God is Near in Song

sing2Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years.  In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir.   We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.

Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night  many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program  on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.

As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence.  I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.

For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.

Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most.  They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human.  Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.

I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby,  reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.”  No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.

~ Fanny J. Crosby

I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan!  When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.

Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

Refrain

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

Refrain

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

Refrain

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.

This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”

The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free.  See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.

I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!

 

 

One thought on “God is Near in Song

  1. Judi Hayes says:

    Ingrid, I truly appreciated this post. Came upon it late, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it.–And I’m glad that you took the time to write it! I have many of the same hymns in my childhood history as you, with your Scandinavian background. My dad’s background is German, but he always loved the Scandinavian hymns that were a part of my mom’s background.And we grew up in a church that was largely Scandinavian. I also enjoy when you share the great Lutheran hymns which are not a part of my heritage. The great old hymns that have stood the test of time and are part of our Christian heritage have brought me great comfort and encouragement through the years also.

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