Unchain Our Hymns!

This is the 26th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

If hymns are important, they are too important to limit to an hour a week on Sunday. If hymns can nurture our personal relationship with God—and they can!—then why not take them beyond our worship services?

Hymns need to spill out of the sanctuary into our daily lives. Hymns can enrich our devotional practice and nourish prayer. Hymns need to go wherever prayer goes.

Paul and Silas had had a difficult day. A good deed got them attacked by an angry crowd, dragged before a magistrate, stripped and beaten and then thrown into prison with their feet in the stocks. So what were they doing at midnight? Moaning in pain? Complaining about injustice? Feeling sorry for themselves? They were praying aloud and singing hymns! No piano or organ. No band. No recordings. Just two believers, sitting in the midst of suffering, darkness, and injustice and singing hymns. Read the whole story in Acts 16:16-40 and find how it all turned out.

A similar story comes to us from the 18th century. Crossing the Atlantic, the ship in which John Wesley was sailing was caught in a storm. Though an Anglican priest, he was terrified, afraid for his life. While having his crisis of faith, he heard a group of German Moravian believers calmly singing their hymns. The experience had such a profound effect on him that it would change his life.

In both cases, hymns were a natural, deeply personal expression of the believers’ faith. They bubbled to the surface in life’s most difficult hour. The hymns gave them a way to mentally and emotionally affirm their confidence in God. They were thus able to face their trials with joy and unshakable peace.

Their hymns also became a life-changing testimony to the unbelievers around them. Note that musical style wasn’t what appealed to the listeners. The stories don’t even mention it. The attraction was the joy and faith of the singers, not the songs themselves.

So don’t leave our hymns locked up at church. Don’t let our hymnals stay nailed to the pew. Up until the last hundred years or so, hymnals were a personal item. The Bible and the hymnal were the believer’s most treasured devotional possessions. Whether or not you use hymnals in your church services, get your own hymnal and keep it with your Bible. That will be the first step toward getting hymns into your heart and into your daily life where they can do the most good.

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