Songs that please God: singing God’s word in contemporary hymns

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

The leader opened the Service with these unusual and insightful words: “Let’s stand for the Word of God, as we sing our opening Hymn: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty’” (SAfm 11am radio service 6.3.2016). I’d never heard it put that way before. The usual phraseology is “Let’s stand and worship God as we sing …”. And the song that is sung is seldom a Hymn.

“Stand for the WORD OF GOD as we sing” expresses God’s heart-desire for our singing. He wants us to “sing the WORD OF CHRIST to each other in all wisdom, using Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”. (Colossians 3:16). He waits to hear us singing the WORD. Sometimes the Word will be Worship, at other times if will be Prayer, or Confession, or Teaching, or Testimony, or Warning, or Encouragement, or Admonition. Among them will be HYMNS, for Hymns provide the best medium for thoroughly expressing the richness of God’s Word.

Last month we listed the names of Contemporary HYMN-writers, together with titles of some of their hymns. “Contemporary” is a description that covers at least three attributes:

1) The LANGUAGE is contemporary. ‘Thee’s and ‘Thou’s are Out, ‘He, She and You’ are In. ‘Hast’s and ‘Doest’s are out. ‘Have and Does’ are in. And what on sea are “billows”?! Today we call them waves, or surf or breakers. “When upon life’s billows thou art tempest-tossed” sounds so ‘Yesterday’ ~ no-one talks like that anymore. They’d rather express it like this: “When the storms of life your worried mind accost”, count your many blessings …

Other archaic hymn-words that should be replaced with contemporary words are:
“boughs” = “branches”; “fair” = “lovely”; “laud” = “praise”; “manifest” = “reveal”; “vouchsafe” = “grant”; “portals” = “gateways”. We seldom read the archaic KJV Bible language anymore, so why preserve it in our Hymns?

2) The SUBJECT-MATTER is contemporary. For example: Many older hymns, praying for Protection, sing of the dangers of shipwreck in sea-travel, very relevant then. Today we need God’s Protection from our relevant dangers such as car-crashes on the roads and crime – especially assault and murder. Aircraft have replaced ships as means of international travel.

Old-fashioned sins of Greed, Lying and Hatred re-surface in our day as Fraud, Corruption, Family-abuse, Oppression, Racism and Xenophobia. The mono-addiction of alcoholism was widened to embrace a wide range of addictions, from Drugs to Technology.

We need more Hymns that use God’s WORD to “teach and admonish” such pressing contemporary issues as Materialism, Gender Issues, Marriage Values, Economic Inequality, Religious Tolerance, HIV/AIDS, Post-Modernism, Uniqueness of Christ, Evolution/Creation, the Work-place, Parenting, Persecution for Faith and holding Moral Standards, Integrity, Music, Ethics.

God speaks into all these areas. Ministers preach on them. It’s time we sang God’s Word into our thinking on each issue that confronts Christians today. Such Hymns can give thorough Biblical direction in our confused world.

3) The MUSIC is contemporary in Style. While the Words will always teach and admonish in harmony with God’s Word, they will be carried by the Musical Style which the current generation appreciates. Each generation has its own musical taste. Each ethnic group has its own style of singing. We sing the age-old Message of ancient Scriptures to the tunes and beats of today’s culture — not to the music popular in David’s day.

Yes, while the LANGUAGE, SUBJECT-MATTER and MUSIC are CONTEMPORARY, these are still HYMNS. (We will examine “Spiritual Songs” in a subsequent series.) Remember that HYMNS always meet these criteria:

1. A Hymn has many verses
2. The verses tend to have a regular rhythm, which is known as the Metre.
3. The verses are all sung to the same tune.
4. A Hymn explores a Theme more thoroughly, and unpacks its meaning more fully.

