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Old hymns – and new lyrics

by Nils von Kalm


In our Christian culture, with its emphasis on glitz and noise, it is important to look back at times on some of the great hymns that have come to us down through the ages. Some of the greatest hymns of history were written in the most unlikely of circumstances. Consider the most famous of all, Amazing Grace. Its author, John Newton, would later be a mentor to William Wilberforce in his fight against the evil of slavery. But in 1779, when this hymn was written, Newton was a slave trader and wrote Amazing Grace while waiting in a port for a shipment of slaves.

Another famous hymn, Abide with Me, was written by H.F. Lyte when he was suffering from severe ill-health. Mark Sayers recounts the story of the writing of this hymn in his recent book, The Vertical Self . Sayers says,  on September 4, 1847, the Reverend H.F. Lyte preached his last sermon. Suffering from ill-health, he would be dead before the year was out. He left his chapel, which was filled mostly with fishermen, went back to his home, and wrote the classic hymn, Abide with Me…When you consider that ministers like Reverend Lyte feared that the intellectual foundations of their faith were collapsing around them, the hymn takes on a different tone. It is a plea for God to stay with humanity, because religion seemed to be leaving Western culture.

Probably the most inspirational story of a hymn being written in unlikely circumstances is that of Horatio Spafford when he wrote It is Well with My Soul. Spafford wrote this hymn in the context of losing almost everything he owned in a fire, followed by his 4 year old son to Scarlet fever, and then shortly after, his 4 daughters in a tragedy at sea. The clip below tells the story in moving detail of Spafford’s extraordinary faith in a God who is close to the broken hearted and who provides hope for those who have none.


Next time you sing these hymns, remember the stories behind them. They are not just boring old songs of a bygone era. They tell a rich history of the work of a God of grace and restoration in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.


Power of a lyric – Window in the Skies

by Nils von Kalm


‘I’ve got no shame…oh can’t you see what love has done?’ – U2, Window in the Skies


Therapist John Bradshaw talks about the concept of toxic shame, which arises out of the core belief that you are a bad person rather than a loved person who still tends to go their own way.

Bradshaw uses this concept in relation to the addict who hates their destructive behaviour but is unable to stop it. He then goes on to talk about the inner child and how that child has been deeply wounded and has never grown up. And so we have, in our society today, many children walking around in adult’s bodies. Toxic shame is destructive and must be distinguished from healthy shame. The latter is born of a healthy conscience which lets us know when we have done something destructive. Some might also use the term ‘convicted’ as in when we are convicted of sin.

The huge difference between healthy shame and toxic shame is that when something destructive is done, toxic shame concludes, “I’m a bad person”, whereas healthy shame says “I’ve done the wrong thing but I’m still loved”. The difference lies deep down in the human psyche; it has to do with our core beliefs about who we are. The person filled with toxic shame has a core belief that “I am not worth loving and so therefore it makes sense that I would take part in behaviour that is destructive, both to others and to myself”. The person who is able to feel healthy shame when they do something destructive has a core belief that they are loved unconditionally, and the fact that they occasionally do the wrong thing does not take away from that.

The person filled with toxic shame is much more likely to participate in behaviours that result in a downward spiral of destruction even though they don’t want to. The prime example of this is the addict who desperately wants to stop but finds themselves absolutely powerless to do so.They are trapped in a cycle where their behaviour confirms in their own mind that they are hopeless, so they may as well act like it. So then they act like it, which further confirms their core belief, and so the cycle continues.

The person with such a core belief is also trapped in another sense. They are trapped in the sense that they are unable to focus on anything outside of themselves. Their lives are focused ever inward and they are unable to give. Thus they are self-centred in the extreme. They often want to be a different person, but because they are trapped in the cycle of self, they are never able to realise their full potential. They are therefore despondent and miserable, without joy, unable to think clearly, and riddled with anxiety.

The only cure for the deep wound in the human heart is having a deep knowing of divine forgiveness. John Smith said many years ago that the effect of acceptance of forgiveness on society is much more powerful than any social welfare theory.

Knowing that you are a loved child of God quite literally makes all the difference in the world. It frees you from the bondage of self; it frees you to be able to give and to love, and thereby find the life you’ve always been looking for. The old words of the 1st letter of John are true – we love because He first loved us.

In a society where we are (literally) sold the message that having more stuff will cure the ache within, where the idea of ‘retail therapy’ is believed by millions, the words of Jesus have more relevance than ever – “what will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?”.

May you know the life that is truly life; a life of service of others in the name of Jesus. Perfect love drives out all fear, all anxiety, and all toxic shame. Never again need we resort to acts which hurt others and which in turn hurt ourselves. If the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed. We have been given grace upon grace. Freely we have received, so we can freely give, all because He first loved us.


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