“We Gather Together” was written following a time of terrible conflict following the Reformation in the 16th century.
In reaction to the Reformation, which was needed and yet had some sinful expressions, such as the destruction of great art (more below) the Duke of Alba tried to rid the Netherlands of Protestants, and with the help of Spain, burned Antwerp, martyring 8,000 believers in 1576.
Hymn historian Richard Niell Donovan writes that following this, Spain was weakened in a war against England that next year, so this led to a period of relative peace in Holland. During that time this hymn was written to acknowledge the believers’ painful and turbulent past and to look to a better future.
They “examined their hearts and prayed their tears,” knowing their God was sovereign, and that He had allowed this. They also knew their real enemy was Satan.
Satan’s strategy is always to get us to back away from God and fellowship, knowing, that if we do, he has won.
So, indeed, if you are hurting, don’t back away, but come to His family, come to His Word, come and offer the sacrifice of praise, for He forgets not His own.
I’m going to tell a very personal story at the end of the week I have not told before, but one that shouts with the truth that
“He forgets not His own.”
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. Give thanks for the the sovereignty of God in your pain in the past or right now.
Monday: We Gather Together To Ask The Lord’s Blessings
Prepare your heart with this, singing the lyrics. This week we will just study the first verse and Scriptures that align with the lyrics. If you are interested in more detail about the history, here is a link to Richard Donovan’s account: https://sermonwriter.com/hymn-stories/we-gather-together/
So often when we are in pain, our natural response is to back away from God and His people. Yet that is exactly Satan’s strategy, to scatter the sheep and then pluck them off one by one.
2. “The wicked oppressing” may seem like flesh and blood, but our real battle is against spiritual forces in high places. Think about whatever pain you have faced recently or are in now. Are you able to recognize the enemy and what His plan was or is? Explain, if you are willing.
My daughter Sally and I attended a dramatic presentation of C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters.” This is the imaginative story of Satan in hell coaching his apprentice, ‘Screwtape” on earth. Again and again Satan coaches Screwtape ways to get “the client” to back away from fellowship and God. A little demon (a gymnast) in the play would get the letters that came from Screwtape on earth by climbing a high rope ladder. If Satan’s plan was working, she would jump down chortling, doing cartwheels across the stage. But if it was backfiring, if the “client” was actually pressing into God instead of backing away, was actually “gathering together with other believers” she would SCREAM a blood-curdling cry and fall from the ladder, somehow, not breaking her back. Here is “Satan” and his assistant demon, as portrayed in Screwtape Letters.
3. Give thanks for a time when the family of God or God Himself helped you get through a time of suffering. Share specifically how you were helped.
4. What do you learn from the following verses about why we need one another, and all the more in times of trouble?
A. Hebrews 10:23-25
B. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
5. Share an answer to prayer — a recent time when you “asked the Lord’s blessing” and He gave it.
Tuesday: He Chastens and Hastens His Will To Make Known
None of us are without sin, so pain should cause us to ask Him to examine our own hearts in times of trouble. The Protestants were not without sin during the Reformation. There was a group of Protestants that destroyed many of the beautiful Catholic churches, stained glassed windows, art, and statues during the Reformation. While it is true that many statues were worshipped, still, there was so much unnecessary devastation of great art and grief brought to the innocent. The divide between Protestants and Catholics has continued to this day.
Even if we feel that 90% of the problem lays with another, we must examine our own hearts in the midst of suffering. God chastens and hastens His will to make known. There is almost always fault on both sides, and God wants to purify His own.
Lewis became known through his radio addresses during the Holocaust of World War II and said, famously:
6. How has God purified you through pain? Can you give Him thanks for this?
Wednesday: The Wicked Oppressing Give Cease From Distressing
In the 17th Century the Protestants in Holland experienced a golden time of peace. So often we appreciate health so much more after being sick, plenty so much more after having paucity, and peace so much more after having discord.
7. Can you sing the first verse of “We Gather Together?” (Try it!) Is it becoming more meaningful?
8. In Psalm 107:1-2, what are we told to do? When is the last time you did this to another?
9. In the following passages, what specific examples are given of being delivered from distress?
A. Psalm 107:4-9
B. Psalm 107:10-16
C. Psalm 107:17-22
D. Psalm 107:23-32
10. Give thanks for some of the ways and times you have been relieved from distress.
Thursday: He Forgets Not His Own
I love watching these children sing We Gather Together, though I know they may only understand a sliver of the meaning.
My daughter Sally is beginning to tell about one of the most painful times in her life, which was also a time of enormous pain for us, who loved her so. It’s her story, so she must tell it, and she told the heart of it when she spoke at Wheaton College this summer. She was speaking at the Marion Wade center about her painting of Aslan, which hangs in their foyer. She painted it after God had rescued her, yet her pain was still fresh, and she wondered how a good God could allow such suffering in the lives of His children.
When Sally was a Freshman at a Christian college she fell in love with a freshman who had a full scholarship for Christian character. She wanted to marry him quickly though many of us saw red flags. I often look back with regret, wishing Steve and I had done more to try to stop her. But she married him, and what followed were years of pain. He moved her to Krakow, Poland and didn’t want her to have contact with us or with church. She was torn — loving us yet wanting to honor her husband. She went to church alone, though it made him angry. It was a terrible time for her and for Steve and me. Yet God heard my desperate cries in a way I will never forget. I had prayed that God would send someone to her in Poland to help her, to be “the kindness of God to her,” for I knew she was in danger.
Here is what happened in Sally’s own words:
When Sally got home she was very broken, but the Lord came to her, giving her a wise counselor in Jan Silvious who was wonderful. Her husband did divorce her and when she met her second husband, she had Jan interview him!
I remember asking Sally about the Polish teacher who was so instrumental in her rescue, what her name,”Bogumiwa,” meant in Polish and she said, “The kindness of God.” That was exactly what I had asked God to send to our daughter, someone who would be “the kindness of God.” Though we may feel forgotten, we never are — He forgets not His own.
Sally went to Covenant Seminary for a year, wanting answers. Then she went on to paint Aslan — and you’ll see a link to that story tomorrow.
11. Often God does not take a way our pain, but comes and comforts us in the midst of it. Can you give thanks for a time like that?
12. How did God do that for Hagar in Genesis 16? What did she call God?
Friday: Not Safe But Good
Watch Sally Brestin Hale share how her painting of Aslan came about. (Above at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton) Click below and scroll down to the video of Sally speaking at Wheaton College.
13. Share any notes or observations.
14. What is your take-a-way and why?