Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

by Elizabeth Trotter on November 20, 2014

I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)

This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.

So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.

A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).

Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).

Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).

These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.

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How can I end well?

Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”

As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).

When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.

So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.

God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.
  • Marilyn Gardner

    My favorite, favorite hymn! Have you heard the Sufjan Stevens rendition? I love the challenge in this post – I am a natural rebel, somthing I have had to confess and I watch the ramifications in my children. They come by their questioning authority naturally and sometimes sinfully. So there are too many times when I have operated under an umbrella of “do by self.” That 2-year-old attitude that gets ugly in a woman of my age. It’s interesting now being a part of a Christian tradition that has a high view of authority — and that includes regular confession. This post continues along those lines in challenging me – I must not “presume to walk alone.” Thank you for your words.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I haven’t heard that version, but I will need to look it up now. 🙂 I am not a natural rebel, as you mention; I am a natural obey-er. BUT, along with that comes a tendency not to want anyone to know my struggles to obey perfectly (as if perfection were the point!). And it means asking for help and counsel is sometimes hard for me to do. So I have a “do it myself” attitude as well. I think perseverance is hard for all of us. We all get tired, and we all need each other.
      And thanks for chiming in with the confession aspect. That tradition is unfamiliar to me and seems quite terrifying! Although I’m sure it’s actually quite beneficial in practice.

  • Richelle Wright

    My time in God’s Word today was centered on Psalm 25… which, if I had to come up with at title for it, it would be “I did it God’s Way!” The first verse is a very concise, simple declaration of the Gospel – “In You, O Lord, I put my trust.” Other versions say I lift my soul to You, I entrust You with my soul, I give my soul to You for You to carry…

    And then there’s all of the ways the psalmist strives to do it God’s Way: does not try to declare his own dignity or worth/trusts God with his reputation/recognizes that God always gives ultimate victory to the one trusting Him/hopes in God/is not ashamed of God/asks for God to Show him His ways/wants God to teach him His paths/recognizes that God is the only Guide into truth/proclaims that God is His Savior/hopes in God all day, every day, throughout the day/sees God’s great mercy and love/testifies that His mercy and love have always been, are unchanging/seeks forgiveness/acknowledges his own sin and rebellion/testifies that God is good/as a sinner, seeks the Lord’s instruction/wants to be humble/accepts that there are demands for those who’ve entered a covenantal relationship with the Lord/does not minimize or forget the depth of his own depravity/fears the Lord/keeps eyes ever on the Lord/realizes that all deliverance comes from God/sees his need for God to turn towards him, to show him grace/feels his aloneness and affliction that separated him from God/realizes the problems, the anguish start within his own heart/asks God to take away his sins/asks God to guard him… and then when needed, to rescue him/takes refuge in God/wants God’s integrity and righteousness to be his protection/hopes in the Lord… What strikes me is it is always, only – all about God.

    Do you know the story behind the words to Come Thou Fount (one of my favorite hymns)? I think it was written to complement a sermon, and the preacher was one who’d wandered long and far from the Lord before ever surrendering his life…

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “It is always, only — all about God.” So.totally.agreed.
      I love hymn lyrics. They are so deep! And I actually have enough piano ability to play hymns. They really bless me. I’ve heard various versions of the story of “Come Thou Fount,” though I wasn’t sure which one was truest so I didn’t mention anything. . .But I do identify with the “prone to wander” lyrics. I also identify with “teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above.” I guess that just goes to show how human we are, how much we waver between devotion and drift.
      Also thanks for the “Walk with the Wise” series on your blog, Richelle. That verse and that phrase gave me just what I needed to tie all these ideas together 🙂 I love how we can help each other out, not only in the Life Overseas community, but also in the community of the global church.

  • Eva Bridges

    This was beautifully written. My husband and I recently attended a “Finishing Well” seminar on how to stay the course in missions. We talked about prayer and scripture and counseling and all sorts of helpful things. Then I went home and really started contemplating this. I look at those who have gone before us and finished the race so beautifully. I also look at those who have gone before us and weren’t able to finish the race. And then I wonder. I wonder what the difference is. I wonder if those who didn’t finish the race stopped praying, stopped being in awe of the privilege we have of being God’s hands at work in his kingdom. I wonder if the wonder ceased.

    And then I wonder if I’ll notice these things in myself. I pray that I will long before I am disqualified from the race.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I agree, Eva, prayer and scripture and counseling are such helpful things! And I pray along with you, that when we drift from God, He will help us turn back to Him.

  • Pam Stewart

    I agree w/Eva-beautifully written Elizabeth & I agree w/you too. I ponder ending well as well.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Just saw this, Pam. I love playing hymns on piano too! Hymns are really like prayers set to music. They express the deepest parts of our hearts. So glad we share a love of them 🙂

  • ErinMP

    Just was inspired to find this hymn that I had never heard outside of my old country church back home!! (No joke; exchanging goats milk and handmade soap and apple pie recipes was part of fellowship. How I miss that small church!)…I found a fantastic version by Matt Boswell. Thank you so much for inspiring me to find and listen to one of the best songs of all time. I never memorized the title, so I didn’t know it until now! Love the points you made!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I’m so glad you were able to find and remember a childhood hymn! And thank you for sharing these precious memories with us. Blessings.

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