A Dialogue Between A Believer and His Soul by Joseph Hart

I have in mind to share here, now and then, poems and passages of literature which I find particularly beautiful and useful. I came across the following lyrics by Joseph Hart in an anthology of Christian poetry, called The Sacrifice of Praise. I love the way the very structure of the poem echos the internal conflict of a soul fighting to preach rather than listen to itself.  The stanzas start off long with more sophisticated argument, but as the soul exhausts its questions and gives way to the believer, the stanzas shorten as one gasping for breath. The soul’s cries become groanings and the believer’s truth most pointed and persevering.

A Dialogue Between A Believer and His Soul
Jospeph Hart (1712-1768)

Come, my soul, and let us try,
For a little season,
Every burden to lay by;
Come, and let us reason.
What is this that casts thee down?
Who are those that grieve thee?
Speak, and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.

O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil;
Restless as the troubled seas;
Feeble, faint, and fearful;
Plagued with every sore disease;
How can I be cheerful?

Think on what thy Saviour bore
In the gloomy garden.
Sweating blood at every pore,
To procure thy pardon!
See him stretched upon the wood,
Bleeding, grieving, crying,
Suffering all the wrath of God,
Groaning, gasping, dying!

This by faith I sometimes view,
And those views relieve me;
But my sins return anew;
These are they that grieve me.
O, I’m leprous, stinking, foul,
Quite throughout infected;
Have not I, if any soul,
Cause to be dejected?

Think how loud thy dying Lord
Cried out, ‘It is finished!’
Treasure up that sacred word,
Whole and undiminished;
Doubt not he will carry on,
To its full perfection,
That good work he has begun;
Why, then, this dejection?

Faith when void of works is dead;
This the Scriptures witness;
And what works have I to plead,
Who am all unfitness?
All my powers are depraved,
Blind, perverse, and filthy;
If from death I’m fully saved,
Why am I not healthy?

Pore not on thyself too long,
Lest it sink thee lower;
Look to Jesus, kind as strong
Mercy joined with power;
Every work that thou must do,
Will thy gracious Saviour
For thee work, and in thee too,
Of his special favour.

Jesus’ precious blood, once spilt,
I depend on solely,
To release and clear my guilt;
But I would be holy.

He that bought thee on the cross
Can control thy nature,
Fully purge away thy dross;
Make thee a new creature.

That he can I nothing doubt,
Be it but his pleasure.

Though it be not done throughout,
May it not in measure?

When that measure, far from great,
Still shall seem decreasing?

Faint not then, but pray and wait,
Never, never ceasing.

What when prayer meets no regard?

Still repeat it often.

But I feel myself so hard.

Jesus will thee soften.

But my enemies make head.

Let them closer drive thee.

But I’m cold, I’m dark, I’m dead.

Jesus will revive thee.

Time to Laugh

We sort of crash into Wednesday afternoons. Today it’s raining and everyone is tired. Naps didn’t quite seem the right kind of rest, so we went the laugh hysterically at ourselves by matching personalities to movie characters route. I highly recommend it.

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Child-bearing: A Cursed Blessing

baby-1296409_1280Baby bumps, “the glow,” a new wardrobe, showers of gifts, bundles of joy– pregnancy can really sound appealing. War sounds appealing to young boys too. But veterans will tell you, after all the strategy is drawn and the military precision practiced, when the battle starts to rage it is bloody, chaotic, and terrifying. I think pregnancy is a little like that. (Actually, without the blessing of modern medicine, it is a lot like that.)

EdgarSometimes people like to wax poetic about the miracle growing inside you. But I usually get a strange creeping sensation up the back of my legs. Remember Edgar from Men in Black? That’s the image that comes to my mind. I’ve been body snatched. I can’t walk straight, my face swells up, and foreign body parts, not controlled by my brain stem, start sticking out at random intervals. Hormones dip and sway, and so does my equilibrium and my mood. I can’t think of words. I feel more like my body has been invaded by aliens than like a bearer of miracles, and I’d just rather not talk about my insides.

I feel undignified, clumsy, stupid, and worst of all, I feel ashamed that I would have any negative feelings about a blessing as grand as bearing children, especially when it is not afforded to everyone. So I count my blessings and cry out gratitude to God. And it is good. But then I still have the feeling that each flight of stairs takes a year off my life, and my blood pressure drops so that I have to lay on the kitchen floor, hoping my 3-year-old is in the mood to obey and put the shredded cheese back in the fridge.

