Words of familiar hymns acquire new meaning when we read them as the prayers they are. In 1723, Isaac Watts wrote a prayer that became a classic hymn when set to music. In a hymnal I perused yesterday, the words of this prayer actually were set to three different tunes. Many have prayed this poignant prayer, although many may not have realized that it is in fact a prayer in which the singer asks God, “Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak His name? Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas? Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God? Sure I must fight, if I would reign. Increase my courage, Lord! I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy word. Thy saints, in all this glorious war, shall conquer, though they die; they view the triumph from afar, and seize it with their eye. When that illustrious day shall rise, and all Thy armies shine in robes of victory through the skies, the glory shall be Thine.
We pray, as we sing this hymn, and search for our true identity of faith. “Am I a soldier of the cross?” Is our world a friend to grace, or must we endure persecution as we seek to follow Jesus? We pray: “Sure I must fight, if I would reign. Increase my courage, Lord!” The church began and spread quickly in a culture that questioned, when it did not attack, its existence and validity as a movement of God’s Messiah. May this hymn’s prayer remind us as we sing it that we have no guarantees of cultural acceptance or approval. When our faith falters, may we pray (and sing) fervently, “Increase my courage, Lord!”
Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? Are you? As we put on the armor of God, as we call for fire (pray), let’s remember that no matter how intense the conflict, our God will overcome. To him be all the glory. Amen.