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a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 75
February 1997


The reasons given are many. "The words are old fashioned. Many people don't understand them." "It's too expensive to purchase all those books." "It's a bother to have everyone turn to a page in a hymnal."

Whatever the excuses, the result is the same: the old familiar church hymnal is becoming, in some churches, an anachronism in worship, replaced by the more simple and often repetitious choruses sung from memory, or from printed sheets or projections. Along with the trend toward reaching the younger `unchurched' has come a trend away from use of the traditional hymnal in worship.

The chorus has its place. But in the process of inserting its simplicity, we have lost from our worship much of the profoundly rich and deeply Scriptural text of the hymn.[1]

Eugene Peterson writes...

Second only to Holy Scripture itself, the hymns of our faith express the deep yearnings and unspoken cries of the heart. When our minds fail to form words to adequately voice the praise rising within our soul, we need only reach out at arm's length to borrow from Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Cowper, Philip Doddridge, Isaac Watts, or Philip P. Bliss.

The singing of hymns is less an exercise in community singing than the opportunity to express praise and testimony beyond our own eloquence. And it is a sad turn of events when such profound thoughts are so readily set aside because their use might be inconvenient. Heaven forbid we should be inconvenienced in our worship.


Let's journey together through the hymnal; let's rediscover some of the Spiritual wealth contained there. Lean forward in your pew to that rack attached to the back of the one in front. Set aside that thin, well-worn chorus pamphlet--just for the moment; there's no reason to throw it away--and remove the older hymnal. Blow the dust off the top and open it.

So where do we begin? Most hymnals contain songs numbering beyond 500. Where do we begin?

We begin where we should always: at the throne. We approach the throne of our God with confidence blended with humility, bow down before Him, and proclaim--before anything else--His holiness.

Turn in your hymnal to "Holy, Holy, Holy." Let's sing together, declaring the identity of our Lord.

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!

Did you see Him? Did you see the Father upon His throne? Or were they just words mechanically sung?

Sing them again--go ahead, we'll wait. Sing each phrase slowly, thoughtfully, taking the time to let the words create their image in your mind.

Approach him reverently, bowing down before Him.
                  Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!

The day begins at the throne, raising awakening voices to our God.
                  Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

He is holy, yes, but in His unquenchable might, He is also merciful.
                  Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!

Our God is a glorious, supernatural Spirit comprising Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
                  God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Perhaps the opening stanza of this hymn of praise reminds you of a dawning day, with the sun just rising over the distant hills. Perhaps the words draw a picture for you of the three members of the trinity: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

The first line of this hymn takes me back to that splendid and horrific scene where Isaiah has been lifted up to the throne room of God and, standing there in the presence of such purity and holiness, he is overwhelmed by thoughts of his own sinfulness.[3]

And that is where worship begins: understanding who we are in relation to our God. Oh, I've not forgotten our standing through the blood of Christ; one thing at a time. First let us truly appreciate who we are in Christ by realizing what we were without Him. As Isaiah said, when faced with such a powerful display of holiness, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!... For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (6:5 NASB)

Without the blood of Christ we couldn't even be here in the first place.


In the second stanza we're reminded that we are not alone in our worship, but part of a vast community that includes the believers around us, the saints who have gone on before, the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:10), as well as the supernatural beings that populate heaven.

Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wert and art, and evermore shall be.

The third stanza (and the only proper way to sing a hymn is to sing it in its entirety) is an admission of our temporal condition. Here is the picture of mankind--both saved and unsaved--living far away from the throne of God. But notice: God Himself does not change. Though ("Tho'") the perception of Him by humans might fade, His holiness remains intact.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Tho' the darkness hide Thee,
Tho' 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.

Now we rise in our praise, singing together with full voice and glad hearts, the sound swelling upwards toward the throne...

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! Amen.[4]



Churches the world over are filled with people who don't feel like being there. To some this is hypocrisy--to others, simply the way of things. In fact, Eugene Peterson claims that the act of worship rightly comes before the feeling:

So we may approach God--whether in corporate or private worship--in a disinterested, apathetic condition. Or we may approach Him with good intent, but lacking the words to express what is in our heart.

The Bible tells us that it is one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit to supply those words.

