Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.  [1]

This hymn, frequently sung at funerals, on Remembrance Sunday and (curiously) at Cup Finals, is often overlooked in other contexts because of its connection with death.  My mother told me she hated it because it reminded her of funerals, yet it needs some rehabilitation because of its wonderful words.

I once had it sung at a church service I led, with a largely older congregation, who afterwards said they really enjoyed it, unshackled as it was from its connection with lament, and freed to be a great statement of faith and trust in God, even unto death.

Loosely based on the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:29), it is said to have been inspired when Rev. H F Lyte visited a dying friend who kept repeating the first three words, and it was remembered many years later by its chronically ill author when facing his own death.

As inspiring as it is, I wonder if the prayer is not actually redundant. Since God promised never to leave us (Hebrews 13:5), and Jesus said he would be with us always (Matthew 28:20), are we actually praying for something that is going to happen anyway?

In one sense yes, but while we are aware that God is always with us, there are many times in our lives, perhaps particularly now, when he feels very far away.  Perhaps when we pray the words of this hymn, we’re praying for something more experiential – not merely that Jesus would be with us on the road to Emmaus, but that we would recognise him.

This is very much a prayer for our time.  But if the idea of our faithful Father abandoning us is ludicrous, we are very much aware of how we prodigal children so frequently stray from the presence of God and, whether intentionally or accidentally, we go off on our own ways.  At times when we feel far from God, perhaps we should instead not pray for him to abide with us, but for us to have the discipline and determination to abide with him.



[1] If you are unfamiliar with the words of this hymn, click here for the full version.

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