Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.

All photos courtesy of Unsplash 

John Milton was born in London in 1608 and educated at St Paul’s School, followed by the University of Cambridge. He knew at least ten languages, and was enormously well-read in literature, history, theology, philosophy and natural sciences. Milton’s Commonplace Book, in which he made notes on his extensive reading, is now held at the British Library.

In February of 1652 Milton went completely blind. Many great artists have suffered blindness, but the twist in Milton's case is that he went blind before he wrote his best works, including the immortal epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton had written a few great poems before 1652, but he was not a famous poet by this point.  In fact, Milton was more famous as a servant of the government of Oliver Cromwell, the "Lord Protector" of England during the period between the kings Charles I and Charles II. 

When John Milton went blind, he must have felt like modern athletes feel when they suffer a career-ending injury. You spend your whole life working toward a goal, pour your heart and soul into practising, and then some uncontrollable event or freak accident puts you back in the shoes of a regular person.  John Milton's life plan was to be of service to God. He felt he could best achieve this goal by using his intelligence and especially his writing. In the days when Milton was alive, it was very hard to write when you had no sight. He was entirely dependent on other people to write down his work and read to him. Thankfully, Milton's blindness was not as crippling as he thought it would be, and he eventually adapted to the condition enough to write some of the world's great works of literature.

John Milton, a devout Christian, famously observed: "they also serve who only stand and wait." This kind of service - the service of patiently waiting on God's timing, on God's direction, on God's plan - can be the most difficult and gruelling to render to God.  He goes from being a mover-and-shaker to being someone who merely "stands and waits" on God. How well he must have known the words of Psalm 27 verse 14,  “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord”

We are tempted, in a time of uncertainty or calamity, to rush to our own set of solutions; we might even feel irresponsible to simply wait prayerfully for the Lord to give clear direction. Yet we must. Twice the command, “Wait on the Lord”, is repeated in this single verse. Our answers are usually not the right answers. Our instincts cannot be trusted. Our hurried assessment will doubtless yield an inadequate response. We need to WAIT! 

Wait on the Lord because he will strengthen your heart. He will answer your prayers. He will give the direction you need. He will send the help you require. In his own good time and in his right way, God will come to you when you wait on him. So be of good courage! Do not despair because the solution has not presented itself yet. Do not presume that God will not keep his appointments. He has promised to strengthen you, so wait, I say, on the Lord.

Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Wait patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Used by kind permission of Your5fortoday - Peter Francis

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