Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

I can't remember when I first heard the song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." It was probably in the church I attended as a child in Juneau, Alaska. 

The song has held special meaning for me ever since my freshman year of college. Suffering heartbreak over unrequited love, I was lying on my bed in the dark, when the words of that song popped into my mind, and I began to hum the tune. 

As I came to the words, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," my dorm room seemed to recede, and the most glorious presence enveloped me. Suddenly, everything was all right. The hurt was gone. I felt joyful and free.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a book of hymn stories, and I found the story behind "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." The writer was Helen Howarth Lemmel, born in England into the home of a Wesleyan minister who immigrated to America when Helen was a child. She loved music and received the best music education her parents could give her.

As a young adult, Helen returned to Europe to study music. There, she met and married a wealthy European, but he left her when she became blind, leaving her to struggle with poverty and many heartaches.

When Helen was 55, she heard a statement that impressed her deeply: "So 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 dimension."

Helen Howarth Lemmel
"I stood still," Helen said, "and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit."

Although Helen was nearly destitute in her advanced years, her joy and enthusiasm amazed others. When asked how she was doing, she would say, "I'm doing well in all the things that count."

She was always composing hymns. Since she had no way of writing them down because of her blindness, she would call a friend at all hours, and he would rush to her side so he could record the words before she forgot them.

Helen died in 1961, thirteen days before her ninety-eighth birthday. She left nearly five hundred hymns she had written in her lifetime.

Helen had learned that the way to find real joy was to look into the face of Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). 

That experience in college taught me to sing those words whenever times of sorrow and disappointment come my way. When I look "full in His wonderful face," I have found that "the things of earth [do] grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," and real joy replaces the heartache.

What hymn brings you comfort and joy?

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