In times of chaos and uncertainty, there always seems to be a return to hymns, so it is not surprising that so many artists, both gospel and secular, have recently released recording projects of hymns.
A hymn is not just an “old song” we used to sing. In fact, there are many new hymns being written and whole hymn movements of new writers rising up, not only in the U.S. but in the U.K. and Scandinavia. Then what is a hymn, and why do we need them?
First of all, a hymn is meant to be sung corporately. When we gather with other Believers, we sing together praise to God or remind each other just who this God is that we serve. In general, we could think of hymns as those songs of praise and worship we send up to God identifying for all to hear His attributes and thanking Him for His amazing intervention in our world and in our lives. We sing of the incarnation: God who was before anything existed, the Cause and Source of all things, God of grandeur, power and infinite glory chose to become one of us and to walk with us – Immanuel! Hymns are God-centered and call our attention upward. They are lofty in message and lift us above the earthy. They remind us of our original glory that preceded any “original sin” and remind us of God’s intention to see that glory restored in us. The exchange in hymns, then, is vertical – connecting us to God and seeking to hear His voice speaking to our hearts in return.
Hymns are firmly rooted in God’s Word and, since they are intended to be sung corporately by the fellowship of believers, pull us above our petty differences by reminding us of God’s dream for us – that we would be one.
Because hymns are intended to reflect the qualities of God, they must have poetry that is beautiful, reverent, simple, accurate, and pure. The theme of a hymn should be focused and at the same time universal and not sectarian in its truth, drawing together and then upward all the divergent believers to oneness in Him.
There is no more distilled form of writing than the song lyric, and there is no more condensed form of lyric writing that hymn writing. The thought must be scripturally sound, purely true and without embellishment. This requires that every word count – every verb, every noun, every conjunction, every adverb or adjective accurate – the perfect choice to convey true meaning so that there is no misunderstanding. Every skill of the poet’s art must be called into play in hymn writing so that the clarity and beauty, creativity and purity reflect the Maker Himself in its expression. The music, too, must be harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically singable so that congregations can sing it together.
It is equally imperative that the singer or recording artist not take liberties with the words of a hymn. It is not acceptable to embellish or be careless by changing an “at” to “in” or “Father” to fathers or an “and” to a “but”. Such changes can totally change the meaning and the theology and violate the integrity of the scripture from which the hymn was taken.
Yes, many of the great hymns have been sung literally for centuries, but we do not sing hymns because they are old; we sing them because they are so true that they have survived all the fads of language, rhythm feels, and musical trends. If new hymns live, it will be for the same reason.
No wonder, then, that when times are confusing or the world is in upheaval, we find ourselves needing songs that nail to the wall the deep cardinal truths of our faith and the always available and ever dependable qualities of God. When we cannot sing them as a congregation, we sing them to ourselves to help us remember that the Body of Christ is always at the table and the great cloud of witnesses are always present to encourage, love and support. When we sing hymns alone, we refocus on the ways this great God has delivered us before; this focus turns our anxieties to praise and our questions to certainties.
I love the promise found in Revelation (12:11) that we would overcome the obstacles of any age “by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of our testimony.” This explains the power we find in hymns—those songs that extol and express praise for the qualities of God and the work that Jesus did for us on the cross. Let’s sing our hearts out in great hymn confirmations of truths that transcend the shifting winds of public opinion and trends of the times.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).
Gift-giving is not my strong suit. I stand in the aisles of stores slack-jawed with my eyes glazed over. I don’t know how to choose between the Cranberry Cinnamon Scone candle or the Christmas Cookie one. I just get hungry and go home empty-handed. Or if I dare to pick one it turns out to actually smell like the poor old pumpkin that has been on the porch since Halloween.
I’m not only like this with gifts for other people; I’m the same way with myself. I need quiet and instead I say “yes” to one more event on the calendar. I desperately want peace and instead make a to-do list so long it rivals Santa’s. I long for joy and yet I tell myself the holidays need to be perfect until I’m gritting my teeth and stress-eating candy canes leftover from last year. Ever been there?
So I, quite audaciously, decided to pause and intentionally ask this question: “What gift am I going to give myself this Christmas?”
I already have pink fuzzy socks and flannel pajama pants with hearts on them so I settled on this: Permission to rest.
In Mark 6:31, right after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus says to the disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
This invitation is extended to you and to me as well – this Christmas season and every day of the year.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).
What does rest look like to me? It’s the little things: a nap, a cup of tea, a few moments sitting with my husband on the couch, a cozy blanket, a “no” instead of “yes” sometimes, leftovers for dinner. And, perhaps most of all, giving the critical voice inside my head the holiday season off. I’m sending her somewhere sunny like Florida or the Caribbean or Australia. Anywhere that’s far enough away that I can’t hear her. A one-way ticket, I hope.
