In choosing hymns that we might use as private prayers, we have to have one by the greatest English hymn writer of them all, Charles Wesley. He was brother of the more famous John, the father of Methodism, but I think Charles was a more equable character, and all his life a loyal Anglican. He wrote several thousand hymns and, like the Methodists, we still sing the best of them over 200 years later. I have chosen this morning one of his joyful self-dedication hymns, although it is one quite impossible to live up to. It’s a great hymn to pray as we start the day’s work, whether that means marching to the shops or driving to the office:
Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
my daily labour to pursue;
thee, only thee, resolved to know,
in all I think or speak or do.
The whole rhythm is cheerful, determined, hopeful. No, of course we shan’t be thinking directly about God as we choose fruit in the supermarket or pick up the phone for an important conversation – we wouldn’t be pursuing our daily labour honestly if we were. But the words of the hymn set us in the right frame of mind, especially for encounters with other people.
The task thy wisdom hath assigned
O let me cheerfully fulfil;
in all my works thy presence find
and prove thy good and perfect will.
At the beginning of the day we may or may not know what tasks God’s wisdom has planned for us this day, what encounters he has planned for us to have. And it probably won’t be until we get to the end of the day that we can look back and see how God has been present throughout it
Thee may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes my inmost substance see,
and labour on at thy command
and offer all my works to thee.
Perhaps it will have turned out to be a humdrum sort of day, or a tough laborious one, or we may have made mistakes or missed opportunities. But we can still offer the day and all our activities to God, and start afresh tomorrow.
Give me to bear thy easy yoke,
and every moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look,
and hasten to thy glorious day.
Charles here is thinking of the glorious day when he will meet his maker face to face, but I think we can also thank God for this particular glorious day on earth – easy enough on a summer morning, but even the dullest day has some prospect to praise God for, and at this moment we can watch and pray and be thankful.
The final verse is Charles Wesley at his best – it’s difficult to say or sing it without a smile on one’s face. ‘Delight thou in the Lord and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire.’ says the Psalmist (Ps 37.4) And even more the word joy ‘With joy ye shall draw water from the wells of salvation’ says Isaiah (Isaiah 12.3) But the phrase ‘with even joy’ sounds very eighteenth century; nothing too wild or eccentric, it’s very much Charles’s own:
For thee delightfully employ
whate’er thy bounteous grace has given,
and run my course with even joy,
and closely walk with thee to heaven.
I’ve envisaged using this hymn as a prayer of dedication, particularly when on one’s way to some work or activity, but of course prayer itself is work, especially when it is intercession, prayer for other people. There is a very relevant article in this week’s Church Times (22.7.22, p. 16) by Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, who travels a lot by train. He prays for the people in the carriage around him and also uses memories invoked by places he sees through the train windows. Praying for other people will be the subject of one of my later talks, but for many of us it is the heart and purpose of prayer, and so we will turn to praying for them now.