Posted by: rcottrill | December 8, 2017

Learning to Lean

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Words: John Stallings (b. _____, 1938)
Music: John Stallings

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)

Note: John Stallings (born in Georgia) has been a pastor and evangelist, and a singer and song-writer, over the course of many years. During the 1970’s, when Southern Gospel Music came to prominence, with the influence of musicians such as Bill and Gloria Gaither, John Stallings wrote his most popular Christian song. It has a similar theme to Hoffman and Showalter’s Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (based on Deut. 33:27).

Consider what it means to lean–to tilt, slant or bend. Often it implies a need to lean on something, for support of some kind.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Italy, is the free-standing bell tower of a nearby church. Completed over six centuries ago, it was built on marshy ground, and began to tilt almost immediately. As the angle of incline continued to grow, it was feared the tower would collapse. But engineers have used counterweights, bracing, and improvements to the foundation to stabilize it. The tower now seems safe from falling any time soon.

People can lean too, a little bit, and straighten up again without a problem. But when weakness or injury brings the danger of falling, various aids are used to provide support. Perhaps the injured limb is strengthened with a bandage or a cast, or the individual leans on a cane, crutches, or some kind of walker, to give more confidence in getting around.

Spiritually, this has an application to our faith in God. To lean on the Lord is to trust in Him, to depend and rely on Him. God’s Word says:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him [as Lord], and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).

In the affairs of life, there are definitely things we should not lean on, as the passage indicates. That’s not to suggest, of course, that we shouldn’t use the brains God has given us, and apply our experience and training to a given situation. But we should beware of making that the bottom line, of making no attempt to factor in God’s Word and will. We might end up building a tower on marshy ground!

As the Lord Jesus put it in a parable:

“Everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27).

“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

When life’s puzzles confuse and confound us, we need to lean on the Lord and His certain Word. Missionary to China Hudson Taylor once said, “Trust in the Lord is not heavy baggage, and it never fails.”

John Stallings had been the pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, for a time. Author Lindsay Terry, in his 1990 book, Stories Behind Popular Songs and Hymns, says it was then multiple trials descended on his life. One of his daughters took sick and nearly died, another daughter was seriously injured in a car accident. Also, Pastor Stallings felt it was time to leave his ministry in Montgomery. He moved to Florida, when he began to construct a new home.

In Terry’s words, “Things weren’t going well.” But Stallings determined to trust in the Lord. One day he was sitting in the place where he lived in those days, and the words and music of a simple little chorus came to him.

Learning to lean, learning to lean,
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.
Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.

John Stallings had no idea what an impact that chorus would have. He shared it in various places where he was booked to preach, and soon it was being sung everywhere. Many were blessed by the reminder to trust in the Lord. Mr. Terry even reports a time when the Lord used the chorus to pull her back from suicide.

A few months later, Stallings wrote a couple of stanzas to go with it, making it a full song. It’s been published in Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (Singspiration, 1979), and Favorites Number 9 (Singspiration, 1981).

The song–especially the chorus–remains a favourite, and has encouraged many of us to lean on the Lord in difficult times. It’s something we all need to be doing–learning to lean trustingly on Him.

1) What is an experience you’ve had recently when leaning on the Lord became a reality?

2) How do we “learn to lean”?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)


  1. This amazing song was sung at our son’s baby dedication just a couple of days before he had major surgery. He was born with cranostenosis and without surgery would have had a odd shaped head because the bones at the top of his head had fused and needed to be separated. Back then it was a pretty risky surgery but due to micro surgery and a competent Surgeon who had just moved into Edmonton where we lived at the time. We Trusted God to lead and guide in our decision to go forward with surgery. An older neuro surgeon had told us that he could die on the operating table. My husband asked a very important question of the neurosurgeon. “IF IT WERE YOUR SON WOULD YOU OPERATE?” When the surgeon said “Yes” my husband was quick to make a decision. I needed time to pray about it but the next morning I made the decision along with my husband to go forward with surgery. The thought came to me. IF HE DID NOT HAVE SURGERY AND LATER IN LIFE WHEN HIS HEAD WAS AN ODD SHAPE WOULD HE BLAME ME.
    I always think of this song as Shawn’s song. This song helped our family through a most difficult time in our life. Often it comes to mind when faced with challenging times.
    The surgery was successful and my son is now 38 years old.
    4 years after our son was born we had a baby who was also born with complications. Janelle was the second baby in the world with her diagnosis. She lived exactly 6 months and once again this song reminded us to trust God to give us the the power needed to get through tough times. The song I learned just before she was born was IN HIS TIME. I always think if that as Janelle’s song.

    • What an amazing story, and a wonderful example of what it means to lean on the Lord in difficult times. I don’t know if your church uses the Power for Living adult Sunday School paper, put out by David C. Cook/Scripture Press, but I’m pretty sure they’d be interested in using your account. Worth a try, as it could encourage many others.

      Also, a personal note, our pastor plans to preach a message on faith this coming Sunday. I’ve chosen a number of good hymns on the subject, and also decided to put together what I’m calling “A Faith Medley” of old choruses that most of our folks know. One after another we’ll sing, Got Any Rivers You Think Are Uncrossable?; My Lord Knows the Way Through the Wilderness; I Just Keep Trusting My Lord; and Learning to Lean.

      May the Lord continue to bless you and your family. Thank you so much for sharing.


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