What a friend we have in Jesus


You may recall, Jennie Weeks and I will be leading a pilgrimage September 16-26, 2024 to Scotland (Celtic Christianity, II). After an amazing time in Ireland, we will continue reflecting upon the 5th century Christian revival that hopped over from Ireland to the sacred Isle of Iona and St. Columba. Should you want further information, the itinerary or registration, please feel free to contact either of us.

Also, I am currently completing a manuscript on the formation of the soul as a result of this period in Celtic Christianity. One chapter is devoted to the expression anam cara, translated, soul friend. Interestingly enough, while writing this chapter I could stop humming the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” I thought it was a children’s hymn but as I researched it further, there is a very strong message for us.

The author of the hymn, Joseph Scriven, was Irish born and attended Trinity College, Dublin where he was planning upon marriage to his childhood sweetheart upon graduation. On the day before the wedding, his fiancé was riding her horse by the bank of a river, when the horse was spooked and threw her against the rocks.  She rolled into the river and drowned.

Overcome by grief, Scriven left his family and friends in Ireland and migrated to Canada at age 25. After several years of solitude, Joseph fell in love with a Canadian woman and they planned on marriage. Yet prior to the marriage, she contracted pneumonia and died. Then, in this same period of life he received notice his mother was gravely ill in Ireland. Unable to pay expenses for the trip home, Joseph wrote a letter including three verses that became the hymn “What a friend of Jesus.” This is the context of the hymn.

Within these tragic circumstances and deep suffering, Joseph wrote as a refrain to each verse, “take it to the Lord in prayer.” This is our song. For those of us who have experienced those times in life when expectations were not met, goals were not achieved, or dreams were somehow never realized, we are encouraged to pray. Pray when it is dark. Take it to the Lord when grieving, pray for hope and the promise of tomorrow, and ask for direction when all seems lost. In trying times, we find soul friends, and ultimately, we realize what a friend we have in Jesus. People will say, “when bad things happen” God is absent when needed most. Try singing with Joseph Scriven and look into the bible for a Word that breaks the silence.

Hear the invitation from Jesus, “come to me, all that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:28-29) In other words, during the trying times in life, Jesus helps us take the next step forward. Better yet, every time, good times and rough times, Jesus is at our side helping us move forward, as we place our confidence and trust in Him—living in faith—assured of what a friend we have in Jesus.   

Celtic Christianity in Scotland

Led by Jennie Weeks and the Rev. Robin Jennings

September 16-26, 2024

Email:  [email protected] or [email protected]

Phone: (502) 762-4705    or    (502) 741-1017

Picture of Robin Jennings

Robin Jennings

Robin T. Jennings is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, and an accomplished author, speaker and teacher who inspires his audiences with Biblical guidance and spiritual insights into everyday life. Whether he has the opportunity to speak to churches, businesses or organizations, Robin’s lifetime of work in spiritual transformation and renewal connects individuals with timely topics such as the importance of community, hope, identity and the search for meaning which are inevitably woven into his message.

Leave a Comment