What A Friend We Have

As my mother’s dementia progresses, one deep part of her remains: her love of hymns. She grew up in the Lutheran church and sang in choirs occasionally. She learned hymns as a child and continues to sing them today.

One hymn that we both love is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I like to sing it with her when I visit,

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

The hymn was written around 1855 by Joseph Scriven, a Canadian. He wrote it as poem of comfort and hope to his ailing mother in Ireland. Joseph was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and was known for his compassion and care of the poor and forgotten in his community. He never intended his poem to become a hymn, yet it continues to bring great comfort to those who sing it.

When I sing the hymn, I am reminded of the promise of Hebrews 7:24-25,

Jesus holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

The book of Hebrews makes the case that Jesus is better than any ancient levitical priest who served in the Jerusalem temple, because Jesus’ sacrifice was pure and sinless.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The function of a priest is to give us access to the High and Holy God.  Jesus is our access to God, the one who hears our cries for help and mercy. We truly can take anything to him in prayer, even the love of our aging parents.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing all our cares and woes.

3 thoughts on “What A Friend We Have

  1. Audrey

    John – thank you for putting into words what I’ve experienced with my own mom. Singing hymns – filled with God’s promises – is soothing to the soul as we seek His comfort while we watch our aging parents.

    1. Sandra Kase Smith

      God Bless You………..I, too, love my old familiar hymns. They bring such comfort to me. I can picture myself in church singing my heart out. Today, the church seems to scorn the old hymns, playing songs no one knows or sings. What will the future generations have to cling to when life becomes difficult? I love my old red/blue Lutheran Hymnal – why if it was not broken, did they try to fix it? They lost me in the process.

      1. Pastor John Keller Post author

        I do love to sing old hymns that I learned as a child, but all old hymns were once new. Hymns, songs, prayers, liturgies change overtime. I find it comforting to sing older hymns, but I also find great joy in new songs. I wrote about this here

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