Hymns

Radio Devotional on KSUN 103.5

Monday: Holy, Holy, Holy
Good Monday Morning!  I’m Gill Robertson, one of the pastors at New Crossing Church.  I thought this week we could talk about hymns.  I grew up singing lots of hymns – in church every Sunday, sometimes in the morning and evening services.  But also we sang hymns at school.  We had an all-school assembly every morning at which one of the teachers would tell us the announcements for the day, the head mistress would read something profound or inspiring, and one of the music teachers would lead us in singing a hymn.

Our church now has a mostly contemporary style of worship.  And I love it.  But it’s funny how the hymns I learned in my childhood are imbedded in my brain.  Often when I’m stressed or struggling, a hymn comes to mind and help me hold on to hope and truth.  And in springtime when the world starts to explode with green awesomeness, the hymns often give me words for my gratitude and amazement at the beauty of creation.

Of course, this is radio, one-way communication.  So I have no way of knowing whether you know and love hymns or if you are wondering what I even mean by a hymn.  Hymns are basicly poetry, usually set to music, written to praise and worship God.  Some of my favorite worship bands have new arrangements of some of my favorite hymns (a winning combination), so this week I’ll play you one each day and tell you a little about the story behind the hymn.

Today we’re going to talk about Holy, Holy, Holy.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty was written by Reginald Heber, who was born in 1783.  His father was a minister in an English village and after studying poetry at Oxford University (where he became a close friend of Sir Walter Scott), he succeeded his father as vicar in the village parish.  His bent toward poetry gave him a growing interest in raising the literary quality of hymns.  He dreamed of publishing a collection of hymns corresponding to the church year.  He couldn’t get support for the project from the Bishop of London, but that didn’t stop him writing hymns for his own church.

Another of Heber’s dreams was to become a missionary to India.  At age 40, he was delighted when he was appointed to oversee the Church of England’s ministries in India.  During the next 4 years he took two tours of India, visiting various mission stations.  During his second visit, he preached to a large crowd in the village of Trichinopoly.  The sun was very hot, and afterwards he plunged into a pool of cool water.  Tragically, he suffered a stroke a drowned.

After his death, his widow found the 57 hymns he had written in a trunk and succeeded in getting them published.  One of the most famous of these hymns is based on Revelation 4:8-11, which gives the picture the apostle John saw of worship in heaven:

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

Here are the words to Heber’s hymn, based on that Bible passage:

Holy, holy, holy
Lord, God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee

Holy, holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons blessed Trinity

Holy, holy, holy
Though the darkness hide Thee
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see

Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee
Perfect in power, in love, and purity

Holy, holy, holy
Lord, God Almighty
All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea
Holy, holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons blessed Trinity

This may all sound a bit ethereal on a Monday morning.  But in a world that is so unholy, so lacking in mercy, where power and love are abused, and where nothing seems pure, isn’t it comforting to know that God is holy, merciful, mighty, glorious, perfect, pure, and praise-worthy?  Will you invite this awesome holy God to lead you and help you today and every day?

Listen to this version of the hymn by Sufjan Stevens.

Tuesday: I Need Thee Every Hour
The words of many famous hymns are beautiful and profound in and of themselves.  But sometimes when you hear what inspired the author to write them, they become even more meaningful and powerful.

Today we’re going to talk about and listen to one of my personal favorites, I Need Thee Every Hour.  I think I like it so much because it’s a humbling reminder that I’m not all that and I really do need God’s help every day and even every hour during the day.

I Need Thee Every Hour was written by Annie Hawks, a housewife and mother of three in Brooklyn, New York.  Annie started writing poetry as a child and even had a poem published at age 14.  After she married Charles Hawks and joined Hanson Place Baptist Church in New York, she began writing Sunday school songs for children.

She wrote I Need Thee Every Hour on a bright June morning in 1872.  Annie later wrote, “One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks.  Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness of the Master [meaning God] that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, I need thee every hour were ushered into my mind, the thought a once taking full possession of me.”

The hymn was sung for the first time at a National Baptist Sunday School Association meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was then published in a hymnbook.

