Posts Tagged ‘Christian worship’

The word story is a key word to understanding the post modernist generation.  Earlier generations had other words. I think the word for my generation was journey; everybody was on a journey and everything was a journey.

But journeys have given way to stories now.  Now everyone has their own story and life is a narrative. Your witness is your story; your upbringing is your story; your history is your story. Preaching has moved from exegesis or exhortation to story telling.

The King James Bible (1611) uses the word story only in two obscure passages in 2 Chronicles. The American Standard Version (1901) never uses the word story  in this way, but The Message ( 2002) uses the word story  161 times! 

Hymns are a place where the generations meet around the word story, not necessarily in the great anthems, but in some of the more populist hymns of the 19th century.  Here are some that you will probably recognize

Tell Me the Old, Old Story (1866) with lyrics by Katherine Hankey.

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 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.

Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”


Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

Interestingly enough, she also wrote the words to I Love To Tell the Story.  “I love to tell the story of unseen things above . . . .pretty post modern—except for the word above!

Then there is Tell Me The Story of Jesus, written by Fanny Crosby around 1880:

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard

But one of my favorite hymns from my childhood which still occasionally surfaces is the rousing, almost dramatic  O Listen To Our Wondrous Story, sometimes titled What Did He Do?.  The words were written by James Gray around 1903, but, in this instance, the marriage of the words with the music by William Owen, a worker in the slate quarries of Wales in the mid-1800s, was what really made the hymn work.

I especially loved the antiphonal chorus, where the women sing, “Who saved us from eternal loss?” and before they even finish the question, the men are responding with the certain answer, “Who but the Son upon the Cross!”   As we most often sang it, the first questions were sung softly, with each succeeding question and answer a little louder, until the final triumphant response was full volume.

The final verse makes the question of story very personal: Will you surrender to the Savior, to his scepter humbly bow?   So journey and story meet in the certainty of Jesus and His Cross and the necessary response that it requires from me!

I love this song still:

O listen to our wondrous story,
Counted once among the lost;
Yet One came down from Heaven’s glory,
Saving us at awful cost!

No angel could His place have taken,
Highest of the high though he;
The loved One on the cross forsaken,
Was One of the Godhead three!

And yet this wondrous tale proceedeth,
Stirring heart and tongue aflame!
As our High Priest in Heav’n He pleadeth,
And Christ Jesus is His Name!

Will you surrender to this Savior?
To His scepter humbly bow?
You, too, shall come to know His favor,
He will save you, save you now.


Who saved us from eternal loss?
Who but God’s Son upon the cross?
What did He do?
He died for you!
Where is He now?
In heaven interceding!

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One of the sweet traditions that has all but disappeared in the last twenty years in many of our churches is the singing of morning and evening hymns.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably worship in a little more contemporary church with no Sunday night service.

This is not a doctrinal issue or a matter of salvation, but it feels a little like it must have felt to give up eating food you grew in your own garden, or playing checkers with your friends at the courthouse, or watching Gunsmoke every Sunday night after church.  Some traditions were just sweet.

Here are some of my favorite morning hymns:

  1. Early My God Without Delay I Haste To See Thy Face
  2. In the Hush of Early Morning
  3. Again the Lord of Light and Life Awakes the Kindling Ray
  4. Awake and Sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb
  5. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Early in the Morning Our Songs Shall Rise to Thee

Of course, these specifically morning hymns blend with the great songs of praise that were opening calls to worship, mostly for morning worship:

  1. O Worship the King
  2. Come Thou Almighty King
  3. Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
  4. All Creatures of Our God and King
  5. Come Ye That Love the Lord
  6. All Things Praise Thee  (also, For The Beauty of the Earth)
  7. Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow

But nothing compares to evening hymns, the ones we not only sang at church but at retreats—and summer camp.  Every night at camp we would go to a different spot after dark, look up at the stars that none of us city kids could ever see, and sing one of these songs

  1. Abide With Me Fast Falls the Eventide
  2. Now the Day is Over (great tenor and bass parts)
  3. Softly Now the Light of Day
  4. Be With Me, Lord
  5. Savior, Breathe An Evening Blessing –  my very favorite!

James Edmeston wrote this last hymn sometime around 1820. There is a story told that during the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1898 and 1901, which was an uprising to root out imperialism and Christianity and when many thousands of Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries had been massacred, this hymn was sung as missionaries huddled together at night, worshipping God, but wondering if they would be alive in the morning.

Threatened with imminent death, the last verse must have taken great courage and faith to sing:

Should swift death this night o’er take us and our couch become our tomb . . . .

Here are all the lyrics:

Savior, breathe an evening blessing
Ere repose our spirits seal;
Sin and want we come confessing:
Thou canst save, and Thou canst heal.

Though destruction walk around us,
Though the arrow past us fly,
Angel guards from Thee surround us;
We are safe if Thou art nigh.

Though the night be dark and dreary,
Darkness cannot hide from Thee;
Thou art He who, never weary,
Watchest where Thy people be.

Should swift death this night o’ertake us,
And our couch become our tomb,
May the morn in heaven awake us,
Clad in light and deathless bloom

Of course, morning and evening hymns can still be sung suggesting symbolically the beginning and ending of life, so even without Sunday night services, I hope modern writers will draw on two of God’s most beautiful metaphors.

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