Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
One of the sad stories to come out of the 1800s is the story of a famous songwriter named Stephen Foster. He is still known today as the ‘father of American music’. He wrote such classics as “Beautiful Dreamer”, “O Susanna”, “My old Kentucky Home” and “Old Folks at Home”.
You can still hear these tunes today. But he died tragically, aged 37, with a deep gash to his throat in a boarding house where he had been shaving and had fallen heavily to the floor bleeding profusely. No-one knew who he was. A doctor was called to help, and then the police took him to a local hospital. But he died not long after, and still, no-one knew who he was. A friend, concerned that he hadn’t seen him around, went to the morgue, and there were dozens of corpses with no names.
Eventually, they went through his clothes—a ragged coat that smelled of liquor, 38 cents in one pocket, and a scrap of paper in the other pocket. And on the paper the words ‘Dear friends and gentle hearts’ were written. I don’t think anyone knew the significance of these words, but today there is a song with that title—“Dear friends and gentle hearts”. Maybe it was the title of a song he was about to write. How sad to realise one of America’s most gifted songwriters died a homeless man, unknown and without any significance, aged 37, back in 1864. There are many unknown people today walking our streets, homeless or without a friend. They feel no-one cares.
A long time ago, David in the Old Testament was hiding in a cave in fear of his life. Here was the great legend of David and Goliath, hiding and afraid. And we read in Psalm 142, verse 4: “Who cares enough to walk beside me? There is no place to hide, and no-one who cares”. He was going through a very difficult time of life and felt no-one cared. Maybe you’ve come across this old statement:
Don’t walk in front of me—I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me—I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Have you felt disappointed in life? I like the story of a schoolgirl in Britain in the early 1900s who was at a special occasion. When Edward VII, the King of England from 1901 to 1910, was visiting a city to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital, thousands of schoolchildren were present to greet him and to sing for him. Following the ceremony, the King walked past the excited youngsters. After he was gone, a teacher saw one of her students crying. She asked her, “Why are you crying? Did you not see the King?” “Yes,” the young girl sobbed, “but the King did not see me.” King Edward couldn’t have taken notice of each child in that throng—but that didn’t help her. She thought the King would have noticed her.
It’s a simple story but has a great truth. We all like to be noticed. But what can we do for those who are alone or facing great difficulty? Can we do anything? There is a story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice he saw going on in the world. “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish, and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?” God responded, “I did send help. I sent you.” And that’s the point. God has called you and me to do something for the poor and lonely.
It’s one of the foundations of the Christian faith to love our neighbour. It was William Barclay who said, “God does not need so many people to do extraordinary things, as much as He needs people who do ordinary things extraordinarily well”. Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world that lightens the burden of anyone else”. And that is so true.
We are all linked, and our actions, large and small, make a difference in this world. God asks us to make a difference, and he asks us to do more than we think possible, but he doesn’t ask us to do anything alone. Somebody said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and what I should do and can do, by the Grace of God I will do.” Let us each be ready to make a difference in this world.