When Annie’s husband died sixteen years later, she found that her own hymn was among her greatest comforts.  She wrote, “I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.”

Some time after Charles’ death, Annie moved to Bennington, Vermont, to live with her daughter and son-in-law.  She wrote more than 400 hymns during her 83 years, although only this one is widely known.

Here are the words that she wrote that have touched so many people, including Annie herself:

I need thee every hour
Most gracious Lord
No tender voice like thine

Can peace afford 

I need thee oh I need thee 
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless me now my savior
 
I come to thee

 I need thee every hour
Stay thou near by
 
Temptations lose their power
When thou art nigh
 

I need thee oh I need thee 
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless me now my savior
 
I come to thee

 This might be a good hymn to add to your playlist if you feel overwhelmed or close to the end of your rope.  God is near by to each of us.  All we have to do is remember that we need him, call out to him, and ask him for help.

Enjoy this version of the hymn by Jars of Clay.

Wednesday: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
At this point in the week, you may be singing, “come Friday!”  But this week we’re talking about hymns and the one we’re going to hear about and listen to today is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

This hymn was written by a man called Robert Robinson in the mid 18th century.  His father died when he was young and despite his mother’s best efforts he became a pretty wild adolescent.  His mother sent him to London to learn barbering, but he learned more about drinking and gang life.  When he was 17, he and his friends visited a fortune teller.  They were pretty tipsy and laughed while she tried to tell their fortunes.  But Robert was bothered by the encounter with black magic enough that he decided to take his buddies to hear George Whitefield preach at an evangelistic meeting.  Whitefield was a great preacher – his voice has been described as part fog horn and part violin.  I find that combination hard to imagine personally, but I’m guessing it means it was powerful and commanded attention but was also somehow beautiful and compelling.

However Whitefield’s voice sounded, Robinson was convicted by his message.  He stopped drinking and partying, and nearly 2 years later he surrendered his life to Christ as his Savior and Lord.  Robinson soon entered the ministry.  At age 23, while serving Calvinist Methodist Chapel, in Norfolk, England, he wrote a hymn for his sermon on Pentecost Sunday (that’s the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in the Bible in the Book of Acts).  The hymn is basically a prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to fill us so fully that our way of living lines up with God’s way of living.  It’s asking God to fine-tune our fickle hearts that want to wander off and lead us to do our own thing, so that instead our heart-connection to God is sealed so tight that we can’t help but appreciate his forgiveness and grace and live the lives he intended for us.

Here are the words to the hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

We often think of hymn-writers as squeaky clean, holy men, devoutly devoted to God through their entire lives.  But that’s so not the case with so many hymns – often people write them out of deep gratitude for how God has rescued them, forgiven them, and given them a new life.  Robinson remembered his old life.  He was acutely aware that God had changed his life and would continue to change him to make him more like Christ.  My prayer for you today is that this hymn would be your prayer.  That you would invite God to come and give your heart a tune-up.  That you would recognize him as the source of every blessing in your life, as your source of mercy and forgiveness, and as your source of hope for this life and the next.

Listen to this version of Come Thou Fount by Sufjan Stevens.

Thursday: All creatures of Our God and King
I love some of the more contemporary versions that we’re listening to each day.  But I understand that this is just a preference, so if you prefer the more traditional arrangements with organ and choir, I apologize.  But the words are still the same, and that’s mostly what we’re talking about.

Today’s hymn is All Creatures of Our God and King, written by St Francis of Assisi.  Honestly, there are so many stories about St. Francis, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s myth.  But we do know for sure that he was the son of a rich Italian merchant, born in 1182.  He didn’t get much education, joined the army, was captured in war, and came to faith in Christ soon after his release.  After his conversion, he lived simply, traveled around the country, and wanted everyone to know Christ personally just as he did himself.

He loved nature and there are lots of stories about him and animals.  One time, he decided to preach to a flock of birds that didn’t fly away when he got near to them.  His sermon went something like this: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love Him.  He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly, and all other things you need.  It is God who made your home in thin, pure air.  Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”  I don’t know if the birds took notes or if someone was listening in and wrote down what he said.  But the story goes that the birds took off in flight, rejoicing (which I guess means they were chirping their most melodious bird songs).

