VIDEO More sweet the sound

October 27, 2013

JUDY Collins had a huge hit with a secularised version of Amazing Grace in the 1970s.

Rock journalist Steve Turner tells the story of how this happened in his book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song.

Collins was part of an encounter group in New York when rage was getting out of hand.

To calm the group’s members, she began to sing the song she knew from her Methodist childhood. Amazing Grace had its desired effect, and her producer, who was part of the group, urged her to include it on her next album. A single version topped the charts in Britain and the US.

Strangely, Collins told Turner that she didn’t understand why anyone would think of Amazing Grace as a religious song.

And singer Arlo Guthrie thought it was a song about self help.

Newton would not have agreed.

JAMES Newton, as Turner points out, meant the exact opposite; that he had reached the end of his tether, that he tried every means of reforming his own life.

It was only then that he realized God’s great gift — grace.

That’s the message that sets Christianity apart. You cannot save your soul through good works, education or social standing. Only through admitting that we can achieve little without heavenly help.

C.S. Lewis said grace was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. He said grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. That’s what is so amazing about grace.

Sociologist and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said all men with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace.


We brought nothing into the world, so we can take nothing out. But, if we have food and clothes, we will be satisfied with that. 1 TIMOTHY 6:7–8

Satisfied? That is one thing we are not. We are not satisfied … We take a vacation of a lifetime … We satiate ourselves with sun, fun, and good food. But we are not even on the way home before we dread the end of the trip and begin planning another.

We are not satisfied.

As a child we say, “If only I were a teenager.” As a teen we say, “If only I were an adult,” As an adult, “If only I were married.” As a spouse, “If only I had kids” …

We are not satisfied. Contentment is a difficult virtue. Why?

Because there is nothing on earth that can satisfy our deepest longing. We long to see God. The leaves of life are rustling with the rumor that we will—and we won’t be satisfied until we do.


The One Prayer Jesus Always Answers

Talking to God doesn’t require a degree in theology. All you need are three little words.
by Robert Gelinas

“Lord, have mercy.”

It was the sentence uttered to Jesus more than any other. Some shouted it to Him from afar. Others cried out up close. Some whispered the request while kneeling in humble respect, hoping Jesus would come to them. Others frantically gave chase. Men and women; fathers and mothers; the outcast, desperate, and disabled all called out to the Savior—for both themselves and their loved ones—“Lord, have mercy.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Bible tells us that God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4-5) and delights in bestowing it (Mic. 7:18 NIV). In fact, mercy—which is available to all of us precisely because of the Lord’s character—is less about admitting who we are than about proclaiming who He is.

Author A. W. Tozer explains: “Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but His mercy might well remain hidden in His heart, unknown to the created universe. No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy.”

And so in the midst of our pain and our tears, in the depths of those wounded and shameful places, we encounter the God of the universe. To come before His throne in vulnerable acknowledgment of our own brokenness is to know His character more deeply. It is because of our sin that we truly understand our need for a merciful Lord: as our eyes are opened to the depths of our dependence, we begin to recognize the truth of God’s infinite goodness. So when we say those three little words, “Lord, have mercy,” and receive what we’ve asked for, divine glory is made known—to both an individual heart and all of creation.

Mercy on display from cover to cover

I often hear the false dichotomy that the “Old Testament God” is only a God of wrath. This simply isn’t true. Mercy is not something reserved for the latter part of the Bible. The Old Testament shows us divine compassion time and again. Moses, for example, told the people, “The Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you” (Deut. 4:31 NIV).

The priests reminded them of His forgiveness when they sang, “In your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Neh. 9:31 NIV). And David, who made such requests more than anyone else in the Bible, said, “Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old” (Ps. 25:6 NIV).

In the first 39 books of the Bible, the most-used term for God’s mercy is the Hebrew hesed. However, God’s hesed is so multifaceted that it takes more than one English word to describe it. That’s why in addition to being translated “merciful,” it also gets rendered as “compassionate,” “gracious,” “slow to anger,” “goodness,” “steadfast love,” “unfailing love,” “generous love,” and “loving-kindness,” depending on the context. A close reading of the text helps us see that God is never far off. He’s always a simple prayer away.

