lyrics for living 12 (fulness of my might)

It is early Sunday morning, my preferred time to write a blog. For me this task is in every sense a sabbatical activity, recreative and restorative. This morning I am feeling overwhelmed by nostalgia. Later today I will be back preaching from Ecclesiastes...

In many ways Ecclesiastes is where it all started. It is the first book of the Bible I loved, as an expositor. That first series, almost thirty years ago, is still with me: The Memoirs of a Grandfatherly Sage. Truth be told, the guy is writing his own blog in these twelve chapters. He would ease so easily into our fake news, alternative-facts, post-truth discussions today.

Then came the invitation to speak at a TSCF/IFES Student conference, exactly twenty years ago (1997): Swoosh Spirituality: Ecclesiastes Confronts the Nike Generation. Here dawned my first love as a preacher. Opening the Word and opening the World in the course of the same sermon (series). Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis. The Stottian 'between two worlds' and 'double listening'. I remember spending so much time exegeting Nike, so that I could patiently tell its story alongside the Ecclesiastes one, but with God's Word having the final say. My conclusion? Pretty much as this picture, which we created for the series, suggests...

On another occasion I worked through the book at a Presbyterian church in South Auckland over Easter. Afterwards I received a caustic note, with the damning appraisal: 'synagogue sermons'. It took me another fifteen years before I concurred. Now I teach, with some feeling as a result, that these series from Old Testament books need to be both theocentric and christotelic. One further series stands out in the memory: Selley's Spirituality. 'Selleys' was a fill-the-gap product available at the local hardware store and this time I tried to make a case for the way Ecclesiastes addresses issues that the church in New Zealand had forgotten. The one other thing I remember is doing some writing for a magazine and an article called Kiwi Kulture: Consulting a Wise Advisor. Yes, lots of nostalgia this morning. This ol' fella has been a friend along the way for a very long time...

But something else happened in that 1997. After being invited to consider the principalship of Carey Baptist College (Auckland), in a conversation that lasted most of 1996, everything was dropped, inexplicably, in that October. It was all very odd. A letter arrived and that was it. 'Not interested. We've moved on.' No explanation given. I don't remember being too dislocated, as it was not a role for which I would have thought myself qualified to apply for anyway. But then that March morning, a few months later, is still with me. I was in Kathmandu, visiting m-workers in a role I had with Interserve. An email arrived from Barby with two shattering pieces of news. My little niece, Rachael, had all but drowned in the family swimming pool ... and the job of principal at Carey had been offered to me, out of nowhere. A few days later I was flying from Larnaca to Athens - and as that plane dipped down into Athens, I looked out the window and my heart strangely turned and warmed to this opportunity. I knew the call of God to it from that moment.

Why am I meandering through all this nostalgia? Well, when the time came for the induction service in Dunedin later that year, I was asked to choose a hymn that was meaningful to me. I could almost hear my ol' mate whispering in my ear. 'You gotta choose this one'. Baptist Hymnbook #446. As I am going to tell folks later this morning, Ecclesiastes is a bit like a Maths' school book. They are both filled with questions and puzzles ... and the answers can be found in the back, in chapters 11 & 12. This is the way to live. These words in this hymn capture it so well. They had taken on anthem-status at this time in my life.

Lord, in the fullness of my might, I would for Thee be strong;
While runneth o'er each dear delight, to Thee should soar my song.

I would not give the world my heart and then profess Thy love:
I would not feel my strength depart and then Thy service prove.

I would not with swift-winged zeal on the world's errands go:
And labour up the heavenly hill with weary feet and slow.

O not for Thee my weak desires, my poorer, baser part!
O not for Thee my fading fires, the ashes of my heart!

O choose me in my golden time, in my dear joys have part;
For Thee the glory of my prime, the fulness of my heart!

I cannot, Lord, too early take the covenant divine:
O ne'er the happy heart may break whose earliest love was Thine.

Oh, how I used to love to sing out this hymn, oftentimes with a trickle down the cheek. It used to get to me, but I am becoming too old for it now! This is a nostalgic trip. I feel kinda sad. The words no longer have quite the same resonance with my longings. It is pitched at younger people than I am now. I hope there are still some who might open their hearts to it - and maybe a musician or two who can create a good tune :).

Still, I think I might read it as a closing prayer later this morning. It fits my text - Ecc 11 & 12 - so well.

nice chatting


PS: Not surprisingly, I cannot find a version on youtube that can commend this hymn. Sorry - but organ accompaniments with unfamiliar tunes do not count!


David A said…
Lots of good tunes Paul - here are a few you could sing this hymn to BHB 216, 203, 149, 73 or 437 (add chorus from 437) . # 73 would be my favorite for this hymn (any tune with "CM" be used). Thanks for the blog.
Paul said…
Yes, David, I used to enjoy taking hymns and playing with the equivalent of the 'CM' notation and finding a tune that sounded good. I liked the one we used to sing with BHB446 - but I can't remember what it is called. The tune that popped up on youtube, with the organ, was a bit dreary. But then I am not a great fan of the organ sound (even though my father and grandfather were organists). Sadly I have just my lyrics-only hymnbook with me here in India and so cannot check your suggestions - but I'll take your word for it. Thanks.
Elliot Rice said…
Thanks Paul. Nice timing - we're starting a series on Ecclesiastes in a few weeks and just beginning to plan it seriously. Can't wait! We'll be listening to the sage through Lent for 6 weeks. Besides ch 11 & 12, what are the passages that have stood out to you?

Hope your talk went well on Sunday.
Paul said…
Hey Elliot - often reflect on that special catch-up with you both in September. Hope you are still travelling well with Jesus in his church. Here goes...

2.1-12 captures so much of the pulse of the story.
4.1-12 are some of the saddest verses in the Bible.
I love the glimpses of a big God in 3.1-14 and 5.1-3.
Some of the wisdom sayings, too: 'better to go to a funeral than a party' etc

The special vocab needs a sermon all of its own: 'meaningless ... gain ... chasing ... under the sun' - all of which have christotelic possibilities in terms of a gospel response.

I'm actually working on a series, too - with a bunch of trainers up north among the massive grassroots, emerging church (a phrase which has very different connotations than what it has had back home).

If I was home I'd be eating up the Bartholomew commentary. I guess you've seen it.

Yes, it is a favourite topic for me - see also, for example:

Have fun - greatly grateful greetings to you both.

Elliot Rice said…
Us too, Paul - that was a meaningful evening!

Thanks for the tips, we used them in our staff dream session just now and found them a useful foundation. Can't wait to get into this. I'll acquire the Bartholomew commentary - hard to go past that raving review of yours! Are there any others that stand out for you?

Hope things are continuing well for you and Barby.

Paul said…
The other one I've been reading is Greidanus on Preaching Christ From Ecclesiastes. It is OK - and helps the preacher stay clear of 'synagogue sermons' - but I've found the engagement a bit disappointing overall. Often he just seems to collect verses from the New Testament that carry a reminder of what Ecclesiastes is going on about, without going deeper. Having said that, his sample sermons (which take up a lot of the book) have been useful.

Don't miss Kathleen Farmer's Who Knows What is Good?. I've lent it out - but my memory is of about 60 fascinating pages. Robert Johnston's Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film is kinda fun as well.

all the best with it


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