Monday, June 1, 2009

How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours

How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours – John Newton

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers
Have all lost their sweetness to me
The mid-summer sun shines but dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay
But when I am happy in Him
December’s as pleasant as May

His name yields the riches perfume
And sweeter than music His voice
His presence disperses my gloom
And makes all within me rejoice
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear
No mortal so happy as I
My summer would last all the year

Content with beholding His face
My all to His pleasure resigned
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind
While blest with a sense of His love
A palace a toy would appear
And prisons would palaces prove
If Jesus would dwell with me there.

Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine
If Thou art my sun and my song
Say, why do I languish and pine?
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from my sky
Thy soul-cheering presence restore
Or take me unto Thee on high
Where winter and clouds are no more

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you… By day the LORD directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.” ~Psalm 42:5-6, 8

Every once in awhile, I have a moment where God’s ironic providence in my life makes me stop whatever I’m doing and laugh out loud. Today was one of those times, and boy, did I ever need it! You see, for the last few days, I have been plodding my way through what I would call a dilemma of faith. Some people call times like these valleys or deserts. Some call them crises of faith. I would stray from using words of quite that magnitude. I am merely facing a dilemma, a difficulty, a challenge. For days the strangest emptiness has consumed me. At first, I blamed it on boredom. Now, I am finding it runs deeper than that. I’m unhappy. I’m dissatisfied. God has felt distant, foreign, silent. Nothing has seemed to touch my heart the way I’m used to. Life has been pretty cold and bleak to be completely honest.

Anyway, back to God’s irony. Being in a somewhat dismal mood, I decided to sit at my piano for awhile, hoping that I might be able to distract myself. Beethoven didn’t seem to help. Gershwin was an utter disaster. Tinkering with my own melodies was fun, but still not filling. Finally, I decided to flip through my old Baptist Hymnal and see what I could find. After about five minutes of nothing but a few amusing titles proving to me that I should definitely find myself an updated version, I came across something that caught my attention. It was a hymn by John Newton (the same John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace” I imagine) entitled, “How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours.” Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor! How convenient! A hymn to describe exactly how I was feeling. The cynic in me let out a little hoot, fully pleased to not be alone. Then I began to read. And then I was slightly convicted.

I ate the first two verses up like candy. It was as if I had written them myself! Then Mr. Newton (and perhaps the Holy Spirit as well…) decided to turn things around on me. “Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine, if Thou art my sun and my song, say, why do I languish and pine? And why are my winters so long?” Wow. I said that out loud actually. I mean really. Wow. What a precious reminder in the midst of this “dilemma of faith!”

There’s a word in Hebrew, am-segulah, which is used in Exodus 19 to describe God’s setting apart the nation of Israel. From what I’ve gathered, the direct translation would be something like “My people, My treasure” (“…my own treasure (segulah) from among all the peoples (am)…and you will be a kingdom… for me, a nation set apart.” Ex. 19:5-6). I’ll say it again. Wow. I am indeed God’s own treasure. He is indeed “my sun and my song.” Why am I not rejoicing in every moment? I belong to the Lord of Lords! The one who parted the Red Sea and rescued the nation of Israel from years of bondage calls me His own today!

That’s when God brought Psalm 42 to mind. Truly, the psalmist is asking the same question I am. “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” He also provides a great answer for anyone battling discouragement: “My soul is downcast within me; therefore, I will remember You.” How blessedly simple! How wonderfully honest! God, I am discouraged right now, so I’ll remember you. I will turn to you, no matter how distant you feel, and I will sing. I will praise your name. I will draw near to you, for you have turned my mourning into dancing. You have turned my winter into spring. You have turned my prison into a palace. I cannot bear to be apart from you. I will forever believe you and I will daily seek you, O Lover of my Soul! Glory be to God for His ironic providence!