“Love lifted me!” I remember hearing this song growing up in the Salinas Valley in California. My mother loved to sing and throughout the day, she went through a repertoire of revival hymns, characteristic of our Baptist faith.
The words of the hymn were graphic. They describe a person drowning in her or his sin, going down for the last time, and then feeling Jesus reach out to save their life.
|I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me,
Now safe am I.
|Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me. (repeat refrain)
Frankly, the words were a little scary to me. I had come from a family of transplanted Iowa farmers, none of whom had learned to swim. I was taking swimming lessons but still hadn’t gone the legendary three lengths of the big pool in our small town.
But, something about the song was powerful, even to a small child. There are times in our lives when we go beyond our depth, begin to thrash, and need a power and wisdom greater than ourselves to find our way, to begin again, and to claim new life. Almost dead in our mistakes and the pain we feel or have caused, we feel a hand touching ours and lifting us up to safety.
The author of the hymn knew the power of love to lift us up. A Welshman born in 1865, James Rowe came to the United States at the age of 24, and settled in Albany, New York, where he worked as a teacher, government worker, and inspector with the Humane Society. But his true passion was writing hymns and poems, indeed some 20,000. Yet, each day, each labored with crippling arthritis. Writing long hand was a chore, an agony, but love lifted him, the love of God that takes us from darkness to light, guilt to forgiveness, and fear to love, and gives us strength to move forward despite the pain we feel.
The hymn was inspired by two sea stories from the gospels. In the first, the disciples are overwhelmed by a storm at sea, the type of storm that comes out of nowhere, and threatens to swamp our boat. Panic-stricken, they call out to Jesus, and he stills the storm. In the other story, once again, there is a choppy sea, and the disciples are struggling. Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, and caught up in the moment, Peter runs out to meet the Savior. Everything’s going alright. Peter is walking on the waves…until he forgets about Jesus. He sinks, and fearing death he cries out to Jesus, who reaches out his hand, lifting up frightened Peter.
Here on Cape Cod, we know about storms. One need only read or see the film, “The Finest Hours” to recognize the sea’s power to capsize even the sturdiest of vessels. As the saying goes, the sea is so great, and my boat is so small.
Most of us here won’t venture out on a stormy sea, but we know the storms of life. As a matter of fact, we can’t avoid them. It’s only a matter of time.
Eventually, despite the best medical care and healthiest diet, there will come a time in which death will triumph, or age diminish, ourselves and those we love. And, of course, there are the quiet storms that no one sees, and we can often hide, until a crisis brings them to the surface – depression, guilt, shame, addiction, moral errors or the results of unintended acts, traumas from childhood. These storms are just as overwhelming as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, and we feel just as powerless. There are times in our lives when we have to realize that our life is out of control, that our best efforts can’t save us, and we need to reach out to a wisdom and power greater than our own. With the disciples, we cry out, “Lord, save me!”
Oftentimes faith is described as a crutch, a tool used by the weak and passive to endure, or to depend on God rather than solving problems themselves. But, as a friend who suffered from serious problems at birth confessed, “I need a crutch. I can’t walk without one, and when I can’t go forward in my life, Jesus is my crutch.” My friend, who struggles with pain every day, is an activist – she is strong of spirit and soldiers on regardless of how she feels – but she knows she needs that crutch to cross the street and she needs our savior Jesus to give her hope and power to face each day.
Love lifted me! And, this love comes from God and from us. As I’ve said before, no one makes it on her or his own. You can be the answer to someone’s prayer, and you can be the hand that lifts up another. God may bring someone into your life so that you can be their Christian, the one whose belief sustains them until they can believe, the one whose hands lift them up when they have no power.
I can still remember my mother, Loretta, singing these words, perhaps to get her through depression, the shame of being an unwanted child, and obsessive compulsive tendencies, and inspiring her to move forward and care for her two boys and become a much loved school teacher.
Souls in danger, look above,
Jesus completely saves;
He will lift you by His love
Out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea,
Billows His will obey;
He your Savior wants to be—
Be saved today.
In the spirit of those revival preachers, we need to reach out to Jesus, when we reach the end of our strength. We need to trust God’s love – God’s never lost anyone yet – for nothing we fear can ultimately separate us from God’s love. And, then sustained by a love and power greater than our own, reach out – for love has lifted us!