by Alexei Laushkin
Hymn writing has fascinating origins. Take this hymn by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1926). He’s a clergyman from New Jersey, a bit of a journeyman as a pastor but wrote over 3,000 hymns.
As the debates were starting last night. One of his more famous ones caught my attention. I’m referring to “I’m pressing on the upward way.” These lines caught my attention:
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground
Oatman helps us catch a glimpse of the Christian life and hope. I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights, I’m gaining everyday, still praying as I onward bound, Lord plant my feet on higher ground.
As Christians that’s what we need in this election season, in this moment in our nation’s life.
The saints of God need higher ground.
The debate started with a nod towards decency, but quickly degenerated.
Christian leaders have done many things in this country, but offer a direction or vision of decency in a way that appeals to all Americans, no.
Some of the most fervent believers are seen as fervent partisans, at a time when we should be seeking first the kingdom of God.
What has happened to his people?
Well there is an upward way in this election season, but few seem to know it or even speak up on it. And yet for the saints, those called by his name if we listen we will hear the echoes of that joyful sound, faith having reached a higher more table ground.
The church gives witness to a few re-orienting realities.
All Power Comes from God
Power for good or for ill comes from the Lord. The kings of the earth, or Presidents, or Prime Ministers, they all answer to the Lord for their actions, in this life and in the next. Whether they know him well or not is of no consequence, they are all subject to him.
Even the King Nebuchadnezzar’s of the earth, the most powerful ruler in his day, had his moment of encounter with the living God. Whoever is elected, we should pray that they have a living encounter with the living God that we encounter ever more deeply day to day.
This kind of prayer should fill us with hope, because when the Lord encounters rulers, as Jesus did Pontius Pilate, its always a very decisive encounter. For good or ill, His will is done.
We Should Correct our Own Witness While we Still Can
The time is rapidly closing for our ability to speak fully, and honestly and well into our culture. The church has become far too partisan, and with that has both lost its moral clarity on issues such as life and marriage, but also has lost or is losing its clear moral vision for the poor, and for matters of finance. We will not fix the problems of this world, but our role is to help our fellow man grapple more fully with the high calling placed on all people to be just, merciful, and good. The more the church muddies its witness with the patterns and tactics of the world or with a spirituality that has no form or substance, the more it will be unable to fulfill one of its primary functions, which is to point to a better way, a better truth, and a better more commendable life.
The witness of the church is to help bring moral clarity to complex realities by drawing on the human experience, drawing on its lived understanding of the Lord, and drawing on its own history to offer warning, exhortation, encouragement, and commendation to help facilitate a better and more honest way of living before the Lord. The pastor will never make a good politician, but pastors and priests and Bishops can speak into the realm of politics, because they know the realm of the human heart, and can therefore offer counsel and wisdom on how to pursue a more righteous path for all of God’s people.
Christians Should Take the Long View
It’s a betrayal of trust in the living God to get too caught up in the politics of any moment. Christians ought to be taking the long view. And what is the long view?
In this world we will have trouble, but remember he has overcome the world. American Christians know difficulty but in some ways we have forgotten that the troubles of this age are many. God will overcome the world and he will use his church to give witness to better truths. In moments of difficulty we have to pray against the temptation to lash out and judge our fellow Americans. That’s not our call or our job.
We should have a sober patience for what God may yet do. We should take our anxieties and use them to focus on the Lord that he might more fully be our anchor and shield in times of trouble. We should gain the confidence that comes with leaning on the Lord in times of difficulty and trouble, because that kind of confidence, carries a profound victory. God’s victory over the problems of pain, evil, hardship, and death. A victory that is more profound when put into the living the dimensions of our day to day. It is in this confidence that we can wait with hope and expectation, being diligent for ways to expand the kingdom and being diligent in not diminishing that very kingdom by the way we carry ourselves in moments like this.
When we attune to these realities, surely we have begun to hear the sweeter song of the saints, on higher ground.
Alexei Laushkin is a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society, Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own.