Sermon Dec.15, 2013 “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”

“If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee” Dec. 15, 2013
Maple Glen BFC Pastor Louis Prontnicki

Introduction: Its ten days before Christmas, so why am I speaking about the matter of suffering and trials, by referring to this hymn, If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee (Georg Neumark, Trinity Hymnal # 670)?
Two reasons:
First, many of you find that Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year,” in fact this season is often the hardest one for you, with darkness, stress, busy preparations, and strained relationships, etc. We need God’s perspective on trials right now.
Second, we need to counter balance the “fluffiness” of the holidays that bombard us in secular songs, images, and advertisements. The culture gives us a holiday that is sugary-sweet but that is hollow and lacking in substance; it tries to give us an artificial high, but then we crash and burn a few hours later. Let us remember that not only is Jesus the reason for the season, but the reason Jesus came to earth as a baby was to die for our sins as a man; Jesus became a man of sorrows, a suffering servant, to redeem us.
Some lessons from this hymn:

The Background of the Hymn:
1. Suffering is the Pressure that God Lovingly Applies to the Coals in our Christmas Stocking to Make Diamonds.
It was out of the hymnwriter’s suffering and loss that God taught him to lift up his pen and his voice in highest praise to the Lord.
Georg Neumark was born in Germany, in 1621, in the midst of the terrible Thirty Years’ War. At the age of 20 he was making his way to Königsberg to continue his studies at the university there, but when he passed through Magdeburg he was attacked by robbers. Neumark was stripped of all his possessions except a prayer book, and a small sum of money which was sewed up in his clothes. He hobbled back to Magdeburg and tried to find work, but could not. He went to three other cities, searching for any kind of a job, but none was to be found. But in Kiel, it happened that the tutor of a judge’s family had just been dismissed, and Neumark secured the position. It was on the day of his appointment that he wrote this hymn, filled with great joy and thankfulness for the gracious help of God.
Concerning this event he says: “This unexpected and amazingly good fortune delighted me so intensely, that I set about the same day to give honor to my dear Lord by writing the hymn: ‘If thou but suffer God to guide thee.’” The hymn soon found a place in many German hymnals and became the great favorite hymn of comfort for many who were beset by pressing conditions of life. It was soon translated into Danish, Portuguese, French, English, and Latin.
Later in life Neumark lost all his worldly possessions in a fire, and in 1681 he was stricken with blindness, and died that same year.
Brothers and sister, it was through Neumark’s suffering and loss that God used him to write this hymn of praise and comfort that has ministered to so many.
Remember: Suffering is the Pressure that God Lovingly Applies to the Coals in our Christmas Stocking to Make Diamonds.

The Content of the Hymn:
2. Our Theology Must Become Our Autobiography
Georg Neumark certainly knew a lot about God and God’s ways, but this theology became his autobiography in a much deeper way only after he was beaten and robbed and had lost almost all his possessions, and then trusted God for his care and comfort. Let’s see how that works out in the content of the hymn. (BTW, the original hymn had two additional stanzas, but the 5 stanzas which we have in our hymnal are the most crucial.)
Neumark gives us the premise for his hymn in the first stanza, which is that you need to trust God when hard times fall upon you, and if you do that, you will stand firm and unshaken upon the Rock which is Christ:

1. If thou but suffer (allow) God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.
Nahum 1:7 “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him…”
Matt. 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…”

Then in the second stanza, the author speaks of the foolish alternative to trusting God, which is trying to carry our burdens by ourselves. Such thinking will only make matters worse, and over a prolonged period, such needless worrying and anxiety can make us bitter and brittle:

2. What can these anxious cares avail thee,
These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
What can it help if thou bewail thee
O’er each dark moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.
Matt. 6:27-31 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

In the third stanza, we are reminded that our Heavenly Father is loving, wise, and sovereign, and therefore we should cheerfully hope in Him and wait for Him to act:

3. Only be still and wait His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

Ps. 37:7a “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him..”
Matt. 6:32 “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

In the fourth stanza, Neumark – remember that he is only 20 years old at this time! – instructs us that our God is able to do great miracles; he can raise up the lowest one and bring down the most powerful person:
4. All are alike before the Highest;
‘Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up, though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low.
True wonders still by Him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.

