What is your favorite song? This is a question that, as a song leader, I am often asked after leading people in worship. The simple answer to that question is that I really don’t have a favorite song. When I think of the songs we sing, I find myself liking a variety of them for a variety of reasons. I enjoy some songs because they remind me of a special person in my life; I enjoy some songs because of the beauty of the melody; and I enjoy some songs because of the beautiful message they convey.
Henry F. Lyte’s “Abide With Me” is one of those songs that haunts my mind. Its message is so clear and its melody so beautiful. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have led this song in worship services, at funerals, or at family singing times in the living room. I am ashamed to say that sometimes I don’t look for the deeper meanings in songs. I know this song is sung in praise to God and that when we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we bring Him glory; but the message of this song is one that is steeped in Scripture.
In the 15th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus shares the analogy of the vine and the branches, where he refers to himself as the “true vine” and his father, God, as the “gardener.” Consider for a moment the relationship between a plant and its gardener. The gardener loves and cares for his plants by fertilizing, watering, pruning, and weeding them. This is a labor of love for an object that cannot return that emotion. God cares for us much like the gardener cares for a plant. God gives us living water through His word (John 4), feeds us with the bread of life (John 6:35), and weeds out the things we don’t need (Psalm 139); and, unlike the plant, we can return that love to God. In the seventh verse of Chapter 15, Jesus shares these words with his disciples, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7 (ESV). Therein lies the deeper message to one of my favorite songs.
Jesus calls us to abide with him, but the writer of “Abide With Me” is asking God to abide with him. Henry Lyte wrote this song in the last few days of his life while dying of tuberculosis. He left his home in England to try to find relief on the French Riviera; and in those last few days of life, as he was missing those whom he loved the most, he penned the words to this beautiful hymn. As he wrote the words “When other helpers fail and comforts flee. Help of the helpless, O abide with me!” he was crying out to God because he felt all alone.
The great message of this hymn is that God does abide with His children. Hebrews 13:5 states, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” To put it in other terms, God abides with us! In this world, I know plenty of people who would like to simply know that someone would abide with them no matter what; so let’s tell them about a God who inspired that great hymn, “Abide With Me.”
Be Strong and Courageous,