Jesus Loves Me: Celebrating the Profound Truths of a Simple Hymnby Calvin Miller
There are few songs more recognizable to the Christian believer than Anna B. Warner's beloved hymn, "Jesus Loves Me." The simple yet eloquent lyric states the basic elements of faith both plainly and succinctly; within the three title words are found the tenets of Christianity. Now, by examining this beloved hymn verse by verse, including the little known second and third stanzas, Calvin Miller seeks to remind believers of the clear and abiding truths found within this child's rhyme. In doing so, he establishes the song as a creed by which busy Christian adults can live and grow.
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Jesus Loves Me: I Can Make It
There is a man whose tomb is guarded by love,
there is a man who sepulchre is not only glorious as the prophets declared,
but whose sepulchre is loved . . .
There is a man whose every word still vibrates and produces more than love,
produces virtues fructifying in love.
There is a man, who eighteen centuries ago, was nailed to gibbet, and whom millions of adorers daily detach from this throne of his suffering, and kneeling before him as low as they can without shame, there upon the earth they kiss his feet with unspeakable ardor.
There is a man who was scourged, killed, crucified, whom an ineffable passion raises from death and infamy, and exults to the glory of love unfailing which finds in Him, peace, honor, joy, and even ecstasy . . .
There is a man, in fine, and only one, who has founded his love upon the earth, and that Man is thyself, O Jesus! who was pleased to baptize me, to anoint me, to consecrate me in thy love, and whose name now opens my very heart, and draws from it those accents which overpower me and raise me above myself.
A Conversation with JESUS
Jesus, how can I know you love me?
Let me show you, my child. Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Be sure of this: The God who loves the lilies loves you even more.
But what happens when the breezes stop and the gales begin? Then lilies argue too softly to be heard. When the storms spend their force on my despair, show me no flowers to prove God's love. When the hard times come, grace must come as granite. Peace must be a pier of steel.
You can handle the hard times, for I did. Look to the horizon. See the cross where I died. If you would know the strength of love, watch me bleed. Greater love hath no man than this—that a man lay down his life for his friends.
The cross convinces me you loved the world in general. But what about me? I don't mean to be selfish, Jesus, but there are six billion people on the planet. I would like to know if I have any special meaning to you?
I never loved or died for the masses. I spoke to them but I've never loved any multitude at once. I never will. I cannot love that way. I love only singularly—one person at a time. And you may be sure I have loved you with an everlasting love. The very hairs of your head are numbered. Are not sparrows two a penny, yet not a one of them falls to the earth without my care? Indeed, if you had been the only person who ever needed my love, I still would have loved you.
I am convinced; I've seen the proof. Your bloody wounds tell me how much you love me. Shall I in doubting your love add to your wounds? No, never. All doubt be gone. Jesus loves me, this I know.
—Matthew 6:28, John 15:13, Jeremiah 31:3, Luke 12:6-7
Jesus loves me, this I know.
To be loved and to know it makes every sunrise seem a promise. Whatever lies ahead of us, we are loved. Whatever must be faced, we have a lover. His voice calms the storms. His feet stand firm upon the troubled oceans of our voyage.
Yet we seem like inept anatomy students. Time and again we dissect God's love. Why? We want to know how much we are loved and how long we may expect his love to last. But all love has a built-in shortfall: it never seems enough. So we are driven in our pursuit to have even more of it. At the same time we are the victims of our search, the captives of our longing. It was Augustine who said the whole of the Christian life is longing. Therefore, "Jesus Loves Me" is more than a song from our childhood. It is a heart cry first to know we are loved and second to know how much we are loved.
Still, who of us are not restless waves in search of a shoreline? Why? Who can say? But we are rarely content in life. Our restlessness is kept alive by our restless hearts. Augustine said our hearts remain restless until they find their rest in God. We are evidence of this truth. If ever we gain any ease in life, it comes in the knowledge that somebody, somewhere loves us.
I know this longing firsthand.