I used to think “rest” was selfish, but then two things happened:
I read a whole lot of research that showed happier people are more giving, kind and generous.
And a friend said something to me that I’ll never forget: “Sometimes rest is an act of worship.”
Both of these makes good sense to me. So I’m picking “permission to rest” as a gift to myself because I know if I do then this gift will ultimately be passed on to the people I love and the Savior I serve and this weary world.
I may never be the best gift-giver, but I’m slowly learning. Maybe next year I’ll even be brave enough to venture back into the candle aisle.
God, it can feel as if we have to carry the weight of the world in our shoulders. But the truth is, we are children who are cared for by a loving Father. The weight of the world isn’t on our shoulders, it’s in Your hands, and we are too. Help us to be children who rest and trust and delight in You.
In Jesus’ Powerful Name, Amen.
What gift would you like to give yourself this Christmas?
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19 NIV).
Friend to Friend
Every year, I search for Christmas poems, stories, and traditions that stir my soul and keep my focus on Jesus. Perhaps none has tugged on my heartstrings like the treasure I am sharing with you today. It is a letter that could have been written by Mary. Join me now and let’s peek over Joseph’s shoulder as he reads this letter from his beloved.
I had a dream Joseph. And I don’t understand it not really. But think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son. Well I think that’s what it was about. People had been preparing for about six weeks. They had decorated their house, bought new clothes, gone shopping many times, and bought elaborate gifts. But it was peculiar though because you see, the gifts weren’t for our Son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree. Yes! A tree, Joseph, right in their house. They decorated a tree.
The branches were full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments. And there was a figure on top of the tree that looked something like what an angel might look like. Oh, it was so beautiful. Everyone was laughing and happy and all excited about the gifts. They gave gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don’t even think they knew Him. They never mentioned His name. Doesn’t it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate somebody’s birthday when they don’t even know Him. I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration, He would have been intruding.
Everything was beautiful, Joseph. Everyone was full of cheer. But it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus, not to be wanted at His own birthday celebration. I’m glad that it was only a dream. What if it would have been true?
What if it had been true? This story pierced my heart because in my home growing up, it was true. My childhood was a cauldron of violent arguments, alcohol inflamed fights, and long passages of passive aggressive silence. My parents were a mess, and their children were even messier.
Amazingly, the tensions ratcheted up a notch at Christmas. Dad’s business associates gave him liquor in ornate bottles—alcohol that fueled his volatile anger. My mom went into a stressful frenzy to have a perfectly decorated home with mounds of gifts under the tree. I dreaded December…every year.
On Christmas morning, I tore into elegantly wrapped presents. Right now, I can’t even recall what five of them were.
What I really wanted was a little bit of that “Peace on Earth” we sang about in church. I longed for Emmanuel to bring some of that “Silent Night” into my chaotic life. I longed for a mommy and daddy who loved each other. What I didn’t care about was more stuff.
Think about Mary’s words in Luke 2:19. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What do you think she treasured? Gabriel’s visit? Her cousin Elizabeth’s proclamation? The shepherds appearing in the middle of the night? The wisemen coming from a faraway place? Anna and Simeon recognizing baby Jesus as the Messiah? I think she remembered them all. And notice, not one of those things were wrapped in shiny paper wrapped box with a big bow on top.
One day I had a child of my own. I held that squirmy bundle of love in my arms and made a commitment to keep Jesus the center of our home. That decision included keeping Christmas from becoming a stress-filled retail event, and making sure it was a love-filled Christ-centered celebration.
This year, let’s make sure to invite the honored Guest to His birthday celebration. Set Him a place at the table. Read about His birth on Christmas morning. Wrap Him a gift and place it under the tree. (In our home we write what we’re giving Jesus on slips of paper, wrap it up in a little box, and place it by the nativity. It could be a commitment to pray more, love better, forgive quicker.)
Then in the years to come, we will have many memories to ponder and treasure in our heart.
Precious Jesus, forgive me for getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and forgetting why I’m doing this in the first place. Help me to rein in the retail frenzy and keep You the focus of the holiday season. I can’t wait to honor You in my home this Christmas Day.
In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn
What are three ways that you keep Jesus the focus of the holiday season? Leave a comment and share!
Here are three of mine.
At dinnertime, we pray for the people who send us Christmas Cards.
I have a collection of nativity sets from around the world and place them in various rooms around the house.
We read Luke 2 and pray on Christmas morning before we open any gifts.
It’s easy for us to vilify the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph when they arrived in Bethlehem. After all, we wonder how his heart could be so cold. But I think, in many ways, this innkeeper was like a lot of people today.
It’s not so much that he was evil; he was just busy. He was preoccupied. More specifically, he was interested in making money. A lot of people were in town, and there was a lot of money to be made. He didn’t want to waste his time with a young couple that obviously was very impoverished and had nothing to offer him.
I’m sure if they would have pulled out some major shekels, he could have found a nice place for them. But they didn’t have that. So he essentially said, “You can go back there in the barn and sleep.”
We don’t know whether it was a barn or a cave. Back then, they often would keep their animals in a cave. The word in the original language doesn’t seem to give us clarity here. However, we do know that it was a place where people kept their animals.
The basic problem with the innkeeper was that he didn’t have time. There are a lot of people like him today. They don’t have time for God. They don’t have time for church.
But you’ll always find time for what’s important in your life. If you want to do something, you’ll do it. And if you don’t want to do something, you’ll make up excuses.
Is there room in your heart for Jesus right now? Would you make room for Him in the coming year? Would you make room for Him by carving out time each day to study the Word of God? Would you make room for Jesus by praying? Would you make room for Jesus with your involvement in the church?
Is there room in your life today for Jesus?
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
As Christmas approaches, you’ll probably be gathering with family. Maybe you’ll be traveling, or maybe your family will be coming to you.
There are some family members that you’re probably looking forward to seeing. And there are some that perhaps you’re not looking forward to seeing because they’ve hurt you. So I’d like to offer a word of advice this Christmas: forgive people who’ve wronged you and hurt you in life.
I don’t know what those people have done. But I do know what God has done. Ephesians 4 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (verses 31–32 NLT).
Here’s my question for you: Do you deserve to be forgiven by God?
No, you don’t. Neither do I. But He forgave us. Therefore, we should forgive others.
It isn’t about whether they deserve forgiveness. Forgiving someone isn’t letting them off the hook. Forgiving someone is a way for you to be free from a life of bitterness. Otherwise, you can be living in a prison of anger and even despair.
Really, forgiveness is more for you than it is for the one who wronged you. As I’ve said many times, when you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free: yourself.
You’re the one who’s being tortured, so let it go. Forgive. That is the unique characteristic of a true follower of Jesus Christ. We have the ability, given to us from God, to forgive people who have done horrible things to us.
It might surprise you to know that failing to forgive others, even when they have sinned against you, is a sin on your part against God. If you’re a Christian, then you need to be a forgiving person.
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8, ESV)
After I started having my children we would drive a few hours to go to my parents’ house. The kids could hardly wait to get there and be in my parent’s presence. As familiar landmarks appeared that told them we were getting closer their impatience grew. My parents would also be impatiently waiting. As we walked in the door they both jumped up and stated there is our kids and there would be hugs all around. It was clear that there was joy at seeing us.
That’s how God responds to you every time you turn His way. Arms outstretched, ready to hug with complete joy.
In our relationship wo the Father, He is always the initiator and we are always the responder. The Father is always reaching out for us, wooing us, drawing us. We never have to engage in an activity or ritual to get His attention. His attention has never wandered from any one of us. Before time began, He had already settled His heart on you and laid the groundwork for your salvation.
When you and I feel drawn in God’s direction it might feel like our own instinct. When we decide to call to Him, it might feel like our idea. When we find ourselves inclined toward Him, it might feel as if we are seeking Him out. However, in reality, every time we have any impulse to pursue the things of God, we are responding to His invitation.
We often complicate prayer, thinking we need to find a way to convince Him to care about our needs, or to notice our plight. We imagine there is a certain format He demands or a particular emotion He expects before we can come to Him in prayer.
Might it take the burden off you if you know that you don’t have to woo God because He is wooing you? Would it lessen your anxiety to know that God is calling you to pray, and that He is inviting you because He loves you and wants you to delight in Him rather than feeling anxious about whether you measure up? He pulls you into His presence and invites you into His activity through prayer because of His exuberant, lavish joyous pleasure He takes in you.
The inclination you feel toward God right now, in this very minute, is God calling you? Right now, God is saying, “Child, come talk with Me. I’m here for you.” All y ou have to do is respond.
Just say yes. You will find His open arms waiting.
FAther, I respond to Your love. Here I am. I want to live in the fullness of Your love for me. I accept Your invitation to be face to face and heart to heart with You. I rejoice in the astounding reality that You find in my presence. Remind me of Your truth when my emotions try to tell me something else.
In Jesus’ Powerful name, Amen
What is your initial reaction to hearing that God delights in you? Do feelings of shame or a sense of not being good enough color your times of prayer? What would change if you believed that God has invited you to His presence because He adores you?
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! Psalm 42:5 NLT
I was asked about my miscarriage’s. It felt a bit like being asked about an old scar, one that has faded and become so familiar it feels more like a freckle.
