by Melissa Brotton | 19 March 2021 |
“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Proverbs 4:18 ESV)
Is it difficult for people who grew up in church to remember when they really saw Jesus for the first time?
So many of our memories of Sabbath School, church school, hymn-singing, our parents’ teachings, and our own Bible study blend together that we are not completely sure of when the light streaming from the cross first broke through. We may recall certain moments when we were struck by the thought of it, but then, perhaps, after the song was sung, the church service over, we headed home without allowing it to sink in.
One thing I recall is loving one hymn more than all the others. I’m not sure if it was because of the jaunty tune or because of the words, but the song, “Precious Name,” with its opening line, “Take the name of Jesus with you,” sparked a flame in me each time I heard its strains pealing from the organ. I especially loved the echoic chorus: “Precious name (Precious name), Oh, how sweet (Oh, how sweet), hope of earth and joy of heaven.” It was a lively song, a thrill to sing, and I felt its words directed at me personally.
While I am sure that I sang this song with all my heart at age ten, I am not quite sure at what point its central meaning dawned on me: to take not only the name of Jesus but also the person of Jesus with me. This song inspired me, I know, to care about taking Jesus to others, but I did not fully understand at that point how to take Jesus with me. I thought of it like Jesus was a friend walking beside me whom I would introduce to others in place of Jesus living inside me, producing his own spiritual transformation of my life.
Protestants have traditionally kept spiritual autobiographies, personal stories of how Jesus’s light broke through in their lives. In this way, they found spiritual steppingstones detailing how they were led by God’s light. Some of my steppingstones may look familiar to you.
From my earliest years, my mother’s reading of the red- and blue-volume Bible-story books and Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories made their impression. Later, I read and re-read the stories for myself. I still see in my mind’s eye many of the pictures from those books. In the tiny Bottineau church, a kind pastor and his wife got my sister and me involved in singing for special music and playing roles in the Christmas program.
Vacation Bible School and camp-meetings were fun to attend, not only for the lesson-studies but also for incorporating the culture of Adventist living. I loved Sabbath School and my devoted teachers. Back at home, we had felt figures to play out the Bible stories, and my sister and I were creative enough to use other things at home too, like bathroom bottles as Bible characters. (The Scope bottle got to be God because, as the largest bottle, it had a lot of blue power in it.)
In the fifth grade a new pastor came to our Minot church. His wife, Darlene, became a special person in my life. With her unparalleled kindness, it was easy to see Jesus not merely shining but bursting through her. Years in grade-school and academy with dedicated teachers continued my Adventist journey with more music, worship, and lifestyle themes. During my junior year, our academy put on a passion play with our English teacher, Mr. Boyle, playing the central role. When, as part of the hostile crowd, I shouted “Crucify him,” and Mr. Boyle was put on the cross, I saw as if for the first time what I had done to Jesus and what Jesus had done for me. Others felt the same way. We all knew Mr. Boyle exemplified Jesus, not only in the classroom but by his thoughtfulness toward us out of class too. Mr. Boyle had taken the name of Jesus, so we could easily identify him with Jesus when he was lifted up on the cross, another point of light filtering through to my heart.
In college at Pacific Union College, a family friend took me under her wing, often driving up Howell Mountain to take me to her home for long weekends and holidays. Through Jan’s continual telling of what Jesus did for her daily, Jesus’s immediacy in my own life was revealed to me. Jan’s personal testimonies showed me how I could walk with Jesus each day and understand His work in my life. Her influence in my life was so potent that I still feel it across the years. Her words ring back to me on difficult days: “Jesus has already been here. All you have to do is walk the process.”
Later, while attending a state graduate program, a friend from church, Cheryl, began an Adventist youth organization on campus. As a part of this organization, I witnessed her huge faith in motion. I’ll never forget stopping by her office one cold, snowy day. She had been on the phone with 3ABN’s John Lomacang. We’d been wishing to bring him to our campus to speak and sing but had not been successful in raising any money for his travel. I sighed and took out my checkbook. What was fifty dollars going to accomplish?
“Thank you,” she said cheerfully. “We’ll have the money.”
“But how?” I blurted out. “Today’s the deadline.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “God has this.”
I tried to muster up faith as I trudged across campus to my building. I wanted to believe it would be like magic, but doubt overwhelmed me. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for Pastor Lomacang to come. It seemed too much to ask God at this last minute.
An hour later I stopped by Cheryl’s office again. “Guess what!” Cheryl had a sly look.
“Yes way,” she answered. “We got the money. All of it.”
“In one hour?” It felt too incredible.
Her “God is good” jingled in my mind all the way home. Later that weekend, for no apparent reason, my dad handed me an envelope with a small gift for his graduate girl – fifty dollars. I hadn’t said a word to him about my gift. Another beam of light from above.
Looking back, I am able to see how Jesus was leading me in each of these radiating moments to show me what living faith is. Now, I see these points of light as teachers God planted in my life to show me what taking His name really means.
The song, “Precious Name,” still brings back happy memories of singing with my family in a small, beautiful church in central North Dakota.
“King of kings in Heav’n we’ll crown Him, when our journey is complete.”
I am so glad that Jesus places these steppingstones in our lives so we can discern his leading. Finding them especially helps when we feel discouraged about our shortcomings. Have you recounted your spiritual steppingstones lately? I’d love to hear your story. When we see he has led in our past, we can be confident he will continue to lead in our future and finish his work in us according to his promise.
 The text of “Precious Name” (United Methodist Hymnal, No. 536) was written by Lydia Odell Baxter (1809-1874), and the music by well-known gospel songwriter, William H. Doane (1832-1915).
Melissa Brotton teaches writing and literature courses at La Sierra University. Her special areas are nineteenth-century British literature and religious studies. She has published on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Biblical ecology. She spends a lot of time outdoors, paints, and writes nature stories and poems.