I am needy and I can clearly see that a love-neurosis stalks my heart of faith. I am first lost in my searching after love. Then, having found it, I am further lost in analyzing what this love means. But I know I am not alone in this search. God's love haunts all of us till we find it, and then haunts us because we have found it.
All love is both elusive and haunting. Even newlyweds have the odd sensation of waking up the morning after their wedding exulting over their union. Their togetherness seems too rich to be deserved. They feel such love is too wonderful, too exotic to be owned by ordinary souls.
Such is our first love for Jesus. Many new converts awaken the morning after their conversion to euphoria. But there is another kind of reaction to grace. The morning after I first came to know his love, I awoke a little disappointed. What felt so adequate the night before seemed suddenly too small to trust. I knew I was one with Jesus in an imperishable union. But I wanted more of the bliss of grace to remain. The magic of my "delirium" seemed too soon gone. But why did I so treasure the warm feelings of first faith? Did this not make grace too gooey to have real substance? Was I not getting mushy—schmaltzy—with God? Wouldn't it be better to love God with good, hard theology minus giddy emotionalism? Perhaps, but who would want to love God without the ardor and the buoyancy of the poets?
G. K. Chesterton once spoke of the love of God as a romance. Who can deny it? It is a romance—a divine romance. This romance, said Chesterton, is deeper than reality. What can he have meant by this? He meant that this reality can be measured only in my heart through the use of my inner and more hidden senses. I can measure some reality in miles or pounds or milligrams. But the love that goes deeper than reality is unquantifiable. It is heady, mysterious, immeasurable, elusive . . . and real.
"Jesus loves me" is unprovable but never open to much debate. Between the Genesis downbeat and the final chord of Revelation is a vast, unfolding song of love. God loves Adam and gives him a garden as a studio where he paints his love in bold, natural strokes. God loves Abraham and his love teaches us that barrenness and old age cannot thwart the gift of a child or the birth of nations. God loves Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David. And if this matter-of-fact tale of his love is not enough, he tells us plainly that he loved the world so much he gave us the gift of his son. God's great love is the grand essential of all worthy living.
What, then, can contain the expanding effervescence of God's love? Not our small hearts. You'd easier carry Gibraltar home in a marble bag. I remember the first joy of my romance with God. I came home after a revival service and told my mother, "Mama, somebody just found me!" The miracle is that I woke the next day to discover that my "foundness" was not a temporary euphoria—it was a way of life.
Jesus' love taught me that being found and being lost are categories of existence like health and illness. If you are one, you can't be the other. I knew that "lostness" was nothing more than ego forging into a woods without a compass. Further, I knew that "foundness" was a path to significance. It was essential, like the love of Christ itself.
Foundness is that state of being we feel when we believe ourselves to be winners in the game of life. What hides itself in the love of Christ that makes this so essential? First, it is necessary to remind ourselves that most human beings feel a natural hunger to win. God can make some use of this desire. But this desperate hunger causes us to want our own way and gives rise to a need to win. Eric Liddell, the missionary and running champion of Chariots of Fire, confessed that when he ran he "felt God's pleasure." But he also acknowledged that the source of all our winning arises from the power within us. "Jesus loves me" forms the syllables of strength that tell me I am safe before the conflicts I must face. Life is tough, but I can make it. I am loved!
Yet do I always win? No, not always. Sometimes—in spite of love—I stand weak before battles that are larger than I am. Even "clothed with Christ," I don't always win.
When I first sampled grace, this inability to win over every conflict left me unhappy. I learned with pain that being found did not guarantee I would always win. What a pain in our hearts—to have a new nature yet always to carry about the old one. To be his and yet so much myself, I would learn, was part of the human condition.
But our need to win must be placed beneath the security of being loved that only Jesus can supply. There is an old axiom that speaks of our double bias for good and evil:
There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly behooves the most of us,
To talk about the rest of us.
There is a dark side to loving Christ. We are not as steadfast in loving him as he is in loving us. Even "sweet" little children who sing "Jesus Loves Me" can display a rather frightening ability to be unloving. Indeed, they can be cruel. Even the most devoted people are not always Christlike.
