Posted by: genelnicholsblog | May 5, 2013

a poem to comfort and encourage

I had an interesting experience this weekend.  Mike and I provide the Sunday service at the assisted living facility where I work on the first Sunday of the month – Mike preaches and I play piano.  Unfortunately, Mike had to leave for a business trip Sunday morning and was going to be unable to preach.  Knowing this for a week and a half, I did my best to broker a trade with one of the other preachers … no luck.  I started on the substitutes’ list.  Again, I hit a brick wall.  I was really in a quandary.  Knowing how much these residents count on and enjoy these Sunday services, I was bound and determined I was not going to cancel.  I didn’t want to “preach,” so I tried to think of a way to use my music to present an uplifting and encouraging service to start off their week.  I began to read various hymn histories in search of one to use during the service.  I started with all my favorites, and amongst them I found this one that I shared with them and would like to also share with you.  Here’s the amazing story behind “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Joseph Scriven was a man well acquainted with grief.  He was born in Ireland and, as a young man, planned to follow in the footsteps of his father and join the service as a Royal Marine.  Unfortunately, ill-health prevented him from being accepted.  Life continued on, and he fell in love with a lovely young girl with whom he planned on building a life together.  Tragically, she drowned the night before their wedding.

Overcome with grief, Joseph decided to start fresh in Canada.  There he fell in love again and was due to be married, when his second fiancée became ill and died before their nuptials.  In his deep grief, Joseph decided to devote his life to serving others, and he became known for that very quality.

In 1855, at the age of 36, Scriven received word from Ireland that his mother lay dying.  He didn’t have the finances for a trip home, so he sent his mother a letter and a special poem in the hope of comforting her.  The poem was called “Pray Without Ceasing” and began with the words, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!”  A friend, sitting with Joseph during an illness, found and later submitted the poem to a Christian journal.  It was published under the title “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Soon after, Joseph Scriven died.  His poem, however, lived on.

A man by the name of Ira Sankey was the musical director for a simple preacher – maybe you have heard of him – D.L. Moody!  Sankey published the poem, which by that time had been put to music, in a book of hymns and sang it quite often at Moody’s evangelistic meetings.  Soon, the song became one of the best known hymns in America, and missionaries began taking it abroad.  It has remained popular for over 150 years!

A young man, who was well acquainted with grief , was also acquainted with faith.   I was especially touched by the words of the second verse, “We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer.”  How could someone who had experienced the losses that he had, pen such words? Simply stated … through Christ, and Christ alone.  Start your week with these words:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.

Words: Joseph Scriven (1857)



  1. AMEN! I have found through the years even a best friend with their best intention, grows weary of hearing burdens and sometimes do not share in the experiences of JOY. It is an awesome privilege to have our Lord call me friend and desires to hear from us and never grows weary.

    Thanks for sharing this story and if you ever find yourself without someone to preach, I would be happy to join you.


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