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Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh.
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh.
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
George Croly’s “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
The hymn text “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” is a beloved prayer, beautifully written by George Croly (1780–1860), who was a minister in the Church of England. In 1835 he asked to be sent to the slums of London to revive St. Stephen’s, a church that had been closed for a century. In 1854 he compiled a hymnal for his then-thriving congregation and wrote these words for them.
I have sung this hymn many times but never really thought about the words “to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh.” I have struggled with them over the past week. The Bible is filled with rising doubts and sighs; Abraham, Moses, and Job all had times of doubt. The psalms are filled with sighing and struggling. Even Jesus doubted on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And one of the earliest followers of Jesus was even nicknamed “doubting Thomas” because he would not believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched his wounds.
Doubt is a natural part of faith. How could we have one without the other? It is the struggle with doubt that leads to faith, and for most of us, we are always going back and forth between the two. And how can we not sigh, even a “rebel sigh,” when a son is lost too soon, when a father has cancer, or when an accident leads to an extreme physical challenge. I believe God sighs with us when these things happen.
So “the rising doubt, the rebel sigh” are part of what it means to be on the Christian journey. I know we are all children of God, loved more than we will ever know in this life, in this present time. God is always there, in those slums of London, in the hospital room, or on the Gold Coast of Chicago.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart. Stay with me through my rising doubt and my rebel sigh. Help me to trust that you are always there, loving and caring for me, leading me to fuller understanding of you. Amen.
Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music
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