Dealing with the Ego
That Devours Us
When I was a pastor, a somewhat distraught mother in my church called me. Her little boy, she said, had quarreled all day long with his sister. They had not played well together and had come to slaps and blows over the various issues of their childish disagreements. Their fighting, she said, was evidence that, in spite of all her attempts to get them to be loving and kind, they were capable of instant cruelty. But her worst trial came at the time of their bedtime prayers when Christopher, her son, prayed, "God, please send a big dog to eat up Mandy." Fortunately for his sister, the boy's prayer carried little clout in heaven.
Where do little boys—beautiful, pure little boys—come up with such ungodly ideas? Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that the line separating good and evil passes "not through states or political parties but through the center of every human heart." How nice and tidy it would be if we could honestly say, "Those evil people over there are not at all like us." Such sweeping generalizations are the basis of prejudice, but they are always dishonest.
I grew up during the horrible days of the Third Reich. In our little grade school we demonized Hitler as the distillation of all evil. We in Oklahoma were good by comparison. As we walked home from school in the early forties we would chant, "Step on a crack and you break Hitler's back." We worked hard to step on every crack we could. Hitler was German; Hitler was bad.
Then one day I realized we Millers were once Muellers. I too was German. I was the same nationality as Hitler. Was his evil in me? To some level, yes. It was only the degree to which we served it that was different.
While I wanted to critique little Christopher's prayer, I must confess that I have met some unlovely people myself. It sometimes makes me wish I kept a big dog to supplement my prayer life. But such dogs point up the horrible chasm between good and evil and how both are always present within all of us.
Do you remember the kindly Dr. Jekyll in Stevenson's novel? He began experimenting with his evil nature and ended up ruing the day he first summoned the monster within him. Jekyll, the gracious, caring physician, is at last only Henry Hyde, the night-stalker and murderer. It is a grisly parable of the final end of our double nature. Martin Luther put it well when he said we are all both "saint and sinner." How true!
We all must take seriously the sad lesson of Dr. Jekyll. The more we summon up the monster within us, the more we, like Dr. Jekyll, will find the monster unwilling to give up its control over our lives. Finally, all that is best about us will be captive to all that is worst about us.
But let us press the issue of this inner evil a bit further. What would have happened if God had actually answered Christopher's prayer and sent the dog to devour Mandy? Well, initially the world would have been quieter for Christopher. Since there is also a great deal of good in Christopher, he doubtless would have missed Mandy after her eulogy and memorial service. Then he likely would have wished her back.
But if the Stevenson parable holds, Christopher would also have kept the dog. Then, of course, when his mother displeased him, there would have been another sweet hour of prayer and another devouring. Each time someone displeased him, he would have summoned the dog. Since there are any number of adults who displease a child, one can only imagine how the dog would grow in Christopher's sociopathy. The teacher, the traffic cop, his camp counselor—all would exist merely to make him happy. Each time they didn't, they would drop out of his life and his dog would grow.
There is, however, an antidote to the big-dog mentality that tries to coexist with God's love.
The Art of Letting Go
What most lovers seek is the return of their love. Every Romeo wants his ardor for his Juliet to be reflected. I was desperately in love at twenty-two years of age. Barbara was the central focus of my concentration. Her presence made all other love seem unimportant. We were openly affectionate. We embraced unapologetically on train platforms. We clung openly to each other at airports. At restaurants we picked at our food while talking and listening to each other's chatter with unbroken focus. While walking down a street I held Barbara's hand tightly as though unseen demons might leap from the dark shrubbery and rip us apart. We could not sit close enough in the theater. We felt contempt for the bucket seats that forced us to opposite sides of the divorcing gear-shift console of our automobile.
Our love knew one great value—being together. It knew but one fear—being torn apart. The strength of our ardor detached us from our smaller allegiances and unimportant schedules. We had voluntarily let go of all lesser concerns. We were in love.
In those days we marked the odd behavior of older, married couples—how little they seemed to need each other. They watched television while they ate, took separate vacations, and didn't like to crowd each other as they walked down a sidewalk. If he held her coat or pulled back her chair, she looked as though she suspected him of being up to something. What produced the difference between these two scenarios? Detachment.
