At the moment it felt impossible and I can honestly say it didn’t start from my heart, but I respected this woman and her close walk with Jesus so I made a herculean effort to praise God through the pain.
The situation didn’t change, the pain didn’t change, but something in me changed. My focus shifted from the problem to Jesus’ promise that even this difficult time would be turned for my good and his glory. And the best part was, hope returned.
It’s one of those lessons that have stuck with me through life … the power of praise.
I find it hard to be discouraged or depressed when I’m praising God because praise has the capacity to derail resentment or self-absorption and replace it with grace. But best of all, it delights God's heart.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of life will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
There’s an interesting story behind it. It began way back in England in 1853. Lillias Trotter was an exceptional artist, in fact she had been told by the preeminent art critic of the time that she had the potential to become the greatest artist Britain had ever known.
She came from a wealthy and privilege family from London's West End and was a woman of faith, committed to volunteer mission work amongst London's working girls. She had a special heart for the prostitutes of Victoria Station and helped them learn skills that enabled them to find alternative employment, while introducing them to Jesus.
It was on a visit to Venice with her mother that she met the art critic, John Ruskin. He was greatly impressed with her talent and took her under his wing. Her abilities as an artist grew exponentially. John asked her to give up her mission work and give herself wholeheartedly to art. It was an agonising decision. At first she was overwhelmed with excitement but eventually she knew she must seek first the kingdom of God and declined his offer.
In 1887, she was challenged by a need for foreign missionaries and felt called to the people of Algeria. She was just 35 years, couldn't speak one word of Arabic, and at her own expense set sail for Algeria.
When she died in 1928, she had set up 13 mission stations in North Africa and south into the Sahara Desert, and had 30 workers committed to the task of bringing Christ to the people of Algeria.
During those years Lilias used her art to produce many leaflets about the Christian faith. One was entitled, Focused. In it she said, “So then turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness”.
Two decades later, the leaflet fell into the hands of a song-writer named, Helen Lemmel, an English woman living in America. She said, as she read the words, “ “I stood still and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with no one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme or note to note to make melody”. She sat down and wrote that beautiful hymn of praise. For me its a perfect description of what praise does ... dims the things of this earth in the light of his glory and grace.
Lilias continued to draw and paint during her years in Algeria, recording nature and life in leather-bound journals. One of her life-long friends once reflected, "The ache of desire was with her to the end, not so much in the days she didn't draw, but as on the days when she took up her brush ... conscious of the pain of the artist who takes up an unpractised tool and knows full well to what beauty he might bend it if he could but give it his strength and life".
She sacrificed the thing dearest to her heart to profess his name to a people who had never heard. Who knows how many people will stand redeemed before the Saviour because of that sacrifice of praise.
All the art work on this blog is from Lilias Trotter's journals.