Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Like a River Glorious

Season:  Be Still

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds us how the disciples of Jesus felt when they entered a storm.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “Jesus, don’t You care? We’re all going to die!” Do you ever feel that way? Maybe that’s the storm you’re in right now, and you’re feeling terrified. Well, it’s in the storms that most of us lose whatever little bit of peace we thought we had when things were going well.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, January 7.

Nancy: Yesterday we began what, for us, is a really unusual series. Usually I’m teaching from a particular Scripture text or a book from the Bible. This week and a little bit into next week we’re looking into some of the lyrics of some great hymns that have been a part of my own spiritual upbringing and journey.

As I shared yesterday, several months ago I had the joy of recording some of these hymns, piano arrangements of these hymns, on a CD that we’re now making available through the ministry. It's called Be Still.

If you missed yesterday’s program, we talked about the title hymn, “Be Still, My Soul.” In so many of life’s circumstances, we need to know that He is God and to just let our hearts rest in that knowledge.

This CD includes ten classic hymns and gospel songs that I grew up with. They’re familiar to me because we grew up singing these, but they’re mostly ones we don’t sing a lot in our churches today. So they’re unfamiliar to a lot of people, and that’s why I thought we would take several of them and talk through them, because their lyrics are so grounded in the Scripture, and they take us back to great themes of our faith.

One of the things I love about great hymns is that they anchor our hearts in what is true even when our emotions are telling us just the opposite. When we’re in the midst of great storms, we can go back to the Scripture and to many of these hymns that point us to the Scripture, and we have an anchor for our souls.

I also love how these hymns, many of them, can connect us to believers of other eras who shared our love for Christ and for the gospel. Today and tomorrow I want to introduce you to one of those believers. Her name was Frances Ridley Havergal. You have perhaps heard her name, and we’re going to look today and tomorrow at two hymns she wrote.

Frances was a British poet and a hymn writer of the mid-nineteenth century, the mid-1800s. She was actually a contemporary of the blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. The two women knew of each other, and they respected each other’s work, but they never had the chance to meet personally.

Well, Frances Havergal was born into a Christian home. Her father was a pastor. She was the youngest of six children, and she had an amazing intellect. She learned to read­ by the age three. She be­gan writ­ing poetry at the age of se­ven, and she had a natural ability with languages. She became fluent, believe it or not, in French, German, La­tin, Greek, and He­brew, and I understand she had a passing knowledge of, I forget what the other language was as well.

When Frances was eleven, her mother died, and Frances was sent to boarding school. It was there at the age fourteen that she came to a personal faith in Jesus.

She loved the Scripture. By the time she was twenty-two, Frances could recite all of the Gospels, the Epistles, the book of Revelation, the book of Psalms and the book of Isaiah by heart. Later in life she also memorized all of the minor prophets.

She was also very musically talented. She had a lovely voice. Charles Spurgeon said she “sang like a seraph.” She was trained as a concert artist, and she could have had a worldly fame, career, and wealth in that field, but she purposed to devote her life to singing for Jesus and serving Him.

Now, by literary standards, Frances was not an exceptional poet, and she didn’t claim to be, but she wrote books and works and music and sang music about the love of God and His saving grace. She, by the way, was prolific. I have here a stack of books of her writings, including her poetry and other writings.

This is one book called Like a River Glorious. As you can see, it’s at least two or three inches thick. It’s a heavy book, and this is not all of her writings. I have others here, lots and lots. Thankfully there’s a Havergal Trust today that has compiled and found her writings and put them together in The Complete Works of Frances Ridley Havergal. I have not read most of it, but it is a treasure-trove.

It was said of her in one of her biographies, “To this end (that is, singing about the love of God and His saving grace—to this end) and for this object, her whole life and all her powers were consecrated. Her poems (this biographer said) are permeated with the fragrance of her passionate love for Jesus.”

Here’s what Frances herself had to say about the songs that she wrote. This is a little quaint language, but I think you’ll get the idea of it.

I am delighted to have an opportunity of adding to the very meagre [sic] supply of Sacred Songs, and I hope they will be sufficiently tuneful and sufficiently easy for drawing-room singing.

In other words, not just to be sung at church, but to be sung at home and in the course of everyday life.

Some of those [the tunes that we have now, the songs that we sing now] are very pathetic and dismal affairs! Why put off joyous singing till we reach the happier shore? Let us sing words which we feel and love, with clearness of enunciation, and looking up to meet His smile all the while we are singing. So shall we loyally sing for our King, yes for Him, Whose voice is our truest music.

That’s how she viewed her songs.

One of her hymns that’s not quite as well known as the one we’re going to look at today is “Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak.” This is a hymn that actually many times over the years that I have gotten on my knees or in my study and sung to the Lord as a prayer before I would go out to speak at a conference or to teach in a session like this. It says:

Lord, speak to me that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou has sought, so let me seek
Thine erring children lost and lone.

