Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
I’d like to talk about a man who at age 32 wrote a hymn which is still considered by many as the greatest of all. And I’m talking about the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light” written by John Henry Newman in 1833. It still is sung in churches today, and has been a help to many.
I read that Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the American newspaper publisher who died in 1968, found life difficult and stressful during the years of World War II. He was responsible for the highly respected The New York Times, and it was hard going. Countries were at war, and he was worried about his work, and found it difficult to sleep. He found it hard to banish worries from his mind until he came across this hymn “Lead, Kindly Light”. In particular the first verse which says:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home─
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see
The distant scene, one step enough for me.
The five words ‘one step enough for me’ became his motto, and kept his sanity.
John Henry Newman was at one point the incumbent of St Mary’s Church in Oxford and had gone on a preaching/teaching tour south of Europe. Much had happened in his life and he was a troubled man, and approached a crisis in his religious and spiritual life. On board a ship during a storm, he spent time in prayer and meditation and recalled the Israelites in the wilderness who were led in the encircling gloom. His hymn “Lead, kindly Light” was born. Perhaps Newman had read Exodus 13:21-22:
The Lord guided them by a pillar of cloud during the daytime, and a pillar of fire at night so they could travel either by day or night. The cloud and fire were never out of sight.
Will God guide me?
And those words ‘one step enough for me’ are a great statement of faith. As Christians, very often we pray, Lord, show me what to do with my life. Well, God says, Trust me for today. I’ll guide your days one step at a time. Our mission is to take one step at a time. The waters of the Jordan River didn’t open for the Israelites until they stepped into the water. Life with God is like that. It’s like the automatic door going into the shopping centre: it only opens as you start walking towards it.
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Here is a question you may have asked sometime: How can I be sure that God will guide me? There are lots of wonderful verses in the Bible to encourage us to find the answer:
- Psalm 25:8-10 – TLB says: “The Lord is good and glad to teach the proper path to all who go astray. He will teach the ways that are right and best to those who humbly turn to Him. And when we obey Him, every path He guides us on is fragrant with His loving kindness and His truth.”
- Psalm 32:8 – TLB says: “I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise you and watch your progress.”
If you are willing to do God’s will, he will reveal it to you. Many Christians can testify to that being true. But often it’s one step at a time, for God does not always lay down before us the whole blueprint of our life in advance, for we have a free will to accept or reject his plan. But there are times when God speaks in remarkable ways, as he did by the cloud and pillar of fire for the children of Israel. The wise men, you recall, were looking for the Christ child when a star they had seen in the East came to rest over the place where Jesus was born. The Apostle Paul had a vision one night of a man in Macedonia pleading with him to come and help him—you can read that in Acts 16. Paul responded and changed his travelling plans because God had guided him in that way.
God delights in guiding us
God delights in guiding his people, as biblical history shows. Martin Luther once said, “I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide”. God loves us individually, and is concerned with us. He is vitally interested in every step we take, and that’s why he makes promises like, “I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch your progress.” (Psalm 32:8). With faith in God who says that, we can be very confident. His way for you may not be the easiest or even the safest, but it will be the right way.
You’ve probably heard of the late Corrie Ten Boom who was imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the terrible women’s concentration camp. After the war she travelled the world speaking about her years of torment and suffering. But at age 85, her supporters gave her a retirement home in California. For 33 years she never had a home of her own. When a friend visited her one day, he said “Hasn’t God been good to give you this beautiful place?” She firmly replied, “God was good when I was in the concentration camp as well”. She lived out the truth of God’s guidance. No matter what happened, she believed God was guiding her, one step at a time.
Perhaps a good thought to have is: Lord, I’ll be what you want me to be. I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll go where you want me to go.
“The Pillar of the Cloud”, John Henry Newman (1801–90)
LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home ─
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene ─ one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
June 16, 1833.