I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side, Nor wander from the pathway If Thou wilt be my Guide. (John E. Bode’s hymn, 1868)
Throughout its history, Christianity has often had us focusing on Christian salvation as a journey or a pathway to a future place. And in many ways it is. But my Christian experience has been more like a battle, as John Bode described it in his hymn. Day-by-day and morning-by-morning, I’m struggling against selfishness or anger or worry or loneliness or illness.
Knowing what we face, knowing that we human beings aren’t going to win our way forward without an Advocate by our side, God sent His Son to fight with us and for us. That’s because salvation is more, much more, than just a future hope, and it is also more than just a human journey from here to there. As I see it, salvation is a full-scale war against a natural life that would make us all prisoners!
So, in the tumult of troubling times, we pray along with Bode, “Be Thou forever near me” and “O let me feel Thee near me!” And we do feel the continuing comfort of Christ’s nearby presence. That is what has drawn people to Christianity over the centuries. During the turmoil of loss or conflict, the Lord lifts our eyes to the peaceful beauty of a sunset or the promise of a rainbow. And the living Lord by our side calms us during the destructive roar of a storm.
When I get bogged down, just as John Bode wrote, I need “my Savior and my Friend” to be “forever near me.” I need to be quiet so I can hear him “speaking in accents clear and still.” There is no greater freedom and no greater purpose for our lives. When we give the burden to the Lord, things might not get perfect, but they will always get better. The spirit of Jesus is, indeed, present and “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).