Saturday, April 29, 2017

Be With Me Lord -- Thomas Obediah Chisholm

This senior citizen was most likely living in the Vineland, New Jersey area (see NJ’s great seal here), where he composed a prayer that reflected, in a way, the profession he’d been pursuing for over 25 years at that point in his life. There’s perhaps no more important matter in a God-believer’s life than asking Him to “Be With Me Lord”, especially if living becomes more difficult as one ages. But, was it necessarily the physical frailties of his aging body that gave Thomas Obediah Chisholm his most anxious moments, or something else? Ask another 69-year old today, and see what you might hear, including whether it sounds like what Thomas said in 1935 while in New Jersey.

Although he’d tried various careers by 1935, the longest-lasting, and therefore probably the most influential was the insurance business at which Thomas Chisholm had been engaged since 1909. Chisholm had started as a teacher in Kentucky in his mid-teens, and then was very briefly a minister before poor health put an end to that pursuit. He was also an editor of The Pentecostal Herald while in Kentucky, before moving with his family to Indiana in the first decade of the 1900s. That’s where he switched to the insurance business, a vocation he maintained when the Chisholms moved to New Jersey in 1916. He was 50 years old at that point, and would live another 44 years in that area, writing poetry for hymns – 1,200 by the end of his life.  So, though he’d had to abandon formal ministry, Thomas was able to participate in ministry through another avenue. And, how much his 25 years in insurance impacted his expression of faith in his hymn-writing by 1935, versus what he might have done if instead he’d been a minister is a debatable subject. Thomas sounds a bit like an insurance salesman in his four-verse “Be With Me Lord”, calling upon God for His strength (v.1) and presence (v.3), as a guard against dangers (v.2), loneliness and pain (v.4). He doesn’t sound despondent nor desperate, but confident like someone who has invested in a Being whose reputation is solid. As a 69-year old, how many times had Chisholm talked to and convinced wary customers that they needed insurance? How best does one sway a potential client? As the poet-hymn-writer, Thomas sounds like someone whose tried-and-true method was to try out his own prescription before recommending it to others, probably the best way to make one’s product – in this case, God --credible.

Chisholm didn’t wear rose-colored glasses – that’s why he sold insurance. He notes there are ‘loads of life’ (v.1), ‘storms of trial’ and ‘lashing seas’ (v.2), and that he expected to ‘weep’ in ‘fires of pain’ (v.4). Yet, he didn’t wallow in these prospects. Perhaps he prevailed with the same method that another showed us how to employ so long ago. How does a man ponder and overcome the unpleasantness, even something appalling?  Being able to see the goal line, an objective that is undeniable, was the key for this man (see John 13:1-3). He had insurance that was like a rock, impregnable, like the Prudential Insurance Company’s logo (the Rock of Gibraltar). Prudential was, interestingly, started in New Jersey where Thomas Chisholm also lived. You can try Prudential, but Thomas would probably tell you to try Providential instead.      

See the following for information on the author:
See article here on Prudential Insurance Company (not necessarily the company for whom the hymn-writer sold insurance, however)

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