The focus Barb and I felt for each other came as a result of our detachment—our letting go—from the dull world around us. We knew that the focus of our togetherness was only possible when we agreed to let go of the world at hand. Only then could we bask in the world we had created for ourselves. This was a world where we mattered. The closeness of our love came from our willingness to quit clinging to our separateness in favor of our togetherness.
I count it one of the richest experiences of my life to have been in Calcutta when Mother Teresa died. I was swept up in the city's adulation of this great woman. I always wondered why it was that she made such an impact on this largely Hindu city. I believe it was only because she had detached herself from all she had formerly desired. Because she had abandoned all self-interest, she could see the needs of her city. Otherwise she would have been blind to them. She confessed she had also detached herself from the masses to gain a person-by-person focus in Calcutta. Why had she impacted a city of twenty-two million? Precisely because she never quit seeing the city one person at a time:
I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. So you begin . . . I begin. I picked up one person—maybe if I didn't pick up that one person I wouldn't have picked up the others. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you. Same thing in your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin . . . one, one, one . . .
One . . . one . . . one . . . This is how Jesus loves me. Who could be enthralled with a Jesus who loved everybody en masse? We love Christ only because he is able to love us one at a time. No wonder we call him our personal Savior. No wonder we sing "Jesus loves me" and never do we sing "Jesus loves the masses."
The Key to Focused Love
But there is one other great advantage to loving Christ with a detached, single focus. It opens us up to see our world and enjoy it. Author Brent Curtis said that on his lonely walks in the country he would suddenly wake in the midst of "singers." The voices of crickets and cicadas and katydids were a symphony unnoticed in larger crowds but much in abundance when he gained the ear of solitude and detachment. Donald Hudson called art "a window on heaven." Only letting go of the world at hand can open such windows.
Jesus loves me: letting go of the busyness of my life does not cause Jesus to love me more, but it does free me up to discover and enjoy his love.
Once I let go of all things hurried, I can see the color and force of those treasures to be found in the love of God. Jesus loves me with sunrises, sunsets, spangled skies, and lonely gulls set against fields of burning blue. His arms open in a vast, oceanic embrace to enfold me in wonder. It is a splendor that overwhelms me, a glory that engulfs me. It leaves me gawking at the ocean of his love, stupefied by its immensity and the smallness of my own needy soul.
But how is our letting go accomplished? How do we unhook from the frenetic busyness that occupies our lives? Perhaps the first step of letting go comes in realizing how important it is. One often gets the feeling that most people cherish their self-important pace. When they stop they can see that it is void of any real content. Still, they like the momentary frenzy if only because it gives them feelings of involvement and self-importance.
The courage to let go stands at the edge of our adrenaline-driven, shallow involvements. It rebukes us. Then all too often it turns its back on our frantic lifestyles and walks away. Walks where? Into a focused togetherness with Christ. Once we are alone with him, his love nourishes our solitude. Now we can see it! Having cleared the hurried clutter from our lives, we make room for our genuine friend, Jesus. He loves us, this we know. Our solitude brings us a new solidarity. It doesn't bring God to us; it brings us to him. He was there, loving us all the time. We just had to make a place in the middle of our busyness to see Him.
Psychologist Gerald May calls this letting go detachment and shows us just how important it is. Detachment describes not a freedom of desire but a freedom from desire. The real understanding of detachment "aims at correcting one's own anxious grasping in order to free oneself for a committed relationship to God."
The late Catherine Marshall, author of the beloved Christy, used the word relinquishment in a similar way. Relinquishment is the difficult art of opening our grasp to let go of those appetites that trap us. The most fitting metaphor of this is a monkey trying to retrieve peanuts from a narrow-necked bottle. The monkey cannot retrieve the peanuts as long as he holds them in his fist, which will not pass through the bottle neck. Only if he relinquishes the peanuts can he ever be free.
