Imagine it is the middle of a war and you read the Twenty-Third Psalm. Arriving at the words “He leadeth me,” you are unable to continue. The very idea of being led through extreme difficulty stops you in your tracks. This is the story of Joseph H. Gilmore who wrote the words to this hymn in 1862 during the American Civil War. There is something very powerful about his experience of finding comfort in this sentiment – that the very thing he chose to put his faith in was guiding him through what must have been very dark days.
He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, over troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.
What struck me as I read this story, was that, in Gilmore’s own words, “…it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.” It was his faith, his belief that was important, not the details of life or the circumstances in which he found himself. For me, this is a perspective often lost. We live in a time when results are the primary motivation for everything. Success, wealth, fame, recognition. We wish to be led in the right direction – not just led. Our beliefs and values can seem to be constructed to fit the reward, be it material or spiritual. And yet, look around. The diversity in the results people experience is overwhelming. By our popular measures of success, it would seem that very few are following a good leader. So few achieve the dream we are presented with; the ideal life is hard to attain.
These words are about faith and conviction. They are about the conscious act of allowing whatever it is we believe to guide us. Our obsession with results, makes this seem almost countercultural. We want to win, we want to achieve change, we want to accomplish things, we want to succeed. All can be good, but when we are driven by these things, life is fast and empty. Standing on the foundation of what you believe, what you truly value, provides a better view – of the good and of the bad. Taking in that view is worthwhile, providing boundless opportunities for ourselves and those around us; for our world and our communities. So, really look to whatever leads you – if you have chosen wisely, it will carry you wherever you need to go.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.