Prayer takes practice

I’m convinced we always have time to pray the mercy prayer. And when we devote ourselves to building it into our lives, we will revitalize our relationship with God and revamp our prayers on behalf of others. Learning to develop this prayer habit will keep us “in view of God’s mercy,” where true transformation takes place (Rom. 12:1 NIV).

I practice the mercy prayer while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for a traffic light to turn green. But any time is appropriate to ask for and receive mercy. For example, you can approach God as you sit in a doctor’s office or prepare a family meal. When you find yourself complaining about what you lack instead of expressing gratitude for all you have, pray. When you’re angry, lost, or alone, plead for mercy with these three simple words. Make the request when your impatience gets the better of you or you realize envy lives in your heart. And at night before drifting off to sleep, pray for it with each beat of your heart, so that the first prayer on your mind when you wake is, “Lord have mercy on me . . . on us.”

I know it sounds excessive to pray for mercy so often. After all, no one wants to admit to being a “repeat offender,” but that’s exactly what we are. Unfortunately, it’s not a question of if we will return to sinful, prideful, and unloving ways, but when. And each time we do, we can run to God because He isn’t just the God of the second chance; He’s the God of another chance. We will never be forsaken; we will always be answered—that’s why we can be bold in our pursuit of mercy and pray with confidence (Heb. 13:5; Ps. 91:15).

But this prayer, like all other forms, takes practice. It also requires a shift in our thinking. We shouldn’t ask, “How much did I pray today?” but rather, “Did I ever stop praying today?” Focusing on “How long will this take?” misses the point of unceasing prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). Instead, steer away from thinking in terms of bare minimum, and pursue what is truly possible: unending, unbroken communion with the Lord.

Practiced prayer—that commitment to day in, day out communication with God—can become as second nature as breathing. And it will lead to a rich and renewed gratitude for mercy. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we can derive great hope from our guilt, our sin, our brokenness, our misery. In admitting the need for the Lord’s kindness, we are driven to practice the mercy prayer, which will renew and profoundly transform us.

Looking for answers

A request for mercy is the one prayer the Lord always answers, because it is in His nature to do so. Whether it was blind men by a roadside, lepers who had been cast away by society, or a Canaanite woman with a suffering daughter, Jesus never turned down a single request. There is even one instance where demons named Legion uttered their own version of the prayer, and, astonishingly enough, Jesus granted clemency by sending them into a herd of pigs rather than straight to the abyss (Luke 8:28-32).

If Jesus will say yes to an unclean spirit’s request for mercy, then what’s stopping us from asking? Let us all make our requests and recognize that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Ps. 103:8). As the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Ps. 4:16 NIV), because the truth is . . .

We all sin.

We all suffer.

We all suffer because of sin.

We all sin to alleviate our suffering.

Lord, have mercy!

Robert Gelinas is the author of The Mercy Prayer: The One Prayer Jesus Always Answers.

Knowing Him

“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

John uses two words for “know” in this short letter, both of which are used in the final instruction to his readers. The Greek word ginosko is used 25 times throughout this epistle, stressing knowledge that is gained through personal experience. The other word, ei’do (or oi’da), is used an additional 17 times, emphasizing mental understanding and comprehension.

The Intellectual Confidence

We “know [ei’do] that he was manifested to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5). We “know that we have passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14). We “know that [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). We “know that we are of God” (1 John 5:19). We “know that the Son of God is come” (1 John 5:20). All of this “head knowledge” is, of course, straight from the Word of God. These are the basics of our belief in the work of Christ.

The Personal Experience

We “know [ginosko] that we know [ginosko] him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). “There [are] many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2).

Thus, our intellectual “knowledge” of God’s Word is “experienced” as we “work out [our] own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). Being “born again” is just the beginning. We should “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). HMM III

All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me

“All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7.)

They are HIS billows, whether they go o’er us,
Hiding His face in smothering spray and foam;
Or smooth and sparkling, spread a path before us,
And to our haven bear us safely home.

