>Unanswered prayer

>Some apparently arbitrary word changes appear in in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal version of one of my favorite hymns, which we sang yesterday morning in church: “Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart.”

There were many word changes made between the blue-covered 1959 edition and the gray-covered 1987 edition, some definitely for the better like changing the second life of the second stanza of “Fill Thou My Life” from “In intercourse at hearth and board with my beloved ones” to “in fellowship enjoyed at home with my beloved ones.”

But not all wording changes were so helpful. Among the worst are the gender inclusive changes, but there are also text revisions that seem arbitrary and change the meaning from the author’s intent.

There are several changes in “Spirit of God” that are subtle, but significant.

Consider first the change in the title (and the corresponding first line) of the song. It has gone from “Spirit of God, Dwell Thou Within My Heart” to “Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart.” That seems a shift from prayer to presumption. The first title conveys a longing for the Spirit to dwell more richly within the singer’s heart. The second title assumes the Spirit is already there.

Although I don’t know the rationale behind the change, I realize it may have been motivated by a desire to be theologically correct: the Spirit is always with believers. But it seems to me as if the first title conveys a humble heart, a heart that is open to the Spirit’s leading and continuing work of sanctification. The second title conveys a presumptuous and almost arrogant attitude that calls to mind a high school cheerleading chant: “Who’s got the Spirit? We’ve got the Spirit.”

The first verse of the original song goes on to ask the Spirit to “wean” the singer’s heart from “earth,” while the new version asks to be weaned from “sin;” an understandable—perhaps even laudable—change, but it reflects a different perspective.

I believe the author stressed the need to set our minds on things above, to realize that this world is not our home, and to avoid being consumed with either storing up earthly treasures or struggling through earthly trials.

In contrast, the revision stresses the need to avoid sin. Period. An admirable goal, but a shift in the author’s original intent and a sentiment that seems a bit barren.

A wording change in the fifth verse may have had its basis in a desire for more accurate theology. Speaking about the singer’s desire that love for God fill “all my frame,” the original version referred to the “baptism” of the heaven-descended Dove, while the newer version refers to its “fullness.” Perhaps the idea was to avoid confusion about the theology of baptism, but the new wording loses the vivid imagery of the Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove at Christ’s baptism. And with that loss, we lose something of a sense of unity in Christ and with His Church.

But the wording change that most bothers me in “Spirit of God” is the change in verse four from “Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer” to “Teach me the patience of unceasing prayer.” There is a crucial, albeit subtle, difference.

I will grant that “unanswered” prayer may well be “unceasing” prayer, but “unceasing” prayer is definitely not always “unanswered” prayer.

Certainly we are commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thes.5:17), but that prayer consists of more than requests that appear to go unanswered. Unceasing prayer ought to burst with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6) and be filled with supplications for the church (Col 1:9-14).

Unanswered prayer focuses on a particular problem that God does not resolve. Who can know the mind of God? Who can know why He allows us to struggle with heartache for years? How difficult it is to wait on God! It definitely requires Spirit-given patience.

This is what the author of “Spirit of God” seeks: the patience to wait for God’s perfect timing when prayers for a wayward loved one or some other unremitting trial continue unanswered year after year after long year.

Why change the wording from “Teach us the patience of unanswered prayer” to “Teach us the patience of unceasing prayer”? Frankly, I can’t see any reason for the change. I believe this kind of revision arises from a shallow mindset that has not been tempered in God’s furnace. A mindset that has never experienced the kind of chronic struggle that requires years of wrestling with God.

Hymns are the background music in my mind when I work or drive. Their rhythm beats in time to the steps of my walks. And one of the hymns most frequently in my thoughts is “Spirit of God, Dwell Thou Within My Heart,” which my mind sings with “Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.”

Then it crescendos into:

“Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame—
The baptism of the heaven-descended Dove;
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.”


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