In Praise of Hymns

Choruses in church are great, but let’s not lose our powerful legacy of hymns in Christian ministry.

Last night I led a Hymn Sing and Soup Supper in the Fellowship Hall at our church. Between bowls of vegetable soup, chicken soup, tortilla soup, bean soup, and a host of others, we sang To God Be the Glory, I’ll Fly Away, Victory in Jesus, and more favorites. Elderly women in the back, members of the choir when we had one, harmonized to tunes they had known as children, while teenagers in the middle sat in silence. We had no slides with words on a screen as we do in our sanctuary, but used white hymnals with gold embossing, small letters, and cryptic little symbols called notes along with the lyrics on each line. The piano was a little out of tune, but we all carried on, singing at the top of our lungs. There was no sound of strumming, drumming, or picking. Having grown up in church singing hymns, I appreciated the change.

For decades, choruses and praise bands have replaced hymns as the mainstay of music in evangelical churches. There are many good reasons. Choruses are easy to learn and easy to play. Big screens on the wall keep parishioners from burying their heads in their song books and singing at the floor. Little words in hymnbooks can be hard to see and the notes, rests, time signatures, and staffs in the music may be confusing to the musically uninitiated. It is easier for pastors to find a guitar player, a drummer, and at least one vocalist than to find a minimum of two sopranos, altos, tenors, and bases, along with a choir director, and one pianist competent enough to play complicated hymns. In such a world, do hymns belong in the dust bin of history?

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The Purpose of Prayer

When prayers don’t seem to work, and we doubt God, what do we do?

A few days ago, our family dog, Serena, found wrapped chocolates that my sons had left in their bedroom. Within minutes, truffles, peppermint patties, and a host of other delectables were gone. The same day, close friends visited from northern Virginia. The chocolate and excitement were too much for Serena, and she couldn’t go to sleep. Instead of sleeping, she barked and barked and barked.

Serena’s barking, whimpering, and fussing doesn’t bother me; I can fall asleep and stay asleep through a thunderstorm. My poor wife, Nancy, cannot. She laid awake for hours, counting her breaths, praying, and doing everything else she could to get some badly needed rest. It worked off and on. Serena napped, but at 0300, she started up again. I woke up. When I heard Serena’s caterwauling, and Nancy’s sleepless report, I fumed.

Then I prayed. Praying through a fog of sleepiness probably is not the most effective way to talk to God, and the more I prayed, the louder Serena barked. Nancy’s head began to ache. I got angrier and angrier.

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