Hymn #142 – If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee
This week, we’ll focus on the opening hymn for Sunday, April 18, If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee. It is one of my favorite texts for times of doubt and tribulation, and a wonderful reminder of why and how we should trust the Lord.
The title of this hymn is the first thing that might strike you. Why is suffering, right off the bat, connected with God guiding us? We are often told that following God will always make our lives better or happier. Christians are quick to quote Scripture like Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28 as a defense for this. However, this verb reminds us that being a Christian and following our Lord often comes with crosses and suffering. Praise God, Jesus walks with us in our suffering. He suffered the ultimate penalty – death for sin – in our place so that we might eternally be free from suffering. With this comfort, we can endure our sufferings here on earth. As stanza 1 of our hymn says, God will give strength, whatever betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days.
As many restrictions continue because of COVID-19, at times we may feel prevented from serving our neighbor or serving the church. You, too, might ask how we can serve God during this difficult time. What would he have us do? The second verse of our hymn begins to answer this, but at first its counsel seems a little discouraging. The answer simply seems to be, “Wait!” Only be still and wait God’s leisure…to take whatever thy Maker’s pleasure and all-discerning love hath sent.
Impatience is certainly nothing new to us, and we have become more familiar with this vice in the past year. Waiting is difficult because often the people and events for which we wait are imperfect. Events may be postponed for wise or unwise reasons. And when they do happen, sometimes they fall short of what we expect. People can be fickle and unreliable, as well. What struck me in this stanza of the hymn is that the author assures us that we can confidently wait for God because he knows everything that has happened and that is going to happen. He will act and bring about His good purposes, because He is God. He is our Maker, who directs us and our world’s events with “all-discerning love.” We know our inmost wants are known, for we are called to be God’s own. I am also reminded of these words from Psalm 27:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
The final stanza gives us practical advice for what God-pleasing activities we can do while we wait! Sing, pray, and keep God’s ways unswerving; so do thine own part faithfully, and trust God’s Word; though undeserving thou yet shalt find it true for thee. We can rest knowing that the Lord “takes care of” all the big things on His supernatural To Do list. He created the world and continues to direct its beginning, continuance, and end. He accomplished salvation for us in Jesus. He is preparing a place for us in His heavenly mansions. Here on earth, we are to worship Him (sing and pray), pursue godly living towards God and our neighbors (keep God’s ways), and trust Him and His holy word.
An historic note – the author of this text and its tune, Georg Neumark, wrote this text after a series of difficult personal trials. On his way to University, he was robbed of almost all his possessions. He then struggled with unemployment and poverty. However, the Lord looked out for him and sent friends into his life to help him find a job and livelihood. He wrote these words about this hymn:
Which good fortune coming suddenly, and as if fallen from heaven, greatly rejoiced me, and on that very day I composed to the honour of my beloved Lord the here and there well-known hymn “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten”; and had certainly cause enough to thank the Divine compassion for such unlooked for grace shown to me.
Each week Dr. Katie Moss, Organist and Director of Handbells, provides us with a short devotion and closer look at a hymn we’ll sing at the Traditions Worship at 8:45 am.
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