"Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus…" (Phil. 3.14)
INTRO.: A hymn which exhorts us to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ by doing good in our daily lives is "My Task" (#477 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text of the first two stanzas was written by Maude Louise Ray in 1903, and the third stanza was added by F. H. Pickup in 1913, although A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives says that between 1895 and 1899 Ives composed a setting for a poem beginning "To love someone more dearly every day" by Maude Louise Ray. No further information is available on either of these authors nor on the original sources of publication for these stanzas. Perhaps the poem was written in the late 1800s but was not published as a hymn until 1903. The tune was composed by Emma Louise Hindle Ashford, who was born at Newark, DE, on Mar. 27, 1850. Her parents, the Hindles, were from England, and emigrated to the United States. Her father was a singing teacher, and her mother had a beautiful soprano voice. Since music was an important part of her home life, she showed musical talent from an early age. When just three years old, she sang a solo at a charity concert. By age five, she was extemporizing alto parts to songs and hymns. At age eight, she joined a glee club and was said to be the best sight reader. When she was ten, she received a guitar as a gift and could play accompaniment within a few weeks. At twelve she was an organist in Kewanee, IL.
The Hindle family attended the Episcopal Church. In 1863, they moved to Plymouth, MA, and the following year to Seymour, CN. There they were members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, where American composer Dudley Buck was music director, and Emma continued her organ playing. While in Seymour, Emma also studied piano with a Mrs. Street and pipe organ with a Dr. Anderson. After her marriage at age 17 to John Ashford, a native of Bath, England, she moved with him first to Chicago, IL, for about a year and then to Nashville, TN, where he served on the music faculty and later as superintendent of the buildings and grounds at Vanderbilt University. This melody was produced in 1905 (some sources say 1903) one Sunday morning after a friend had brought her the lines by Maude Louise Ray and she then had gone on to church services. Two other tunes (Evelyn and Sutherland) by Mrs. Ashford also appeared that same year in the Methodist Hymnal. In Nashville, the Ashfords attended the St. James Episcopal Church and served in various musical capacities throughout the city. Mrs. Ashford died at Nashville, TN, on Sept. 22, 1930.
The hymn as we now know it, copyrighted by the Lorenz Publishing Company appeared in The Church Hymnal: The Official Hymnal of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, published at Dayton, OH, in 1935, by Edmund Simon Lorenz. Renewal dates for the stanzas were 1928 and 1941. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the hymn appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship.
This song expresses some of the goals that every Christian should have each day to accomplish the will of God.
I. Stanza 1 teaches that one of our goals should be to love and help others
"To love some one more dearly every day, To help a wandering child to find his way,
To ponder o’er a noble thought and pray, And smile when evening falls: This is my task."
A. We have an obligation from God to love our neighbor as ourselves: Matt. 22.39
B. This love should motivate us to help those who are wandering to find their way: Jas. 5.19-20
C. To encourage us in this work, we should ponder over that which is noble: Phil. 4.8
II. Stanza 2 teaches that another of our goals should be to see truth that our hearts may be right
"To follow truth as blind men long for light, To do my best from dawn of day till night,
To keep my heart fit for His holy sight, And answer when He calls: This is my task."
A. The only way that we can be free from sin is for us to know the truth: Jn. 8.32
B. However, it is not enought just to know the truth–we must do it to the best of our ability: Jn. 13.17
C. When we do these things, we can know that our hearts are right before God: Heb. 10.22
III. Stanza 3 teaches that our ultimate goal should be to meet the Savior by and by in heaven
"And then my Savior by and by to meet, When faith hath made her task on earth complete,
And lay my homage at the Master’s feet, Within the jasper walls: This crowns my task."
A. The faithful Christian looks forward to that day when he will meet the Savior and see Him as He is: 1 Jn. 3.1-3
B. Yet, even before then, faith will make her task on earth complete when we depart to be with Christ: Phil. 1.21-23
C. When all this has taken place, we hope to live in that city where the walls are made of jasper: Rev. 21.18
CONCL.: However, before I can achieve that eternal goal, I must direct the effort of my entire being here on this earth toward serving and pleasing the God who made me. Thus, I need to understand that while I am saved by God’s grace, the things that I do now will affect my eternal reward. Therefore, in anticipation of a home in heaven, I should, while living in this world, be going about "My Task."