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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The fifth page for Sunday, May 10, 2009

The United Church music resource “Voices United” says that the hymn-writer Joseph Scriven likely composed “What a friend we have in Jesus” while he was working in Brantford, Ontario, as a school teacher. It is a piece that I associate with the many of the funerals, and services in senior’s residences I have helped with over the last 20 years in ministry. It is a hymn that many people name as a favourite. My mother-in-law loved this hymn, and it was listed in the funeral instructions she left for her family.

It was during the singing of this hymn, at my mother-in-law’s memorial service that I felt a powerful sense of being strengthened, and “held up” by the presence, and by the faith, of the people who were there. Here is how I described it in the sermon:

“The voices around me were strong, and earnest, and coloured with both the grief of loss, and the hope of faith. I felt the strength, the force of their prayers and best intentions flowing through me. That strength, and that courage, gave me what I needed to be able to sing with joy, and to cry freely with my son. That strength, that love, that sense of connection has continued to empower me as I do what I need to do, to offer care to my family, and other hurting people, every day.”

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Christ the Saviour is our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do our friends despise, forsake us?
Are we tempted to despair?
Jesus' strength will shield our weakness,
and we'll find new courage there.

It is interesting to me that I would have a powerful spiritual experience during the singing of a hymn that is not actually one of my favourites. But now that I look at the lyrics, there is something that I really like about this hymn, the persistent insistence that whatever we are facing in life, we can, and should, “take it to the Lord in prayer.”