History of Hymns: ‘Lord, Speak to Me’ voices prayer for guidance

By Lisa Hancock, Special Contributor…

“Lord, Speak to Me”
Frances Havergal
UM Hymnal
, No. 463

Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
in living echoes of thy tone;
as thou hast sought, so let me seek
thine erring children lost and lone.

 

“Are we there yet?” This familiar question enthusiastically asked or petulantly whined from the backseat haunts parents on trips of all distances, from a jaunt to the grocery store to cross-country expeditions. As much as we might pretend that we grow out of asking such childish questions, a life of journeying with God can often make us wonder if we’ll ever “get to where we’re going.”

Frances Havergal (1836-1879) lived a life with an outward appearance of spiritual arrival. The daughter of an Anglican priest, she experienced Christian conversion at the age of 14 and in 1853 was confirmed in her father’s church, St. Nicholas in Worcester, England. She devoted her life to her family, living with her father and stepmother until the latter’s death in 1878, after which she lived with a sister until her death at age 42.

Frances Havergal

Havergal was well-educated, learning six foreign languages including Greek and Hebrew, and excelled in singing and playing the piano. In keeping with the expectations of females of her day, she participated in church ministry through service to the less fortunate and the composition of hymns.

Despite the appearance of a put-together spiritual life, in 1873 Havergal experienced what she called her “consecration,” an event which spurred the writing of her most famous hymn, “Take My Life, and Let It Be.” While visiting a home in Worcestershire where 10 unconverted or, otherwise, nominal Christians resided, Frances asked for and was given by the Lord a prayer to pray over the house: “Lord, give me all in this house!” In the simplest words, she described the Lord’s fulfillment of the petition: “And, He just did.”

This experience marked her first moment of “full surrender” and “true blessedness of consecration” to God, writes the Rev. Carlton Young in Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal.

“Lord, Speak to Me” is not a hymn of rejoicing in the arrival at the end of the journey, but of perseverance and momentum in the working out of the journey. Written in 1872, this hymn predates Havergal’s consecration experience by about a year and a half. In its text, we can easily perceive a person earnestly seeking to contribute more to the work of God’s kingdom. The poem’s original title, “A Worker’s Prayer,” includes the subheading “None of us liveth unto himself, Romans 14:7,” which effectively sets the tone of the entire hymn as an appeal to God to enable the self to be of greater service to others.

Havergal’s exemplary education in linguistics, as well as her lifelong familiarity with the Bible, produces in this hymn an easy poetic style full of scriptural allusions and spiritual impact. The insistent nature of her appeals through the use of imperative verbs pervades the text. Rather than centering on a particular doctrine or concept of the faith, Frances pleads for God to act in her life so that she might, as revealed in the last stanza, be used just as God “wilt, and when, and where.”

It is fitting to treat this hymn as a prayer either in private devotions or in congregational contexts. In speaking of her creative process, Havergal connected the composition of a hymn text directly to the act of praying: “I never seem to write even a verse by myself and [I] feel like a child writing. . . . You know a child would look up at every sentence and say, ‘And what shall I say next?’”

“Lord, Speak to Me” reveals a proper orientation for the Christian’s ultimate goal. While earnestly seeking full surrender to God was no doubt a part of Havergal’s intention in the text, even reaching that milestone in 1873 could not have constituted for her a sense of completion of the spiritual voyage. Through the hymn, she tells singers that working out our faith through service to the Lord will drive us forward on the journey—until we reach the final destination of God’s rest, God’s joy, God’s glory shared.

Ms. Hancock, a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
.

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