This Sunday we will be introducing a new song… er… actually an old song that is new for us.
“I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow” was written by John Newton in 1779. We are singing this song because I am increasingly convinced that we, as a body, need to learn how to lament well. Often, I think we can fall into the trap of thinking that lamentation and worship are antithetical. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul explains how Christians are those who are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” This, of course, comes on the heals of Paul’s breathtaking discussion on suffering, and its place in God’s sovereign, sanctifying purposes for the Christian:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Notice, Paul does not say that “this light and momentary affliction may prepare an eternal weight of glory,” no, it is preparing an eternal weight of glory! The wonderful news about this passage is that, for the Christian, “meaningless suffering” is an oxymoron — a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as “meaningless suffering” for the Christian, because all suffering “prepares an eternal weight of glory.” Included in this, by the way, are internal struggles. If we are to learn how to lament well, and how to be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” through our struggles and afflictions, we must come to a healthy understanding of what our circumstances have to do with our spiritual formation. Frequently, I interact with Christians who are in a low and seemingly hopeless state: “I’m so sick of this sin, I absolutely hate it,” and “Why won’t the Lord just take these sinful desires away? Why must I struggle with this?” are sentiments that I have become very familiar with, both in my own life and in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. The most encouraging word we could possibly hear in those moments is this: those afflictions are not meaningless, they are preparing (whether you feel it or not) and eternal weight of glory!
This is an area in which Mr. Newton can serve us greatly. “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow” reminds us that God both inflicts pain and gives relief, that he both wounds and heals (Job 5:18), and all this for his glory and our good. As we prepare to sing together this Sunday, let these lyrics firm up your resolves to lean in on God and his provision for you through suffering. Your afflictions–even your internal ones–are not wasted. They are taking you somewhere, and when you arrive, you will discover how you have been made the better by your trials, and that even your grief is grace. (Lyrics posted below)
I Asked the Lord That I May Grow (Lyrics)
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
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.
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 ev’ry part.
Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’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.”