In such a simple way we too are held captive by our wants and desires. Some of us are addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex or gambling. Others are addicted to reputation, style, or fame. But all of our drives must somewhere face our renunciation or they will send us to our graves.
Author Richard Foster reminded us in Celebration of Discipline that even the struggle to succeed may be an addiction. Many would-be disciples, says Foster, need to lay aside the heavy burden of getting ahead. Our hand is trapped while grasping for more. Only in dropping everything can we be free. We cannot clutch at Jesus and the goodies of life with equal ardor and claim them both.
The Power of Letting Go
One of the hardest things to relinquish is our need to run things: power! We all seem to crave it at times. Why? It allows us to control others. But our appetite for power wars against Jesus' love. In desiring power, we are most unlike Jesus! Power would allow us to avenge ourselves on those who mistreat us. How differently Jesus handled this appetite. Should we ever stand before Pilate, we would want to see how he would look in a crown of thorns. Let us put Herod on the cross and ask him how he likes it.
Want power? Be careful! What horrors are bound up in the power addiction. Don't think me too harsh in this matter, but let us take the worst dictator we can imagine: Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam, or Adolph. One cannot help the feeling that somewhere along the line, they found Christopher's "big dog" solution to getting their way. Once they found how to get their way, the worst kind of evil marched across the face of the earth. So little Christopher's prayer really is something to be concerned about.
It is so easy to love the world and push it to make it yield all it will. We are all too prone to serve the hideous demon of power: "I must have this power, God." "How will this benefit me?" It is only Christ's cross that teaches us the glory of trading our power for his power. Then, filled with love, we cease crying "Mine, mine, mine" and begin crying "Yours, yours, yours! All is yours! Yours now and yours forever, God—yours, yours, yours!"
We break our addiction to power by relinquishing it. Thus we are kept from the perverted need to love ourselves. Thus the knowledge that Jesus loves me frees me from the fatiguing attempt to get the rest of the world to do it. Whether we serve Christ or ourselves makes a vast difference in how we end up in life. This difference can be as wide as the distance between Idi Amin and Mother Teresa. You may be sure that letting go of a lust for power was unknown to Idi Amin and yet it was the daily bread of Teresa of Calcutta.
Love keeps no big dogs. It wishes no enemy devoured. The apostle Paul set forth its virtues in this way: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Is the night too cold, he is the fire.
Is the mountain too high, he is the ascent.
Are the days dark, he is the path.
Is the night void of hope, he has come to spend the night.
I am certain of this one thing: Jesus loves me, I can make it! I have found his love steadfast in every venture. I have claimed "Jesus loves me" as my musical testament. I rarely sing aloud, but for sixty years now its enabling melody has ricocheted through the corridors of my heart. No trial has silenced the song. No tempest has dulled the tune. Jesus loves me, I can make it. His love is my mode of survival, my liberation from myself, my way of triumph.
Questions for Reflection
1. Why do you think Chesterton implied that God's love of us was a "divine romance?"
2. What did Luther mean when he said we are at once both saint and sinner? How can we tell which of these two are in charge at any given moment? What can we do to be sure that, most of the time, the saint is running the show?
3. In what way does God's love release "the power within us"? What is the source of that power? Is it available for every use? How can this power best be used?
4. What did Solzhenitsyn mean when he said that the line separating good and evil passed not through the center of parliament, but only through the center of individual human hearts?
5. Relate the art of loving God and the art of detachment. Which art do we serve first? Is this an important issue in developing a Christ-filled life?
6. In what way did Teresa of Calcutta simplify our individual calling when she said, "I can only feed one hungry person at a time"?
7. What do you think the author means when he encourages us to pursue "a symphony of solitude" if we are ever to understand the music of the kingdom of God? Can we serve God without this discipline?
8. What did Catherine Marshall mean by the word relinquishment? How can we use this discipline in our lives? Can we live effective Christian lives without it?
Copyright © 2002 by Calvin Miller
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I would like to pay tribute to a man who write many books religous books, he was a gracious wordsmith,seminary professer, and a former pastor so we will miss him