The sentiment of that sermon is very similar to a hymn Francis wrote just before he died in 1225 called, “Cantico di fratre sole” “song of brother sun.”  It exhorts all creation to worship God.  It wasn’t translated into English until 1919 when it was used for a children’s worship festival in Leeds, England.

Here’s how it goes:

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

If we have the windows open in spring time and wake up to the cacophony of the dawn chorus; when I get to witness the vibrant melted pink, orange, yellow and red of the sunrise or the sunset; and when I see the fluorescent moon suspended in the night sky, I wonder.  Do the animals and creation instinctively know what St Francis commanded – that it’s natural and appropriate to praise God, that He deserves our praise?  Do they know that God created the beauty, the grandeur, the ecosystems, the cycle of the days and the seasons?

Today take a moment to do more than smell the proverbial roses.  Turn off the noise – both the electronics and the internal monolog – and listen to the birds and the wind in the trees.  Step outside, and inhale the aroma of spring.  Look up from whatever screen demands your attention and see the sky, the branches, the buds becoming leaves.  Touch the damp ground, feel the life in the soft new buds and the fresh green shoots.    Take in the beyond words beauty of our world.  And praise our amazing awesome God who created all these things!  If you’re alone or feeling bold, praise him out loud!

In the mean time, enjoy Josh Garrels singing All Creatures of our God and King.

Friday: It is Well with My Soul
This morning I have one last hymn to share with you, It is Well With My Soul.  The story behind this hymn is one that stops you in your tracks.  When I hear lofty phrases like “it is well with my soul” I picture them being written by someone sitting in a comfortable rocking chair next to a roaring fire, having just eaten a good meal, and with friends and family sitting around, talking and joking.  There may be a blizzard and a roaring wind outside, but relationships are healthy, the writer is comfortable, and life is good.

But it turns out that the famous hymn, It is well with my soul, was written under very different circumstances.  When I first heard what caused Horacio Spafford to write this hymn I was in total awe.  The story behind the words makes them so much more impactful.

Horacio Spafford was an attorney in Chicago in the 18th century.  He invested in real estate and lost a fortune in the great Chicago fire in 1871.  Around that time his only son, 4 years old, died of Scarlett fever.  He coped with his grief by working long hours to help the 100,000 people who were now homeless and to rebuild the city.

In 1873, he decided to take his wife and daughters to Europe.  He wanted to visit some evangelistic meetings led by preacher DL Moody (who still has a Bible College named after him outside Chicago) and Ira Sankey, who wrote and sang gospel songs.  And at the same time he wanted to enjoy a family vacation.

Horacio was detained in Chicago by business matters, so he decided to send his wife and their four daughters on ahead on the luxurious French liner, Ville du Havre.

One night during the voyage, the Ville du Havre collided with an iron sailing vessel.  Water poured into the ship and it sank within two hours.  We can only begin to imagine how terrifying that two hours was for the passengers, the prayers they prayed, and the desperation they felt.  226 passengers died, including all four of Spafford’s daughters.  His wife was one of only 47 survivors.  She was found barely conscious, clinging to a piece of the wreckage.  When she arrived in Cardiff, Wales, she cabled her husband a now famous message, “Saved Alone.”

Horatio immediately left Chicago to join his wife.  One evening, the ship’s captain let him know that they were probably passing over the place where the Ville Du Havre sank.  Spafford was unable to sleep that night, but as he lay in his cabin, he said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.”  These words comforted him and led him to write the hymn we have come to know and love.

Listen to the words and to the song.  Isn’t it amazing that he could be so confident that all was well with his soul, even though the circumstances of his life were filled with so much grief and loss?

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

 My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

I pray that you experience the same confidence that all is well with your soul.  May you be confident that even your greatest difficulties and most painful experiences cannot hurt your soul because God loves you.  May you ask God to forgive you of your sins, confident that he WILL do so.  May you be confident that this life isn’t all there is and that this God who loves you and saves you from your sin wants to enjoy life with you for eternity, forever.  If you don’t have that confidence, pray and ask God to give it to you today!

I hope you like hearing Jars of Clay sing It is Well With My Soul as much as I do!

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