Take My Life, and Let It Be

Take My Life, and Let It Be

Liturgy Lessons: November 18, 2018
Call to Worship: Hebrews 1:1-3; Psalm 95:1-3
Opening Hymn: Fairest Lord Jesus (#170)
Call to confession: Matt. 6:19-24
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: Based on Philippians 3:1-11
Hymn of Assurance: Take My Life, and Let It Be (#585)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 9:1-6 (Jesus Sends Out the Apostles)
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Supper: I Will Sing of My Redeemer (#650); There is a Redeemer
Closing Hymn: There is a Hope

Sonnet 29
By William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

This sonnet is a lament. The subject has lost fame and fortune, hit rock bottom; but when his thoughts turn toward the beloved, he is inspired to “sing hymns at heaven’s gate.” It is a timeless ode to the superior satisfaction of love over any riches the world has to offer. The bard is telling us that “sweet love” brings greater wealth than that of kings. George Bailey would agree. The man who is fully known and fully loved has so much more than just the good life. For him “It’s a Wonderful Life”! Need more convincing? How about this recent study that was just completed?

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Study of Adult Development (comprised of two studies) have tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 disadvantaged nondelinquent inner-city youths growing up in Boston neighborhoods between 1940 and 1945 (Glueck Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (Grant study) (Wikipedia). The studies are ongoing. Due to the length of the research period, this has required multiple generations of researchers. Since before WWII, they’ve diligently analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans (once they became available), and pored over self-reported surveys, as well as actual interactions with these men, to compile the findings. The conclusion? According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Not how much is in your 401(k). Not how many conferences you spoke at—or keynoted. Not how many blog posts you wrote or how many followers you had or how many tech companies you worked for or how much power you wielded there or how much you vested at each. No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, LOVE (Melanie Curtin, Inc.com).

For the Christian, this seems to be a no-brainer. The language of the love is all over scripture (“For God so loved the world”) and the hymns we sing (“Jesus Loves Me”). It all started when God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Implicit in this is the Trinity in agreement (“let US do this thing”), and that the overflow of their shared love was to create man. Then it was declared that man should not be alone. And Jesus affirmed this when he reminded us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love each other (Matt. 22:37-40). Paul goes even farther when he boldly declares that he counts “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8). Later in the New Testament we are reminded that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:26). We are told that In God’s presence “there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). And it was Jesus who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). The old hymn had it right:

“Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts, thou fount of life, thou light of men;
from the best bliss that earth imparts, we turn unfilled to thee again.”

And C.S. Lewis said it quite well in The Weight of Glory: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We know these things to be true. We feel it. We are the beloved. And yet our hearts are seduced by lesser things. So how do we get to the point where we willfully surrender our idols and embrace the “Love divine, all loves excelling”? Perhaps Frances Havergal’s famous hymn can help.

Take My Life, and Let It Be
Text: Frances Ridley Havergal, 1874
Music: HENDON, Henry Malan, 1827

Frances Ridley Havergal is sometimes called the “consecration poet.” This is because most of her writings are full of dedication and devotion to Jesus. This hymn, which is her most famous, can rightly be read as her credo. In it, she gleefully consecrates every aspect of life to her Lord and Savior.

“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

On December 14th, 1836, Frances Havergal was born in Worcestershire (as in the sauce), England. She was the youngest child in a loving and musically talented Anglican family. Her father was a quadruple threat (clergyman, author, composer, and hymn-writer) and a champion of the revival of Psalm singing in the church. Her older brother was both an organist and a priest (he even built his own organ). The Havergals were obviously passionate about music and faith.

Frances had prodigious talent from a young age. She began reading and memorizing the Bible at the age of 4 (eventually memorizing The Psalms, Isaiah, and most of the New Testament). At age 7 she wrote her first poems. When she was 11, her mother died, and Frances lost herself even more in her musical and linguistic studies. By her mid-teens she was learning Hebrew, Greek, German, and French. At age 17 she went to study at the Louisenschule (school for girls) in Düsseldorf, Germany. One classmate wrote how Frances would often burst into the classroom singing hymns. Her voice was lovely, and she was in demand as a concert soloist. She was also a brilliant pianist, with a near flawless aural memory. She could sit and play Handel, Beethoven, or Mendelssohn without the sheet music. She loved to travel, particularly to Switzerland, and served the Church Missionary Society. She never married, however, and was in poor health for most of her short life. She died just short of her 43rd birthday.

It is her hymns that are her legacy to the church. She was known to pray over her poetry before, during, and after writing sessions. In addition to “Take My Life,” she wrote such favorites as “Jesus, Master, Whose I Am” and “Like a River Glorious.” But the most famous of them all, by far, is “Take My Life, and Let it Be.” In a note to a friend, Frances left behind a written account of the inspiration for this hymn:

“I went for a little visit of five days. There were ten persons in the house; some were unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. God gave me the prayer, ‘Lord, give me all in this house.’ And He just did. Before I left the house, everyone had got a blessing. The last night of my visit I was too happy to sleep and passed most of the night in renewal of my consecration, and those little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with “ever only, ALL FOR THEE!”

This was in 1874, four years before she died. Those consecrated couplets went on to become one of the most beloved hymns in the whole world. I must confess that the third verse of this hymn has been a personal mantra. For a while it was the footer at the close of every e-mail I sent.

“Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.”

In the fourteenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is calling for Israel to repent and turn away from her idols. They are told that the Lord desires to “lay hold of the hearts of my people, who are all estranged from me through their idols.” The Lord wants to “lay hold” of our hearts. A synonym for “laying hold” of something is to “take,” which is precisely the first word in every single couplet of this famous hymn.

“Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.”

Frances is asking the Lord to do what he desires to do. She wants him to possess her heart, to own her body and soul. And she knows that in order for him to do this, she has to willfully surrender the things most precious to her. But for her there is great joy in the exchange. She is, after all, trading in the slummy mud pies and getting that seaside holiday.

The fourth verse of the hymn says, “Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.” In 1878, Frances wrote a friend, “The Lord has shown me another little step, and, of course, I have taken it with extreme delight. ‘Take my silver and my gold’ now means shipping off all my ornaments to the Church Missionary House, including a jewel cabinet that is really fit for a countess, where all will be accepted and disposed of for me… Nearly fifty articles are being packed up. I don’t think I ever packed a box with such pleasure.”

Now that is practicing what you preach! Months before she died, Frances gave up her store of earthly riches that she might gain Jesus, her priceless treasure. Thus, her life ended just like her hymn, the poet and verse now in a sanctified symbiosis. The consecration was complete.

“Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

Sheet music