While I’m lying there on the floor, my prayer goes something like, “I know I should be thankful right now. I don’t want to complain. I know my body is not my own. I know this is a privilege. I want to raise Godly offspring. I want to do this right. I know you are in control of vasodilatation and spinal nerves. Why are you preventing me from doing this well?!”

And there it is –the source of the stench. Once, we had a dead mouse that was behind the oven. Cleaning the rugs helped a little and so did bleaching the trash cans, but we had to get to the source to get rid of the smell. I can count my blessings, try not to complain, and that is right and good. But at the root, I am believing wrong things about myself and about God. I would not “do this well” if only God would let me. God is doing for me all things well, including training me by trials of various kinds that lead me to repentance and to eternal life.

Wherever we find suffering, be it on a large scale, or in this case, of the most ordinary, mundane variety we should draw the line back to sin. I don’t mean a one-to-one kind of correlation necessarily, but we need in recognize that we are a cursed race from the time of Adam. We won’t apply the right remedy until we understand the cause. We are a cursed people. And for women, all things childbearing is at the center, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen 3:16)

Already, I’m encouraged, but only because I know where this story ends. The curse is not the last word. 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”  John Piper suggests an understanding of this verse by Henry Alford:

The curse on the woman for her [“transgression”] was, “in pains you will bear children”. Her [“childbearing”] is that in which the curse finds its operation. What then is here promised her? Not only exemption from that curse in its worst and heaviest effects: not merely that she shall safely bear children: but the Apostle uses the word [“will be saved”] purposely for its higher meaning [eternal salvation], and the construction of the sentence is precisely as [in] 1 Cor 3:15 — [“he will be saved so as through fire”]. Just as that man should be saved through, as passing through, fire which is his trial, his hindrance in his way, in spite of which he escapes — so she shall be saved, through, as passing through, her child-bearing, which is her trial, her curse, her (not means of salvation, but) hindrance in the way of it. (Alford, H. [2010].Alford’s Greek Testament: an exegetical and critical commentary [Vol. 3, 320]. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

The message to the cursed woman is the same message for all weary sinners- wounded, sick, sore, pregnant, anxious, or toiling. Piper ends with this encouragement: .

God’s word to all those burdens and frustrations and miseries is No! This is not my last word to you! My word is salvation! My word, in and through every fiery trial, is to save you, rescue you, preserve you, and give you a future and a hope. All of that through faith in Jesus Christ.

Seeking the Kingdom Before the Cookies

Guest Blogger: Stefan Hull is wife to Josh and mother of 5. She is a deep lover of God and neighbor and a fierce hater of her sin. 

oreos-925659_1280For a good portion of my life, I have experienced that particular woe of carrying extra weight. Having just delivered my fifth baby, I’m feeling the “extra” even more poignantly, along with a host of other maladies that post-partum seems to magnify exponentially.

I am stressed, tired, overwhelmed, feeling insufficient, bored with the mundane and quite often full of shame at how I look. My knee-jerk reaction is to hastily replace those feelings with literally anything else. It could be Facebook, a mindless game or an untimely nap, but I run to nothing as frequently as I run to food. Turns out I can’t rid the house of food, though I’ve considered. It will always be close at hand. The struggle often feels hopeless.

“Try harder,” I tell myself. “Be disciplined. Be better.” But I never can, I never do and I never will. Even the times I think I have overcome, I am simply replacing one master for another. I quickly, though not for any length of time, become the slave of fitness, self-love or vanity.

I used to think I had an eating problem, solved by eating better foods in better quantities in better ways. It has become obvious that the battle to “eat right” is just a distraction from the real war waging in my heart.

Jesus was clear when He said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”. Notice He didn’t mention anything about a quick detour to the cupboard to grab a few Oreos first. Eating has a remarkable ability to numb unpleasant feelings for a time, becoming a type of counterfeit savior, an idol. Jesus is asking for my affections, all of my affections, and particularly the broken ones so common to tired moms. I am instead offering my heart to mere morsels.

So there it is, the real battle. I am an idolater searching for rest in measly idols. Though it’s very bad, this is very good news. There is hope for idolaters. To the idolater, Jesus says “come.”