The Spirit may feed us the words to use, or He may simply translate our groanings into the language of heaven. In either case, when we approach the throne with lethargic motives, it is good to call upon the Holy Spirit to assist us in expressing the honest intent of our heart.

When the mind is blank to everything but its fundamental need for God, just as Scripture gives us words we can pray to the Father, our hymnal can supply words with which we can call upon the Spirit to quicken our heart toward heaven. And there are a number of hymns we can use for this purpose. "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" "O Breath of Life" "Come, Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove" "Fill Me Now"


The Christian acquires the Spirit at the moment of conversion. He need not repeatedly request Him to enter, to draw closer, for He is already a part of him.

But the Christian, though carrying heaven's passport, is a pilgrim in an unholy land, where he can become insulated from the touch of the Spirit. And this is the condition addressed in the hymn written by George Croly, an Irish minister, serving in the London of the early 1800s.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

The world can quickly wrap us up in its dingy flannel blanket, shielding us from the light and life from above--even from the effective touch of someone already a part of us. When this happens, we require no fireworks, no profound angelic visitations--we simply need to know He is still there.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

The presence of the Spirit means we are imbued with a hunger for the things of God.

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross--there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find.

But the flesh cannot possibly sustain this hunger on its own. God is not only the destination, He is the path. He is the one who teaches us the way to Himself.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

As the Spirit does His work, as the groanings are translated into intelligible communication, the presence of our God becomes more real, and the heart crescendos upward, reaching, clasping, drawing life energy from the Lord.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.[6]



Our relationship with God is--as in any human relationship--two-sided. It consists of giving and taking, sharing and receiving. In a healthy relationship, there is action and reaction; when one person does something, the other life is affected.

Honesty, too, is part of any healthy relationship. So when we sing to God to reinvigorate us by His Spirit, we should mean it--and anticipate His reply. Time spent with God should result in a change, not necessarily dramatic, but at least real.

When we approach the throne to declare the supernatural reality of our God, and when we call upon Him to clear away the built-up layers of this `veil of clay', we should expect something to happen in our own life as a result. And very often the result is an offering--and sometimes an offering of our very life.

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take my moments and my days _
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.


Here we have demonstrated two of the more unfortunate drawbacks of the hymn form. Because of poetic structure, and the need for common people to catch their breath when singing, the first line--along with the title of the song--has been chopped in two, resulting in a blurred meaning.

Take my life, and let it be

means something quite different from

Take my life, and let it be consecrated

The first line could be interpreted as a plea for God to leave us alone, to `let us be', while the second--and the one more faithful to the intent of the hymn--is an offering of one's life to Him. Two entirely different statements. So, when singing this hymn, one should sing the first two phrases without inserting a breath between, as

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love;

As you sing this offering to God, sing it thoughtfully and honestly. Notice that the first stanza, and the end of the last, are an all-inclusive summary: Take my life. All of it. The stanzas between then itemize what our lives consist of: stanzas two and three deal with our physical bodies, while stanzas four through six deal with our possessions and more spiritual side.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold _
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect and use
Ev'ry pow'r as Thou shalt choose,
Ev'ry pow'r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine _
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart--it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love--my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself--and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.[



The number of types of hymns is almost limitless. Webster's defines a hymn as "a song in praise or honor of God, a god, or gods," but in practice our collection of hymns also consists of songs that explain our faith, witness to God's mercy and grace, pray for help, evangelize, express confession of sins, and illuminate Scripture. And many hymns _ in fact, most--combine one or more of these types.

On its surface, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" falls into the category of praise or worship, since it is declaring an attribute of God: His faithfulness. The song is taken from the book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah...

as well as the epistle of James.

Yet this favorite hymn is so much more. It is also a song of comfort for the oppressed: God is faithful and merciful. He'll not let you down. In addition, the song is a strong testimony, given by the saved to the unsaved: Look! Look at what our God is like. He will be the same for you!

As we sing this hymn together, rejoicing in the compassion and faithfulness of our God, notice how the words of this prayer represent so many different aspects of life in Christ.


"Great is Thy faithfulness," O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

"Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!"
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided _
"Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

"Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!"
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided _
"Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me!



Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!

"Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!"
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided _
"Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me![8]



Surely hymns are most valued as trusted reminders of who God is. No matter their subject or theme, most hymns serve to describe, in one way or another, the personality or ways of our God. Even evangelistic hymns designed to win lost souls do so by telling what God has done for them...

Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinner will you let Him in?

...or will do in the future.

Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
There's mercy with the Lord,
And He will surely give you rest
By trusting in His word.[

Even more horizontal hymns (person to person, rather than the `vertical' person to God) about the body of Christ remind us that the church is based upon the sure foundation of Christ...

The Church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and the word:
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.[10]

...and our mutual adoration of the one God.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.[

Songs of testimony are testifying to how Jesus Christ saved us by His mercy...

I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.

Yes, I'll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea.[12] He brings peace to the believer every day...

Feasting on the riches of His grace,
Resting 'neath His sheltering wing,
Always looking on His smiling face,
That is why I shout and sing.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus _
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.[

...or how the saint has a secure future.

I have a home prepared for me,
Since I have been redeemed,
Where I shall dwell eternally,
Since I have been redeemed.[14]

If all the thousands of hymns ever written have a common purpose, it is _ like Scripture--to keep the truth of God before His people. And how very much we need that today.

The Christian life is one of constantly swimming upstream against the muck and refuse of the society in which we must, at least for awhile, reside. Daily we are battered by the unsightly ways of this world; how precious are the wise words of truth contained in our hymns--not only to remind and educate, but to lift us up above this temporal plane, into the pristine heights of the throne room of God.




Louisa M.R. Stead was a devout Christian who had been called to missionary service. From her native England, she had come to the United States in 1871.

One day Louisa, her husband, and their four-year-old daughter were picnicking at the Long Island shore. Seeing a young boy struggling in the water, Louisa's husband immediately ran to his aid. But instead of being rescued, the terrified boy only succeeded in taking them both under--and it wasn't until later that evening that the body of Mr. Stead was recovered.

Months later, still grieving over her loss and the burden of supporting her family, Mrs. Stead prayed that God would provide for their needs. The next morning she discovered on her doorstep a basket of food and an envelope containing enough money to purchase new shoes for her little girl. Her sustaining faith in God once again confirmed, she penned the following hymn.


`Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, "Thus saith the Lord."

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
Just in simple faith to plunge me
`Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, `tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

I'm so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Saviour, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.[



It's not uncommon for the typical worship service to end with a quiet, encouraging hymn of benediction, or "good word," such as the following, adapted from Numbers 6:24-26...

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious,
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.

...which would then usually be followed by the inspiring, classic sevenfold "Amen."

When I was a kid growing up in the First Baptist Temple, the opening chords of this song always signaled to me the welcome, and long-anticipated end of another tiresome hour spent on a hard wooden pew. It signaled the beginning of the time when I need no longer be embarrassed by the empty rumblings of my stomach, quaking in eager expectation of Mom's delicious pot roast or roasted chicken.

It was tradition. It was the way of things.

There's a different tradition I'd like to see take hold in our churches. Instead of ending our time with God with the customary benedictory hymn, I'd like to see us end our worship with a return to the praise with which we began. Instead of simply ending our service with the obligatory song to get us out the door, let's end it with a summary declaration of the presence and personality of the Lord God.

We worship together, first, to adore and magnify our God, but after that priority, we also come together to learn of His ways, testify to His ministry in our lives, encourage and edify each other in the faith, and to offer up intercessory prayers.

How appropriate, then, to end our time of corporate worship with a hymn (or spoken word) that somehow summarizes all of this in a strong declaration and heading-out-the-door reminder of who our God is. We should be leaving the sanctuary--not with stiff joints from a hard pew, and a rumbling stomach--but with our minds filled with an image of God upon His throne, and our hearts energized by His presence!


This hymn...originated in nineteenth-century Europe. In 1886 Swedish pastor Carl Boberg was caught in a sudden thunderstorm while visiting a beautiful country estate. As the storm passed, giving way to the sweet songs of birds and a green countryside glistening in sunlight, Boberg composed the nine original stanzas of this hymn.

