“Revisiting "Servant Song"”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

They say you can never step in the same river twice. However, one of the quirks of being a hymnist is that sometimes you get to watch your younger self stepping in the river repeatedly. I rarely return to my older work; it tends to make me want to red-pen it savagely. Occasionally, though, I am present in an assembly when a song leader leads one of my hymns, often one that is more than 20 years old.

I experienced this last March when I was visiting with the Kleinwood church. Whether because of my presence or because of happenstance, one of the hymns selected that Sunday was “Servant Song”.

The hymn has particular spiritual resonance for me because it marks the low point of my life as a Christian. While thinking I was being righteous, I had allowed myself to be deceived into practicing evil. I had realized my error at the cost of tremendous suffering, and in January 2000, I was trying to pick up the pieces. I knew I needed to rebuild my spiritual life from the ground up.

Into this emotional turmoil, all unaware, came Richard Morrison. He emailed me, asking me if I wanted to write additional verses to a Jimmy Owens hymn entitled “Servant Song”, which he had recently arranged.

Immediately, I told him yes. I thought (and still think) that the tune was beautiful and the core thought of the hymn was compelling. I knew that a servant was exactly what I wasn't, but it was exactly what I wanted to be. When I was still working with the church in Joliet, the song leaders there would use “Servant Song” as an invitation hymn, and that's honestly about right.

I am a perfectionist and an utterly unrepentant one. There are hymns that I've worked on for more than a decade. However, I wrote those two verses in about 15 minutes, and the version that is sung today is identical to the original.

As I was reflecting on these things last March, a new thought occurred to me. “Servant Song” is a prayer, an appeal addressed directly to the Father. When I wrote those words, I meant them so strongly that it hurt. When churches began to sing them, while using the text to worship, they also unwittingly were repeating my cry from the depths. That same prayer has been amplified before the throne of God for more than 20 years.

With the benefit of those two extra decades, I now can see how God has answered that prayer in my life. The results have been imperfect because they involved me. Selfishness and pride continue to be stumbling blocks to the working out of God's will in my life, and I know they always will be.

Nonetheless, in large measure my prayer has been answered. Indeed, it has directed the course of my life. In 2000, I had no intention of becoming a preacher, but I became one anyway--after kicking against the goads for a good long while. With each passing year, I learned more and more that the work of the evangelist is the work of servanthood. I asked to be made a servant, and I was made one.

I also have been given a gift that few receive: the gift of being able to return to the beginning from the end. From the perspective of the end of my life, I can trace the unwavering course of God's answer despite the twists and turns I introduced. For that, at the last, I am thankful.