My friend, Dr. Neil Gilliland, often refers to “serendipity,” or “serendipitous moments.” By that, he means an unexpected moment of happiness, a pleasant surprise, something good or pleasant that seems to “just happen,” not something planned or sought for.
What the world would call “luck” or “accidental,” we who follow Jesus would contend that our Father gives us such moments along life’s journey from time to time, and in ways unforeseen and unexpected. I’d like to share one such experience in my life that happened almost 50 years ago.
Music of the heart
As you might expect, if you are familiar with my articles here in REO (“Mama and Music”, “La Himnodia Latinoamericana,” “Sometimes He Calms the Storm,” “Be Still, My Soul,” and many more), most will have one or more songs with partial or complete lyrics. It’s just something I do almost inevitably in my writing. It’s also been characteristic of my preaching; I usually include song lyrics during the message, as well as at the conclusion. I believe in the power and pathos of poetry, and song lyrics grab our hearts as much as anything, at least mine.
That one time in college…
It was the fall of 1971 or the spring of 1972 at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College) during a morning chapel service. Chapel was an essential part of student body life. Always Tuesday through Friday, with Mondays being reserved for Student Body meetings, class meetings, etc, but with something from the Word. We had “church” there at school frequently.
This particular morning chapel began as it always did, with everyone standing and singing the Doxology (“Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”), followed by a prayer and a welcome. Then a student came to announce an activity. The student was giving his announcement, briefly, concisely, and with animation, when all of a sudden he unexpectedly began to flounder, to hem and haw, losing his train of thought. As he stumbled for several seconds, he finally concluded abruptly, inviting the students to come to the “thing” that was being planned.
Nobody laughed, though it was funny. We were in shock to see a fellow student so uncomfortable and momentarily confused. It could easily have been any of us. He exited the stage and…
The music director came and told us to turn to number 372 in the old red Free Will Baptist Hymnal. This is where the serendipity comes in, and was, indeed, intensified because it caught our attention so much. Chapel could be so predictable. However, seeing our classmate struggle to finish the announcement, made me, and possibly others, more alert, more involved. It wasn’t that it directly had anything to do with the song. Rather that the two events are forever associated in my mind.
In that instant, my heart leaped because I had read the words and meditated on that hymn several times before. In fact, I seem to remember my mom singing in when I was a little boy. I had grown to love the lyrics. And now we were going to sing it!
And sing it we did! “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus.” I was on cloud nine. With around 500 students, including the college choir members, the chapel choir, students who sang in church or various groups back home, the faculty and staff, it was going to be sung well, though not by me! But that didn’t stop me from singing. A serendipitous moment!
Come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.
What a sweet invitation to lost, ruined sinners! “Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power!”
Chorus: I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior, Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome. God’s free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.
We glorify God and pay homage to his grace (“free bounty”) by coming. “True belief and true repentance” are what enable us to come, and the only requirements to be met.
Come ye weary, heavy-laden, lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all.
No self-reformation, or holding out hope of improvement. “You will never come at all,” if that’s your thought. You come as you are!
Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.
Continuing the thought of the third stanza, we cannot save ourselves. We must “feel our need of Him,” and come to Him to receive salvation.
The chorus is simple, yet beautiful:
I will arise and go to Jesus
An obedient decision of faith.
He will embrace me in His arms.
Think of the Prodigal Son’s reception when he:
arose and went back to his Father’s house.
In fact, the chorus here probably comes from that verse in Luke 15.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
oh there are ten thousand charms,
It is a poetic and picturesque way of describing how Christ receives and forgives sinners.
So that was a serendipitous moment. Since then, I have used the lyrics of “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus” in preaching an evangelistic sermon based on Isaiah 55, and have, on occasion, heard the song played and sung. The Southern Gospel family group, The Hoppers, do an arrangement in which they sing some of the stanzas, followed by a newer chorus with the words “It’s Shouting Time in Heaven.”
Regardless, “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus” remains a life-long favorite, and the moment I’ve described as serendipitous is one etched forever in my memory.