Hymnnotes: Follow Me.

December 3, 2014.

Today I am going to write on a hymn that is probably less known than the other ones I have chosen so far, but still has so much meaning. As with many songs, I have sung this for a while, but didn’t really think too deeply about the words until the last few years when I would sing it to myself. As a side note, I would suggest singing some of your favorite hymns just by yourself sometime. The words seem to make so much more sense, probably because you aren’t focused on anything but what your are singing. This song is the type of hymn that tells a story as you sing; I really like this category of hymns. There is no repeating chorus, but just a continuation of the thought process and the development of character. You sing with the author as you start to see your attitude transform from pride to humility, all through a discourse with the Savior, allowing His wisdom to guide you along the way, ever so gently. It paints the wonderful relationship we should have with Him, and reveals His character through references to scripture. The version that I found on youtube is just the melody line being sung by a soprano, but if you have never heard it, this version will give you an idea about how it sounds.

Follow Me
By Ira Stamphill

This hymn is relatively new in comparison to the others. Stanphill lived in the greater portion of the 20th century and composed this song around 1953 as far as I can tell. The song is based on a dialog between the singer and the Christ, with the singer speaking in what would normally be considered the “verse” and Christ in the “chorus,” but as I mentioned above, the song doesn’t have a traditional chorus that repeats, but rather a different line of text each time. There is a lot of pride and zeal in the first two verses where the singer first complains and then boasts to Jesus, but each verse is met with a gentle reply from Christ steering us in the right direction. I love this interaction. It is not how we seem to handle rebuke today. Let us learn to let our words be gentle and always rooted in truth.

I suppose the core concept of this song can be found to reference the words of Jesus recorded in the book of Matthew:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
(Matthew 16:24-25)

Let’s look at them closely.

I traveled down a lonely road and no one seemed to care, 
The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair, 
I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me, 
And then I heard Him so so tenderly, 
“My feet were also weary upon the Calv’ry road, 
The cross became so heavy I fell beneath the load, 
Be faithful weary pilgrim, the morning I can see, 
Just lift your cross and follow close to me.”

I think I identify most this this song when I go through rough times. Times when I have a lot on my plate and I feel like my burden is very heavy. I think we have all been there (some of us spend a lot of time there… why did I go to grad school again?), and at times it really does feel like no one cares. No one knows what we are going through, no one truly understands everything we have to do and no one sees things from our point of view (I promise I didn’t intentionally rhyme those lines). We aren’t the only ones who have felt this way. There are plenty of prophets in the Old Testament who felt burdened with the message they had and the life they lived. Not burdened in the sense that they wished they didn’t have to be a prophet, but burdened in the sense that they have a lot to carry and fulfill, and it was taxing and stressful at times. In I Kings 19, there is a great story about the prophet Elijah who travels to a cave on Mount Horeb and tells the Lord that he is in despair because he is the only one left. Jeremiah complains to God about his message in chapters 12, 15 and 20 specifically. The first chapter of Habakkuk is a dialog between the prophet and the Lord where Habakkuk lays out two complaints and the Lord answers him accordingly. Even Job has a complaint against the Lord about his situation (which I can’t say I blame him too much, nor can I say I wouldn’t do the same). The point is, there are many godly men who have felt just like we do when we feel burdened and alone.

But that’s the thing. We aren’t alone. I know the cliche answer here is to say that God is with us always or to quote the words of Jesus “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world (ref. Matt. 28:20),” and those words are absolutely true. We are never alone as long as we are walking in the Spirit. But even beyond this, we aren’t alone with each other either. There is a misconception that we often have about how other’s feel and their experiences. It is hard for us to see other people as having the same feelings as we do because we often only see what they portray to the world. We aren’t them, nor are we with other people 24/7 (though there are some people we are with a lot). We see people through the actions they do, and not through their inner motives and reasoning. I promise that there are others who feel the same way as you do right now, others that have been through what you are going through. You just don’t know, and that’s a bit of a shame for those of us in the church. We are supposed to be members of one another (ref. Rom. 12:5).