Oh teach me, Lord, that I may teach
The precious things Thou dost impart;
And wing my words, that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.

Oh fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart overflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.

Oh use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

I’ve sung that many times over the years from my heart to the Lord, just to say, “Lord, I want to be Your servant used by You.” That’s one of Frances Havergal’s hymns.

Well, Frances struggled with poor health and was physically weak. She actually died at the age of forty-two. In her life she had periods of great joy and fervor, but she also had seasons of depression and doubt. I think, by the way, that some of the greatest poetry and hymns and even preaching and books have been written by those who wrestled with doubt and discouragement and fear.

That’s what happened with Frances. She took what God showed her in those dark seasons and used it to minister grace to other struggling believers. She did it through teaching Bible studies, through one-on-one ministry, and through her writings and poetry.

Now, Frances never married, so writing these poetic texts and hymn texts was her primary means of support.

The story’s told that she had signed a contract with an American publisher (remember, she was British) because she wanted to sell her books beyond England. And in January 1874, she received a letter informing her that her American publisher had gone under in a financial crash. Unfortunately, her contract was an exclusive one that did not allow her to publish with any other U.S. publishers. So this was a huge blow to her publishing career and her potential livelihood.

Not long afterward, (as a writer, I can just tell you, this makes me tremble) the only copy of one of her book manuscripts was destroyed in a printer’s fire. Now, this was a day before digital files. She had sent everything she had to the printer on that book, and all of her hard work was totally lost. She said she didn’t have a single scrap of the manuscript left. Can you imagine—the same year as the other thing with her American publisher.

Now, I don’t think it was a coincidence that this was the same year that she wrote a hymn on the peace of God that has ministered great comfort to the hearts of hurting, struggling believers for more than 140 years.

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

This concept of God’s peace being like a river is a picture that you find in the Old Testament. Think about that verse in Isaiah 48 that says: “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! [God says] Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (v. 18).

Peace as “the river”—some commenters think that phrase refers to the Euphrates River that ran through Babylon. They say it’s a picture of something that is “abounding, overflowing, and continuous.” That’s the way God’s peace wants to be in our lives. “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,” abounding like a river, overflowing like a river, continuous like a river.

It speaks of a continuous source of blessing, this glorious river, that makes everything around it fruitful. Then God says your righteousness would have been like the waves of the sea, continuing that metaphor of water there. One commentator says “this speaks of the implanted righteousness and holiness of God Himself, operating within them and through them like vast deep waves, flowing in continual succession.”

This concept of the river, the river of God’s mercies, the river of God’s peace, the river of His grace, is one you see throughout the Old and New Testaments. In fact, you see a river flowing from the throne of God, which suggests that He is the source of abundant blessing. You need peace? You’ve got to get into God’s presence. It’s from His throne that there flows that river of God’s perfect peace.

Now, the chorus to this song reveals the secret of experiencing this perfect peace that is like a glorious river. Remember that chorus?

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest

Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Do you remember what verse that comes from? Isaiah 26, verse 3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”—perfect peace.

I didn’t know until I was studying for this series that the Hebrew there, where it talks about God’s perfect peace, it’s actually Shalom Shalom—peace, blessing, fullness—Shalom Shalom. It’s translated in English, perfect peace—complete, total peace.

It speaks about that peace, that blessing that comes from being in right relationship with God, and living life in His presence. He is the source of peace. He is the source of rest. Christ is the “Prince of Peace”—the one who paid the price for us to have peace with God and to experience the peace of God in every circumstance. And how did He do that? He paid for it by the price of His death, laying down His life on the cross.

Well, in the midst of challenging and difficult and frustrating life circumstances, Frances Ridley Havergal experienced that very peace. You see, she didn’t just write about these things in lofty terms. She worked them out in the warp and woof in the laboratory of everyday life, which is, by the way, where I get my messages.

It’s not from sitting in my study and just having this perfect life with no pressures or problems or circumstances. It’s in the course of everyday life when it’s squeezing and it’s challenging and there are disappointments and there are losses and frustrations. That’s when our hearts turn upward and say, “Lord, show me who You are and show me how I can have Your peace in this midst of this circumstance.” And Frances Havergal had a life message about this peace.

Charles Spurgeon said of her:

There is a centre to every storm where perfect calm reigns. There is a point within the circle of the most consumeing [sic] flame where life is possible without any danger to it’s being consumed. Miss Havergal seems to me to have got into the very centre of the storms that are disturbing others, and abides in perfect peace. She seems to have penetrated to the very heart of God who is a consumeing [sic] fire, and rests absolutely in His love.

I’m wondering if people could say that about me. Probably not, a lot of days when the people closest to me see me getting jostled and struggling with the circumstances of everyday life. But oh, wouldn’t it be great to have somebody say that about us, that we have found our way to the very center of the storms that disturb others, and we abide in perfect peace!

Spurgeon said, “She could never have written as she has except for an extraordinary intimacy with God.”

