I was saddened to hear, a little over a week ago, of the passing of a pastor I’ve know for some years. While we may not have been in entire agreement on everything, I knew his desire was to serve the same Lord I seek to serve, and he had been a friend to me personally and to our ministry.
My friend had experienced great grief in recent years, and ever since I heard the news, the following hymn has been running through my head.
A hymn-writer friend once said something to me about hymns that are “packed” — every line seems to be a Scriptural quote or allusion, and you could preach a series of sermons on the theological truths referred to in a single verse of some of these hymns. They are packed with Scripture and theology. (An example would be “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”) My friend said at the time that he thought those are the kinds of hymns I tend to like, and he is right.
This hymn is not a “packed” hymn, but there is another kind of hymn I like, too. Sometimes, the hymn-writer finds a creative way to express a truth which makes you think about it in a new way, or makes it particularly memorable. We have a few hymns that made it into our hymnbook primarily because of one particular line. We chose “Lamb of Glory,” for instance, primarily because of the wording, “On the cross God loved the world.” (It wouldn’t hurt to stop reading and think about those words for a minute.)
In the third verse of his hymn, “Until Then,” Stuart Hamblen found some wording which always makes me smile.
My heart can sing when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone
Along a trail that’s winding always upward,
This troubled world is not my final home.
But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on—
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.
This weary world with all its toil and struggle
May take its toll of misery and strife;
The soul of man is like a waiting falcon;
When it’s released, it’s destined for the skies.
The things of earth will dim and lose their value
If we recall they’re borrowed for a while;
And things of earth that cause the heart to tremble,
Remembered there will only bring a smile.
Words & Music: Stuart Hamblen, 1908-1989
The things of this life are only borrowed for a short while. And the things of this life that hurt us, that tear at us and make us fear or sorrow, will look far different in glory. When we are there, if we remember them at all, we will remember them with joy, for then we will see them in the light of glory. We will understand what God was doing when He allowed them, even brought them, into our lives. We will see just how temporary those things of earth were.
And I think that Stuart Hamblen was right. We’ll smile. We’ll smile when we see what God was doing. We’ll smile when we remember how those things looked to us back in our dim days when we only saw as through a glass. It will all seem so very, very different, remembered there. We’ll even smile at how short-sighted we sometimes were, at the trembling of our hearts.
I have to think that my pastor friend, in glory, remembering now, is smiling at a lot of things of this life. For him, joy came in the morning, and it’s all joy now. It makes me smile, right now, just thinking about it. And it reminds me to always rejoice, not because the things of this world are always easy or pleasant, but because I know that the joy is coming, and it will last forever.
When our brothers and sisters depart, it should cause us to “pause to remember” what a heartache here really is — merely a stepping stone on the trail to glory, part of the training process that equips us for an eternity of service in Heaven. When we remember that, our hearts can sing in the face of anything this world throws at us.