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The Surprising Way God Answered John Newton's Prayer to Grow in Grace

John Newton—the blasphemous slave trader turned humble and helpful pastor by God's amazing grace—wrote a hymn in 1779 called "I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow." (For the hymnodists among us, it can be sung to any tune in Long Meter [88 88]—e.g., O Waly, Waly.)

The words are reprinted below, but instead of breaking them down in typical poetry style, I've put each stanza into its own paragraph.

Stanza 1 explains what he asked the Lord for. Stanza 2 gives the rationale for such a prayer. Stanzas 3–5 express his perplexity at the Lord seeming not to respond in the way he expected, and stanza 6 shows him asking the Lord why. The resolution is found in stanza 7, as we read the Lord's explanation.

I hope this will be an encouraging reminder to you of the Lord's mysterious providence in causing us to grow in grace, even through the painful trial of affliction.

          I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace; might more of His
          salvation know, and seek, more earnestly, His face.

          'Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He, I trust, has answered prayer! But it has
          been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.

          I hoped that in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request; and by His love’s
          constraining pow’r, subdue my sins and give me rest.

          Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart; and let the angry pow’rs
          of hell assault my soul in every part.

          Yea more, with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe; crossed all the
          fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

          Lord, why is this, I trembling cried, Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?

          “’Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward
          trials I employ, from self, and pride, to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly
          joy, that thou may’st find thy all in Me.”