Hymns & Songs

Experiencing Emmanuel through this song

Feb 2011    

Abide with me

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need thy presence every passing hour.

What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Text: Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847
Music: W.H. Monk, 1823-1889

to offer this hymn, Abide with me, this month as we celebrate the Lunar New Year where the mood is to be more celebratory than introspective, but with your indulgence, I believe this hymn has much to offer us as we are never certain about life’s setting even if things appear rosy and upbeat in the near future.

Without a doubt there are people in our midst when this auspicious time means nothing even as they face mounting bills, estranged relationship, stress-filled living and possibly death of a loved one at this moment. In my view, this hymn speaks loudly of God’s full and certain presence when one is at a loss.

This hymn was the work of an Anglican pastor, Henry F. Lyte, in the last year of his life. Crafted on the evening of the last day of his pastoral ministry at a poor church in an English seafaring community of Lower Brixham in Devon, this hymn takes a realist look on life; quite unlike many of the songs that our congregations are led to sing these days.

In reading carefully through the text, we can almost feel a sense of the steadfast presence of God regardless of life’s circumstances. In my view, this is a form of “Emmanuel” (God with us) that resonates with Romans 8: 31b-39. Too often when we read Romans 8, we stop at verse 28. When wrongly interpreted outside of its proper scriptural context, this verse seems to speak about “assured success” rather than “working through the bad stuff”. I think it is time that our Christian spirituality strives to develop a holistic understanding of this passage.

Admittedly it is normal to be happy when things go our way but if they do not, we ought not to lose heart or think that God is not with us. For if we read the entire passage of Romans 8, Paul reminds us that God is with us and nothing, absolutely nothing, will separate us from the love of God.

Take a moment to let this glorious Good News work its way into your thought. Let this Gospel work through the troubles you are presently encountering. Allow this Word of God about his tenacious love shape your vision of the future. is is the God that loves us – no exclusionary clause that requires us to be good before we are accepted since even “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).

Having received this gift for ourselves, would it not make sense for us to share it with everyone we know – including our friends and relatives who may not have had the opportunity of experiencing this message of God in their lives? Have you done your part to tell them about this hope for their lives?

Secondly, this hymn speaks of inevitability. All of us will face death eventually. All of us will encounter difficulties in life. We are fooling ourselves if we think Christians have a “get out of jail” card in avoiding trials and temptations. In reality, the mark of an authentic Christian is the ability to persevere through life even when he or she does not see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadly many churches in their earnest desire to “win” souls advocate a stance of success and prosperity of a personal nature, failing to see that the road of discipleship is paved with counting costs and denying oneself.

So, do you have what it takes to love the Lord your God in this manner? In our country that has a vibrant economy and upbeat outlook for the future, it is easy for Christians to “get soft” and go with the flow of “hip” expressions of Christianity and focus on all positive and good things God can give us. We need to be mindful of “the calm before the storm”.

How are we preparing for the tough times that may be just around life’s corner? How can we take hold of the abiding presence of Christ (Emmanuel) in our lives? Would we be able to sing with integrity when we are in the midst of life’s major storms this verse?

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

For this new year, it is my hope that we will purposefully seek to deepen our faith by asking difficult questions of ourselves and our church. To be true and authentic Christians, we need to be planted deeply in the faith. Unfortunately, this requires much excavating of our lives by God through the Holy Spirit and that can be painful. Yet, in the midst of that painful process of pruning by our God, we must never forget the abiding and loving presence of God as Lyte reminds us – “in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me”.

May you experience Emmanuel in real and tangible ways this year and be shaped more Christ-like in your living. Amen.


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