Saturday, February 27, 2016

Take My Life and Let It Be -- Frances Ridley Havergal

“It’s all yours” is another way she might have said this the morning after an episode that touched her so profoundly that she was unable to sleep. It might be analogous to a patriotic zeal, upon seeing a nation’s flag (see England’s here), that motivates soldiers or citizens to sacrifice themselves. Frances Ridley Havergal was a 38-year old Englishwoman known for her steadfastness to God, but had any other time in her life affected her so? “Take My Life and Let It Be” was evidently not just pretty words for Frances, an often-ailing figure who must have leaned on Him especially because of her physical challenges. Was her commitment stronger because she suspected hers would be an abbreviated existence?  

As she lived in 1874, Frances Havergal had already suffered enough challenges for a lifetime, and yet she convinced others with her uncomplaining spirit that there was much that was praiseworthy, much that was available even in her delicate frame for His use. While she apparently had a gifted voice, it’s reported that she was often sick, and died with a serious infection at the age of just 42. Before her death she was a model for others of a consecrated character, a condition that especially her father, also a hymnist-writer and member of the Anglican clergy, nurtured in her from childhood. By her 30s, Frances had a well-known reputation for daily living as a spiritually-led individual, as her poetry indicated. ‘Take My Life…’ was reportedly written at the conclusion of a five-day visit to a house where she influenced 10 other people toward a new or stronger Christ-commitment. Had she used her musical voice as part of this witness to urge their lives upward, since it too was part of her God-given talent? If she did, Frances did not dwell on it, but rather credited Him with the inspiration to persuade these acquaintances of His concern for them. This included two girls with whom she was stirred from bed to converse. Afterwards, she was so moved by the experience that she lay awake that night with her own overflowing fervor. As light dawned, she had composed the six-verse poem to cap this experience. She must have thought, as she excitedly pondered the thrill of the events in the dark, that she would surrender anything to His use if she could just retain that moment of Divine success. It oozes from every verse she penned, ‘take this and take that of me’, use it all, God! Hers may have been a weak constitution, but if she truly felt as she wrote that night, maybe her physical infirmity was what she gladly accepted in exchange for making His purposes complete in herself.

What became of the 10 people to whom Frances talked during that week in 1874? Perhaps they sang the words Frances had crafted that one evening, remembering the things she’d said to push them closer to their Creator. Her lines cannot be voiced with casual attention. There’s too many objects of ‘take’ in the words, culminating in ‘all’. Those two words sum up Frances – she invited someone to take it all. That’s probably because she’d discovered it was worth it. He’s worth it.   

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

Also see this link, showing all six original verses, shown as three verses, and the composer’s story about the song:
More in-depth biography of composer here:
Site describing an Areley House in the United Kingdom:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

All to Jesus I Surrender -- Judson W. Van DeVenter

Mid-life career switch…that’s what was on the mind of Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter, and had been for some time as he thought through the possibilities. He eventually decided to say “I Surrender All” (alternately known as “All to Jesus I Surrender”) in 1896. Did he in effect raise the white flag, as the British did at Yorktown in 1781 (see picture), feeling the ignominy of defeat? Judson was in fact recognizing a greater power that he could not overcome, but he didn’t sound like a guy with a crushed spirit. Instead, he embraced this change without regret. He’d become aware through hints in his life, through experiential suggestions, that this transformation would tap into something that he did not even know was there before. Surrendering had turned out to be the deal of a lifetime!

Judson Van DeVenter had prepared during the first half of his life to be an artist, but then decided to let the Creator steer him into another talent for the second half of his life. He realized as a child that the Lord had blessed him artistically and musically, so upon his graduation from a Michigan college he accepted the path as an art teacher and later art supervisor in a Pennsylvania high school. As a 30-year old he went throughout Europe studying and honing his art skills. He kept his singing voice in tune also, through some formal study and participation in the church choir where he worshipped. Consequently, his involvement in that church’s evangelistic campaigns stirred his spirit, and many friends coaxed him to consider full-time ministry – to leave his first love, art. It wasn’t an easy or quick decision, but one that he mulled over for five years. He probably wondered, ‘Can’t I do both?’, but eventually discovered that his conscience was posing the issue as one of submission to a higher will. He had to listen, and decided to let Providence take control. Looking back some five years later, he wrote about this surrender decision, noting that he did it ‘freely’ (v.1), and yes ‘humbly’ (v.2), but asking to be filled too (v.4).  His surrender would eventually take him on trips all across the United States, and across the ocean to Scotland and England too, but it was during a campaign in Ohio where he reminisced and composed this ode about his mid-life change. Perhaps “I Surrender All” was also with the encouragement of George Sebring where he stayed during this stopover. By the end of his life, he’d crafted nearly three-score hymns and become a professor of hymnology in Florida. Perhaps God’s answer did in fact let him use the art sense he’d possessed since his childhood, but in a more focused way as a hymnist. Judson says it was the ‘pivot’ point in his life, learning that He had cultivated a talent deep inside for His own purposes.

What if Judson Van DeVenter had stayed on his original course as a teacher-artist? Nothing in his background says he would have stopped singing in the choir, or ended his volunteer role in the church’s evangelism efforts. Honestly, it seems as though Judson’s life was pretty well-lived in these roles –teacher, choir singer, church volunteer. Moreover, his call to change wasn’t exactly an epiphany, or he might have immediately amended his calling toward ministry. Instead, it was gradual, like the dawn of morning. No one, including the one to whom he finally surrendered, forced him, perhaps because he was already doing good works. Judson was just willing to see if greater works were on the other side of the white flag. Are you good? How about being great!     

