The Red Back Hymnal

The CHURCH HYMNAL:  “What a Friend We Have (in Jesus)”

Bill Lloyd
Bill Lloyd

We’re all accustomed to hearing words of exclamation–– all the way from remembering Eddie Haskell’s (“Leave It to Beaver”) frequent and insincere compliment to Wally and Beaver’s mother, “That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver!” –– to many men boasting to others each Summer, “WHAT a great game of golf I played this morning!”

Then on the other side of the coin are words of exclamation that tell of horrendous things in life, such as the recent flooding in Louisiana that has claimed several lives and taken property and possessions from thousands of people.  In such a time as this, we say of this most difficult situation, “How terrible it is for all those precious people who have lost everything!”  
And such a statement is absolutely correct!  Christians across America are not only praying for those adversely affected by this catastrophe, but Americans are giving money and providing goods and services to help these Louisiana residents make a new beginning.   
So, in most everything in life, we are accustomed to hearing someone speak words that evoke some type of emotion, whether these words bring ‘surprise,’ ‘happiness,’ or even ‘sorrow.’
Some will no doubt remember Chester A. Riley’s (TV’s “The Life of Riley” in the 1950s) familiar catchphrase to most any trouble he found, and Riley was always in trouble of some kind.  Nearly every week he would look directly into the camera lens, and with a pathetic stare that would say it all, he would exclaim, “What a revoltin’ development this is!!!”
We think of words of exclamation found in many areas of life, but do you ever stop to think that phrases of exclamation are also found in Gospel music?  One of the earliest songs of this type must be “WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE (IN JESUS)!”  This Joseph Scriven & C. C. Converse song is found in most hymnals, including “the old Red Back book” CHURCH HYMNAL.
I appreciate all the words of this song –– for they speak of our wonderful Friend we have in Jesus, and of Him taking “ALL our sins and griefs to bear!”  While most of us have many friends in this life, NONE will ever compare to Jesus, for in the Bible we see He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ~ Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:13,14).
The songwriters continue to remind us through this first verse with exclamation, “WHAT A PRIVILEGE to carry, EV’RYTHING to God in prayer!”  We must trust our Friend (Jesus) completely, for the writers add, “…O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, ALL because we do not carry, EV’RYTHING to God in prayer.”
You might not think of it immediately, but song titles with some form of exclamation are also found in many other Gospel songs, whether in hymns, convention songs, or Southern Gospel music.  In this writing, we highlight just a few songs that begin with one particular term, such as is found in title of this month’s featured song.
*** “WHAT A Happy Time!” –– (Songwriters J. M. Henson & J. T. Cook) ~ This CHURCH HYMNAL song encourages each one to “Come and join us on our march, to that happy place… Praising Jesus evermore, WHAT A HAPPY TIME!”
*** “WHAT A Lovely Name!” –– (Songwriter Charles B. Wycuff) ~ Words of truth are spoken in this Convention song when Wycuff wrote, What a lovely name, the name of Jesus, Reaching higher far than the brightest star;  Sweeter than the songs they sing in Heaven, Let the world proclaim, WHAT A LOVELY NAME!”
*** “WHAT A Meeting In the Air!” –– (Songwriters Marty & Ann Phillips) ~ Great assurance is given to each Saint of God when we sing: “What a glad, happy day ‘twill be!  What a glorious jubilee!  All of Heaven will be there.  WHAT A MEETING IN THE AIR!” 
*** “WHAT A Precious Friend Is He!” –– (Songwriter Henry Slaughter) ~ The goodness of the Lord is revealed throughout the song when Slaughter wrote these words: “I’ve a Friend Who’s always near me.  I’ve a Friend Who always cheers me.  I’ve a Friend Who is so dear to me.  WHAT A PRECIOUS FRIEND IS HE!”
*** “WHAT A Savior!” –– (Songwriter Marvin P. Dalton) ~ What more can be said, other than I want to hear Rosie Rozell once again sing, “O WHAT A SAVIOR, O hallelujah, His heart was broken on Calvary;  His hands were nail-scarred, His side was riven, He gave His life-blood for even me.”
Some years ago, I saw a comic in a magazine that depicted a weary-looking man, alone and crawling across a desert. His clothing was threadbare. He had several days growth of beard and the desert Sun was beating him down more and more with each inch he crawled. More than anything, you could tell this man wanted cool water to drink.
While moving onward ever so slowly, this man suddenly came upon a simple sign that had been put up in the sand.  This sign had a solid white background, and near the middle was a small black X, along with three simple words that reminded the reader: “YOU ARE HERE.”
While comics often depict a lighter side of life, there is certainly nothing funny about actually being stranded in a desert, only to learn your predicament is being pinpointed by others.    
We may come to the middle of a place in our Christian life where it seems we are all alone. There’s no one around to help, and it appears no one cares. It’s in such a place spiritually that the enemy of our soul will point us to an imaginary sign that bears extra-large lettering and words that read, “YOU ARE HERE.”
satan’s (small “s”) implication is clear. In your state of mind at the time, it’s there he will try to convince you there is no hope whatsoever in your dilemma. In yourparticular desert experience, he might even tell you a partial truth, one thought being God can answer prayer. But he quickly adds, “…for everyone else,except for you.” I know, for he once tried telling me the same.
When you are going through a great trial, there is always a feeling of loneliness and total desperation. You may think to yourself: “I’m the only one who has ever gone through this (problem). Surely, I’m the only one who has ever felt so deserted!”
But consider the Old Testament’s mention of Joseph. Look how his brothers “conspired against him to slay him (Genesis 37:18), and then cast him into a pit that is in the wilderness… and the pit was empty, there was no water in it (Genesis 37:22, 24).  If satan had placed a sign in that pit for Joseph to see, surely it would have been one that read: “YOU ARE HERE (and there’s no way out!)”
Consider how Joseph was sold and ended up in Egypt. See how his brothers lied about him to their father. Discover how Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph. Yet in all Joseph’s trouble – from pit to prison – “the Lord was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2a; 21a).
Look at Job – another one who perhaps faced an imaginary sign placed by the enemy, and one that also read, “YOU ARE HERE.”  Still, in all of Job’s difficulty, he sinned not. Early on, his wife asked, Dost thou still retain integrity? Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9).  He refused that discouraging input by his wife, and he still was able to say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth…”(Job 19:25).
Matthew, chapter 4, tells us, Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”(verse 1). But with every temptation, Jesus gave satan the Word: “It is written…”  Following satan’s departure,“behold, angels came and ministered unto Him”(Matthew 4:11).
It is said that in “every desert of trial, God has an oasis of comfort.” While in YOUR desert experience, satan would have you dwell upon your present problem. He would have you think you are never getting out of the situation, by constantly indicating: “YOU ARE HERE – YOU ARE HERE – YOU ARE HERE.”
After remembering the trials of Joseph, Job – and even of Jesus, remove the cap from your wide felt tip marker and write something else on that three-word sign.  Cross out the first two words that read, “YOU ARE…” and replace them with two other words, so the sign now reads: “JESUS IS HERE.”
The Psalmist wrote in the 23rd Psalm, “He restoreth my soul. He then added, “Yea, though I walk throughthe valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” (verse 4).
Without a doubt, the devil wants to keep you down, but when you’ve got your Friend Jesus – the Living Water – in you heart, you’ll not be crawling out of your desert.  You’ll have His strength to stand to your feet and walk through it with Jesus.
“Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a Friend so faithful, Who will ALL our sorrows share? JESUS knows our ev’ry weakness, Take it to the Lord in prayer!
“Are we weak and heavy laden? Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge, Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer? In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.”
–– Bill
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