Old Prayers, New Meanings

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
— John Newton, 1779

I sang this song about three years ago in front of an audience for my senior recital. At that time in my life, this prayer I sang to end the program was a call to remember that a lot of times our growth happens in the desert, of which I was not experiencing at the time but had known. I think a lot of us can attest to times of pain that have birthed great changes in our hearts and our lives.

Last week in my car, this song came to mind again. It has been three long years since singing this song, and these words meant something entirely different than they had then.

As I write today, my stomach is sick. This pit in my stomach has been there for probably the past few weeks, but in the way that the Lord works, more poignant today. The Lord has been gracious in using my education at times to strengthen me, but in most times, to bring me to my knees in need of Him. Gratefully, homework today helped me to once again, remember that rightful place.

A lot of things feel as if they might be up in the air. Things seem out of my control. I don’t know what next step to take, so it feels as if I’m stuck in this place of unknowing.

Most of the people I serve on a regular basis find themselves talking to me when they too find themselves in this season. It is not irony that I tell them every single time to dig deeper into this space, because on your knees in need of Him is the best place to be. That thou may’st find thy all in me.

As I have been praying in this season of tension, in this season of figuring out what is next, what steps should I take, what should I be doing, God is saying that the question is not what but Who. I get so caught up with the what that I end up actually forgetting the Who, or making Him a side-note. In this season where my gut may feel like an absolute mess, it might be a signal that I am carrying something that I should have given to God long ago. It may too be a signal that I have put seeking these good things and decisions above seeking Him and His glory.

So today, I’m thankful for the inward trials. God knows and I do as well that much like the song, I prayed for those trials. I’m thankful for the ways that they cause me to pause and look up. I’m thankful for the ways that they keep me lowly, waiting on Him instead of manufacturing what I hope are next steps for me in an Ishmael-like birth.

I pray that the churning inside my belly can be yet another way that the Lord answers my prayer that I would simply remember Him and remember the gospel. Those are the best next steps.