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Draw near: Tune our hearts

Lynne Baab • Tuesday August 2 2022

Draw near: Tune our hearts

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it
mount of God's redeeming love.

Robert Robinson was 22 years old when he penned those words in 1758 as a hymn for Pentecost. He was in transition from his work as a hairdresser in London to the preacher he would become. Notice the two things this verse asks for: “tune my heart to sing thy grace,” and “teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above.” Jesus’s disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-13), but they never got to the place of asking Jesus to change (or “tune”) their hearts so that they would be able to pray. I’m sure that you, like me, have learned that one necessary condition for prayer is that we have to want to pray. All too often, we need help “tuning our hearts” so that we want to spend time with Jesus. We can ask for that.

Robert Robinson asks for quite specific teaching about prayer. He wants to learn the words that the “flaming tongues above” sing in heaven to praise God. The flaming tongues must be a reference to Pentecost. I have always assumed this line referred to angels, but I certainly don’t know of any connections between angels and the flames of Pentecost. (Let me know if you know about this.) I love the longing for God expressed in those words, as well as the vivid word pictures, but I have to say I don’t entirely know what Robinson is referring to.

This idea that we need God’s help to open our hearts for prayer and to teach us to pray is visible in another beautiful prayer. This one comes from the beginning of the communion service in The Book of Common Prayer, and note what the prayer asks for:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Again, the focus is on the heart. How intriguing to imagine that our hearts can have thoughts, a juxtaposition we wouldn’t tend to use in the 21st century. (This prayer was first published in 1549, and edited in the 20th century to eliminate “thee” and “thou.”) The prayer asks God to cleanse our heart and its thoughts so that we can both love and praise God. The prayer presumes that on our own we find it hard to approach God in an appropriate frame of mind (or heart), and we need God’s help to do so.

I want to return to the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and take a look at the closing verse, which contains the last request of the hymn. Not only do we sometimes (often!) need God’s help to open our hearts to pray, we need God’s help to keep our hearts close to God. “Bind my wandering heart to thee,” Robinson asks. He repeats that request, asking that his heart be sealed (secured, locked, fastened) to God. A fetter is a chain used to constrain a prisoner, and you may or may not find Robinson’s prisoner metaphor in this verse to be helpful to your prayers.

Take a look at Robinson’s third verse below, and then pick one of the prayers in this blog post to pray today.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be.
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.

(Next week: feeling unworthy as an obstacle to prayer. Illustration by Dave Baab: a church in Dunedin, New Zealand, called "Sacred Heart." If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under "subscribe.")

Five years ago, I had a series of blog posts on drawing near to God with the heart. The first post is here, and the last post has a list of all the posts in the series. 

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