They are HIS billows, whether for our succor
He walks across them, stilling all our fear;
Or to our cry there comes no aid nor answer,
And in the lonely silence none is near.

They are HIS billows, whether we are toiling
Through tempest-driven waves that never cease,
While deep to deep with clamor loud is calling;
Or at His word they hush themselves in peace.

They are HIS billows, whether He divides them,
Making us walk dryshod where seas had flowed;
Or lets tumultuous breakers surge about us,
Rushing unchecked across our only road.

They are HIS billows, and He brings us through them;
So He has promised, so His love will do.
Keeping and leading, guiding and upholding,
To His sure harbor, He will bring us through.
—Annie Johnson Flint.

Stand up in the place where the dear Lord has put you, and there do your best. God gives us trial tests. He puts life before us as an antagonist face to face. Out of the buffeting of a serious conflict we are expected to grow strong. The tree that grows where tempests toss its boughs and bend its trunk often almost to breaking, is often more firmly rooted than the tree which grows in the sequestered valley where no storm ever brings stress or strain. The same is true of life. The grandest character is grown in hardship.—Selected.

We are all as an unclean thing

“We are all as an unclean thing.” Isaiah 64:6

The believer is a new creature, he belongs to a holy generation and a peculiar people—the Spirit of God is in him, and in all respects he is far removed from the natural man; but for all that the Christian is a sinner still. He is so from the imperfection of his nature, and will continue so to the end of his earthly life. The black fingers of sin leave smuts upon our fairest robes. Sin mars our repentance, ere the great Potter has finished it, upon the wheel. Selfishness defiles our tears, and unbelief tampers with our faith. The best thing we ever did apart from the merit of Jesus only swelled the number of our sins; for when we have been most pure in our own sight, yet, like the heavens, we are not pure in God’s sight; and as He charged His angels with folly, much more must He charge us with it, even in our most angelic frames of mind.

The song which thrills to heaven, and seeks to emulate seraphic strains, hath human discords in it. The prayer which moves the arm of God is still a bruised and battered prayer, and only moves that arm because the sinless One, the great Mediator, has stepped in to take away the sin of our supplication. The most golden faith or the purest degree of sanctification to which a Christian ever attained on earth, has still so much alloy in it as to be only worthy of the flames, in itself considered. Every night we look in the glass we see a sinner, and had need confess, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”

Oh, how precious the blood of Christ to such hearts as ours! How priceless a gift is His perfect righteousness! And how bright the hope of perfect holiness hereafter! Even now, though sin dwells in us, its power is broken. It has no dominion; it is a broken-backed snake; we are in bitter conflict with it, but it is with a vanquished foe that we have to deal. Yet a little while and we shall enter victoriously into the city where nothing defileth.

It is a faithful saying

“It is a faithful saying.” 2 Timothy 2:11

Paul has four of these “faithful sayings.” The first occurs in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The next is in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.” The third is in 2 Timothy 2:12, “It is a faithful saying—If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him”; and the fourth is in Titus 3:3, “This is a faithful saying, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.”

We may trace a connection between these faithful sayings. The first one lays the foundation of our eternal salvation in the free grace of God, as shown to us in the mission of the great Redeemer. The next affirms the double blessedness which we obtain through this salvation—the blessings of the upper and nether springs—of time and of eternity. The third shows one of the duties to which the chosen people are called; we are ordained to suffer for Christ with the promise that “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” The last sets forth the active form of Christian service, bidding us diligently to maintain good works.

Thus we have the root of salvation in free grace; next, the privileges of that salvation in the life which now is, and in that which is to come; and we have also the two great branches of suffering with Christ and serving with Christ, loaded with the fruits of the Spirit. Treasure up these faithful sayings. Let them be the guides of our life, our comfort, and our instruction. The apostle of the Gentiles proved them to be faithful, they are faithful still, not one word shall fall to the ground; they are worthy of all acceptation, let us accept them now, and prove their faithfulness. Let these four faithful sayings be written on the four corners of My house.