At First I Prayed for Light

Song Background

This song was written by Ednah Cheney in 1850. She was a writer, reformer, suffragist, civil rights activist, and editor, who married an artist named Seth. After her husband and only daughter’s death, Ednah spent her time supporting the cause of African Americans and women in the US.

For more information about her, you can check out her Wikipedia page.


1. At first I prayed for light:
Could I but see the way
How gladly, swiftly would I walk
To everlasting day!

2. And next I prayed for strength:
That I might tread the road
With firm, unfalt’ring feet, and win
The heav’ns’ serene abode.

3. And then I prayed for faith:
Could I but trust my God,
I’d live enfolded in His peace
Though foes were all abroad.

4. But now I pray for love,
Deep love to God and man;
A living love that will not fail,
However dark His plan

5. And light and strength and faith
Are op’ning everywhere!
God waited patiently until
I prayed the larger prayer.

Song Notes

Prayer is an interesting thing. Most people see it as asking God for things, and of course who else to ask when we need something than God? But as James says “You do not get, because you do not ask, and when you ask, you ask for the wrong things, to spend on your pleasures.”

When I found this hymn in my parents’ hymnal, I was intrigued by the story told in the verses…how the speaker goes from asking for things like faith, and light, and strength–things you would think are good things to ask for–and ends up realizing that the most important thing to ask for is love, and all the other things will fall into place.

This reminds me of the time, when asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus concentrated the entire Ten Commandments into Two: Love God, and Love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40)

I often forget that love is something that we can ask God for. We think we will naturally love the people we are supposed to love, but we don’t. It’s impossible to love even friends and family well, and not in a self-seeking way, without God giving us His love with which to love.

There are more fascinating insights woven into this song. For instance “A living love that will not fail, however dark His plan.” Some Christians mistakenly give the impression that as soon as you become a Christian, God makes your life go happily and smoothly.

Not true. Sometimes God’s plan can be very dark. But as long as we love Him and others, we will eventually get through the Valley, even if it’s on the other side of Eternity.

The song verses resonated, but I wasn’t quite as impressed with the musical setting. I wanted to try resetting the lyrics to a different tune, so read it through a few times, and the melody suddenly came to me.

Here it is:

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