I’m continuing in the stories of the old hymns of the church – the stalwart songs that got people through thick and thin. This article is a little different. It’s not a big story about the writer of the hymn, but more about the inspiration behind it and how the hymn was used in such a profound way.
“Nearer My God to Thee”, written by Sarah F. Adams in 1841, was inspired by the words of Genesis 28 – Jacob’s dream. Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Her mother died when she was only 5 years old. She dreamed of being an actress as a way to minister to people, but her health prevented that longing. As a result she turned to writing and she wrote “Nearer My God to Thee” at the age of 36. She died seven years later of tuberculosis.
Jacob had just left home for the first time. The brother he had grown up with now wanted to kill him, his father’s health was failing, and his mother told him he needed to leave home.
He set out on his own, not sure of what was in store for him. Many years later, he referred to these days as “the day of my distress”.
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When the sun started to set, he stopped for the night. He took one of the stones there, put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
Jacob had always been surrounded by his family, by servants, by animals, by good food, by a life filled with all his heart desired. Now, for the first time, he was alone – with nothing. He found a stone to use as a pillow and slept on the ground. One can only imagine how many tears this young man, suddenly so alone in the world, shed on that stone as he fell asleep. Once asleep, he had a dream.
In this dream, Jacob saw a ladder that connected heaven to earth. He saw God at the top of the ladder and angels who were going up and down the ladder. God spoke to Jacob. He told Jacob that he would bless Jacob and his family, that he would be with him always and watch over him wherever he went.
Jacob woke up, took the stone on which he was sleeping, and built an altar. He made a promise to the Lord that if He would be with him and keep His word, then the Lord would be his God, and the stone he set up would be God’s house (Beth-El), and he would dedicate a tenth of all he was given to the Lord.
Titanic – the Unsinkable Ship
We all know the story about the Titanic, the British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died.
The hymn Nearer My God to Thee was first popularized by the 1958 movie “A Night to Remember”. The movie about the Titanic, imprinted the historical fact that as the ship sank, people united in singing the verses to this hymn. This appeared again later in the 1997 movie “Titanic”. In both films, the band playing and the singing of Nearer My God to Thee as the ship was sinking and they were looking death in the face, has stuck with me. THAT’S FAITH!!!
A few years ago, my husband and I were able to see the traveling collection of the Titanic artifacts at a museum near us. Viewing the fragments of people lives was interesting and very sobering. I tried to put myself in their shoes. Many types of people of all walks of life were on the Titanic –wealthy passengers in first class, poor in steerage and many staff members.
I was on my laptop a short time ago and came across a link to this beautifully orchestrated rendition of “Nearer my God to Thee. As I let myself be saturated by the melody, I thought about the words of the hymn. It’s really not about dying, but about living – about new beginnings.
It really got me thinking. When tragedy strikes and life gets tough, what do we do? Do we curl up into a ball and cry? Do we try to fix things ourselves? Do we have the strength to stand tall and praise God despite the circumstances? Like those on the Titanic did as the ship was sinking and they faced certain death?
If you’ve encountered a tragedy or loss, you are not alone. I, and many others, have been where you are. You have two choices: You can sit and wallow in self-pity and regret, or you can pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start over. No matter what has happened in your past, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, you can make a clean new start.
I have discovered that at that point, prayer comes much easier. Only God can understand and help us in the rough times. This is a time to grow nearer to Him. Pray a prayer like Jacob did. God is waiting to hear that prayer from you – a prayer that turns to Him for help. Tell God that you want to be nearer to Him and have Him with you always.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article.
Be sure to check out another of my articles: Do You Know Who You Are?
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