Posted by: rcottrill | August 4, 2017

Father, I Know That All My Life

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Words: Anna Laetitia Waring (b. Apr. 19, 1823; d. May 10, 1910)
Music: Brother James’ Air, by James Leith Macbeth Bain (b. Nov. 21, 1860; d. _____, 1925)

Wordwise Hymns (Anna Waring)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Anna Laetitia Waring was born into a Quaker family in Wales, but at the age of nineteen she joined the Anglican church. We know only a little about her. She apparently led a quiet, godly life, and was active in charitable work, especially with the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society. Having mastered Hebrew as a young girl, she delighted in reading daily from Psalms in their original language. Miss Waring also wrote hymns. The most familiar today is In Heavenly Love Abiding, a meditation on Psalm 23.

There are some oddities with the metre of the present hymn, and with the text adjusted to it, as it appears in the Cyber Hymnal. The metre is ostensibly, but that is not what the text has there. For example, line 3 of stanza 6 reads, “I would have my spirit filled the more” (9 beats), when it should be 8–“I’d have my spirit filled the more.”

I found earlier versions of the hymn better fitted to that metre, and a tune that suits it. To Brother James’ Air, by Scotsman James Bain, I sang The Lord’s My Shepherd, in a male choir, many years ago. The text I’ve given of the present hymn fits that melody well. (You can listen to the tune here, and print a copy of the music.)

We live in a world that often promotes bigness as equaling “betterness” (to coin a word), and as something to be preferred. Littleness, by this measure, is inferior or insignificant.

It comes up in the food we eat. We can get the super large drink, or order a hamburger piled so high it defies any attempt to get it in our mouths. Bigness is touted in sports, too. Heavier football players, taller basketball players. And people crave bigger houses–often beyond their needs or their means. Then there’s bigness in the military: bigger ships, bigger guns, bigger rockets. And there’s bigger entertainment: bigger shows, bigger movies and bigger stars.

But bigness doesn’t necessarily insure quality or effectiveness. Nor is it always to be preferred. Do you prefer a big debt, or a small debt? A big, crippling, life-shortening disease, or a small bruise? And small things can do wonders. When my wife had cataract surgery, we saw one of the tiny lenses they insert in the eye. So small! But what a big difference those lenses have made!

In the Scriptures, the Lord warns many times about not having an inflated idea of ourselves.

“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 26:12).

“I say…to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had a problem with this. They prided themselves in their religiosity, but it was often a hollow and hypocritical sham. While they made a big show of charitable giving, or praying in public (Matt. 6:2, 5), they were ready to “devour widows houses” without scruple (Matt. 23:14). Their religion was only skin deep; they had no personal heart relationship with God. The Lord compared them to “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27).

How much better to realize our own smallness before God. The Bible says, “He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14)–and dust is pretty helpless stuff. As Christ put it, “Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). But the great blessing of our smallness and weakness before God is that our lives reveal His power, to His greater glory (II Cor. 12:9). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6).

Anna Waring’s song expresses her humility, and a willingness to fill a small and unheralded place of service, in the will of God. Note the insightful fifth line in stanza 2, “A heart at leisure from itself”–which I take to mean not dwelling on Me, and my accomplishments.

1) Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind
Intent on pleasing Thee.

2) I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And wipe the weeping eyes;
A heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize.”

3) I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.

5) I ask Thee for the daily strength,
To none who ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at Thy side;
Content to fill a little space,
If Thou be glorified.

1) What gifts do you have that the Lord has given? And how are you using them?

2) What does the author mean by saying, “I would be treated as a child”?

Wordwise Hymns (Anna Waring)
The Cyber Hymnal


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