Oft in Sorrow

This song came up again in the course of my study this morning and I thought I just had to share it.

The poem was written by Henry Kirk White sometime around 1805. Henry White was born in 1785, his father, a butcher in Nottingham, and mother who ran a girl’s boarding school. From an early age Henry excelled in his studies, learning Latin and Greek, and was a published and awarded poet at the age of 15. Through his friend, R.W. Almond, White came to faith in Jesus, and planned to study for ministry. He attended St. John’s College in Cambridge, but soon became ill and died at the age of 22 on Oct. 19, 1806 before he could graduate. Shortly after his death, the manuscript for his poem “Oft in Sorrow” was found and by 1812 had been adapted as a hymn for the church.

The song is a reminder that often the Christian’s journey in this world is filled with tears, sorrow, pain and loss. We are called to join the war, to walk the walk, to take up the cross. Often we are met with failures; our own and those around us. The song is one of encouragement, that the strength for the journey, the victory in battle, the triumph in the end is not ours, but the Lord’s; and because it is His it is sure and certain. “Onward then to battle move; more than conquerors ye shall prove: though opposed by many a foe, Christian soldiers, onward go.”

Here is his poem, and there is a video of the hymn as well.

Oft in danger, oft in woe,
Onward, Christians, onward go,
Fight the fight, maintain the strife,
Strengthened with the Bread of Life.

Onward, Christians, onward go,
Join the war, and face the foe;
Faint not, much doth yet remain;
Dreary is the long campaign.

Shrink not, Christians: will ye yield?
Will ye quit the painful field?
Will ye flee in danger’s hour?
Know ye not your Captain’s pow’r?

Let your drooping hearts be glad;
March, in heav’nly armor clad;
Fight, nor think the battle long;
Vict’ry soon shall tune your song.

Let not sorrow dim your eye,
Soon shall ev’ry tear be dry;
Let not woe your course impede,
Great your strength, if great your need.

Onward then to battle move;
More than conqu’rors ye shall prove:
Though opposed by many a foe,
Christian soldiers, onward go.

At Home in the Brokenness

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:17)

At the end of the worship service on Sunday, I couldn’t remember the benediction.

It was just gone. Nada. Nothing.

We all got a chuckle out of it. It was a little humbling, a reminder that I am all too human, and an encouragement to everyone else who has experienced moments of forgetfulness.

Monday brought another reminder of my brokenness, but in an entirely different way. I was down for the day with another headache. Eerily similar to the headache that put me in the hospital for a week last year, this one came out of nowhere, with the feeling that a balloon was being inflated inside my head. Having learned from past experience, I didn’t try to push through the pain, but spent the day down, resting and praying that God would bring relief.

And God demonstrated His mercy.  Fortunately, the headache left as quickly as it came on. It only lasted for a day, but the lingering effects remain:

  • Physically, my head feels like its been beaten, tired and sore.
  • Emotionally, there’s now that lingering worry that another headache is just around the corner.
  • Spiritually, I know what it is to be broken.

I’m only 43.  I should be in my “prime active years.”  In running terms, I’m mid race, and should be striding out and setting the pace for the years to come. And yet, for almost an entire day, it was all I could do to just sit up from the couch for a glass of water.

This came as yet another vivid reminder of my brokenness.  I thought I was strong, and a headache brought me to my knees. I try to take on more and more, convinced that I can balance it all, and then I am reminded of just how delicate that balance really is. When I want to bring God my best, I find that my best is nothing more than a broken and ragged mess.

I am reminded of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” I am aware Paul’s dealing with temptation of idolatry here, but is not our tendency to slip into self-reliance and trust in our own ability another form of idolatry?

Psalm 147:10 reminds me that God’s “delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I’ve always considered the phrase “a broken spirit” to be synonymous with “a broken and contrite heart.” I assumed that it meant a humility in light of our sinfulness, an awareness of our desperate need for a savior, a penitent heart that seeks the mercy of God. All of that is true. But I’ve come to realize that “broken spirit” means much more. To be broken in spirit is to broken off from self. It means putting to death all confidence in the flesh, and resting entirely upon his gracious work within me.

But there is a beauty in brokenness; a grace found here that is rare elsewhere. In this weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:19). When we find we cannot hold on to Him any longer for our strength is gone, we find “the eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27).

No one asks to be broken, and yet it is only in our brokenness that we truly come to see and know the extent of God’s grace and mercy towards us. It is only in the acknowledgement of the absolute wreck that I have made of my life that I begin to understand the length to which Christ went to secure my salvation. It is only when I consider the frailty of my faith that I begin to comprehend the wonder of God’s steadfast and unchanging love in which I have been called.  It is only when I realize how small my strength is, how short I can reach, that I can rest secure in His “victorious right hand” (Isa 41:10).

Rich Mullins wrote a song that’s been speaking to me recently, appropriately titled, “We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are.” The first verse and chorus go:

Well, it took the hand of God Almighty
To part the waters of the sea
But it only took one little lie
To separate you and me
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We are frail
We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart 
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are.

Here’s the video: