By Abby Geverdt
Is your morning ever ruined at 10 a.m. when you walk into chapel and hear the organ playing?
I totally get it. Sometimes I would rather sing “Your Love Never Fails” than that song about an Ebenezer. We as young people tend to enjoy the current and popular songs, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But lately, what’s become strikingly obvious to me is my generation’s shallow knowledge of hymns. And I’m not just saying that we don’t remember the words (although that’s important).
You can read every book there is, and you can listen to every sermon you can get your hands on, but when it comes to worshipping God, hymns hit the mark. They hold firm, theological truths like no other medium in history ever has (other than the Bible – that’s a biggie).
I know that’s a bold statement. A.W. Tozer, a widely influential 20th century pastor, said, “After the Bible, the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal. Let any young Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he will become a fine theologian.”
When I heard this quote, I decided to try it out. You know, actually read a hymnal like a book.
So I bought one at a thrift store, stationed myself in a local coffee shop and started to read through it. Doing so in a public space was a mistake, in retrospect, because I began to sob my face off. Makeup was useless. I’m sure it was a spectacle.
But, in that moment, I was completely floored. I was reading specifically about the crucifixion, labeled “his passion” at the top of the page. It was so raw and eloquent. What I read was my faith wrapped up in a book of 513 hymns, written by a bunch of men who are two or three centuries old. There was no fluff.
And as I read through several other topics (his love and fatherhood, his abiding presence, his coming glory, to name a few), I became so small in light of the holiness of Christ. Jesus was magnified in that coffee shop. And, guys, that’s what good theology and good worship is supposed to do: it’s supposed to glorify God above all else. That’s the stellar theology aspect of hymns.
There’s also the singing aspect of hymns. St. Augustine of Hippo (yes, Hippo) is credited with saying that “he who sings prays twice.” There’s something about singing that actively involves our hearts in a way that simply reciting a prayer does not achieve.
Don’t get me wrong – God hears both and loves both and acts in response to both. But when we sing, we automatically engage our hearts. When we sing hymns, we’re engaging our hearts with our theology. That, dear people, is some powerful stuff.
So the next time you walk into Hughes Auditorium and the organ is playing, get excited. Dance around. Do a jig. If hymns still feel archaic to you, there are some fantastic bands out there like Page CXVI, Ascend the Hill and Benjamin Dunn that do a lovely job at modernizing our old favorites.
But whatever you do, sing those hymns.