Posted by: rcottrill | May 12, 2017

Jesus, Tender Shepherd

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Words: Mary Lundie Duncan (b. Apr. 26, 1814; d. Jan. 5, 1840)
Music: Evening Prayer (or Stainer), by John Stainer (b. June 6, 1840; d. Mar. 31, 1901)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Stainer)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Mary Lundie was the daughter of a Scottish pastor, and the sister-in-law of pastor and distinguished hymn writer Horatius Bonar. She married William Duncan, yet another pastor in Scotland. Mary wrote a number of hymns to teach her own little family the things of God. Though she died at the age of twenty-six, she’s left us this wonderful prayer hymn for children.

Respectfully yours, were the words she used to end her prayer. A little unusual, but hearing children pray can be amusing sometimes. Listening in can also be both a humbling and inspiring experience. Children are so sincere about it, so direct and honest, so trusting. It sometimes puts us to shame. No wonder the Lord Jesus cites the example of “little children” when it comes to the humble faith in God we each should have (Matt. 18:1-4).

How sad when children are not taught, early on, to go to God in prayer, how sad when they are not told of a loving Saviour who wants them to know Him, and wants to give them life eternal. Lucy Maud Montgomery portrays this lack in the life of Anne Shirley, her beloved orphan, in her novel Anne of Green Gables. (It’s a scene that is also found in Kevin Sullivan’s great 1985 miniseries of the same name.)

“You’re old enough to pray for yourself, Anne,” says Marilla at bedtime, to Anne, newly arrived from the orphanage. “Just thank God for your blessings, and ask Him humbly for the things you want.”

“Well, I’ll do my best,” promises Anne.

She proceeds to list several good things she’d experienced that day, and concludes, “That’s all the blessings I can think of just now to thank Thee for. As for the things I want, they’re so numerous that it would take a great deal of time to name them all, so I will only mention the two most important. Please let me stay at Green Gables; and please let me be good-looking when I grow up. I remain, Yours respectfully, Anne Shirley.”

That conclusion perhaps makes us smile. It sounds like something someone might put at the end of a written order to a catalogue store. But it’s a start. Sincere, and to the point. A greater maturity and spiritual depth can come later, with more teaching on the subject. The important thing is to get started.

A couple of points before we consider the content of a child’s prayers as it’s illustrated in our hymn.

First, the Lord Jesus, during the days of His earthly ministry, welcomed little children. He was disturbed when the disciples tried to turn them away. Instead, “He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mk. 10:16). Now, in heaven, He welcomes them still, in the place of prayer.

Second, each child, growing up, needs good spiritual examples to follow, and clear Bible teaching in the home. The local church has a part in this too, but it can never replace the home. Timothy had that, as a child. Though his father was perhaps not a Christian–or not yet a Christian–his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois certainly were godly women of faith (II Tim. 1:5). They were the reason Paul could say of Timothy, “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures” (II Tim. 3:15).

To return to the subject of prayer in particular, we consider the present hymn. I believe the words could be memorized by quite a young child, giving him or her a basic understanding of many things to include in a prayer. (It might also be taught in Sunday School, or Children’s Church for the same purpose.)

Line after line adds important truth, and can lead to further discussion and teaching by a loving parent. The reference to death in stanza three is especially poignant. In Mary Duncan’s day, the rate of infant mortality was high, and children had to face the possibility early on. Here’s her exquisite hymn in its entirety.

CH-1) Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me;
Bless Thy little lamb tonight;
Through the darkness be Thou near me;
Watch my sleep till morning light.

CH-2) All this day Thy hand has led me,
And I thank Thee for Thy care;
Thou hast clothed me, warmed and fed me,
Listen to my evening prayer.

CH-3) Let my sins be all forgiven;
Bless the friends I love so well;
Take me, when I die, to heaven,
Happy there with Thee to dwell.

Questions:
1) Make a list of what is included in this prayer. Is there anything you would add, in teaching it? (If you have poetic skills, maybe you could write another stanza to include these things.)

2) Have you recently had the opportunity (and privilege) to listen to a child praying? How did the experience affect you?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Stainer)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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