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Intersection of Life and Faith

Four Ordinary People, Four Extraordinary Lives

  • Robert J. Morgan Author, <i>Then Sings My Soul</i>
  • 2005 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Four Ordinary People, Four Extraordinary Lives

These four ordinary people experienced extraordinary faith and decades, even centuries later, their lives—their words—inspire our worship today.

Thomas Chisolm’s story is not uncommon. He was born in poverty and grew up without much education, but he heard enough to come to Christ at the age of 16. As he became a man, Thomas struggled with many health problems, and when he was well, he struggled even more to find work. But God was faithful, and Thomas laid his burdens and his blessings before the Lord. Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23—“His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”—Thomas wrote a simple poem, as he was accustomed to doing when inspired. He sent it to his friend William Runyan, a musician friend who was so moved by its truth, he gave it a melody. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was published in 1923. Decades later, George Beverly Shea would introduce Tom’s little hymn to the world at the Billy Graham crusades. And the Christian world has been singing it ever since.

Just 26 years old, Carl Boberg was serving the Lord in Sweden in 1885 when he wrote a poem he called “O Store Gud” or “O Mighty God.” It was 1885, but the years flew by and somehow Carl’s poem—unbeknownst to him—began to be sung to the tune of an old Swedish folk melody.

It didn’t go far, and Carl continued with his ministry, but somehow an English missionary visiting in Russia, Stuart Hine, heard Carl’s poem set to melody. Stuart was so moved that, with no way of knowing where the song originated, he composed three additional verses. Years later, the song would travel all the way from India (great songs sure do get around!) to America, brought to the attention of music publisher Tim Spencer who then contacted Stuart Hine and published the song in English. “How Great Thou Art” was introduced to the West by way of the Billy Graham crusades beginning in 1954, a tradition that continues today. Carl never knew Stuart Hine or Billy Graham. But his song lives on in the hearts of millions of believers around the globe.

Elvina Hall was a faithful member of the Monument Street Methodist Church in Baltimore. She took her place every Sunday in the choir loft and sang with all her might. But try as she might, sometimes Reverend Schrick preached and prayed just a bit too long. So to keep her mind from wandering, Elvina dove into the hymnal, looking for inspiration, scribbling in the margins. On one particular Sunday, without much forethought, Elvina penciled in the flap of the hymnal: “I hear the Savior say ‘Thy strength indeed is small / Thou has naught my debt to pay / Find in me thy all in all….”

The words to her poem, with music courtesy of John T. Grape, Monument Street’s organist, became—over time and with many changes—“Jesus Paid It All,” one of the most beloved hymns of all time.

Charlotte Elliott had every reason to be angry. Disabled for most of her life, this native Brighton, England had no hope of health and wellness. Bitterness blossomed in her heart, and although her family tried to help, nothing could change her point of view. Life was a bitter pill, and she was going to choke it down. One night her parents invited a minister, Dr. Cesar Malan, to dinner, hoping he could speak some words that might lighten Charlotte’s burden. But much to their chagrin, Charlotte lashed out in anger at God and her family, in front of the minister. Her family left the room, embarrassed, but Dr. Malan stayed and convinced Charlotte that God unconditionally accepted her—anger, bitterness, fears, shame, all of it—and loved her. Her heart melted at the news, and she surrendered her life to the Lord. Her health never really improved, but she discovered enough purpose and joy to make it through. Sometime later, to help raise funds to build a school for poor children, Charlotte would write a poem entitled “Him That Cometh to Me I Will In No Wise Cast Out.” We know her poem today as “Just As I Am,” the most famous invitational hymn ever.

These stories adapted from Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert J. Morgan (Thomas Nelson 2003).