I was in an interview and the host wanted to know what I would say to a woman in a similar situation. I paused for a very long time, reaching back into those memories like one might a trunk in the attic.
I pulled out a single memory like a brightly colored scarf, I held it up to the light and watched the dust drift down. The scene on it was a particular Christmas morning. My mother came when I lost the baby. I cried as she held me and she never said a word until I quieted and she simply said, “Trust Him,”.
I could sense the silence in this interview. I cleared my throat. “Feel the hurt. It is real. Cry the tears. Yell into the pillow. Be sad and mad and confused.”
Then I thought of another memory in my life. A morning curled up under the covers, Bible in my hand, tea next to me. God took me to the third chapter of Genesis where Eve is called the mother of all living. I began to understand in that moment all women are mothers because all women bring life into the world in some way. I started to believe my story might be different than what I imagined–but it could still be good.
“Feel the hop,” I said to the interviewer, “It is real. Embrace the unexpected. Trust the story is still being written. Be curios and strong and brave.”
You may not have walked through miscarriages but if you are alive on this spinning earth then you know what it is to have trouble and heartbreak. You know what it is to be disappointed or discouraged or tired. I think in those moments we tend to choose one of the options above.
We ignore everthing but the hurt.
Or we ignore everything but the hope.
We do this because we’re afraid. We think if we don’t hope then we can’t be disappointed. Or if we don’t hurt the pain can’t overcome us. We might have some mixed-up spiritual ideas–that God doesn’t like certain emotions (even though He created them all) or that pure suffering somehow brings him more glory.
But the reality is hurt and hope are part of every hard experience. “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God!” Psalm 42:5.
Hurt reveals our emotions to us so we can heal. Hope gives us the strength to perserve through that process. The wound slowly transforms. Then one day someone asks us about it and we’re a bit startled because we suddenly realize what once felt like it might kill us has, in fact, taught us something about being fully alive.
We don’t have to be afraid of hurt.
We don’t have to be afraid to hope.
They are both part of what makes us who we are, part of our beauty and strength and scars.
Dear Lord, sometimes choosing to hold onto hope is a painful process. Remind me today that I don’t have to be afraid to hurt or afraid to hope. You are making all things new. You are the God who redeems and restores. I will trust in You as I choose to hope through the hard days.
In jesus’ Powerful Name,
Today, feel the hurt. And then feel the hope. Look back at one or two situations that felt hopeless and remember how God can bring good from even the hardest moments.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
I read the text in horror and disbelief.
How could he be gone? He was the picture of potential. So much going for him. H had been through so many challenges and had come so far. Achieved so many accolades. How could his world have crumbled so low tht taking his life be the answer he turned to?
Shockwaves ripple through the core of my heart. A landslide of sorrow.
All who knew and loved him grieved. In our homes. On social media. In our conversation. In our prayers. In our hearts.
We grieved deep with a pain that stings fierce.
We grieved for his family, for the empty seat at their dinner table and the empty gap in the hearts at home. We grieved for his friends, our children, teammates and our community. We grieve because death hurts.
In the sacred sanctuary of God’s presence, we were reminded that God is the healer of the broken. We were reminded that death is not the end for those that place their faith in Christ. We were reminded to cvherish those we love and to keep our eyes wide open to the needs of those around us.
The pastor painted a canvas of Hope as he spoke. Each word a stroke of truth. A smattering of grace in full and vibrant color. He shared from the Word of God about the Word made flesh: our Hope, Jesus.
And then this… “Our friend did not die of hopelessness, he died of brokenness.”
Oh, my soul.
How does one who is surrounded by community of love feel broken to the point of death? To the point of thinking that suicide is a solution to the pain?
I struggled to breathe as I think back on this tragedy.
I consider the lives I love that are tortured by depression and sigh inwardly.
The weight of it all still sits heavy on my heart.
Inwardly, I speak to the Father. I remember pouring my heart out to the Comforter and sensing His peace in the middle of the grief. The burden remains, but the everyday struggle. When life is fagged and darkness taunts us like a bully, how can we see beyond the despair that grips us?
I don’t have a simple list of answers, but I do know this: when grief runs deep God’s comforting love runs deeper still.
The peace we long for and te rest we are desperate for will always be found in the arms of Jesus. And those arms are constatly reaching out to us.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from the, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29.
This is the invitation Jesus gives to each of us.
If you find yourself in a place of unrest…if you are trying to sift through a landslide of souls sorrow…if you’re carrying a heavy load, will you turn toward Hope and accept His invitation now?
Lord, please help me bring my grief to You. Thank You for being a God of hope and healing. Remind me of the peace and plans you have for me.
In Jesus’ Powerful Name