This song comes from a beautiful poem by John Newton. It is a powerful reminder to me about God’s grace and how God works.
Like Newton in the opening lines of this poem, I often ask God to grow me in grace and faith and the fruits of his Spirit.
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
And like Newton expresses in the third stanza, in my mind this is something noble and therefore should be experienced mystically, gently and painlessly:
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.
Spiritual growth is easy, right? It should be automatic. Like sleeping, or breathing. Certainly it should be no more difficult than eating, or learning to ride a bike or drive…
But like Newton, my experience is very different from my usual presumption. Rather than working in me beneath the radar, God tends to reveal to me my sin and the effects of my weaknesses and short-comings:
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 every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
It is agonizng. Sometimes I feel as if it is more than I can bear. I wonder “Why?!” I cry out: “I don’t understand!”
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
It is somehow comforting to know a man of John Newton’s stature identified with my expeiences. He apparently shared the same angst I frequently feel. (Saint John of the Cross called such a spiritual condition a Dark Night of the Soul.) It is not so much that misery loves comapny. The comfort is found in what Newton learned:
“’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.”
This is the way God works in those whom he loves. It is the way he develops his children.
But even knowing this, it is still sometimes painful to experience these periods of refining. It feels like being purified by an emotional fire. (1 Peter 1.7) However, I am coming to grips with the the fact that this is necessary. It is not entitrely different from when a number of years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. The surgery and the chemo were painful. But through these trials the lingering cancer cells were put to death so that I can live.
This song reminds me that when I feel undone, when I am made painfully aware of my weakness and my sin, it is not for the purpose of punishment. This is the way God sanctifies those he loves. It is his way. He will not magically zap away the lingering remnants of my sin. Nor will he ignore it. But he will rid me of it. If I am his, then he will clean me out completely, that I might be whole and become holy. In the process he will cultivate humility and make me aware of my continual dependence upon him. This is his promise. This is his way. And in this is life.
So now, even knowing what I know, Lord, again I pray: “May I grow in faith, and love, and grace. May I daily see your face. …And Lord, be merciful to me!”