All through my childhood and teen years, I attended a weekly inductive Bible study with both of my parents. I remember the routine: come to the large chapel, find a seat in one of the old-school pews; an adult leader would greet everyone and then lead us all in several hymns chosen to correspond with the passage in the book of the Bible we were to review in small groups that evening. The good ole hymns our congregation sang, and ones we all are somewhat familiar with, I sang often as a younger child and teen. But as with any song, sometimes their lines and verses don’t become truly meaningful to its listener until much later. I vividly remember a point where this was true of a particular hymn we sang one of those nights. I had known this hymn before, but it has since become an ongoing sweet and precious encouragement.
We were going through the usual welcome and went straight into the song. We all recognized the familiar tune picked out on the piano by the sweet older gentleman who played weekly during worship, and began to sing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”. As we sang each line of the verses and chorus, the meaning behind the words, rooted in Scriptures we had been studying, hit me like a bag of Costco-sized bricks.
I had been going through a particularly trying time with health-related problems that had sidelined me from being able to do many things I loved and needed to do. As a result, I had been angry with the Lord and confused as to why He had allowed the pain and long process of healing from the injury to affect me so significantly. In essence, looking to the weight of my trial instead of, as the hymn so beautifully reminds, turning and fixing my eyes upon the ultimate prize: our Savior, Christ Jesus; and truly relying on Him as He always has the very best in mind for those who love Him and are called for His purpose (Romans 8:26-28).
How many times do we default to that exact mindset found in the first verse of that song? Turning to face our problems, fears, anxieties, troubles, and temptations, really feeling as though “no light in the darkness [we] see”? Relying on our own strength instead of the One who is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), a refuge and ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46), the God of all comfort who comforts us so that we can comfort others with the very testimony He has given us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and realizing that there is “light for a look at the Savior, [a]nd life more abundant and free”? I know for myself, it has been an ongoing lesson in learning to trust His will and plans more and to turn to Him always, even when life doesn’t make sense. Or when we can’t see the full and Divinely orchestrated purpose of the various trials we are given and even entrusted to endure for the testing and ultimate strengthening and perfecting of our faith as James 1 tells us. But, once turning to face Christ and leaning on Him, there is such a reliable peace and an undeniable, tangible reality of God’s faithfulness and strength in my weakness, while enacting Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:6-8 and Peter’s in 1 Peter 5:7! You can be assured that if you cast your anxieties on Him and turn your eyes on Jesus, that He will prove faithful and supply all you will need to do everything He has asked of you for His glory.
Just this week as I thought back to my experience standing in the pews those years ago, it was very encouraging to read the testimony of the woman who penned the hymn. She had been entrusted to endure some very difficult hardships. Shortly before writing these precious words, she was diagnosed with an illness that would leave her completely blind. Then her husband abandoned her as he did not want to deal with the reality of her prognosis. Despite the sure emotional and physical trauma of the unexpected illness, Ms. Helen Lemmel’s response in faith to turn to her Savior is something I think we all can admire as we see His strength in the testimony of her faith and trust in Him as we sing the words of her hymn.
Helen actually gained inspiration for the first line of the hymn after reading a pamphlet by a fellow sister in Christ and missionary in Algeria, Ms. Lilias Trotter. The pamphlet told of how He sustained Ms. Trotter through her own struggles stating, “[s]o then turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”
Even after writing the verses of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen continued writing others. She would slowly pick at each piano key with a single finger and, after she was completely blind, ask her friends to write down the melodies for her. One researcher even cited that when her friends would ask, “How are you, Helen?” she would cheerfully reply, “I am well indeed in the things that matter,” (https://ililiastrotter.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/a-story-a-song-2/). What an example to us all! Truly fixing your eyes on Jesus implies many things; that you have turned away from the sin and things that can so easily entangle and distract you from running your race with endurance, while keeping your eyes on the eternal prize and inheritance waiting for those who believe in Christ as their personal Savior from sin (Hebrews 12:1-2).
So as you go out today to face the many varieties of troubles and struggles you have been entrusted with for the sake of Christ, don’t forget to run your race with perseverance, relying on Him who sustains. Take comfort in thinking on the things to come which are unseen and eternal instead of dwelling on temporary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Be imitators and faithful ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Rely on Him to renew your strength (Isaiah 40). And remain steadfast to run hard with your mission and the finish line in sight (Matthew 28:18-20). Let your heart reflect the words of the hymn that refocused my perspective years ago:
“His Word shall not fail you, He promised; Believe Him and all will be well; Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” – Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, copyright status is Public Domain