Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
Just in simple faith to plunge me
‘Neath the healing cleansing flood!
Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.
I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.
–Louisa M. R. Stead (1850-1917)
On a cool Tuesday evening, with the sun glinting off of the rain that had just recently fallen on the grass, I head into my study at church.
My church is a small one which sits atop a hill on the rural outskirts of one of the suburbs west of Milwaukee. While we are located within a major metropolitan area, our church is surrounded by fields and woods on all sides. It has the feel of a small country church not only in setting, but also in atmosphere. We are a church that values simplicity and ordinariness.
Walking past the rosebushes, I step into the building. At the other end, the sanctuary lights are on, and I hear the pianist rehearsing for Sunday morning.
Coming out of seminary, I harbored a preference for hymns and songs which plumbed the depths of theology. This was not a result of my education, but rather a result of my own sense of pride and arrogance that led me to think that local churches and everyone in them ought all understand the deep things of faith, the fullness of the sacraments, and the finer points of Reformed doctrine. I shied away from choosing songs and hymns which I deemed to be too simple.
I was amazed by the depth of the things of faith and I could not wait to be a guide, showing others these wonderful things which I assumed would fascinate them because they fascinated me. When I discovered that not everyone enjoyed the intellectual aspect as much as I did and, when it truly came down to it, didn’t care all that much about, for instance, the distinctions between Calvin and Zwingli when it comes to sacramental theology, I decided that my future lie not in the simple and ordinary church, but in the academy. I wasn’t going to be just a parish pastor, I was to be something more, so I thought.
Years later, I found myself not in the academy, but in the parish. I found myself not in a church bursting with artists and writers and academics, but first a poor inner-city parish and now in a rural suburban church, both in America’s Dairyland.
While previously I looked down upon the ordinariness of the church, I have experienced it to be glorious. After all, the church is not solely made up of Theologians with a capital “T”, but also people who grow corn and who raise cows. People who fix cars and who work in breweries. Moms and dads who spend their days trying to reason with their children, and people who spend their days feeling imprisoned in a cubicle under the thumb of a boss who takes out life’s problems on the employees. It is through the process of learning how to live out faith at the factory or the grocery store or while teaching high schoolers to paint that these ordinary people become theologians, even if with a lowercase “t”.
So as I stand in the doorway of our little church on the hill, I cannot help but sing along. After all, I know much of the song by heart.
This is the glory of this song. While it may lack theological luster, it is a song that is memorable in its simplicity. It is one that any of us can keep with us while we are cutting grass or chopping wood, or washing dishes, or stuck in traffic. It is a song that can remind us of our faith while knitting or woodturning. It is a song that doesn’t require a particularly astute intellect or any special gnosis.
The wonderful thing about theology is that there are immeasurable depths, but faith is not only for those who can dive and explore those depths. It is also for those who do ordinary and seemingly unremarkable things, who pray heartfelt and often inelegant prayers, who read read devotional booklets after meals, and who continually learn what it means to love God and love others.
I have been trying to overcome the pride and arrogance with which I continually battle. After all, in the end it is not just about what we know but who (and whose) we are. It is not about a destination, but a journey. It is not about competing or showing ourselves to be more learned than the other, but it is about helping one another to grow in our understanding as we are able.
So I have come to love this simple and ordinary song. This simple and ordinary song that I can take with me anytime and anywhere.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him!
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust him more!