Hymn of the week

Once again, a long delay in posts – mostly caused by the busyness of life settling into a new place, and the wakefulness at night caused by teething!  This hymn is a wonderful prayer by Timothy Dudley-Smith. O that I might indeed be truly “hungry for your blessing”…

Above the voices of the world around me,
my hopes and dreams, my cares and loves and fears,
the long-awaited call of Christ has found me,
the voice of Jesus echoes in my ears:
`I gave my life to break the cords that bind you,
I rose from death to set your spirit free;
turn from your sins and put the past behind you,
take up your cross and come and follow me.’

What can I offer him who calls me to him?
Only the wastes of sin and self and shame;
a mind confused, a heart that never knew him,
a tongue unskilled at naming Jesus’ Name.
Yet at your call, and hungry for your blessing,
drawn by that cross which moves a heart of stone,
now Lord I come, my tale of sin confessing,
and in repentance turn to you alone.

Lord, I believe; help now my unbelieving;
I come in faith because your promise stands.
Your word of pardon and of peace receiving,
all that I am I place within your hands.
Let me become what you shall choose to make me,
freed from the guilt and burden of my sins.
Jesus is mine, who never shall forsake me,
and in his love my new-born life begins.



Jonah and the big fish

This post began from my frustration at one of our favourite children’s bible’s handling of the book of Jonah. Usually it is very good, and specifically sets out in the introduction to make clear that the Bible is not a book about heroes, but one which points to The Hero.  This makes the way Jonah is done even more surprising. I have two main problems with its approach by comparison with the text:

1. The portrayal of the message Jonah was told to preach:
This comes across in a couple of places:
Chapter 1:
Children’s Bible “Go to Nineveh,” God said, and tell your worst enemies that I love them”
TNIV “Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Chapter 3:
Children’s Bible: He went straight to Nineveh and told them God’s wonderful message. “Even though you’ve run far from God, he can’t stop loving you,” Jonah told them. “Run to him! So he can forgive you”

TNIV: “Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Here it doesn’t look like Jonah is told to say anything about God’s love.  Rather he is a faithful herald of a message of judgement. A message he wants to see enacted.

Usually I enjoy this Children’s Bible. But here I feel it has rather overdone the explanation. I think children, like adults, need to know that God’s message is sometimes one of judgement.  The reason Jonah is so opposed to going to Nineveh is that he knows that God does forgive when people repent on hearing a message of judgement (see Jeremiah 18).

2. The portrayal of Jonah
Essentially the problem is that the entirety of the 4th chapter is missing.  The children’s bible closes with Jonah’s obedience and the Ninevites repentance. This is the heart of the problem. In chapter 4 the repentance of Jonah in chapter 2 is seen to decidedly limited.  Jonah may be able to quote Psalms impressively, but his understanding of God’s heart is flawed.  At the culmination of the book of Jonah we are left with Jonah sulking in the desert, addressed by God, invited by God to join him at the celebration, but still, like the elder brother outside. Will he come round?

We simply do not know, but this (otherwise very good) children’s bible falls short and goes for the neat and tidy ending.  I have two main concerns about this sort of tidying up.

My first worry is that this sort of “adjustment” leads to a gap when the child graduates to an adult bible, and a sense that adults have censored and tidied up the Word of God.

My second worry is that it reflects a more general issue of not being willing to let stories end, or contain within them, elements or reasons that we cannot know. Very often biblical stories contain such elements, and rather than filling them, it might be better to pause to ask questions about what the reader thinks of the story so that they will engage and wrestle with the issues they raise, perhaps continuing to do so as they grow up.

In Jonah’s case we wonder at the nature of the Ninevites repentance – especially as there seems no suggestion anywhere else in scripture that it lasted for any significant period. We wonder at what Jonah comes to believe about God. Does he come to acknowledge and love the compassion and mercy of God, or does he continue in a sulk? What would we do? Where are we sometimes like Jonah? Do we really believe God is that compassionate and that gracious to forgive, longing for even the smallest sign of repentance.

I wondered what a children’s story of Nineveh might look like that didn’t try and expand on the bible text and here is my attempt:

GOD spoke to Jonah. He said:
“Get up! Go to the huge city of Nineveh
and tell them what I think of their actions”

Jonah got up. But he decided to run away from GOD.
He went down to the sea,
He went down on to a boat headed away from Nineveh.

Then GOD threw a huge storm on the sea
Everyone on the boat was very afraid
They threw all their belongings off the boat to try and stop it sinking.

But Jonah went down to the bottom of the boat to sleep.
The other people on the boat told him to get up and pray.
But Jonah knew that it was his fault

He said: “Throw me into the sea – this huge storm is against me”
They didn’t want to, but the storm carried on.
So they threw Jonah into the sea and it was still.

Then GOD sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah whole
Jonah was in the fish for 3 days and 3 nights
While he was in the fish he thanked GOD.

Then GOD made the fish spit Jonah out on to land
GOD spoke a second time to Jonah
“Get up! Go to the huge city of Nineveh and speak what I tell you”

This time Jonah got up and went to Nineveh – just as GOD told him
It was a huge city, but Jonah went in and spoke to the city:
“40 more days until the city is destroyed”

The people of the city all believed GOD
The King and everyone in the city turned from the bad things they had done
They hoped that GOD might change his mind and not destroy them.

