I sat in church this past week and sang the hymn: “Nearer my God to Thee”.
I never hear that hymn but that my thoughts do not go directly to the story of the Titanic. I think about those going down on the sinking ship hearing the notes of that song played as the events of that horrific night unfolded. I think of wives kissing their husbands goodbye; children clinging to their mothers as they climbed into life boats, and the fear that must have flooded the hearts of each passenger aboard. I think of the prayers that must have been prayed that cold night.
Nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee
Even thought it be a cross that raiseth me:
Still all my song would be nearer my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee!
I sat this past week dressed in my Sunday best – complete with heels. As we went about the normal order of service, the air conditioner cooled the hot air in the auditorium of my small church in North Carolina. As we sang I held my husband’s hand. On my right side sat my youngest daughter; as we sang she laid her head against my arm and squeezed tight as if to say, "I love you, Mom!" My sons sat down the pew from me and sang along the words of that old hymn. My second oldest daughter in the orchestra played the notes on her cello as the song director held up his hand to indicate to us to sing verse two; my oldest a few rows back sat with a friend. A normal Sunday morning for our family. I looked back down at the hymn book and started singing the second verse:
Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee!
My thoughts changed as I sang the verse. I thought not only of the peril of the people on the Titanic; but of the peril of those on the news in recent days. Never in my lifetime have I heard the word ‘beheaded’ used as much in news stories as I have heard in the last few weeks. I have watched the video clips of those burying children – some the same age as my daughter. I have heard of the persecution of the Christians in the Middle East refusing to convert to Islam – their choice costing them their very lives – or the lives of loved ones. Some sentenced to something more horrible than death: watching as their children die for the choice they have been forced to make.
I wondered as the song went on if perhaps at that very moment while I was seated in the comfort of my church surrounded by my family – if somewhere – as I sang the words of this hymn – there was a mother watching the beheading of her own child. I wondered if, as she stands fast in her faith in Christ, she has found herself able to, “Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen”. Could it be, I wondered, at the same time when I am living life as routinely and normally as I am accustomed to living and worshiping on any given Sunday, that there is a mother kneeling somewhere in hot sand, tears streaming down her face affirming in her heart: “the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal”?
Then let the way appear steps unto Heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee!
I sat there and sang and wondered if in my life time that type of persecution will come to our household. Could it be that persecution will come to America and I will find that I am that mother? I cringed at the thought. “Oh God, I want to be able to endure to the end – but I know me!” The question that has haunted me so many times in the past several weeks was asked again within my heart: “Would I be able to stand true to Christ till the end – no matter the cost?” I wish I knew with full assurance the answer to that question. I do not! What I do know is that some have had to make that very choice, and as I stand in my pew thousands of miles away from the persecution, some are enduring. There are Christians at this very time in history, perhaps at the same moment I was singing in church, who have found the power and grace to stand.
Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony grief’s, Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be, nearer, my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee!
I finished the song, and in my mind I pondered the thought of how near God must be to those who are dying for their faith in Him. His presence - their very hope to be able to endure to the end. I think of the abundant grace they must experience at the very moment when their faith costs them all they have on this earth. How strong His embrace as He welcomes them home; and declares them “good and faithful”. Indeed, the very trial of their faith must envelope them deeper into His embrace; so deep they almost feel His arms about them. I am sure that all Christians who die a martyr’s death – no matter the dialect of their tongue share the same heart beat: “Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee!”
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:24-25