Rather than mindlessly raising my hand to my mouth, looking to rich foods and lonely feasts to save my soul from all the bad feels, I want to lift up my heart to Christ and do what He is so kindly commanding; come to Him. Come with the tired emotions, the overwhelming moments, the little disappointments, the big failures. Come, taste and see if He would give me what I truly seek.

Come to Him with those hard feelings, and stop trying to eat them. Lord, I feel overwhelmed with the constant chaos. I need you, though my body and mind want to be numbed with food, I know it promises what only you can give. Please help.

Come to Him in His word, not in the snack drawer. “I lift my eyes up, up to the Heavens. Where does my help come from?’ My help does not come from the maker of peanut butter cups.

Embrace God as my portion, not the cookie dough. “’The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’”

Repent. Lord, I’m an idolater, foolishly seeking what cannot give me satisfaction. You alone can satisfy, help my unbelief.

When I wage war here in my heart, fighting to keep Christ central, two wonderful things happen. The first, a byproduct and a happy consequence of not being a slave to food is I actually slim down. But absent are all the worried strivings and intense anger when it doesn’t come off fast enough.

The more important result; my soul is at ease. And isn’t this exactly what I have been pursuing, albeit in all the wrong places? A rested soul. Yes, I’m still fighting, but I’m fighting for the one thing that can actually give me peace.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Managing Spring Fever

7 Spencer kids

I have no scientific studies to cite, but I assure you by the authority of a mom, spring fever is real. My kids all go a little nuts each May. There is just more life in their little bodies than they know what to do with. While I do love for all of us to come out of our winter hibernation, it can feel like I’m dancing with hungry bears. Sure, it’s thrilling fun, but they could actually eat me alive, so here are a few of my successful strategies to keep the children from turning feral. I’d love to hear a few of yours!

  1. Spring cleaning. With all the extra energy, we take time off school for good physical labor. There are tons of jobs even little kids can do. Weed gardens, pick up sticks in the yard, wash their own toys, anything to covert some of that energy into productivity.
  2. Remain predictable. With all that extra energy buzzing through their limbs, the last thing kids need is to feel out of control, like they never know what will happen next. I’m not a strict routine person by any stretch of the imagination, but I do try to keep the order of the day fairly predictable. We have morning meeting every day after breakfast where we have a short Bible reading and prayer time, then we discuss the day ahead and what to expect.
  3. Change it up! I just said to be predictable, but change is in keeping with the spirit of the season. We rotate chores, change up our morning Bible story book, rearrange furniture, go on field trips, paint a room. Just like the Lord brings new leaves to old trees in the spring, it’s a great time to bring new life to old routines.
  4. Practice sitting still for a few minute intervals throughout the day. Before we have any instruction time, we try to first sit still and quiet to get under control, usually for 1-2 minutes. I think the din can become so familiar, that we all forget the peace that comes from quiet. They need to taste it again and again. We try to focus on one sound all together, like the birds outside or the humming of the fan, sometimes Chris gives them a scene to imagine. Have them close their eyes if it helps. Just one minute seems to remind all of us what a blessing quiet can be, and it becomes something they want more of.
  5. Rest time. Very similar to the reasons for short intervals of mandated quiet, each day we spend at least 30 minutes alone either reading or playing with a quiet toy for non-readers. A little absence from each other does make the heart grow fonder.
  6. Give them plenty of opportunities to live like children. Don’t despise the way the God has made them. Let them run, laugh, yell, wiggle, get dirty and wet, build, jump, roll, and hang upside down. You don’t have to have a lot or make it as orderly as you think. If you don’t believe me, E. Nesbit might convince you (which reminds me, read good books out loud!):

But the children were wiser, for once. It was not really a pretty house at all; it was quite ordinary, and mother thought it was rather inconvenient, and was quite annoyed at there being no shelves, to speak of, and hardly a cupboard in the place. Father used to say that the ironwork on the roof and coping was like an architect’s nightmare. But the house was deep in the country, with no other house in sight, and the children had been in London for two years, without so much as once going to the seaside even for a day by an excursion train, and so the White House seemed to them a sort of Fairy Palace set down in an Earthly Paradise. For London is like prison for children, especially if their relations are not rich.