That’s where peace comes from. That’s that glorious river flowing from the throne of God, that perfect peace, Shalom Shalom.

Now, anyone can appear to have peace when the sun is shining, and you’ve got money in the bank, and your husband’s wild about you, and your kids are saying, “Yes, Ma’am” and obeying your every wish, and you’ve got the job you want. When everything is going well, anybody can seem to have peace, but that’s no test.

The test is when the storms and trials of life kick up the flames, the storms. That’s when our peace is tested and our natural response is to be anxious; sometimes to be terrified. Think of the disciples in that boat, with the storm kicking up around them and Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. And the disciples are saying, “Jesus, don’t You care? We’re all going to die!”

Do you ever feel that way? Maybe that’s the storm you’re in right now, and you’re feeling terrified. Well, it’s in the storms that most of us lose whatever little bit of peace we thought we had when things were going well.

The second stanza of this hymn, “Like a River Glorious,” reminds us that we are safe in the midst of the storm, and it tells us why: It’s because we are “hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand.” He holds us in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands. He’s got you and me, sister, in His hand. He’s got everybody in His hand. He’s got the storms and the winds and the waves. It’s all in His hand, “hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand.”

If you are in Christ, you are safe. "Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand, never foe can follow, never traitor stand.” There are foes; there are traitors—maybe in your own family—but they cannot stand up against His grace and His power, and you, if you are in Christ and are protected in the hollow of His hand. Now, that doesn’t mean they won’t ever make your life difficult, but you can be safe.

And so, as a result, that stanza goes on to say:

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Does that describe you? In the midst of the storm, not a surge of worry, not a shade of care, not a blast of hurry touch your spirit? Does that describe me?

I can think of times in the last three days when there was worry, care, and hurry all describing my spirit, but that’s because I’d forgotten that I’m hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand, that He holds me. If I am in Christ, I am safe, and all is well.

I love that third stanza that celebrates the sovereignty of God who is the blessed controller of all things. Remember those words?

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;

It’s talking about the old-fashioned sundial and how the sun would make the shadow move. It says, “every joy,” well, we can accept the joys as coming from above. “Thank You, Lord, for all these joys, all these blessings! Yes! Bring them on! Yes, I know they come from above. God is good. Praise the Lord! Amen! He got me that parking space. He healed me of this. He healed my child of this. He brought me the husband I wanted.”

“Every joy falleth from above, traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love”—that’s Jesus. But also “every trial falleth from above, traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.” Not just the joys, but also the trials.

You see, we forget that. We know it, but we forget it, and then we lose the peace. Right? When we start to think, Those people around me are the ones making my life miserable, we forget God is the blessed controller and orchestrator of all things in my life. Nothing comes into my life that is not ordained by God, permitted by Him for His glory and for my ultimate good. That’s when I have peace.

But do we really believe this? That “every joy, every trial falleth from above, traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love”? Therefore, “we may trust Him fully all for us to do; they who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.”

You see the connection there between trust and peace? You want peace? You need to go to the place where the river flows—the throne of God, the presence of God. Trusting Him fully, trusting Him wholly, and as you cast yourself upon Him, cast your cares upon Him, then you realize He cares for you, and you can be free from worry and care and hurry.

Is your heart fixed on the Lord? “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest, finding as He promised, perfect peace and rest”—Shalom Shalom.

So the apostle Paul says,

Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God [the glorious river of God’s Shalom Shalom—that peace of God] which surpasses all understanding [it doesn’t make human sense, but it] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers [sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:6–8).

Stayed upon Jehovah, He is pure and lovely and true and worthy. Fix your mind on Him. Think about these things. "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me practice these things [turn your eyes upon Jesus] and the God of peace will be with you”—perfect peace, Shalom Shalom (v. 9).

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss on piano playing the hymn, “Like a River Glorious.” Earlier Nancy unpacked that hymn for us, showing us how to have peace in the Lord even in the middle of terrible circumstances. That teaching is part of the series “Be Still.” It’s a look at the background and the meaning found in seven classic hymns.

Nancy has recorded all these hymns plus three more on her new CD called Be Still. It’s Nancy’s first piano CD. It will help you focus on God’s truth and experience the Lord’s peace.

We’d like to send you the CD Be Still when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for Nancy’s CD when you call 1–800–569–5959 or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

And the printed piano arrangements for Nancy’s CD will also be available next month. Get more information about the Be Still songbook at www.ReviveOurHearts.com starting in February.

Well, tomorrow we’ll hear about another hymn by Frances Havergal. You’ll be encouraged to devote everything to the Lord.

Nancy: “Take my heart, it is Thine own. It shall be Thy royal throne.” What about letting Jesus have your affections, your heart, letting Him reign and rule over your emotions? Are you allowing Him to rule over your affections, your emotions, your responses? Are your desires, your appetites, your longings under Christ’s control?

Leslie: Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

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