionally turn them away from the worries and cares of this world and of our hearts. We also sing together and this is special, because it means we affirm and remind each other of these truths.
New songs are taught occasionally. Some are old hymns while others are more contemporary, modern ones. Regardless, we hope that all the songs will serve to teach and point us back to God and away from ourselves. This blog series hopes to explain some of the new songs that have been taught. We hope that it'll encourage you to use good Christian songs as part of your daily meditation and prayer too, not to replace the value of Scripture, but to complement it.
The hymn that we'll look at in this post is "I asked the Lord that I might grow". These seven verses of this wonderful hymn tell the story and struggle of many Christians.
Many of us have prayed well-intentioned prayers in the comfort of a Bible study or during our personal devotional time, asking for "more love for God" and "more love for others", among other things. The writer of this hymn, John Newton, acknowledges this in the first verse.
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
We often pray with some idea of how God should answer our prayer. Too often we assume that the best answer to our prayers come in the swift victory over sin and a sense of peace and rest in the easiest and smoothest way possible. A prayer for love for God, we think, will be greeted with fruitful QT and that we'll find it easy to read God's word. A prayer for joy in serving others, we imagine, means that people will respond to us, or that we'll be unperturbed by annoying people. But somehow, God in His wisdom, chooses a different way.
I hoped that, in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
The God who knows our heart and thoughts and tries us (Ps 139:23-24) knows even the "hidden evils of (our) heart(s)". His answer to our prayers for growth does often come in surprising ways that seems to wreck us and completely humble us instead.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
John Newton voices his confusion and the confusion of many Christians at points in their faith journey when the struggle for sin is real and sanctification seems to take place so slowly. The wonderful truth is that this is how God answers prayers for grace and faith. The trials and difficulties are ways in which we learn how to truly die to self and when we find out that we have nothing but Christ, we learn too, that in Christ is all that we need. God disciplines us for our good that we might share in His holiness (c.f. Heb 12:10).
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.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
This poem was actually titled "Prayer Answered by Crosses", and it is a fitting title. God's answer to our prayers may not be what we think it should be but He most certainly hears and is still at work! What are you struggling with today? May this encourage you to take your honest questions and struggles to God in prayer, as you also trust that He is at work to "break they schemes of earthly joy".