Thursday, July 3, 2014

Never Forsake

So I wrote about what ended up being my theme verse from this past year, but I wanted to also write about my theme hymn: "How Firm a Foundation."

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the LORD
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you, who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

At the beginning of this year, I wrote in my Disciple Bible Study guide, "I've been struggling with what's special about the Bible and want to explore that." I believed - and still believe - that the books in the Bible are not the only God-inspired texts. Liturgy and hymnody have strongly influenced my faith, and my faith has been shaped by the sermons I've been hearing since I was four years old. To me, it's always seemed evident that there was God-inspiration in these, or at least that there was potential for these kinds of texts to be God-inspired. So what made the Bible special above all of these?

Well, I had part of the answer, but I wasn't all that convinced yet: "Just that it is the oldest? Or helped inspire the other texts?" Mostly that second bit, but I wasn't thinking broadly enough yet. The words we sang or sing are not all verses from the Bible, but they are all inspired by what is contained in the scriptures. The Word is the story of our faith. Without that story, we have nowhere to begin. We have no foundation.

"Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and shall still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."

I was drawn to this verse because it feels like an echo of two verses that I loved growing up: "Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9b) and "The LORD is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:2). I also really love the idea of God not only holding us up, but causing us to stand. It's not just that God is helping us stay standing, though that's certainly the case; God helped us stand up in the first place. It's sort of like prevenient grace. We can't get anywhere without God first coming to us.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

This verse is left out of a lot of the non-congregation/choir versions of the hymn that I found online, which is a shame. I adore this verse. The first line specifically mentions God's call - and we are all called - and does not pretend that the call will be easy. We won't just happen to be in a hard place; God calls us to do God's work in hard situations. God will call us to go through deep waters. This is a 'when,' not an 'if.' The second line, then, is one of reassurance: the rivers of woe will not thee overflow. There will be trouble all around, and it will threaten us, but we will not succumb to it because God will be with us. The creed of the United Church of Canada, starts out with the line, "We are not alone. We live in God's world," and ends with, "God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God." The concept that God is always with us is vital, and the third line affirms God's presence with us.

But my favorite part of this verse is the end of the third line and then the fourth line, even though it's something I still struggle to fully understand. God blesses our troubles and sanctifies - makes holy - to us our deepest distress. What does it mean that God sanctifies our distress to us? Sanctification is the process by which we become more holy and more righteous. Sanctifying and perfecting grace is the grace God pours out on us as we are growing and (surprise!) becoming more perfect in faith through the Spirit. So, by our deepest distress, God sanctifies us. God does not cause the deep waters, but God does call us to the deep waters. God does not want us to be distressed, and the distress does not exist for our growth, but God does strengthen us by being with us and growing us through our troubles.

God is with us, and God is working in us, all the time.

"When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee, I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."

Once again, this starts with 'when,' not 'if.' This verse implies more intentionality on God's part, though; God is seeking to refine us, to rid us of all our junk and make us perfect in faith and love - to make us the people God is calling us to be. God will not let us be hurt, and through this process God will continually supply us with grace. We need nothing else, for God's sanctifying grace is also sustaining.

"The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

This final verse connects back to the first. We've come to Jesus for refuge and repose. The first verse says that God speaks to us through scripture and that scripture should be the basis of our faith to which we always return. This verse assures us that as long as we seek rest in Christ, God will never let us down. Our foundation will stand firm.

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