A Hymn is the best kind of Song for “teaching and admonishing one another”; it’s a great tool for building mature Christians, strong churches. This pleases God no end! (Colossians 3:16). Be sure to sing the great Hymns of yesteryear ~ usually they are rich in God’s Word. But also be progressive, and discover the newer Contemporary Hymns that are just as rich in Scriptural teaching and application. Be ‘masters of the kingdom of heaven by bringing out of God’s treasure what is new and what is old.’ (Matthew 13:52)

Try this: Identify the Contemporary Attributes of ‘Language’ and ‘Subject-Matter’ in these samples of worthy Contemporary Hymns, then identify in them the four Criteria of a ‘Hymn’:

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
by the Spirit and a virgin’s faith,
to the anguish and the shame of scandal
came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
shepherds listen as the angels tell
of the Gift of God come down to man
at the dawning of Immanuel!

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
humble servant in the Father’s hands,
filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again ~
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
loosing sinners from the claims of hell.
And with a shout our souls are free ~
death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing the place of honour,
crowned with glory on the highest throne,
interceding for His own belov-ed
till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds,
hope of heaven or the fear of hell.
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
giving glory to Immanuel!

Stuart Townend © Thankyou Music
Songs of Fellowship 1239 Metre: D

At this table we remember
how and where our faith began:
in the pain of crucifixion
suffered by the Son of Man.

Looking up in adoration
faith is conscious – He is Here!
Christ is present with His people,
His the call that draws us near.

Heart and mind we each examine:
If with honesty we face
all our doubt, our fear and failure,
then we can receive His grace.

Peace we share with one another:
as from face to face we turn
in our brothers and our sisters
Jesus’ body we discern.

Bread and wine are set before us;
as we eat, we look ahead:
we shall dine with Christ in heaven
where the Kingdom feast is spread.
Nourished by the bread of heaven,
faith and strength and courage grow.
So to witness, serve and suffer
out into the world we go.

Martin Leckebusch © 2000 Kevin Mayhew
Songs of Fellowship 1181 Metre:

Our Life is like Monopoly,
amassing ‘stuff’ for all to see,
But when it’s over, Satan mocks
as we put all back in the box.

The game is played to win the most:
the winning player then can boast
of properties, utilities
he owns them all, and he is pleased.

The game is over, close the board;
the richest player cannot hoard
what he has won in this day’s game,
his wealth is just moment’ry gain.

The property, the money-notes,
hotels and houses, wealth he gloats,
all that he’d traded, shares and stocks,
are all put back into the box.

If ‘getting stuff’ is your life-goal,
you get it all, but lose your soul,
is that a profit or a loss,
when you lie empty in your box?

So be content with what you have,
you cannot take it to the grave.
You naked came, you naked go:
Make sure you’ve Jesus in your soul!

Words: Hugh G Wetmore © 2013 Lyrics to Lift your Life 36zc
Luke 12:15; Heb 3:5; 1 Tim 1:6-10; Job 1:21; Phil 4:10-14; Matt 16:26
Metre: 8 8 8 8 LM
Tune: O Waly Waly (‘The Water is Deep’ – English folk-song) CD 3.9

In earth’s new morning fresh from Creation,
filled with all good things that God had made,
He set in motion earth’s population:
and, in so doing, Wisdom displayed.

Climaxing all He’d wisely created,
God crowned the Humans chief of them all.
Now “in His image” authenticated,
they had no sin, yet they could still fall.

God lives in Trinitarian perfection,
Father, Son, Spirit ~ all Three are One.
Humankind showed this Godly reflection
in matching Genders second to none.

See Male and Female bonded together:
Union expressing God’s image here.
Two of one Gender would spoil God’s measure,
distort His image which humans bear.

Jesus endorsed God’s plan at Creation:
“God joins a Man and Woman as One”.
No law or chosen orientation
can overturn God’s purpose begun.

Jesus will welcome repentant sinners,
show His restoring, renewing grace,
loving them through His brothers and sisters,
granting them equal status and place.

Words: Hugh G Wetmore © 2015 Lyrics to Lift your Life 23r
based on Genesis 1:27,28; 2:24; Proverbs 8; Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 6:9-11
Tune: Bunessan (Morning has broken) CD 5.1 13.7

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