December 8, 2014.
As another installment in my running, though intermittent, hymnnote series, today I would like to comment on the hymn entitled “An Evening Prayer.” This title is quite fitting, though these words never appear in the text, for it is a humble prayer to the Lord asking for forgiveness of the foolish sins that we often commit every day. I love the humility and trust that is intertwined in these lines of text, admitting where we have fallen short and asking the Father to show his mercy on us. If we could model our prayer out of this humility as opposed to our unintentional arrogance, I think our prayer life would be greatly enriched. It reminds me of the story that Jesus told of the two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, who went up to the temple to pray.
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Having a full prayer life is not just about the amount of time you spend in prayer (though this is definitely a factor), but about the quality of the prayer, or rather, the quality of your heart as you pray. The Pharisee was indeed righteous. He upheld the law to the strictest point (and then some), and I’m sure outward sins were not present in his life. But a huge inward sin was- that of pride. The tax collector knew he was a sinner, and rather than making excuses or brushing his sin aside, he simply confessed that he was a sinner in humility before the Lord. This was the prayer that was accepted. I believe this hymn shows this side of humility, especially in the fourth verse, in that there is never a sense of infallibility or self righteousness throughout, but a quiet plea to the Almighty.
An Evening Prayer
Words by C. Maude Battersby
Arranged by Charles H. Gabriel
The words of this hymn were penned by C. Maude Battersby, which were later arranged in the traditional hymn style by Charles H. Gabriel. I was unable to find much information about Battersby, but Gabriel was a affluent composer who arranged several the hymns we sing today and wrote a few of his own. This was arranged in 1911 at the turn of the 20th century. I think what drew me to this song as a child was the forth verse that asks the forgiveness from secret sins that we did not know that we had committed. As we will discuss in due time, this is actually a recurring theme in Levitical law. As we sing this song, I hope that we in turn consider it to be a prayer as well, for we are all in need of forgiveness from our merciful Father.
If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!
The first verse of this hymn addresses some outward sins that may not be evident to us explicitly. In this, we take a humble approach to the way we have lived the day, considering that we might have caused harm without even knowing. How many souls are there that we have wounded and didn’t even think twice about it? I think the answer may surprise us. Think about it this way; how many times has someone hurt you and they didn’t realize what they had done? Now, turn this around and consider that we indeed do the same thing to others. It is not always intentional, of course, but it happens regardless of intent. The author here realizes this and humbly ask for forgiveness in prayer.
The second two lines have more to do with the way we have lived out our day in relation to our own path and the path of others. Whether we know it or not, we are examples to someone. Someone is always watching us. We should always be conscious of this. I think this is at least in part what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church at Colossi with these words:
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
You never know when some little thing you might say (or at least something you consider little) could steer the path of another in a completely different direction than they were going. Our words and actions have a profound impact on the people around us, even though we often don’t consider our influence to be that extensive. There have been many little comments that someone made to me that completely changed my outlook on a given topic or my reaction to a certain situation. It’s almost unbelievable the power of influence. We should use it wisely, walking in the way of the Spirit as opposed to our own will.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
The author notes here that we often walk in our own will and live by our own desires as opposed to walking by the Spirit of God, and humbly asks forgiveness of this, implying another attempt tomorrow.
If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself shall suffer through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!
Continuing on with this concept of how influential our words can be, both to ourselves (for we are more likely to believe something if we tell ourselves this, even when joking) and to others. We should not be flippant about the way we use our words, nor about our word choice.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Do you have something to say? Well, first ask, is it good for building up? Does it fit the occasion? Is it seasoned with grace? There is an old adage that we should think before we speak, and how so many of us, myself included, have failed to do such, tainting relationships and only making situations worse. Paul would go on to say,
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Our words will come back to bite us, which I think is what the author is getting at by the third line. If not in this life, in the day of judgement:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
These words of our Lord should make us to consider the things we say as we will indeed give an account. Our hymn, our prayer, is that we be forgiven of these idle words, lest we suffer by them.
If I have been perverse or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold,
When Thou hast given me some fort to hold,
Dear Lord, forgive!
This is actually a very interesting verse to me, as it is something that we don’t often think about when we pray. The first line maybe, as in humility we can see that we have probably been mean in different situations throughout the day or week, and we know that we do not handle every situation correctly and without harshness. But the author then goes on to ask forgiveness of cowardice. The story that this reminds me of in the Bible is the story of the 12 spies that were sent into the land of Canaan, the promised land, to spy it out and see what the Lord had given them. This story can be found in Numbers 13. When the 12 spies returned from the land, they all brought back stories of how wonderful the promised land was, but 10 of them gave a bad report because they were fearful of the inhabitants of the land. They said that it was a good land, but they could not take it because they were not strong enough. Two of the spies disagreed, because they put their faith in the Lord. The people were won over by the 10, however, and the Lord punished the people by causing them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died out, so that they would not see the promised land. Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who brought back the good report, were the only two that were allowed to pass into the promised land.
I think the lesson here is that we need to put our faith in the Lord. The book of Joshua starts out with a phrase that is repeated over and over again. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (ref. Josh. 1:9).” Many times throughout the gospels do we hear Jesus say to His disciples or to the people “you of little faith.” I think there is a certain expectancy of courage for us as we strive to live the Christian life. After all, if God is on our side, what have we to fear? Does not fear, at least to an extent, imply a lack of faith?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
We too should be strong and courageous in the Lord, for He has given us a battle to fight and entrusted us with his word. The forgiveness that is asked in this verse is one that we might want to consider more often.
Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee;
Forgive the secret sins I do not see;
O guide me, love me and my keeper be,
In Jesus’ name.
As I noted above, this verse held a lot of meaning for me when I was a child. It brings out a topic that we can only consider though humility: secret sins. Indeed, if we know of our sin, we are to confess our sin, and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin (ref. I John 1:7-10). But what about the unintentional sins that we commit? Is that even possible? It was certainly possible for the children of Israel under the Law. This provision was made for unintentional sins:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord‘s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.”
In the same way, I believe that we too can sin unintentionally today. For what exactly is God going to hold us accountable on the day of judgement, I cannot personally say. I will leave the judging to Him, for He will not make a mistake. But I do think we would be wise to recognize that we could have sinned unintentionally throughout the day and we should humbly as God forgiveness even when we don’t know what we have done. With that prayer, I think we should also ask to better recognize our short comings so as to improve on them. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this hymn is mostly about these unintentional sins.
With the blood of Jesus that was shed for us, we are able to boldly approach the throne of grace in which to talk to our Father. What a wonderful thing this is! When we do this, we need to remember that we sin, and ask forgiveness in humility. In the opening story with the two men who went up to pray, only one was justified. We need to emulate this spirit of humility.
Suggested Daily Reading: Leviticus 4, Numbers 13, Matthew 6, Ephesians 4-5.
Grace and peace.