1 Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me;
The changes that are sure to come,
I do not fear to see:
I ask thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing thee.
2 I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.
3 I ask thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life,
While keeping at thy side,
Content to fill a little space,
If thou be glorified.
4 In service which thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me;
My secret heart is taught the truth
That makes thy children free;
A life of self-renouncing love
Is one of liberty.
Hymn #559, our hymn of the month, was written by Anna Waring, a Welsh poet in the Church of England in the 19th century. It is an expression of joy in humility, contentment in one’s circumstance, and pleasure in service.
The first verse reflects the poet’s belief that the course of her life is dictated by the sovereign will of God. Because of that, she does not need to live in fear. No doubt there will be difficult things to face, but she is confident that God is good, and she can therefore face the future in faith. She asks the Lord for a “present mind”, that is, a mind focused on pleasing the Lord in the immediate circumstance.
She expresses her desire for humility in the second verse. So often we can struggle to be important in the eyes of the world, being part of a grand movement, knowing something that nobody else knows. Pastors desire to have the biggest or most well-regarded church, or to have their book on the bestseller list. Christians desire to be part of that church, to be at the church with the world-famous pastor, to be well thought of by the world. We want to think in some sense that we are indispensable, that at least in some small way God can’t do without us. But the Christian is called to a life of humble service, of being content to serve God faithfully wherever He puts us and trusting that He will open the doors to greater things if He desires. James tells us to take the lowest seat at the feast and wait to be invited to a more prominent position, rather than suffering the embarrassment of taking a prominent position and being told to vacate it for someone else.
Sinclair Ferguson once said that every ministry failure he had ever seen started with pride. A man gets lifted up believing that he is special, some kind of super-pastor, someone who knows something or can do something that no-one else can know or do, that the kingdom of God somehow uniquely depends on him. As a result he fails to guard his sin, believes he deserves special privileges, and falls. But this is not unique to pastors. Pride lies at the root of all our failures, the thought that I deserve some kind of life, I deserve some sort of happiness or fame or influence, and therefore if I don’t have it I act in sinful ways to try to take it. This hymn is a wonderful antidote for that kind of thinking.
“Content to fill a little space, if thou be glorified.” This is a serving heart. A master hires a servant to do some job. If the servant spends all his time complaining about how he is overqualified and really should have some much more important job, and neglects to do the job he has, then the master will think very poorly of that servant. But one who can faithfully do what is before him, regardless of whether he thinks it suits him or is worthy of his dignity, will be a faithful servant.
In that service we find freedom, for it is for that service that we were created. We will always be happiest when we stop kicking against the goads, stop looking at what others have, what we think we deserve and simply be thankful for what God has given us. Be faithful at the life God has given you. In anyone’s life there are always plenty of opportunities to be faithful, to be disciplined in what you have, to show the love of Christ to others. You probably will not be in any history books. But it is not the approval of history we should be looking for, but the approval of our Father in Heaven, and He sees.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:5-8 NKJ)