|Rev. Donald S. Crisp|
(CFRA broadcast date: Sunday, April 22nd, 2012)
The Bible says in 1Thessalonians 5:16-18:
There, you have it. God’s will for our lives: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Now, as that as a biblical foundation implies, we have a basic understanding of God’s will for our lives. We can learn more, I believe, life lessons from a lady known in her day as Aunt Fanny.
Fanny Crosby was born March 24th, 1820, as Francis Jane Crosby. Her parents were Mercy and John Crosby. One month following Fanny’s birth, the Crosbys were alarmed. Something was wrong with Fanny’s eyes. Through the error of a physician who was treating Fanny’s eyes, baby Fanny was now left blind.
Eight months after Fanny’s birth, her dad died. That was in November, 1820. This left her mom, at the age of 21, a widow, with a family of five to care for and provide for.
You know, one life lesson I’ve learn, years ago, is this: Where God guides, He also provides. In this case, the provisionary gift from God to this family was Fanny’s grandmother; her grandmother, Eunice.
Eunice decided she would be her granddaughter’s eyes, and she began to mentor Fanny in life skills. Eunice taught her granddaughter about botany. Fanny learned to identify trees and flowers by touch and smell. Eunice would ask Fanny to play with a pile of leaves then ask her to identify each leaf. Eunice, without an education, taught Fanny to recite Milton, Shakespeare and Chapman’s Homer, as well as Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Eunice also taught Fanny the Bible. We’re told that Fanny had much of the Bible memorized. And, oh yes, she taught her to pray.
Life Lesson #1, I’m calling “An attitude of gratitude”. And I believe that’s exactly what we see in the life of Fanny Crosby. The Serenity Prayer that we know so well, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, in 1926 goes like this –usually we just hear the first part of it. Let me give you all of the words:
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Now, there’s an attitude of gratitude. Fanny Crosby, at age 8, wrote these words:
“O what a happy child I am, although I cannot see,
Now, that’s an attitude of gratitude!
Fanny was married March 5, 1858, to Alexander van Alstyne. In 1859, Fanny became a mother. O, but how sad, the baby died in infancy. Fanny never spoke of it. Nine years later, in the year 1868, Fanny wrote this hymn: “Pass me not, O gentle Saviour.”
We can hear Fanny’s cry to the Lord as she penned those words:
“Pass me not, O gentle Saviour. Hear my humble cry.
D.L. Moodie and Ira Sankey said of this woman, that she was the reason for the success of their evangelical campains. It was at these revivals that Fanny came alive in her faith in Christ. Did you know that in 95 years, Fanny wrote some 9,000 hymns; more than anyone else in recorded Christian history. And did you know, she received, but a Dollar for each one of those hymns that she wrote. And that’s probably why she always lived in the slums.
Fanny defined a hymn, and I really want us to catch this: She defined a hymn as “a song of the heart, addressed to God”.
If only we in the church could address the music: yes, the old and the new, with an attitude of gratitude. With an attitude that is prayerfully saying that this hymn, this chorus, this pray-song is a song of the heart, addressed to God.
Here are some of the songs of the heart, addressed to God, that are still familiar to many of us, today: “Jesus keep me near the cross”; “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it”; O yes: “Pass me not”; “I’m Thine O Lord”; “Blessed assurance that Jesus is mine”; “All the way my Saviour leads me”; and one of my very favourites: “He hideth my soul”: “A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, A wonderful Saviour to me. He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, where rivers of pleasure I see. He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, that shadows a dry thirsty land. He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand.”
Wow, those words still to this day take my breath away. “He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand.”
These words are truly from Fanny’s heart, as the song was written and addressed to the very heart of God. O yes, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks”… with an attitude of gratitude.
Let’s listen to an attitude of gratitude from a lady who loved God. This is what she said: “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for that dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me, tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had not been distracted by the beautiful things about me.
God says in Jeremiah 29, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you; Plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Are you practicing His will for your life? Are you rejoicing and praying, and thanking Him for the road you are traveling, no matter how difficult a road it is? Life Lesson #1: An attitude of gratitude.
Life Lesson #2: An attitude of grace. When asked about evangelism, and sharing the story of the cross with those who are lost, Fanny spoke with an attitude of grace. Listen to her words: “Don’t tell me a man is a sinner. You can’t save a man by telling him of his sins. He knows them, already. Tell him there is pardon awaiting him, and love waiting for him. Win his confidence and make him understand that you can believe in him, and that you will believe in him and never give up on him.” O yes, now that’s our Lord’s grace.
