TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS
When Helen Lemmel was only twelve years old, her family moved from England to America. Her father was a Wesleyan Methodist pastor determined to strike out in a new area of ministry. After a brief time in Mississippi, he moved his family to Wisconsin, where they settled.
Even at this young age, Helen showed remarkable musical gifts and her parents saw to it that she received voice lessons from the finest teachers. After she had finished school, Helen traveled to Germany for further vocal training and studied there for four yuears. Returning to Wisconsin, Lemmel launched a ministry of her own, giving concerts in auditoriums and churches across the Midwest. She was also a member of a women's quartet that traveled on the Chautauqua Circuit, bringing concerts to small rural towns and villages that would otherwise have no opportunities to hear quality performers.
Although talented enough to succeed as a professional singer, Helen Lemmel sought fulfillment using her musical gifts as a form of ministry to God. She joined the faculty of the Moody Bible Institute, teaching vocal music. She served in this capacity at both their Chicago and Los Angeles campuses.
It was in the year 1918, when she was fifty-four years old, that Helen Lemmel wrote the beautiful and challenging hymn, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus." She had been visiting with a missionary friend who had shared with her a gospel tract by Lillias Trotter, titled "Focused." The pamphlet included the statement: "So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness." The words seemed to repeat themselves over and over in her mind during the following week. In her memoirs she reports the following:
Suddenly, as if commanded to stop and listen, I stood still, and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit.
The song was published in l922 by the British National Sunday School Union in the book called Glad Songs, which contained sixty-six other songs by Helen Lemmel and was used extensively by the Keswick Bible Conference. It was at this conference that "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" first gained popularity as a hymn of invitation and dedication to the life of a deeper commitment to Christ.
Two years later, the hymn was first published in the United States and has since been included in most evangelical hymnals.
Although she is perhaps best known for having written this favorite hymn, it was only one of over 500 hymns to come from her pen. In addition to her reputation as a prolific hymn writer, Mrs. Lemmel is well-known in musical circles for her contributions in the field of children's music. A gifted writer as well, she composed and published several works of poetry and authored a popular book for children entitled Story of the Bible.
In her later years, Helen Lemmel settled in the Pacific Northwest, making her home in Seattle, Washington, where she became an active member of the Ballard Baptist Church. It would seem that she made the words of her hymn her personal creed as she continually turned her eyes toward Jesus, serving him faithfully until the day of her death, November 1, 1961, at the age of ninety-six.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
Taken from HYMNS OF FAITH & INSPIRATION, Ideals Publications Incorporated, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990, pgs 44-46