But then we get to the words of Christ, as He tenderly reminds the singer about the load that He had to bear for our sins. He paints the vivid picture of His walk to Calvary, bearing His own cross and even falling under the weight of it. We can imagine the crowd around Him, spitting at Him and calling Him names. We can see them striking Him and treating Him badly. Our burdens and sufferings tend to fade away as we see how much more He did for us, and while we were yet sinners. We were the ones spitting on Him, mocking Him and striking Him. Not personally, but it was our sins that sent Him there. My sins, your sins. The sins of everyone on this earth. He bore our load so we wouldn’t have to bear the ultimate price. It is this gentle reminder that should focus us back to the task at hand, our mission to bring the good news to all the world. Does this mean things are going to feel so much easier? Probably not. But it might just allow us to see past these things and fix our eyes on Jesus. And we might just remember that great promise:

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
(Revelation 2:10c)

“I work so hard for Jesus” I often boast and say, 
“I’ve sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way, 
I gave up fame and fortune; I’m worth a lot to thee,” 
And then I heard Him gently say to me, 
“I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss, 
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross, 
But now we’ll make the journey with your hand safe in mine, 
So lift your cross and follow close to me.”

This verse exposes our pride in serving the Lord. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have said things in my heart similar to these. I have looked on my accomplishments and what I have done for the Lord and think “wow, I’ve done quite well.” I almost immediately feel bad for thinking things like that, because I know that it is pride talking. It’s hard sometimes to differentiate between feeling accomplished and being proud. I don’t think there is anything wrong with recognizing your accomplishments, or the accomplishments of others. I believe it can be a very good way of encouragement.  But I think we can easily fall into what the singer here has fallen into, that of boasting of our accomplishments, even to the Lord! But again, we see Christ gently lead us back to the right path.

“I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss,” Have you ever really thought about that? Jesus had to leave heaven, the throne of God, to come and live a life of disdain on this earth. He went from being Lord to being human. He humbled Himself beyond what we can imagine. Paul writes this to the Philippians regarding this matter:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
(Philippians 2:5-8)

Christ has given us the true example of humility and we should be striving to follow it as closely as possible. I know that we are going to mess up at times, but I think we will get better at it as time progresses. Pride is a nasty, nasty thing, and we need to learn to avoid it. Let us remember the example of Christ.

Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday 
‘Twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay, 
“No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die,” 
These are the words he gently spoke to me, 
“If just a cup of water I place within your hand 
Then just a cup of water is all that I demand,” 
But if by death to living they can thy glory see, 
I’ll take my cross and follow close to thee.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
(John 15:12-14)

I still see a twinge of pride in the opening of this verse, but I think the singer is growing to maturity here. We are giving our life to Christ, even to the point of death, and realizing that it would be no more than our duty demands. We have grown in the love of Christ, willing to die for Him, and we have grown in humility, counting it all but loss for Christ. We have gone out into a foreign field to spread the good news are are willing to pay the ultimate price if that is what it takes. But Christ still gently responds to even this, because we don’t need to miss the point.

I love this answer. “If just a cup of water…” I think this highlights the the fact that our walk with Christ does not culminate in extraordinary accomplishments, but in the everyday “ordinary” things we do in the name of Christ.

“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
(Mark 9:41)

You don’t have to go out and convert a whole city to be considered successful in the gospel. You don’t have to save a city’s population of orphans. You don’t have to be considered one of the greatest preachers in the brotherhood. All you have to do is what you have been given by the Father. If it is your calling to save a whole city, then that is your duty. If it is your calling to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty child, that is your duty. Christianity is not only composed of grand gestures or martyrdom, but in using the talents that are given. Sometimes we let pride get the best of us again in thinking that we must be the most successful Christian to be considered worthy, when in reality, the last will be first (ref. Matthew 20:6). Let us bring glory to Christ though what we have been called to do, with humility in spirit.

Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 16, Mark 9, Romans 12, Philippians 2.

Follow close to Him.


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