1 Sam. 2:7-8 “The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.”
Luke 1:37 “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Luke 1:51-52 “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble”.

Therefore in the final stanza we are encouraged to do our part: to sing and pray; and to trust and obey, remembering that God will never forsake the one who trusts in Him, no matter how hard your sufferings, and no matter how dark your circumstances:

5. Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
So do thine own part faithfully,
And trust His Word, though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

Ps. 25:3a “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame”
Jer 17:7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.”
Heb. 13:5 “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”.”
Through suffering, trials and loss, theology must become autobiography.
The one apparent shortcoming of the hymn is that the name of Christ is not explicitly mentioned. However, His presence may be implied in that Christ is our Rock (stanza 1); He tells us of the foolishness of our anxious worries (stanza 2); we are chosen in Christ (stanza 3); He is the One who was rich and became poor and by His poverty, made us rich (stanza 4); and Christ was forsaken so that we would never be (stanza 5).

Theology became biography for the believers during this time in Europe, as this hymn is especially poignant in the context of the atrocities and violence of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), which Neumark was suffering through, and the early singers of this hymn would have still had fresh and painful images.
Theology also become biography in the movie Babette’s Feast. Neumark’s hymn is featured in the 1987 Academy Award-winning Danish film Babette’s Feast, and thus has traveled, from a war-torn Germany to a red –carpet in Hollywood on Oscar night
In our suffering, our theology must become our biography… is true so for you?

An Illustration of the Hymn:
3. Your Suffering and Loss is Never Wasted in God’s Big Picture.
The only reason we think our suffering, trials and loss are bad and wasted experiences is that we are missing the big picture of what God wants to do with them. For in the big scheme of things, our suffering is never wasted; God uses it for His glory and our good.
Here’s a true story that bears witness to that… over the big picture of more than 50 years.

