I think I first heard this hymn on a film or TV program where the first line was sung as a dramatic device – or rather a comedic one – to indicate that the particular character was a Christian. To put it less kindly, they were a “Bible-basher”. It was not till several years later when I heard this sung in a neighbouring church (it was not in our regular hymn book) that I realised that it was a hymn. The tune was somewhat 19th century revivalist which sounds funny if you are used to a more catholic liturgy.

At first I thought this was simply saying “Don’t worry, be happy, Jesus is your mate/buddy”. Actually, it says more than that: we can speak to Jesus, pray to God, in any and every circumstance. Jesus is no fair-weather friend.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit!
O what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Joseph Scriven (1819-90)