The classic songs known as spirituals sprang from the passionate faith of African-Americans oppressed by slavery who lifted up their voices while working in the fields. Frederick Douglass, the former slave who became a prominent author and speaker, said spirituals “breathed the prayers and complaints of souls suffering the most cruel anguish.” Douglass admitted, “I often found myself in tears listening to them.”
Me, too. How could our hearts not be touched by soulful songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Steal Away to Jesus”? One of my favorites is the heartfelt spiritual that repeats, “In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.” The song’s last verse says, “You may have all of this world. Give me Jesus.”
Nothing Else Matters So Much
I wish we would get back to such noble simplicity in today’s church. Our children don’t need the latest video games as much as they need Jesus. The ninth-grader with insecurity written all over her face needs Jesus most of all. So do the elderly man and woman who make their way to church hand-in-hand each Sunday. So do the young husband and wife struggling in a rocky marriage, and the guy who comes to work on Monday morning hung over from a weekend of partying. They may not say it out loud, but something in their hearts is crying out, “Give me Jesus.” The living Christ is the unspoken desire of our neighbors next door and of those dwelling in the far-flung nations of the earth. They don’t need flashy church programs nearly as much as they need Jesus.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he mentioned Christ three times in the first three verses of his letter (Philippians 1:1-3). He looked forward to the day of Christ (v. 6), cared for others with the affection of Christ (v. 8), and encouraged his readers to bear “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (v. 11). Paul relied on Christ when he faced criticism and other forms of suffering. As the world flounders in darkness and struggles to find its way, there’s no better advice than “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ is the bullseye of the target, the hub of the wheel, the focal point of the gospel, the light of the world.
Worship leader, when you prepare songs for us to hear and sing, keep in mind the weary souls who will be present this Sunday, and please—give them Jesus. Sunday school teacher, when children walk into your classroom and look you in the eye this weekend, give them Jesus. Preacher, when you stand up to speak, be prepared, be clear, be relevant—but most of all, point us to Jesus. Yes, let’s make sure our church buildings, grounds, and parking lots look sharp, the restrooms are clean, and the website is up-to-date—but most of all, let’s give people Jesus.
The apostle Paul would have liked how the last verse of that great old spiritual says, “When I come to die, give me Jesus.” Paul summed up his personal value system by asserting, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). While we live and when it’s time to die, what could matter more? You can have all of this world. Give me Jesus.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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