‘Let praise command our tongues’ . . . and the horn, trumpet, flute, strings and keyboards!
More than two hundred years ago Benjamin Beddone summed up the burden of his life like this:
Be love, delightful theme!
The burden of my song;
The love of Christ inflames my heart,
Let praise command my tongue.
I love the idea of our being ‘harps of the Holy Spirit’ as our prayers and worship come before the King on His throne! At the very end of our recent Sounds of Heaven recording event, with the microphones still running, we laid aside our music scores and worshipped in the Spirit. It reminded me strongly of the beautiful worship times we experienced during in our very first week-long prayer and worship conferences back in 1982 and 1983 in Chester.
We have called the resulting piece ‘Fare Well,’ both because the event was the last such in our long series of recording events, and because, although we did not know it, we were saying our farewells (purely on Earth!) to our dear friend and cellist, Jo Garcia.
All of us surely desire to ‘fare well’ in our service for God’s Kingdom, confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ, even as Jesus devoted Himself to seeking to do the will of Him who sent Him, and to finish the work He has given Him to do on Earth. (Phil. 1:6. John 4:34, cf 5:36)
Back in the early part of the fourth century, a man named Ephrem was a leading figure in the Syrian Church. He had by no means always been fervent for the Lord. Although he came from a Christian family, he was known for having a quick temper and being hasty and impulsive in his actions. At one point he found himself thrown into prison after being accused of stealing a sheep. He was actually innocent of that particular escapade, but it was while he was holed up in a dank cell that he realized that he needed to seek the Lord’s forgiveness for many other things. That was when he began to pray – and the Lord moved through a judge who discovered Ephrem’s innocence and released him.
From that moment, Ephrem’s life became so fully Christ-centred that he went into the mountains and joined a hermit community, in which James of Nisibis took him under his wing as one of his disciples. From having thought that everything happened by chance, he realised now the reality of the vocation the Lord was placing on him. His life was characterized by a deep humility, his great concern being to share the truth he had come to understand from Isaiah, that the Holy One ‘dwells in a high and holy place, but also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ (Is. 57:15)
Ephrem was much grieved by the things he saw around him, and yet continually rejoiced in the Lord despite much suffering. Like St Paul, he had nothing by way of worldly goods and yet, ‘possessing all things, he made many rich through his life and ministry.’ (2 Cor. 6. 10)
Refusing to permit the fact that he had an awful voice deter him from worshipping the Lord wholeheartedly, he went on to be have one of the most creative and prolific writers and composers in all of Church history, writing hymns that encapsulated spiritual truths in memorable form, whilst also serving to combat many of the heresies that were going the rounds in Syria at that time.
These hymns caused him to become known as ‘The harp of the Holy Spirit’ (Kenārâ d-Rûḥâ in Syriac). More than 400 of them survive, and they remain popular to this day in the Church in the Middle East. You will be blessed by an Arabic version of one of several Hymns to the Light that he composed and find the words below.
The Light of the just and joy of the upright is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Begotten of the Father, He manifested himself to us.
He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of His light.
Day is dawning upon us; the power of darkness is fading away.
From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes.
His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss.
Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken.
Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light.
The dead arise from the dust and sing because they have a Saviour.
He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high.
He will return in glorious splendour and shed His light on those gazing upon Him.
Our King comes in majestic glory.
Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.
Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us.
He will indeed rejoice us with His marvellous light.
Let us glorify the majesty of the Son and give thanks to the almighty Father
Who, in an outpouring of love, sent Him to us, to fill us with hope and salvation.
When He manifests Himself, the saints awaiting Him in weariness and sorrow,
will go forth to meet Him with lighted lamps.
The angels and guardians of heaven will rejoice
in the glory of the just and upright people of earth;
Together crowned with victory,
they will sing hymns and psalms.
Stand up then and be ready!
Give thanks to our King and Saviour,
Who will come in great glory to gladden us
with His marvellous light in His kingdom.
In some ways, Ephrem reminds me of Caedmon, the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon cowherd who was given the gift of song by the Holy Spirit, and who was commissioned by Hilda of Whitby to write powerful hymns packed full of Scriptural truths that introduced many to the faith. You will enjoy reading more about Caedmon here, in a post called ‘Heaven’s Kingdom’ after a phrase from one of his hymns.
When the harp of the Holy Spirit leads us into burdens of lament
Praise God for every one of His children who are willing to pick up and share Christ’s own burdens for the world! We have long been on the lookout for songs and pieces of music that are ‘deep’ enough to take us into the heart of what is going on. This powerful song by Grace Nadine, who used to lead worship at our conferences many years ago, is a real help for lifting heavy burdens to the Lord, whether concerning personal matters or international affairs.
When the phrase ‘the burden of our song’ or ‘the burden of our heart’ occurs in hymns, it often concerns the fact that Jesus has forgiven all our sins. That of course is the greatest thing of all, but here, but I am focusing first on our hearts responding in love to His heart, and then of taking on board the burdens that He feels for situations.
For more of our teaching on this subject, see: The Art of Burden Bearing;
Burden bearing in the spirit, and Strategic Listening and bearing burdens in the Spirit.
Here are just a tiny selection of situations in need of ongoing prayer: that some of you may feel called to identify with. For example, this update on what is happening now in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
More and more persecution is being targeted against Christians around the world, with one person dying for their faith every two hours, and 350,000,000 people living under the constant strain it causes. Many in China have been dependent for their discipleship on the Internet – but posts cannot be made to Christian sites now unless they accord with the policy of the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party.