I love hymns. I really do. I’ve been singing them my whole life. We have an old cassette tape of my sister Amy and me singing “God Is So Good” when we were preschoolers. My little sister Hannah sang “Jesus Loves Me” on stage at church as a toddler (and received a dollar for it if I remember correctly).
Hymns have been a very present part of our family from the beginning. They are familiar, they are comforting, and they are truth-telling. I love hymns.
There was a time in my teenage years when I thought hymns were boring and hymnals weren’t cool. Like most teenagers involved in a church youth-group, I preferred singing worship choruses in a “hands-free” style. I tried persuading my music-minister dad that we should sing more modern songs and forget about the old stuff. I didn’t get very far, which was very frustrating to me at the time. I remember thinking to myself that people my age were never going to come to church if they didn’t like the music.
There are so many different types of music that people in the church like, because there are many different types of people. One genre is not better than the other. Yes, there are types of music that I like better than others. There are certain songs that make my face light up when the first notes begin on a Sunday morning or night. And yes, there are songs that are not my favorites.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t go to church for the music. I don’t go because the preaching is uplifting and entertaining and life-changing (although our preacher is awesome and does deliver those types of messages).
I go to church to serve. To obey, which is the heart of worship. God convicted me of this truth several years ago, when I felt like complaining about this song or that one. It’s not about the song I’m singing, it’s about the One I’m singing to.
Which brought me to my love of hymns and hymnals. I realized some time ago that hymns and hymnals were a very big part of my home church, and they were not going away. I started examining the hymns closely, realizing I had hidden many of the words away in my heart. I realized that snippets would come back to me several times a day in different situations, offering solutions and comfort and joy. I began to notice how my church family sounded when they sang certain hymns. Sometimes when I’m in the pew and we’re all singing I’ll stop and listen and just be completely blessed by the sound of hundreds of voices singing as one, to the One who gave the words in the first place. The voices rise together and fall together, like the ebb and flow of the ocean. It’s simply beautiful.
Last year, when I resolved to play the piano every day, I didn’t know what to start with. I play mostly by ear, so I had no sheet music. That first day, I sat down in a silent dining room (I know–my house, silent–MIRACLE!) and just stared at the keys.
Lord? My heart questioned. And He answered with a song…
I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.
So I started playing and singing along. The next day, He answered with another song…
There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin can not molest, near to the heart of God.
And the next day…
Are you weary, are you heavy hearted? Tell it to Jesus. Tell it to Jesus. Are you grieving over joys departed? Tell it to Jesus alone.
He provided a song daily. And it was always a hymn. I think hymns were the first thing on my heart because they were the soundtrack to my upbringing. I started looking for hymnals and collecting different volumes. I mean, have you ever just sat down and read the words to a hymn? Really read them, instead of brushing them off as too old-fashioned or irrelevant to today’s world?
I read one hymn a day. I read the words and study them, and yes, sometimes I have to look up words that are huge and missing from my kindergarten teacher vocabulary. But they are awe-inspiring. Every syllable counts. The author’s use of even the smallest words like a and the are intentional and meaningful.
And I love using a hymnal. My kids love using hymnals. They like to find the hymn numbers and read along, and I see them singing those words and stand in amazement to think they are singing the same words that were sung and written by our church’s history makers. I’ve learned to read music notes and timing (that I should have learned in my years and years of piano lessons) by using a hymnal every Sunday and reading from the hymnal daily. When congregations use hymnals, each singer gets to own his or her part in the singing. They get to hold a piece of history in their hands, and be inspired to be a major part of the future church’s history.
Hymns don’t have to be old, either. My favorite modern day hymn writers happen to be Keith and Kristyn Getty, writers of “In Christ Alone”, which is one of my all-time favorite songs (it just happens to be a modern-day hymn, too!).
I’m in no way saying that it’s bad to sing worship choruses. I love worship choruses, too. They evoke powerful emotions in my soul when I hear and sing them. However, hymns can do that, too. For that matter, a good ole’ toe-tappin bluegrass number can do the same; or even a rock song or a gospel number. It depends on the heart of the listener. The heart has to be ready to worship and obey no matter the song, no matter what the air conditioner is set on, no matter if the church is using screens or hymnbooks. When I realized this several years ago, the Lord taught me a valuable lesson about worship and gave me a love of the old hymns of the church that will stay with me forever. In fact, it’s been there since my beginnings!
Here is an old hymn written in 1866 by A. Katherine Hankey. The words convey a timeless message. It’s sung by my dad, Tim Muncher, who has faithfully led the singing of hymns in the local church for most of his adult life.
Tell Me The Old, Old Story A. Katherine Hankey, Public Domain (1866)
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.
Tell me the old, old story. Tell me the old, old story. Tell me the old, old story! Of Jesus and His love!
Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.