John Merritt -Part III

John-MerrittIII:  ONE SONG — MANY STANZAS

The second song by General Albert Orsborn that became a means of grace to me following VaLeta’s promotion to Glory was “I Know Thee Who Thou Art” (Number 59 in The Salvation Army Song Book).  In the first stanza Orsborn speaks of the “healing name” of Jesus that beckons us on to the path toward wholeness.   It is there we “[S]ee the footprints on [our] road / Where lately passed the Son of God.”    This is the road along which the Man of Sorrows walked long before any of us ever set foot on it.   This is prevenient grace, with the rest of the song celebrating the ever-present grace that “Brings us at last to see / the courts of God, that city fair.”

In addition to “When Shall I Come Unto the Healing Waters” (Number 647), this song has helped me sing the “second stanza” of God’s “Forever Song” even more — but with perhaps one important difference from the way I sang the “first stanza” for so long.  Through God’s Word I have slowly begun to realize the reason why I needed some of the “second stanza” I commenced singing after VaLeta went to Glory.  It is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:  It is to understand why God has become the “God of all comfort” to me during this time and how He can become that through me to brothers and sisters in Christ who need  for Him to “[C]leanse… the wounds from all but [Him] far hidden.”

Stated succinctly, Paul begins his Second Letter to the Corinthians (1:3-7) with two key factors: First, our sufferings are really the overflow of Christ’s sufferings into our lives.  Second, the purpose of this overflow is the spillover of the Father’s comfort into the lives of fellow believers who are going through times of suffering.   Our own pain may not resemble those of fellow believers around us, but that does not matter.  God “consoles us in all our affliction (both present and long ago), so that we may be able to console  — be channels of healing to — those who are in any affliction with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (1:5).  However, we cannot adequately understand the suffering, pain, and wounds of others until we receive some insight into our own.  But with the embrace of that knowledge, the comfort we experience will spill over to those around us who need God’s healing touch.

The reality of this may account for the drastic difference in tone between the Corinthian letters.  Although that is only an interpretive “hunch,” the reality of this shared provision of wholeness will definitely change the tone of our lives within increasingly healthy congregations that are becoming “communities of the overflow and the spillover.”  I think this is the communal dimension of the affirmation and prayer General Orsborn offers in the final stanza of Song 647:

Light, life and love are in that healing fountain,
All I require to cleanse me and restore;
Flow through my soul; redeem its desert place
And make a garden there for the Lord I adore.

 

Through God’s grace, the  “flow” of that “healing fountain” is starting to trickle “through my soul.”  I am seeing the blossoms of “redemption” peek through the sand of  “desert places” as the “garden for the Lord I adore” is slowly appearing. That’s enough to keep me singing the “second stanza” of God’s “Forever Song” I began learning 14 years ago, and, through the hopeful overflow of healing comfort into others’ lives, to get at least a few to sing along with me.

But these intimations and anticipations in the “desert place” that paradoxically is the “garden of the Lord” that brought me back to the paradoxical experiences that caught my attention by   jerking me upside down and standing me on my head.  The attention that it has captured is a new perspective on the geography of God’s grace where He has chosen to teach me to sing His song in the darkness of adversity so that I can sing it forever.

From that point, I began to realize that the Forever Song had at least  “two stanzas.”  In summarily comparing them, the “first stanza” of God’s paradoxical song of grace taught me  — through Thomas Kelly’s 19th-century hymn, “When We Cannot See Our Way” — that  the darkness is light because God is there in the midst of the engulfing darkness that surrounds me.  The “second stanza” is the paradoxical nature of the song in which God has been giving me voice lessons.  It is presently teaching me that  “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17) paradoxically invites me out that darkness which Kelly affirmed is Light.  Number 378 in the Army Song Book, it was written by General John Gowans, whose final journey through the paradoxical darkness of Alzheimer’s eventually brought him only last year into that “City [where]… the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23):

Out of my darkness God called me,
Out of the depth of my night,
Out of the shadows of sorrow,
Into the life of His light.

 Out of my darkness He called me,
Out of my doubt, my despair,
Out of the wastes of my Winter,
Into the Spring of His care.

 Out of my darkness He called me
Into His sunshining day,
Out of my gloom to His glory;
What could I do but obey?

 

In the final lines of this beautiful song,  the General pulls  it all together for me… and I hope for you:

Out of YOUR darkness He calls YOU,
Out of YOUR doubt, YOUR despair,
Out of the wastes of YOUR Winter
Into the Spring of  HIS care.

 

Transitions and Our Spiritual Walk

transition-walk-thumbnailChange often incites the polar emotions of excitement and dread.  What is being changed is critical to the dominant emotion.  Is there something that will be lost?  You can be assured of that!  Is there something new and different to be gained?  You can be certain of that, too!  The term “liminality” indicates the uncomfortable ambiguity that develops when we are standing in the middle of a juncture of significant change.  Liminality is the word for transition.  It means between two worlds:  one foot in one place and one foot in a different place.  You can see both behind you and before you to some degree.

What is lost often in transition is a sense of control and identity.  This is never comfortable.  Most people like to know what is ahead and be able to predict with some sense of accuracy how the day, the week, the month, the year, and even the ‘season’ will play out.  No surprises please! Anxiety is often produced when a role that once was fixed changes to another role or to the same role in a different location,  .

Many in our Territory are undergoing changes of appointment.  Others have changing family circumstances.  Some are facing a new job.  Some changes are inner changes.  What do you need to embrace in the change as God’s work in you?  Liminal time is necessary time to adjust in the transition from one place to the next and from one season to the next.

Scripture records that God goes before His people and He is their rearguard.  Liminality occurs for a season, and in that season God is always in the process of making all things new.  During the process He invites us to participate with Him.  Sooner or later we learn that our being in control is an illusion and our identity in Christ is fixed!  Our circumstances, good or bad, do not determine our identity, our worth, our value and the only control we have in our circumstances is self-control.  We look to Him, whether our days are going well and are relatively settled or whether they are in flux.  Let’s affirm together the words of Anna Laetitia Waring:

           “In heavenly love abiding,
no change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
for nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
my heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?

            Wherever He may guide me,
no want shall turn me back;
My shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim;
He knows the way He taketh,
and I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me
which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
where the dark clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
my path to life is free;
My Savior has my treasure
and He will walk with me!”