And GOD did change his mind about destroying them
He saw that they had turned from their evil
And he let them live.

But Jonah was angry about this – he thought it was a huge mistake
He complained to GOD because GOD had decided not to punish Nineveh
He went off in a sulk and he wanted to die.

So Jonah went out from the city to watch in the hot sun.
GOD sent a plant to be a shade for Jonah and save him from the heat
Jonah was very pleased about this – it was cool under the plant.

But then God took the plant away.
Jonah was upset because the sun was very hot and he was ill.
He was extremely angry and wanted to die.

GOD said “Are you so upset about a little plant,
If you are upset about a small plant
Think how I feel about a huge city like Nineveh!”

If only I could draw I’d illustrate each group of lines too!  I would like to see more children’s bible stories that just give the story (which, as in my example doesn’t have to be all the text, but instead a simplified version) rather than the story plus lots of extra details.  They could provide explanatory notes to help parents fill in any background details needed (e.g. one on Jonah could explain how Nineveh and Israel related).  Anyone know of any children’s bible stories that do this well?




Hymn of the week – reflecting on sleep

If Jesus is truly Lord of all of life, surely we’d expect to find prayers and hymns that reflect on all of life. So today I bring you a hymn about sleep.  We sometimes used to sing this to close church prayer meetings at one church I attended – and it seemed to me to be a good prayer to close the day with.  I think an extra verse could be added for parents of young children requesting that they might sleep soundly also!

1. Glory, to thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light,
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Under thine own Almighty wings.

2. Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son,
Whatever ills this day I’ve done;
That with the world, myself and thee,
I e’er (before) I sleep, at peace may be.

3. Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Triumphing rise at the last day.

4. O may my soul on thee repose,
And may sweet sleep mine eye-lids close;
Sleep that shall me more vigorous make,
To serve my God when I awake.

5. Let my blest Guardian, while I sleep,
Close to my bed his vigils keep;
Let no vain dreams disturb my rest,
Nor powers of darkness me molest.

6. Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
(Thomas Ken)

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Hymn of the week in the midst of boxes…

We are in the midst of settling into a new home right now, and I’m sure there will be more to come on that once we have sorted out the boxes of books more fully.  We have moved home once more, but this hymn reminds us that we are not finally at home.

It is an unusual hymn, written by Anne Cousins in the 19th century in memorial of the ministry of Samuel Rutherford in the 17th century. Rutherford ministered in the Scottish village of Anwoth on the Solway Firth, and the hymn is apparently inspired by quotes from his letters.

The sung version in most hymn books is 5 or 6 verses of this hymn, and there are actually 19 – I’ve edited it down a little. The hymns focus on Jesus reminded me of one of the less often quoted parts of the end of the Last Battle:

“The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.”

So without further ado to the hymn itself.

  1. The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks;
    The summer morn I’ve sighed for—the fair, sweet morn awakes:
    Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
    And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  2. Christ, He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
    The streams of earth I’ve tasted more deep I’ll drink above:
    There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
    And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  3. The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen:
    It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between:
    The Lamb with His fair army, doth on Mount Zion stand,
    And glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  4. Oft in yon sea beat prison My Lord and I held tryst,
    For Anwoth was not heaven, and preaching was not Christ:
    And aye, my murkiest storm cloud was by a rainbow spanned,
    Caught from the glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.
  5. But that He built a Heaven of His surpassing love,
    A little new Jerusalem, like to the one above,
    “Lord take me over the water” hath been my loud demand,
    Take me to my love’s own country, unto Immanuel’s land.
  6. But flowers need nights cool darkness, the moonlight and the dew;
    So Christ, from one who loved it, His shining oft withdrew:
    And then, for cause of absence my troubled soul I scanned
    But glory shadeless shineth in Immanuel’s land.
  7. Fair Anwoth by the Solway, to me thou still art dear,
    Even from the verge of heaven, I drop for thee a tear.
    Oh! If one soul from Anwoth meet me at God’s right hand,
    My heaven will be two heavens, In Immanuel’s land.
  8. I’ve wrestled on towards Heaven, against storm and wind and tide,
    Now, like a weary traveler that leaneth on his guide,
    Amid the shades of evening, while sinks life’s lingering sand,
    I hail the glory dawning from Immanuel’s land.
  9. With mercy and with judgment my web of time He wove,
    And aye, the dews of sorrow were lustered with His love;
    I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned
    When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  10. Soon shall the cup of glory wash down earth’s bitterest woes,
    Soon shall the desert briar break into Eden’s rose;
    The curse shall change to blessing the name on earth that’s banned
    Be graven on the white stone in Immanuel’s land.
  11. I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved’s mine!
    He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”
    I stand upon His merit—I know no other stand,
    Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  12. I shall sleep sound in Jesus, filled with His likeness rise,
    To love and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes:
    ’Tween me and resurrection but Paradise doth stand;
    Then—then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.
  13. The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
    I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
    Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
    The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Anne R Cousin, inspired by Samuel Rutherford.