In 1921, a Swedish missionary couple named David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son David, to the heart of Africa—to the Belgian Congo. They met up with another young Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons, and the four of them felt led of the Lord to take the gospel to a remote area. But on the outskirts of the village of N’dolera they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his village for fear of alienating the local gods. The two couples opted to go half a mile away and build their own mud huts.
They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none. Their only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood — a tiny woman missionary only four feet, eight inches tall, decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus. And in fact, after many weeks of loving and witnessing to him, he trusted Christ as his Savior. But there were no other encouragements. Meanwhile, malaria continued to strike one member of the little band after another. In time the Ericksons decided they had had enough suffering and left to return to the central mission station. David and Svea Flood remained near N’dolera to go on alone.
Then Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness. A little girl was born, whom they named Aina (A-ee-nah). The delivery, however, was exhausting, and Svea Flood was already weak from bouts of malaria. The birth process was a heavy blow to her stamina. After seventeen desperate days of prayer and struggle, she died.
Something snapped inside her husband David in that moment. His heart full of bitterness, he dug a crude grave, buried his twenty-seven-year-old wife and took his children back down the mountain to the mission station. Giving his newborn daughter to the Ericksons, he said, “I’m going back to Sweden. I’ve lost my wife, and I can’t take care of this baby. God has ruined my life.” He headed back to Sweden, rejecting not only his calling, but God himself.
Within eight months both of the Ericksons were stricken with a mysterious illness (some believe they were poisoned by a local chief who hated the missionaries) and died within days of each other. Therefore the nine month old baby Aina was given to an American missionary couple named Berg, who adjusted her Swedish name to “Aggie” and eventually brought her back to the United States at age three, and Aggie grew up in South Dakota. As a young woman, she attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. There she met and married a young preacher named Dewey Hurst.
Years passed. The Hursts enjoyed a fruitful ministry. Aggie gave birth first to a daughter, then a son. In time her husband became president of a Christian college in the Seattle area, and Aggie was intrigued to find so much Scandinavian heritage there.
One day around 1963, a Swedish religious magazine appeared in her mailbox. She had no idea who sent it, and she couldn’t read the words. But as she turned the pages, all of a sudden a photo stopped her cold. There in a primitive setting in the heart of Africa was a grave with a white cross and on the cross was her mother’s name, SVEA FLOOD. Aggie jumped in her car and drove straight to a college faculty member who, she knew, could translate the article. “What does this say?” she asked. The instructor translated the story:
It told about missionaries who went to N’dolera in the heart of the Belgian Congo in 1921… about the birth of a white baby girl… the death of the young missionary mother… the one little African boy who had been led to Christ… and how, after the all whites had left, the little African boy grew up and persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village. The article told how that gradually the grown up boy won all his students to Christ… the children led their parents to Christ… even the chief had become a Christian. In that year of 1963, there were six hundred Christian believers in that one village.
Because of the willingness of David and Svea Flood to answer God’s call to Africa, because they endured so much but were still faithful to witness and lead one little boy to trust Jesus, God had saved six hundred people. At the time Svea Flood died, it appeared, to human reason, that God had led the young couple to Africa, only to desert them in their time of deepest need. It would be forty years before God’s amazing grace and His real plan for the village of N’dolera would be known. But wait, there’s even more.
For Rev. Dewey and Aggie Hurst’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the college presented them with the gift of a vacation to Sweden. There Aggie searched for and finally located for biological father. An old man now, David Flood had remarried, fathered four more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol. He had recently suffered a stroke. Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: “Never mention the name of God because God took everything from me.”
After an emotional reunion with her half-brothers and half-sister, Aggie brought up the subject of seeing her father. The others hesitated. “You can talk to him,” they replied, “even though he’s very ill now. But you need to know that whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage.”
Aggie could not be deterred. She walked into the squalid apartment, with liquor bottles everywhere, and approached the seventy-three-year-old man lying in a rumpled bed. “Papa?” she said tentatively. He turned and began to cry. “Aina,” he said, “I never meant to give you away.” “It’s all right Papa,” she replied, taking him gently in her arms. “God took care of me.” The man instantly stiffened at the name of God. The tears stopped, and her father lashed out: “God forgot all of us. Our lives have been like this because of Him.” He turned his face back to the wall.
Aggie stroked his face and then continued, undaunted. “Papa, I’ve got a little story to tell you, and it’s a true one. You didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. The little boy you both won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ. The one seed you planted just kept growing and growing. Today there are six hundred African people serving the Lord because you and Momma were faithful to the call of God on your life.” “Papa, Jesus loves you. He has never hated you.”
The old man turned back to look into his daughter’s eyes. His body relaxed. He began to talk. And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many decades. Over the next few days, father and daughter enjoyed warm moments together. Aggie and her husband soon had to return to America—and within a few weeks, David Flood had gone into eternity. But wait, there’s even more.
A few years later, the Hursts were attending a high-level evangelism conference in London, England, where a report was given from the nation of Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke eloquently of the gospel’s spread in his nation. Aggie could not help going up afterward to ask him if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood. “I am their daughter.”
The man began to weep. “Yes, ma’am,” the man replied in French, his words then being translated into English. “It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ. I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by all of us.”
He embraced her in a long, sobbing hug. Then he continued, “You must come to Africa to see, because your mother is the most famous person in our history.”
In time that is exactly what Aggie Hurst and her husband did. They were welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers.
The most dramatic moment was when the pastor escorted Aggie to see her mother’s grave, marked with a white cross, for herself. She knelt in the soil of Africa, the place of her birth, to pray and give thanks. Later that day, in the church service, the pastor read from John 12:24: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” He then followed with Psalm 126:5: “They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
(An adapted excerpt from Aggie Hurst, Aggie: The Inspiring Story of A Girl Without A Country [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1986].)
So….Remember: Your Suffering and Loss is Never Wasted in God’s Big Picture.
If thou but suffer (allow) God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.