Devotions

Showing items filed under “Stephen Mitchell”
in Church

He Leadeth Me

He leadeth me: O blessed thought! 
O words with heavenly comfort fraught! 
Whate'er I do, where'er I be, 
still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me. 

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:3 

“He Leadeth Me” by American Joseph Gilmore (1834-1918) was birthed out of a particular struggle in American history. This hymn was composed in 1862 during the Civil War, a time of upheaval and insecurity. The author was preaching at First Baptist Church in Philadelphia soon after his ordination.  Gilmore’s states “I set out to give the people an exposition of the 23rd Psalm, which I had given before on three or four occasions, but this time I did not get further than the words ‘He Leadeth Me.’ Psalm 23:2, ‘he leadeth me beside the still waters,’ became the theme of the song.” The famous gospel song composer William Bradbury (1816-1868) included these words anonymously with his own tune in his collection The Golden Censer (1864). Bradbury is credited with adding the third line to the famous refrain (his faithful follower I would be). 

Joseph H. Gilmore, the son of Joseph A. Gilmore, governor of New Hampshire, received his education from Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (1858), and Newton Theological Seminary (1861) where he taught Hebrew. An ordained Baptist minister (1862), Gilmore became a professor after serving churches in Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and New York. A prolific writer for newspapers and periodicals, Gilmore also authored three books in his academic field: The Art of Expression (1876) and Outlines of English and American Literature (1905), as well as a book of poetry, He Leadeth Me, and Other Religious Poems (1877). 

Nearly every hymn is birthed from a personal experience and/or an encounter with a particular scripture. In the case of “He Leadeth Me” it comes from Psalm 23 – scripture nearly every one of us can recite or are at least familiar with. He restores my soul. The definition of restore is “to bring back”. Other translations use refresh or renew. That is what God does for each of us – refreshes and restores our souls!  For me, the how is answered in verse 2, “he makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” God restores and renews me in the quiet, intimate places. It’s in those places that I find true rest and peace. Early in quarantine I thought I was having more quiet time and intimate time with God. Upon reflection, my fears and need to feel busy were actually keeping me from that time.  In these days, I am trying to find still waters – to renew and refresh. I went up to Lake Junaluska a few weeks ago. I participated in a few days of prayers and reflection with some fellow church musicians.  For me, it’s hard, and really takes some intentionality.  But the restoration that comes from slowing down is immeasurable.  The virus is by no means gone but we seem to be trying to get back to normal – whatever that is now. As you do, try to include more renewal time. God will lead us in paths of righteousness – and supply all the needs we have along the way.  

He leadeth me, he leadeth me, 
by his own hand he leadeth me; 
his faithful follower I would be, 
for by his hand he leadeth me. 

“He Leadeth Me”, arranged by Benjamin Wegner. You heard this arrangement sung a few weeks in worship. The choir has also sung it. I think it is a beautiful setting of the text. 

Listen

in Church

A Mighty Fortress is Our God/God is our Refuge and Strength

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 

A mighty fortress is our God, 
a bulwark never failing; 
our helper he amid the flood 
of mortal ills prevailing. 
For still our ancient foe 
doth seek to work us woe; 
his craft and power are great, 
and armed with cruel hate, 
on earth is not his equal. 

In addition to skills as a writer, translator, and preacher, Martin Luther was an amateur musician. No hymn is identified with the Protestant Reformation more than Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” (often referred to as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation”). It is one of the most translated hymns in the history of the church, having been translated into more than 200 languages. What many might not realize is that the Festival of the Reformation was not celebrated during Luther’s lifetime. Therefore, the hymn was not written to celebrate the Reformation, which is the commemoration of the publication of the Ninety-five Theses on Oct. 31, 1517. Only later, after the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), when the Reformation was celebrated as a regular part of the church year in Saxony, Luther’s home region, did the hymn become associated with the festival. Most scholars think Luther wrote the hymn between 1527-1528. A heading from the sheet music of “A Mighty Fortress” published in Augsburg in 1529 reads “A Hymn of Comfort.”* Rather than a battle hymn, Luther intended this hymn, based on Psalm 46, to be one of comfort. While we are not certain what prompted Luther to write the hymn, scholars have suggested a number of events during these dark years. 

The definition of refuge is “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.”  A kind of covering or protection. Verse 1 of Psalm 46 doesn’t say God will provide us a refuge – it says God IS our refuge. What wonderful words to hear in these days of needing shelter from the dangers of this new virus and for our need to feel safe. The verse also says that God is our strength. I don’t know about you, but I often feel deflated and weary about the immediate future. How things are going to happen in new and safe ways. Remember that God doesn’t give us strength – God IS our strength. This, more than ever, is a time to turn to God for refuge and strength. The verse continues with God is also a very present help in trouble. Very present, also defined to describe something that is always there. God is with us, God is our strength, God is our refuge, God is always there!  I hope in these days away from the physical space of our church grounds you have found ways to take refuge in God and to feel God’s presence in your life.  

Are you fearful of the new normal? It may seem the world as we know it is crumbling around us – but our God is the same. God is our strength. God is our refuge. A mighty fortress for all those who trust in God! 

That word above all earthly powers, 
no thanks to them, abideth; 
the Spirit and the gifts are ours, 
thru him who with us sideth. 
Let goods and kindred go, 
this mortal life also; 
the body they may kill; 
God's truth abideth still; 
God’s kingdom is forever. 

Listen

This arrangement is by Kyle Pederson. The Sanctuary Choir sang it for the first time in November 2019.

*historical information partly from lutheranreformation.org 

 

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