My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
– Charitie Lees Smith
I like music. I play a few instruments and I can, for the most part, sing on key. I’ll never gain any real renown for my musical ability, though my kids like to watch and listen to me play while they beat on my guitar. But I know enough about music and music theory to not only enjoy modern pop songs with their catchy riffs and refrains, but I can, on some level, appreciate jazz and fusion and rhythm & blues (not Usher, he can’t spell R&B, think John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters or Robert Leroy Johnson – that’s real R&B) and other non-mainstream styles.
When it comes to church music, or sacred music, I tend to think of most of the Contemporary Christian “radio” music in the same vein as secular pop, it’s alright for a few moments but grows dull and tired because of its shallow nature (both musically and lyrically). There is one contemporary group that I think quite highly of, “Shane and Shane”. They are indeed both named Shane. Most of their music has enough depth to be listenable more than once, particularly because of the thoughtfulness and beauty of their lyrics. But the song that was so inspiring this morning wasn’t an original with them, it was written in 1863 by a 22-year-old pastor’s daughter named Charitie Lees Smith. Generally there are grandiose stories behind prominent hymns, tales of loss or tragedy or joy that spawned the writing of the lyrics, but in Charitie Smith’s case I find no such story, no such yarn to be spun to give her masterpiece, “The Advocate” ( which we know of now as “Before the Throne of God Above”) some kind of compelling backdrop or exciting context. We love the sensationalized in our culture, and granted many of those stories of John Newton or Charles Wesley or Horatio Spafford are wonderful and inspiring and add meaning to the words they penned, but there is something so glorious to me about a 22-year-old girl writing words far beyond her years for no other apparent reason than her love for God.
Today I was caught up in that ascendant captivation. I was held in the grip of a moment that filled my heart and mind like thick liquid. I was encouraged this morning for no other reason than the fact that at this moment, and for every moment I’ve ever known, Jesus Christ is in Heaven “arguing” on my behalf, pointing to His cross and erasing my sin. I am loved. I am wanted. I am cared for. I am not alone. I am useful to Him. Just like that day might have been, perhaps, for Charitie Smith in 1863, there was no awful tragedy this morning, there was no unique circumstance. In the quiet of the morning there was merely grace. In the stillness of the awakening of the earth there was a subtle but overwhelming glory that was straining with the dawn to be made known in my soul. There was a gratuitous assurance that not only am I not alone, but I’ve never been alone. There, in that one tick of the eternal clock, God pulled the veil of my heart back just a little and allowed me to see exactly what’s happening every moment of everyday whether I recognize it or not. There are angels laughing and singing because lost sons and daughters are walking back home to the embrace of a loving Father. There are saints, long since having given up their last earthly breaths, basking in the first chapter of an infinite story of beauty and peace. There is the echo of prayer and praise that resounds off of the walls of the throne room of God Himself as His children on earth come boldly into His presence. There are different dialects and languages all joining into what should be a cacophony of noise but in God’s ears becomes a symphony with notes we’ve never heard and melodies to glorious for our ears – they are melodies that we think we can hear when we watch the sunrise or when we see a volcano erupt, it’s a song that we know is playing in the crashing of the waves and the laughter of a child but our physical eardrums aren’t equipped to completely make it out…we need new ears to hear it correctly, but oh how we strain to listen even now.
It is happening all around us in every moment, the worship and exaltation of the Creator and the Lamb. We are given these hidden melodies by His Spirit and we sing them without knowing exactly what we are singing. Like a private sending a coded message back to headquarters, we know that what we are doing is important but only the General who gave us the message to send actually knows everything it says. But one thing the General reveals, one thing he lets us in on: we have nothing to worry about, headquarters is sending Someone, the war is about to be over, each moment brings us that much closer. Can you hear it? Can you sense it?
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
– Charitie Lees Smith