Lead On, O King Eternal
Dislike for authority is in the nature of every person. Ever since humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden, people have not wanted to be told what to do. A 1965 television commercial for a headache remedy called Anacin featured a younger woman (with a headache) saying irritably, “Mother, I’d rather do it myself.” Sounds like the words – or at least the thoughts – we direct toward God. No advice needed. I know better than you what is best for me. The conclusion about ancient Israel that resounds through the Old Testament book of Judges is telling both as to the root problem and the crying need of people and societies then and now. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV).
Thankfully, God has not rejected mankind even though mankind rejects him. “Does their [our] faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!” (Romans 3:3-4 ESV). “. . . If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV). Instead of rejecting us, he chooses to help us love and reverence and obey him. “I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7 ESV). What God promised through Jeremiah is the lived-out experience of every person who has turned from their rebellious ways and yielded control of their lives to THE King of kings.
Lead on, O King eternal, the day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest thy tents shall be our home;
Through days of preparation thy grace has made us strong,
And now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.
The hymn Lead On, O King Eternal speaks to the omnipotence and eternality of God. It also pictures the Christian life as the spiritual battle that it indeed is. In living faithfully for God in this fallen world, our home becomes where God and his people are. Our ability and strength to live for him and serve him comes from his grace given freely to us. But the hymn also pictures the Christian’s “warfare” – and the way in which the Kingdom of God comes, grows, and expands – with language that does not sound like warfare.
Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace;
For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums,
By deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.
“By deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.” One who vibrantly lived out the truth of those words was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She lifted people out of garbage dumps and sewer drains, affirming the inherent dignity of every human being because they were image bearers of God. By her humble service, she called the world’s attention to the poor and abandoned. She made significant personal sacrifices to follow her calling to the “poorest of the poor.” One of those sacrifices was her family. When she left her home in Albania to become a nun, she never saw her sister or mother again. According to David Aikman in his profile of Mother Teresa, her brother Lazar had been stunned by her decision to become a nun and wondered whether she was throwing her life away. He wrote to her, suggesting that his life as a military officer in the court of a European king was more exciting and rewarding than her life as a nun. Her reply? “To you it seems something very important to be an officer in the service of a king with two million subjects. Well, I’m an officer too, but I serve the King of the whole world. Which of us is in the better position?”
Lead on, O King eternal, we follow not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning where’re thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.
Mother Teresa had no struggle with God’s authority in her life. When asked “Who is Jesus to you?” she replied, “Jesus is my God; Jesus is my spouse; Jesus is my Life; Jesus is my only Love; Jesus is my All in All; Jesus is my Everything.” Who is Jesus to you? To me? Who is the “king” that we serve each day? What “kingdom” does our life and labor help to advance? The “kingdom” of this world, or the “. . . Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ?” (Revelation 11:15 ESV). May today – and everyday – find us following as loyal subjects of the King of kings, serving loving and tirelessly as ambassadors of the Kingdom and the King who “. . . shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 ESV).
 TEXT: Ernest W. Shurtleff (1888). TUNE: LANCASHIRE, Henry Smart (1836).
 Lush Gjergji, Mother Teresa: Her Life, Her Works (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1991). Quoted in David Aikman, GREAT SOULS: Six Who Changed the Century (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003), p. 209.
 Aikman, GREAT SOULS, p. 248.