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 (Manna 92: Be Rooted and Grow)
Let The Lower Lights Be Burning
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Brandon Shek—Edinburgh, UK

Editor’s note: Hymns are woven into the very fabric of our Christian lives. We praise God with hymns during worship services and through choir presentations, we listen to recordings of hymn at home or in our cars, and we may even hum them as we go about our daily business. Hymnal praise brings vivid colour into our worship, as we sacrifice the fruit of our lips as a sweet offering, with grace and melody in our hearts, to the Lord (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 13:15). But do we sometimes take hymn singing for granted? How often do we reflect on the lyrics of a hymn and allow ourselves to be spiritually edified by the truth of the message therein? In this reflection, the writer does just that and discovers new depths and insights to a hymn he learned long ago.

On the final evening of the Literary Ministry Seminar (2018), participants had the opportunity to share and reflect on some hymns. As I was considering which hymn to choose, I recalled a line from a hymn I had not sung in a long time:

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

I then turned to the hymn Let the Lower Lights Be Burning by Philip P Bliss (1838–1876) to remind myself of its contents.

I distinctly remember learning this hymn at a younger age. My vivid childhood imagination turned the nautical imagery, often used in the Bible, into great scenes of sailing the vast seas on a small boat. As my focus was on the imagery, I did not properly pay attention to the hymn leader’s explanation and encouragement.

Returning to this hymn after attending many spiritual convocations and youth theological training courses, I reflected on its teachings and what they can mean.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

The first verse speaks about the mercy of God, forever shining brightly to all who are in the world, like the light from a lighthouse. But what are the “lights along the shore,” given to us to keep?

In seafaring, lighthouses guide ships in unfavorable conditions—strong winds, storms, fog, and darkness. They serve as a navigational aid for sailors to avoid dangerous rocks and reefs, leading them safely into harbor. The lower lights along the shore illuminate the harbor, further guiding the ships to dock safely.

Both the lighthouse and the lower lights are important in a ship’s voyage, especially in times of difficulty. As light from a lighthouse, the grace of God can be witnessed by all; it guides souls to the truth and His church. God then entrusts us with the lights on the shore. This is the part we play in bringing people to the truth.

Eager eyes are watching, longing
For the lights along the shore.

It is common for sailors to be battered by wind and rain on long voyages—a very unpleasant situation. It can be an overwhelming and tiring struggle against the currents and winds that beat against you. In exhaustion, you desperately seek a light in the darkness—the lights that will lead you safely to the shore.

In the Bible, the sea can represent the world, where sin and the dead are (Rev 20:13). But more specifically, it can express a believer’s heart or faith when beset by false doctrine and doubt:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (Jas 1:6)

[T]hat we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. (Eph 4:14)

A believer is tossed to and fro in such situations, like a ship in a storm. This person will find neither rest nor peace, lost and desperate, as though he were sinking or drowning at sea. We may have even experienced this struggle ourselves.

Knowing this, the third verse of the hymn brings together the importance of diligently keeping our lights burning:

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother,
Some poor sailor tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

In Ephesians, Paul tells us that we were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord (Eph 5:8). He then instructs us to walk as children of light, to find out what is acceptable to the Lord, and expose the works of darkness (Eph 5:10–13).

As a light in the Lord, we find out what is acceptable to God—that which is righteous, pleasing in the eyes of God, and according to God’s will—before fulfilling it in our lives. This also means that we should discern what is unacceptable to God to expose the works of darkness. In doing this, we will understand what is needed to guide the lost to the light.

Ultimately, we guide the lost by shining God’s light through sharing the mercy of God—the blessings and teachings we have gained from His word in our journey of faith. By reflecting on God’s grace and manifesting it through our actions and sharing it in testimonies, we may become like lights to guide others—both those in the truth and those who have yet to know the truth. This light is a lamp we need to trim and tend to regularly because we do not know who will need help or when they will need it most. If we continuously shine as lights in the world, as blameless children of God (Phil 2:15), we can safely guide those lost at sea to shore.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor, fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Ezekiel chapters 3 and 33 record Ezekiel’s duty as a watchman—one who stands watch on the wall and watchtowers of a city, warning the people of any incoming danger. God tasks the watchman to turn the wicked from their ways and the righteous from wickedness (Ezek 3:17–21). This critical task is not to be taken lightly. If a watchman fails to warn the people, their blood will be on his head. This is the job of a prophet: Ezekiel is to speak the word of God to warn the people of the punishment they will face if they do not turn from their ways. This responsibility shows that not only is there a personal consequence for not fulfilling our task, but more importantly, we should have the conviction to try to save lives.

As watchmen, if we shine God’s light as far as we can across the sea, we may save someone struggling and lost. We should testify of God to all those around—to those yet to know the truth and those who are lost—and by the grace of God, we may rescue, we may save. Once they have come to the shore, they too can keep the lower lights to shine the light of how God has helped them. As children and servants of the one true God, this is our duty: to shine the light of His glory in the world (Phil 2:15).

Hallelujah! May all glory and praise be unto His holy name. Amen!

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Author: Brandon Shek
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 03/03/2022