If you could meet one of your ancestors, who would you choose?
I was recently asked by my Mama’s pastor to preach on the life of my 10th-Great Grandfather, Rev. Paul Gerhardt. This turned out to be a treasure of an invitation. For 2-weeks, I gladly (almost greedily) steeped myself in the life & times of this beloved Lutheran pastor, hymn-writer, and ancestor of mine. It’s him I’d want to meet. Mind if I introduce you?
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Gerhardt, who lived in the 1600’s, as “the greatest hymn writer in Germany, if not indeed of Europe.” But his calling, as many are, was costly.
I have a picture of Gerhardt hanging in my home office along with a stanza from one of his hymns that is quite telling. It reads:
“For many a raptured minstrel, among the sons of light,
Will say of his sweetest music, ‘I learned it in the night.’
And many a rolling anthem that fills the Father’s home,
Sobbed out its first rehearsal in the shade of a darkened room.”
“I learned it in the night,” Gerhardt said. And indeed he did. In fact, it seems my dear Great Grandfather’s whole life was one terribly long night. And this is why I’d like to meet him, to learn to how he lived there with so much grace & hope.
- He was orphaned by the time he was 14.
- He lived during the 30-years war, a period of unparalleled destruction in German history.
- His home & church were burned to the ground in the war, along with 400 other structures in his town.
- His life was delayed by decades – on hold due to the war – making it so he couldn’t begin his job as a pastor, or get married until he was well into his 40’s.
- Four out of five of his children died in infancy.
- His wife died after only 13 years of marriage.
Here’s what I noted: Gerhardt suffered the loss of people, places, positions, and purpose, there is no questioning that. But the thing that rose clearly to the surface was this: he did not lose his peace. In the midst of it all, he lived with that often elusive and uncanny “peace that passes understanding,” for which so many of us long (Philippians 4:6).
In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul speaks of this peace. “Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] rule in your hearts,” he said (3:15-17). Let the peace of Christ rule.
I’ve been thinking about this, especially in light of Gerhardt’s life.
- To rule is to govern.
- To govern is to preside over.
- To preside over is to be the one in charge, at the helm, calling the shots, directing the course.
So in other words, Let peace preside!
And here’s what I really want you to hear today, friend. As I studied my ancestor’s life, I could clearly see it was the peace of Christ that presided over him.
- He was not governed by grief.
- He was not governed by tragedy.
- He was not governed by despair, delay, disappointment, or difficulty.
These problems (and more) were all too present in his life. Yes. They were present, they were persistent, but they did not preside. This is so key! Present but not presiding, amen & amen!!
When Jesus was departing from this earth, he gave his disciples a gift. And the gift was peace. The kind of peace that presided over Paul Gerhardt.
A peace, as I wrote about several weeks ago, that contains the power to produce both calm & courage. Not just sometimes, but for every circumstance & every challenge. A peace that presides and prevails in the midst of pressing problems.
This is the peace I witness in the life of my 10th-Great Grandfather. And the peace I desire in my own.
Friend, may we “not let our hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid.” In the face of all that is, may we let Jesus’ perfect peace “calm us in every circumstance and give us courage and strength for every challenge,” just as Paul Gerhardt did before us (John 14:27).
As a writer myself, I’d certainly like to inherit Gerhardt’s gift of words. But as a fellow human on the face of this earth, I’d most like to inherit his spirit: undisturbed and undeterred, ruled by the Prince of Peace.
May Peace Preside: Our Little Life Words of the week.
- By what are your heart and mind governed? And does that current government need to be overthrown?
- Watch this 30-minute YouTube Video to learn more about Paul Gerhardt.
- Give a blessing (silent or spoken) to any/everyone you meet this week (yourself included, friend), “The peace of Christ be with your spirit.”
- Our song of the week is a gorgeous rendition of Still / Peace by Hillsong Worship.
- Prince of Peace, preside (over my heart, mind, soul, body, circumstances, etc).