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

See brief biography here of composer:
See brief account of song story and all five original verses here:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I Love to Tell the Story – Arabella Katherine Hankey

This Englishwoman had a mission, yet she didn’t give up its pursuit even while prostrate. One might even ask if Katherine Hankey became sick as part of God’s plan for her to say “I Love to Tell the Story” in an even greater way than she had been doing before. After all, it gave her a chance to reflect and relate in perhaps 100 verses her thoughts as she lay in a bed. The two songs derived from her poem were but a small portion of what she wrote, of how she felt about her faith’s impact. Her exhortation in the poem tells what perhaps is most important to a storyteller. It’s not about how she clung to its details, or about the quality of her voice, or the delivery and pace of her words. Kate would be gratified if we just passed along the story.  

Arabella Katherine Hankey was a 35-year-old Anglican in 1869 who’d been engaged in Christian ministry for many years, and who would continue on for several decades after composing the poem “The Old, Old Story” in the mid-19th Century. Even as a teenager of a wealthy banker in London, Katherine (known as Kate by most) began sharing the Christ story, probably as a result of an upbringing by devout believers in the Clapham suburb of the city. The believers in this sector of London were not only believers, but also those who put their faith into action. Philanthropy, teaching, social justice (they were slavery abolitionists, led by William Wilberforce) and missionary work marked this group. As such, Kate taught Sunday school classes all over London, initially in her own neighborhood. As a missionary abroad in Africa, she contracted an undefined serious illness that required a lengthy recovery over several months, apparently disabling her from her life’s purpose. The measure of her emotion at this prospect may be the length of the poem she crafted, over 50 stanzas, in which she urges the story’s recitation. Imagine her being handicapped, but with her memory and desire still intact. If she couldn’t stand or travel to find others to communicate the message, her hands would have to do the job. So, she described how this mission made her feel ‘satisified’(v.1), of its ‘wonderfully sweet’ (v. 3) nature that spoke to ‘hungering and thirsting’ people (v.4). She obviously felt intensely the absence of her normal activities, of sharing and seeing the expressions on her students’ faces. But, more than that, she must have felt if she could draw others into being storytellers, the effect of her life, even while suspended, would synergistically increase His kingdom. It’s as if she was putting in action, though personally immobilized, what the psalmist says (34:8) – just taste that, and see how good it really is! Go tell others!

Kate had the message, from start to finish, in her poem. The other parts of her poem relate how God’s plan evolved from creation through Christ, and then through His spirit’s arrival in each of us to spur the story onward. Twenty centuries after Him, we have the advantage of being in the era where we can examine His completed work. From the Garden to now, we’re part of His creation, His story of creatures made in His likeness. ‘How’s that feel?’, I ask myself. Way too much to grasp? Adam and Moses could talk to Him, but they lived before Christ consummated the deal. It’s all way more than I can fathom, honestly. But, not for Him! I just need to keep marveling at the story the way Kate must have.      

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.

See biography here of composer:
A link to the original poem the composer wrote:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Poured Out Like Wine – Anonymous

He or she is unknown, but that detail doesn’t mean we cannot understand this composer. “Poured Out Like Wine” asks a question and then provides an answer, a conversation that indicates this poet was in tune with the Lamb, the One who modeled for every believer what it is to sacrifice. The composer-poet may have also identified with another 1st Century character, one who was told he’d suffer much for Him. This apostle recorded his feelings twice in the last decade of his life that captured the attention of this anonymous composer centuries later, making one wonder if perhaps he was in a similar life situation. What’s really at stake when somebody endeavors to be a sacrifice…is it like what’s shown here in this 16th Century representation of what the Aztecs might have experienced in their rituals?

“Poured Out Like Wine” could be the poignant phrase the Paul the apostle uses at least twice in his letters to describe his dedication to the mission God had given him, a solemn undertaking that perhaps millions, including the composer, have considered. Both times the apostle was in confinement (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), a fact that underscores the sober nature of this commitment. It’s not for the timid or weak, and maybe can only be appreciated fully by someone like Paul after repeated episodes. He was likely nearing the end of life the second time he uses it, so he’d already answered ‘Yes’ to the question many times over. He must have felt at that point that he was an echo of the many centuries of sacrificers, not to mention his Savior who turned sacrifice into a passageway to renewal. So, it’s natural to wonder where the composer was along his life’s path when he jotted down these words. Was he just at the beginning, or was he somewhere along the way, perhaps trying to coax another to join the straight and narrow? His verses indicate he didn’t just launch into this life blindly, without hesitation. No, he had to be invited, persuaded (v.1). Maybe he was reminiscing the way the great apostle was, inspiring readers with his thoughts about what it was like to mimic Jesus as a suffering servant, and admiring the view of Canaan and his inheritance. Saying ‘yes’ to suffering must have a sweet taste after a life like Paul’s, to be in tune with God’s Spirit and able to acknowledge that one’s life has been well-spent, worthy of eternal dwelling with Him.    

Pour it out. Sacrifice. Focus on Jesus as the model. Coax others to do the same. Eye the light at the other end. These were all the things this nameless writer could have done as he contemplated and lived what he wrote. The song doesn’t need attribution. Its link is clear….clear back to Paul, and the One from whom he got it. Listen to Him in the first verse, and sing the second verse, if you wanna see what Paul saw.