Ebb and Flow

By Reba Phelps

On one of my recent church gypsy excursions I visited a favorite place of mine a few miles south of town. Grace Baptist Church in Cloutierville. One of the many things I enjoy about this church is the singing of really old hymns. You know, the hymns that our grandparents and their grandparents sang?

If you open a hymn book a lot of times it will tell you the year it was written and who wrote the music and the lyrics. It always completely astonishes me that these hymns are so old. Every new hymn we sing I am initially consumed with looking at the top of the page and the bottom to learn the age of the hymn.

Many of them are over 100 years old. The language and lyrics used in them seem almost prehistoric. In many ways the verses are way more proper than we actually speak today.

This particular Sunday we were singing, “He Keeps Me Singing”, and I was spell bound by the term, “Ebb and Flow.” What does that mean? Who even talks like this? Was it a nautical term? Yes, probably so because that was a primary source of travel during that time.

Maybe? I just had to make some mental peace about it so I could enjoy the sermon and move on with my life.

As soon as church was over I asked my friend what she thought that it meant. Possibly, it was something that everyone knew except for me and this is the type of friend who will not judge you for being unlearned. After briefly speaking with her it was evident she did not have a good answer either. The uncertainty of this led me on a mini-fact-finding mission.

With the help of my trusted pal Google, I instantaneously learned that ebb and flow was simply a term used for the phases of the tide. The ebb is the outgoing phase where water drains away from the shore and the flow is the incoming phase when the water rises again.

Also during this search for wisdom I learned that Luther B. Bridgers penned this hymn and that he was an ordained minister in the Methodist Church. Just one short year after writing this song he lost his beloved wife and three children in a house fire while he was preaching a revival. It was so heartbreaking to read. By all accounts he kept his faith, kept ministering and reaching people with his message and music. He even remarried and had another child before his death.

I couldn’t help but wonder if he relied on the words of his very own hymn that he wrote the prior year to get him through the grief and pain he felt when he lost his family. The thought of being comforted by your own words is truly overwhelming. I am convinced they were not his own words but words given to him in advance. Words that our heavenly father knew he would need the following year.

There is only one source that can heal pain before you actually experience it.

Our daily lives are so full of ebbs and flows. When our tide is out it is so peaceful and calm. When the tide comes in it can be a little unpredictable with the crashing waves and rip currents that overwhelm the soul. When the water is rising it so easy to lose your peace and forget that when we follow Jesus he gives us that comfort and calmness before we even have a need for it.

The most amazing thing is that these prehistorical messages that were written in hymns over 100 years ago are still relevant today. My sincere hope is that one day you are as touched by an old hymn written by a Methodist preacher and published in a Baptist Hymnal that you take your own journey to find out where the words originated.

“Then he arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace be still”, and the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Mark 4:39

2 thoughts on “Ebb and Flow

  1. These old hymns are so full of words that are comforting to me. When my husband was in the hospital and I was very tired and worried, concerned about his failing health, and the pressures of taking care of him and all the other tasks before me, I ran home to take care of the washing and while bending over sorting clothes the old song”DOES JESUS CARE” popped into my head and I started to sing. I know that my Jesus does care and that is what keeps me singing.

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