Fanny was reminding us of our loving Saviour; a Saviour who, with arms wide open, was saying to the world, “Come onto me all ye who are labouring and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Actually, Jesus will give you love, and peace and joy; the exact things people are looking for today. Yes, we need to know that, Jesus, and in Him there is forgiveness and there is love. And, folks, that is grace.
Life Lesson #3: An attitude that glorifies God. 1Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whatsoever you do, do all to the Glory of God.” For me this means to live well and to die well. This means, live your life, bringing honour and glory to Him, because it’s not about us. It’s about Him.
Fanny lived her life, dedicated to God’s glory, yes, even as she wrote these words: “To God be the glory, great things hath He done, So loved He the world that He gave us His Son, Who yielded His life, an atonement for sin, And opened the life gate, that all may go in.”
Fanny lived well and she died well. She never drew attention to herself in life or in death. It was 1955 when nothing was to mark Fanny Crosby’s grave except a tiny marble stone with the word, “Aunt Fanny; She had done what she could.” Yes, in 1995, there were the words that were added to that tiny marble stone; actually, a greater marble stone was placed there. And now, it reads, as of May 1st, 1955; it reads: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste to Glory Divine! Heir of Salvation, purchase of God; Born of the Spirit, washed in His Blood.” What a truth for each one of us to embrace. “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Saviour, all the day long.”
I began by saying, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Have you entered into God’s will for your life? Are you able to rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything? Can you say, today, that you have an attitude of gratitude, and attitude of grace, an attitude that glorifies the Living God?
If you haven’t entered into God’s will and God’s plan for your life, let me ask you this question: “Do you know who you are, and where you are going?”
The year was 2000, in January, the leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favourite son; you know who he is, Billy Graham. They invited him to a luncheon in his honour. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation. He was struggling with Parkinson’s Disease, at that time, in particular. But the Charlotte leaders said, “Billy, we don’t expect a major address from you. Just come and let us honour you.”
After wonderful things were said about Billy Graham, he stepped to the podium, and he looked at the crowd, and this is what he said: “Today, I’m reminded of Albert Einstein. The great physicist, who this month, has been honoured by Time Magazine as the ‘Man of the Century – Albert Einstein’”. He said, “Let me tell you a story about Albert Einstein. He was traveling from Princeton, on a train, where the conductor came down the isle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, he reached into his vest pocket; couldn’t find the ticket. He reached into his trousers’ pockets; couldn’t find the ticket. It wasn’t there. He looked in his briefcase, but couldn’t find it. He looked at the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’ Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the isle, punching the tickets. And, just when he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physician down on his hands and knees, looking under the seat for the ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, ‘D. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. Don’t worry about it. I told you, I know who you are. There’s no problem. You don’t need a ticket, I’m sure you bought one.’ Einstein looked at him and he said, ‘Young man, I too, know who I am. But the fact is, I don’t know where I’m going.’”
Having said that, Billy Graham said, “Do you all see the suit I’m wearing? It’s brand new. It’s a brand new suit. O yes, my children and my grandchildren have been telling me I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So, I went out and I bought this suit for this luncheon, and for one other occasion. Do you know what that other occasion is?”, he asked. “This suit, which I am wearing, is the suit that I will be buried in. And when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I am wearing. But I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am; I also know where I’m going!”
As I think upon those words, I’m reminded that February, 1973, where I stood, myself, living in Toronto. I stood on an 8th-floor balcony, at four o’clock in the morning, and I looked up into the sky. I wasn’t a believer. I didn’t think about God. I didn’t know God. But, my life was a mess. I didn’t know who I was. And, I didn’t know where I was going.
And yet, I reached out to the Lord that night. I asked Him to come into my heart and into my life, and to save me. And from that moment on, He did marvelous things in my life. And to this day, I now know who I am, and I know where I am going!
You know, that’s my prayer for you. Do you know who you are? Have you come to terms with who you are in Christ? And, the fact of the matter is, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, that, if you were to die, right now, then you would immediately be absent from your body, and present with the Lord; Heaven bound and Glory bound, simply because of what He did on the Cross.
I’m going to ask if you would pray with me right now: