Surely Goodness and Mercy

When the Psalmist, using King James English, declared “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he said a mouthful! On the surface, one might read that to mean, “from this point forward, God’s goodness and mercy will now follow me to the end of my life.” True, but only partially true -- exactly one-third of the truth and reality. God’s goodness and mercy has already followed us to this point and even is doing so this very moment. It’s an ever-presence in our lives -- past, future, and right now.

It seems that God’s goodness and mercy in our lives is best seen looking back, seeing from whence we have come. The past few days have offered an occasion to review some of my recent past and celebrate again God’s goodness and mercy. 

Ten years ago last Sunday I announced my retirement as minister of music at Nashville’s, First Baptist Church. (I cannot believe it’s been ten years, that is until I recall what all has happened since.) Remembering that pivotal day has caused me to reflect again on primarily two things -- what I joyfully walked away from and equally joyful walked into.

First Baptist, Nashville was the absolute best place for a person like me and of my musical persuasion to do music in church. The musicians, the room, the instruments, the heritage, the people -- magnificent! To realize God’s active presence helping me navigate working with four very different pastors and three interims -- amazing! To love the work that was mine nearly every year over a long haul -- incredible! And to recall how those dear people enfolded, nurtured, and ministered to me and my family for thirty years -- priceless and precious!

Amid all God’s goodness and mercy during those three decades, fourth-quarter stirrings in my soul along with some weariness of the never ending seven-day cycle, I was ready to do something else. But what do almost four-decade veterans of my craft do next? Tune pianos, build organs, sell choir robes?  None of that really appealed to me. I had never thought of building a hymnal, but not so with Goodness and Mercy. That opportunity was placed in my lap and I never saw it coming.

What began as a three-year mutual commitment for me to shepherd production of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal across the finish line and become the face of the project has now reached the ten year mark. Even during three years away from company “active duty” to care for Honey and rebound following her death in 2015, God’s goodness and mercy through the person of CEO Tom McAfee has allowed me to remain a part of this ministry of music/hymnody that has been at my core literally my whole life. What a blessing!

Of course, Honey’s illness and death was a difficult season, but most certainly, goodness and mercy followed closely our every step. Looking back on that stretch of the road now more than two years later, I discover additional ways God’s hand and work and presence was active in the situation. Some of it I didn’t see then but it is abundantly clear now.

God’s presence in the past is relatively easy to see. Lines from two hymns -- “as Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be” and “I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!” -- etched in our hearts and minds help us feel okay about the future. But the growing edge, at least for me, is realizing, celebrating, and putting my full weight down on the active presence of goodness and mercy in the now, in facing daily life this very day -- forming attitudes, responding to situations, making good choices, etc.  We do ourselves a favor when we remember that no matter how well we plan or how in charge of our lives we think we are, life every day is series of steps of faith and that God’s goodness and mercy indwell the believer all the time. Or as John Rippon put it:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
     is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
     to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
     for I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
     I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
     upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
     the rivers of woe shall shall not thee overflow;
     for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
     and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
     my grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
     the flame shall not hurt thee, I only design
     thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
     I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
     that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
     I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!”

Words – John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787

I love the way this hymn is built. Stanza 1 is like a preamble saying that God’s excellent word lets us in on God’s presence and provision for we saints of the Lord. The remaining stanzas provide scriptural snippets as evidence -- foundational to Christian faith.

Surely goodness and mercy follow us ALL the days of our lives even when we are not aware of it or consciously engaged with it.

Thanks be to God!
- Mark