Ever wonder why our Lord chose such a common little bird to illustrate such a profound truth? Everyone and everything God created is significant. So when Jesus was teaching He questioned the listeners, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight" (Luke 12:6).
My friend Richard, a former inmate who has been released from prison, learned this truth the hard way (see thesparrowministries.org). For several years I wrote words of encouragement to him. After becoming a Christian, he wanted to grow in the faith but there were obstacles. One of the most difficult is printed below:
I Cried with the Sparrow
I feared that I might die, it was so cold. I had taken a plastic gallon jug and filled it with hot water to place between my feet just to keep them from freezing. The furnace was broken and the authorities had no intent on fixing it until after the Thanksgiving holiday. So we covered ourselves as best we could and tried to rest in the cold cells - shivering.
My beige and gray six-by-nine cell had a steel cot, steel table, steel seat and one window which served only to slow the wind down, not stop it. I laid there and thought about my life. I felt utterly alone. I had no contact from my family and all my friends had disappeared. Was God eluding me too? In that misery, I began to question God. Was He real, and more importantly, did He love me? The only answer that came was the fog of my breathing and a cold turkey sandwich. "Great Thanksgiving," I mumbled.
I prided myself on being strong, but I was weeping in the cold. As I wept, I begged God for a sign that He really cared. I had made terrible choices in the past but I thought I had finally made a good one the day I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. However, I even questioned that on this horrible day.
As I continued to weep I gazed at the snow-swept widow and was surprised to notice a tiny sparrow crouched in the corner of the window sill. How sorry I felt for that bird. I watched him for what seemed hours. I remembered the verse in the Bible when Jesus told of feeding the sparrows. I wondered why He allowed that little creature to suffer as I was. Then with a solitary misty word, I allowed the word "why" to fall from my lips. I had at last put a word to the million questions that ran through my idle mind in that cold, cold cell.
That word seemed to bounce off the concrete wall and suddenly the whole room was bathed in sunlight. The sparrow shook himself from his slumber and began to stretch his wings. He was warming himself in the sun's rays, which invigorated him. I was in awe as I saw the shadow he was casting on my cell wall and then I gasped audibly. There in the cell with me was a picture perfect form of an angel. Each time the little sparrow moved, the angel did too. It was the sign I had been looking for, the affirmation that I was not alone, that God really does care for me. I then got up from my frigid cot, shook off the self pity and penned this poem:
CONVERSATION WITH A SPARROW
Come to me little sparrow, Away from the pelting rain;
Tell me of your sorrows and I'll tell you of my pain.
Come perch upon my window sill,
And rest your weary wing;
And give to me the meaning
Of the beautiful song you sing.
Teach me how to be happy behind these concrete walls;
Now give to me the reason for your early morning calls.
How I'd like to soar the heavens
And fly about so free!
But I am here in prison,
So you take wing for me.
'Tis God who taught you how to sing,
And gave you wings to fly;
'Tis God who sent His precious Son
For sinners such as I.
So off you go, little sparrow, out into the pelting rain.
Take with you all my sorrows and give wing to all my pain.
Fly away, little sparrow,
But soon come back to me;
For as I watch you soar the heavens,
I find, I too, am free.
God allowed me to weep with a sparrow so that I might learn to soar with the eagles.
Similar thoughts were expressed in a conversation that Mrs. Civilla Martin had in 1904 while visiting a sick friend. Because she was bedridden, she lamented to Mrs. Martin that sometimes she got discouraged. But when she remembered that her Heavenly Father watched over each little sparrow, He would certainly watch over her.
Mrs. Martin was a poet and knew that this was a perfect subject for her writing. She began to jot down ideas. With great inspiration, the text of "His Eye is on the Sparrow," was completed by the end of the day. The chorus begins this way:
"I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."
The entire poem was sent to a well-known composer of that day, Charles Gabriel. His lovely music has carried it all around the world in small churches and great crusades. Ethel Waters is remembered for her great rendition of this song, when she sang and gave her testimony at many Billy Graham Crusades.
Civilla Martin was born in Nova Scotia in 1866. Her husband was an evangelist who traveled all over the United States. She accompanied him and they worked together on most of the musical arrangements that were sung. The purposes of God were heard through the sermons and in the music.
Therefore, when we sing this heartfelt hymn, we can rejoice in the affirmation:
"His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me."
Our loving Creator God, we stand in awe of the work of your fingers and the breath of your Spirit. From the tiniest to the largest, you have created all things. Human beings and the little sparrow are part of your miraculous handiwork. Thank you for speaking to a man in prison, to an invalid in bed, and to all of us who yearn for more of you in our lives. You are watching over us, loving us and guiding each step we take. May we be completely surrendered, as are the birds of the air. In Jesus holy name, Amen
Lucy Neeley Adams has always loved music. She began telling the story of hymns on Christian radio WWGM in Nashville, TN, in the '80s. She then wrote a newspaper column titled "Song Stories" for five years. During that time Lucy's book, 52 Hymn Story Devotions, was published by Abingdon Press in Nashville. Each of the 52 stories contained in the book is written in a devotional format, with the words of the hymn concluding each devotion.
Lucy, dubbed "The hymn lady," can be heard on the first Thursday of each month when she discusses hymn stories during a telephone interview with Michelle Mendoza of "Living Christian". The program is aired on station KCIS in Seattle, WA.
Lucy lives at Lake Junaluska, NC, with her minister husband, Woody. They have four children and fourteen grandchildren. She may be reached for comment at [email protected]. Visit her at 52hymns.com.