Phil Williams, Moderator of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, spoke to Erskine faculty, staff, and students Feb. 7 at the first convocation of the spring semester, focusing on providence, praise, and trust in an address entitled “A New Song.”
Williams, whose career with Sara Lee Knit Products has taken him all over the world, brought greetings from the Synod as well as from his own church, Covenant of Grace ARP Church. “They care about you,” he told students. “The General Synod prays for you, and I have been praying for you.”
The moderator alluded to his impoverished childhood and the inspiration he gained from his mother, who suffered from illness but encouraged him to be tenacious. “Phil, never give up,” she told him. “No one is better than you. Everyone puts their britches on one leg at a time.”
Williams took as his text Psalm 28:7, a verse he memorized ‘accidentally,’ his wife having transposed numbers in the scripture reference she sent to him in a text message. Williams and his wife, along with other members of their church, were working through a devotional study plan that included scripture memorization, and he had asked her to send him the reference so that he could commit the verse to memory while traveling from Columbia, S.C., to his home in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Instead of memorizing Psalm 27:8, I spent the next hour or so working on Psalm 28:7,” he said.
For Williams, the mistake was a boon.
“A long time ago I learned that nothing is simply by chance,” he said. “In God’s providence, 28:7 is what he intended me to have on my heart as I visit with you today.”
Williams then quoted the verse he had memorized: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”
As he worked on memorizing the ‘wrong’ verse, the thought came to him that his “quest to know God better could have started earlier and with a stronger focus to know, exult, and exalt Christ with a song of joyful thanks.”
The moderator cited three “encouragements” he found in Psalm 27:8.
First, in lives marked by “change, joy, happiness, frustrations, turmoil, hurt, and pain,” Christians can rely on God’s strength and must not “lose sight of his sovereign purpose for our lives.” Keeping God’s providence in mind, and asking for wisdom, the Christian “will better understand it is not about the accomplishment, but the journey that shapes you.”
Second, Christians can count on a shield around them, and must trust in the Lord, despite “struggles, sicknesses, and disappointments you encounter along the way.” Knowing God’s word is important, he said, but “it is meaningless if you don’t know God.” He defined this knowledge as “the recognition that he is in every part of our lives,” and said, “When we recognize that he is in every part of our lives, we are submitting to his providence and we will want his will and we will seek his face.” Williams noted that Psalm 27:8, the original memory verse assigned in the devotional study, reminds the believer to seek God’s face.
Finally, the Christian’s heart can trust in the Lord, and in that trust, can give thanks to God. “Go into your prayer closet, wherever that may be, and reflect about the journey on which God has called you,” Williams said. “Ask him to help and organize your steps so that your heart exults in him with a new song.”
Worship in the Due West ARP Church was led by the Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain. Prof. Tobi Otekayi served as pianist, and the Erskine Choraleers, led by Dr. Keith Timms and accompanied by Otekayi, presented a choral anthem. Interim President Dr. Robert Gustafson introduced the speaker, and Dr. Leslie Holmes, provost of the seminary, offered a prayer for the campus community and pronounced the benediction.