Of course there are the shops and the theatres, and Maskelyne and Cook’s, and things, but if your people are rather poor you don’t get taken to the theatres, and you can’t buy things out of the shops; and London has none of those nice things that children may play with without hurting the things or themselves – such as trees and sand and woods and waters. And nearly everything in London is the wrong sort of shape – all straight lines and flat streets, instead of being all sorts of odd shapes, like things are in the country. Trees are all different, as you know, and I am sure some tiresome person must have told you that there are no two blades of grass exactly alike. But in streets, where the blades of grass don’t grow, everything is like everything else. This is why so many children who live in towns are so extremely naughty. They do not know what is the matter with them, and no more do their fathers and mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, tutors, governesses, and nurses; but I know. And so do you now. Children in the country are naughty sometimes, too, but that is for quite different reasons.

-from Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Not Enough

crocodileI have a nasty habit, from time to time, of practicing a little routine laziness. It’s not really a conscious plan, but it is a purposeful one. I reserve a little effort, so that when I look around at all the unfinished business of our life and home, I can say to myself, “Well, if you would just work harder, all this would be taken care of.” It’s a cheap attempt to manufacture hope. It doesn’t work.

Eventually, the guilt bubble swells to bursting and for many days I work with frenetic energy trying to get it all done. But invariably, even after a stretch of “doing my best,” laundry piles decorate my bedroom, a room needs painted, a friend is waiting for a return text, a kid is behind in math, a Bible study chapter remains unread, at least one child’s fingernails are disgusting, and someone is always wrong on the internet.

As you can guess, the result of this wild seesaw ride is not a serene heart with a finished to do list. It is either a mom turned drill-sergeant or a wife in a puddle of tears. On one puddle occasion, I spilled over onto Chris, “I am really trying- hard! It’s just not enough!” I think I even added something like, “I’m running up a sand slide over a pit of hungry alligators. And it doesn’t matter how bad I want to live, I’m losing ground!”

His reply that night was a paradigm shifter (he ignored the alligators),”Do you think the widow’s last coin was really going to buy anything? God doesn’t ask you to fill every need, he asks you to give all you have.”

Of course! The widow didn’t give all she had left because she thought it was going to relieve the synagogue of all its financial burdens, she gave because of who she valued and trusted. She valued the Lord over her own life, and she trusted that however he would use her last coin was better than buying her last meal.

Now, I have never literally had to give all I had. But I can still learn from someone who has. In those moments, when it feels like I’ve given everything I had to live on, then I have one last choice to make. Either, I can despair and die in the knowledge that everything I have and am is just a drop in the bucket, or, by faith, I can hold still while the Holy Spirit kills my self-sufficiency and reminds me that I already have Christ.

In his hand, our last coin is beyond comparing to the wealth of Solomon. In asking it of us, he is making room in our hearts to understand what it means to have Him. He has no need of our money or our great efforts, but is graciously pleased to use them, and what’s more, show us that he is all that we need.

Peace, Be Still


As any stranger on the street can attest, my hands are pretty full these days juggling OB appointments with Jr. High soccer and teaching kids to read. I love writing this blog, but being busy at home and in my church, I find it falling farther down the list (as it should). It dawned on me recently, that since this blog reflects bits of what I’m learning along the way, it could reflect that I am never learning these things alone. I am surrounded in Godly counsel and wise friends. I’ve cajoled a few into letting me share them with you. They feel inadequate and vulnerable, but their love for testifying about our great God has overcome. I hope you’ll enjoy my new category, “And Friends” from time to time.

Guest Blogger: Jenny Vanderwey. She is wife to Evan and mother of 10, and one who loves her God and her people with tenacity and courage.

Peace, Be Still

storm-918589_1280When Jesus was on the boat with his men, a storm came that terrified the disciples. When he finally woke up from his nap, the Lord calmed the storm with his mouth, “Peace, be still!” The men marveled, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

These past two or three years have been a doozy of a storm – in the Friendship Department. Lately the Lord has seen fit to inflict a few friends of mine with very hard providences. And while weighty trials are obviously very difficult and overwhelming for the ones doing the intense suffering, they can also be a heavy burden for those who love them. I’m not sure what I thought it would be like when I set out to be a loyal, gospel friend. I thought: you stick with someone, you love her like David loved Jonathan, you encourage when the person is faint, you show up when you think she needs you. You laugh, you pray, you love her kids, you give stuff, you speak scripture. You sometimes rebuke a little, you work to ask for forgiveness. I know one thing I thought for sure, going in, I thought, “I can do it.” Continue reading