Hymn-Theology: Peace We Often Forfeit

“O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Joseph Scriven– “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” 1868

Have you considered the stanza from the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” that contains the line “Oh what peace we often forfeit?”

What images and meanings does forfeit conjure up in your mind?

When I think of forfeiture, I picture a sports team that doesn’t have the required minimum number of players.  This lack of requirements causes the other team to win the game.

Forfeit, a 14th century verb, is defined by Merriam-Webster as the following:  ” to lose or lose the right to especially by some error, offense, or crime.”

In the half stanza we are examining here, it says,  “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear.”  It follows logically that this peace being forfeited was, by right, ours.  We had it, or had access to it, but gave it up.  We gave up the right to it.

What did this loss of peace result in?  According to the hymn, “needless pain” was the result of the loss of peace.

Can you think of a time where you experienced needless pain?  I can think of dozens, unfortunately.

Philippians 4:6-7 gives us the prescription–the foundation of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

We are commanded to be anxious for nothing–or, as I like to say it, no thing.  No thing should cause anxiety.  What is anxiety?  Fear.  What is fear?  A lack of trust in Jesus.  What is the remedy for trust?  I believe the hymn writer is suggesting to us that prayer will assuage us from our fears, and comfort the pain that ensues.

I know that in my personal life when I have not gone to the Lord in prayer, not only have I forfeited peace, I have forfeited the friendship He offers.  I have forfeited the comfort so readily available to me just at the mention of His name.

The Message version says to let “petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.”  I love that imagery.  Like a potter, He can make something good out of my worries, anxieties, and the circumstances that drive me to prayer.  When I turn my cares over to Jesus, He is able to make something meant for evil into good (Genesis 50:20).

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that we can trust these things to Him.  We can “carry everything to God in prayer.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

He is able to comfort us in all of our tribulation, not just some of it.  We can turn around and comfort others  with that same comfort.

Let’s not forfeit our right to the peace that passes all understanding.

For Thought & Discussion:

  • What are your thoughts about this stanza?
  • Is there any other portion of the song that ministers to you?
  • Can you think of a time when you were comforted by His peace?
  • Are there any other verses that back up this hymn theologically?
  • Have you used this song lately?  Have you explained it?

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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