My husband, who is a pastor, has a favorite kind of “call and response” he has taught the members of our congregation. It goes like this:
Question: What do sinners do?
Response: They sin.
We are sinners and no matter how hard we try, we will continue to sin. It’s our nature. However, we can be freed from the burden of our sins when we given them to Jesus. He can do what we cannot. I am reminded of this hymn by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Listen and give your sins to the only One who can carry them for you.
For more hymns about the way Jesus frees us from sin see:
No, contrary to popular belief, this song did not originate as a African-American spiritual. It actually made it into the American folk music tradition when it was found and documented by John Lomax in 1939. At Goree State Farm in Huntsville, Texas, Lomax recorded Doris McMurray singing the spiritual. The recording can still be found in the Library of Congress archives.
The author is Harry Dixon Loes, a gospel songwriter and music director from Michigan who worked at the Moody Bible Institute. The song was written for children in the 1920s. It sounds similar to other Southern spirituals of the time which probably accounts for it’s often mistaken attribution (even in hymnals).
It was popularized during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and is still used in Sunday Schools today. We often sing it on Via de Cristo weekends. The repetitive lyrics are lively and easy to learn.
This well-known hymn was written by Ray Palmer, a young man who was preparing for the ministry. It was his personal prayer for renewed courage and energy at a time when he was feeling exhausted and lonely. He wrote the poem for himself with no plan to ever show it to another person. Two years later (1832) he ran into his friend, Lowell Mason who asked him to compose some hymns for an upcoming hymnal. Palmer was still too overwhelmed with the responsibilities of his life to feel up to writing something new, so he opened his journal and offered Mason this poem. Mason promptly set it to music and told his friend,
“Mr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks up to Thee.'”
When your faith is flagging, and you are afraid you can’t keep going, remember this hymn. Ray Palmer did become a pastor, and wrote other hymns, but this is the most famous. You can have faith that God uses us even in our weakest moments.
Most people know the story behind this hymn, but I’ll repeat it again, just in case some readers haven’t heard it. Horatio Spafford, an attorney was close to Dwight Moody and decided to visit Moody’s evangelistic meetings in England. At the last minute an urgent business matter detained Spafford in Chicago, so his wife and four daughters boarded the ocean liner alone, and he planned to follow. On November 22, 1873, the ship collided with an iron sailing vessel and sank. Spafford’s wife was rescued, but all of his children perished. He immediately book passage to join his wife in Wales, where the survivors were taken. The evening his ship passed over the place where his family’s ship went down, Spafford was unable to sleep. He told himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.” Later he wrote his famous hymn based on these words. (the melody was written by Philip Bliss). It is truly a tribute to enduring tribulation with faith.
This popular Southern Gospel hymn was written by the Gaithers during a rather traumatic time in their lives. Bill was ill, and they, along with other members of their church family were facing accusations of using their music to make a profit. Across the country drug abuse and racial tensions were on the rise. Gloria, particularly felt fearful about bringing their third child into the world. The Holy Spirit came to her aid, giving her a sense of calm and peace. This song is the result. It reminds us that through our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, we can face all the trials and turmoil in our own lives.
Many people love the modern carol, Mary Did You Know. In fact, at our recent Christmas Luncheon for the women of the church, somebody asked if it could be sung on Christmas Eve. Beth Ann’s post about Mary, a servant of God, made me think of it. It seems appropriate to both our theme and the season. Here’s the story behind the song as told by the author Mark Lowry.
“In 1984, Jerry Falwell called and asked me to write the program for their next Living Christmas Tree.
As I wrote the ‘speaking parts’ I began to think about Mary. I have always been fascinated with the concept that God came to earth.
…As my mind went back to the manger scene, I began to think about the power, authority and majesty she cradled in her arms. Those little lips were the same lips that had spoken worlds into existence. All of those things were contained in the young child lying quietly on her bosom. Even now, he was the very one who had given life to his mother, Mary.”
And for those who know and treasure it, and for anyone who hasn’t heard it yet, here’s the song.
When Kelly Willard was asked how her song, Make Me A Servant, came to be written, this is how she answered:
“Well, it’s pretty simple, what happened. I was at home, and the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart saying very gently, “You know, you could stand to have a little more of a servant heart.” I went straight to my piano and began playing and singing this prayer…”Make me a servant, humble and meek, Lord let me lift up those who are weak…And, may the prayer of my heart always be, make me a servant, make me a servant, make me a servant today.” I still pray for a servant’s heart.”
Let Kelly’s plea sink into your heart and make you a servant today!
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” Psalm 30:4
Lutherans have been called “the singing church” and it’s true. I can’t imagine worship without singing. One visitor to our church told me, “you have a lot of audience participation!” Well, we’re not meant to be an audience because worship isn’t a performance and yes, it’s all about participation. The word liturgy literally means “work of the people.” Songs of praise are part of that work, and it’s a privilege and joy to worship the One who loves and saves us.
The Bible is full of saints who sang. There was David, of course, author of many of the Psalms (the hymn book of the Old Testament). Miriam sang after the people crossed the Red Sea, and Deborah sang a victory after defeating the Canaanites. Mary sang after her meeting with the angel who announced the birth of God’s son, and Simeon sang after seeing that same babe who had been promised.
There are many reasons saints sing, but most often their songs flow out of the joy and happiness of life with God. One Christian song that comes to my mind as I write this is His Eye Is On the Sparrow. Here’s the story of how that hymn by Civilla Martin came to be written:
“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheelchair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s response was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”
The next day she mailed the poem to composer, Charles Gabriel, who wrote the tune for it. Sing along with this beautiful piece because you’re happy to be a child of the King.
In church last Sunday we sang this well-known “Thanksgiving” hymn which speaks to me about the strength we find in gathering together as saints of God. You may be surprised to learn something about its’ history! It is actually of Dutch origin and refers religious persecution which occurred long before the first Thanksgiving. The melody can be traced back to 1597. It began as a folk song but was transformed into a hymn dealing with overcoming religious persecution on January 24th 1597. That was the date of the Battle of Turnhout, in which Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in what is now the Netherlands. At this point, the Dutch Protestants, who were prohibited from worshiping under the Spanish king, Phillip II, celebrated the victory by borrowing the familiar folk melody and giving it new words. “We Gather Together” connoted a heretofore forbidden act—Dutch Protestants gathering together for worship. It first appeared in print in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs. Listen to the words and give thanks for the blessings we receive when we gather together.
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3:17
The text of this hymn was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). It was composed while he was Anglican archbishop of Calcutta, India, from 1823 to 1826 for St. Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday observed by the Anglican Church, and published posthumously in an 1827 collection of Heber’s poems entitled Hymns written and adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year. The tune (All Saints New) was composed for this text by Henry Stephen Cutler, who was born Oct. 13, 1825 in Boston, MA. After studying organ with A. U. Hayter in Boston, he went to Europe in 1844 to continue his studies in Frankfurt am Main. While there, he visited many English cathedrals and became familiar with their style of music. Returning to Boston in 1846, he became music director at Grace Episcopal Church.
It speaks of the army of saints, past and present who follow Jesus. I find it a powerful reminder that we are not alone in the Christian walk, we join our brothers and sisters, past and present, as well as Jesus Christ our head.