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Pastoral Leader's Blog

"O Thou Who Camest From Above"

In this Sunday’s sermon I closed with a prayer written by Charles Wesley. I have actually never heard this hymn, “O Thou Who Camest From Above,” set to music. I heard it years ago quoted by another preacher and it made such an impact on me that I decided to memorize it so that I could pray it regularly. It has been a very stabilizing and encouraging part of my prayer life and has given me much-needed encouragement in some difficult seasons.

Now maybe you’re not the kind of person who likes old hymns or Shakespeare; maybe “thee” and “thou” aren’t words you typically use or like. But in case you’re interested, here’s a short editorial walkthrough of the hymn that goes a little further in explaining why these two stanzas mean so much to me.

O Thou Who camest from above, The pure celestial fire to impart,

Jesus, sent from heaven by God, came to make his salvation known to real people like us. The fire of holy love that is shared by the godhead gets ignited in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We share in God’s love and have access to God’s power for life.

Kindle a flame of sacred love, Upon the mean altar of my heart. 

Fire wanes and needs fuel to burn with strength. In prayer and worship we need God to breathe on that flame to kindle it to burn brightly. The “mean” or humble altar of my heart is the place that this fire burns. Undeserving as we are, with hearts full of wickedness and deceit (Jer. 17:9), God chooses to indwell us with the fire of his love and grace.

There let it for Thy glory burn With inextinguishable blaze, And trembling to its source return, In humble prayer and fervent praise.

I resonate with the prayer asking God to keep my heart’s flame burning brightly, a flame that won’t be extinguished by the winds and rain of doubt or difficulty. This isn’t a source of pride or boasting, but it is a testimony to God’s glory. God is glorified by an acknowledgement of, and ultimately a returning of, his gifts back to him. As we approach God in humble prayer and passionate praise, the flames rise higher and higher from the heart-altar and return to their source—God himself.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire To work and speak and think for Thee; Still let me guard the holy fire, And still stir up Thy gift in me.

I love this part of the prayer. It’s asking Jesus to make possible the redeemed heart’s deepest desire: doing everything for his glory. In my working, in my speaking, and in all of my thinking, I want to have the praise and glory of Jesus as my ultimate goal. The fire needs to be guarded vigilantly and protected so that it continues to grow and develop.

Ready for all Thy perfect will, My acts of faith and love repeat, Till death Thy endless mercies seal, And make my sacrifice complete.

I am reminded here of Isaiah 6, when the prophet answered God’s inquiry with “Here I am, send me!” When we stand at the ready for God’s will, we are submitted to him and ready to be commanded to go, to stay and/or to do what he wants. But I don’t sit idly by and wait for “thunder from the sky” to direct me. I’ve heard it said, “Do what you know, not what you don’t know.” We repeat the acts of faith and love that we know to do—prayer, studying, Christian fellowship, acts of service, and many more. We continue this life of expressing love to God until the time to die has come. And death is not a defeat, but a promotion into God’s presence, a full realization of the mercies that have been guaranteed to us in this life (2 Cor. 1:22).

Maybe you could adopt this hymn as part of your prayer life and see what happens. You may find the “flame of sacred love” growing in heat and intensity as God’s Spirit responds.

-JV

Here’s the text in its entirety:

O Thou Who camest from above,

The pure celestial fire to impart,

Kindle a flame of sacred love

Upon the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn

With inextinguishable blaze,

And trembling to its source return,

In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire

To work and speak and think for Thee;

Still let me guard the holy fire,

And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,

My acts of faith and love repeat,

Till death Thy endless mercies seal,

And make my sacrifice complete.