In time the hymn was translated into German and Russian. It was noticed by a British missionary who was serving in the Ukraine. That missionary, Reverend Stuart K. Hine, often sang the song with his wife as they ministered there. Later they translated three stanzas into English from the Russian and Hine himself added a fourth.[16]

God's immensity does not change based on our perception of Him. The truth of God is that He is, in the true sense of the word, great--He is grand and glorious.

There are gods who wish us to remain blind to the truth about them. They revel in deceit, and present themselves to us as angels of light when in truth they are vermin of darkness.

But the Lord God of heaven desires that our eyes be kept fully open. He has nothing to hide. He knows that the more we see Him as He is--the more fully we comprehend His truth--the closer will be our communion with Him. And that is His true desire.

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy pow'r thro'out the universe displayed.

Our God is inescapable. He's left his fingerprints on everything around and above us. To gaze into the starry hosts and not see God is to question the very premise of a supreme being.

And we're left with only one way to respond: to joyfully sing His praise.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

While the quietude of nature draws us one step closer to the presence of God, the sounds manufactured by civilization most often insulate us from Him. They represent, for many of us, society's bent away from God, and as such, work against the indwelling Spirit's bent toward God.

We all need a quiet place where we can commune with God. It may not always be a forested glen. We can commune with Him in the arid solitude of the desert; on the shoreline, with its pounding breakers to mask the sounds of everything else; in the privacy of our car, while on the freeway; or in a quiet, inner room of the house.

Wherever it may be, we must find and use that personal place where it is easier for us to find God's holy presence. We must find and frequent that place where His voice is not masked by the invasive cacophony of the world.

When thro' the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Look up into His face and praise Him for loving you enough to die so that you might live. He didn't bargain His way out of it, but went voluntarily to the shame and degradation of that hideous death--for you. He didn't die for you alone, but He died knowing your name.

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

But this Jesus, this Christ, did not remain in the grave, but rose victoriously in defeat of death, turning the shame and humiliation of the cross back on Satan himself. We do not worship a dead Savior, but one who lives today as He always has: at the right hand of God the Father.

So open the floodgates of praise and worship Him!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art![17]


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Issue No. 75
February 1997


[1.] Please do not interpret this statement, or this issue of Aspects as a whole, to mean that I am opposed to the use of `choruses' in personal or corporate worship. My call is simply for balance. After all, from the Psalms to The Revelation (Psalm 33:3; Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Psalm 144:9; Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Rev. 5:9; Rev. 14:3) we are called to sing a "new song." As we incorporate the new, however, we should make it a point to not ignore the rich heritage of the old. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 1980), p50. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Isaiah 6:1-13. (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Reginald Heber, 1783-1826. (return to footnote 4)

[5.] A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p50. (return to footnote 5)

[64.] George Croly, 1780-1860. (return to footnote 6)

[7.] Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-1879. (return to footnote 7)

[8.] Thomas O. Chisholm, 1866-1960. Copyright c 1923. Renewal 1951 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. (return to footnote 8)

[9.] John H. Stockman, 1813-1877. (return to footnote 9)

[10.] Samuel J. Stone, 1839-1900. (return to footnote 10)

[11.] John Fawcett, 1740-1817 (return to footnote 11)

[12.] Francis H. Rowley, 1854-1952. (return to footnote 12)

[13.] Luther B. Bridgers, 1884-1948. (return to footnote 13)

[14.] Edwin O. Excell, 1851-1921. (return to footnote 14)

[15.] Louisa M.R. Stead, 1850-1917. (return to footnote 15)

[16.] William J. Petersen and Randy Petersen, The One Year Book of Hymns (Tyndale, 1995), compiled and edited by Robert K. Brown and Mark R.Norton. (return to footnote 16)

[17.] Carl Boberg, 1859-1940; translated by Stuart K. Hine, 1899-1989; Copyright c 1953, renewed 1981 by Manna Music, Inc., 35255 Brooten Road, Pacific City, OR 97135. International copyright secured. All rights reserved; Outside USA: Copyright c 1953 Stuart K. Hine/Kingsway's Thankyou Music, P.O. Box 75, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 6NW, UK. (return to footnote 17)


All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1997 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1997 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.


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