Must I Tithe 10% of My Net or Gross Income?
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Must I Tithe 10% of My Net or Gross Income?

10 Songs to Sing as a Family

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Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris has been happily married to her husband, Sean, for 12 years and is a mother to four crazy, hilarious, and adorable children. She graduated from Grove City College with a degree in music. She and her family live in Oak Ridge, TN where her husband is a pastor in the PCA. In between homeschooling duties, toddlers, and babies, Sarah enjoys writing, cooking, podcasting, napping, and making fun of her ridiculously pathetic dog.

Why Do Christians Sing?

It’s not a question we consider frequently enough. My five-year-old scrunched up his face as if I’d asked him the most preposterous question imaginable and retorted, “Because we do, Mom!” I laughed, but Gabe was onto something beyond what he could express. Benjamin, who is seven, barely looked up from his Legos and nonchalantly stated, “It’s good for us to praise God, so we should sing.” Out of the mouth of babes; little minds can often handle big ideas more simply than adults.

It’s not a question we consider frequently enough. My five-year-old scrunched up his face as if I’d asked him the most preposterous question imaginable and retorted, “Because we do, Mom!” I laughed, but Gabe was onto something beyond what he could express. Benjamin, who is seven, barely looked up from his Legos and nonchalantly stated, “It’s good for us to praise God, so we should sing.” Out of the mouth of babes; little minds can often handle big ideas more simply than adults.

So why should Christians sing? What’s the point? Is it even necessary? The first, obvious answer is because the Bible commands us to. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16, ESV)[1] And again, in Ephesians, Paul directs the congregation to “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 5:18b–20)

But as any parent can tell you, the “because I said so” approach never really spurs our children onto great and glorious acts of obedience. The Lord also knows this about his children, and he is such a good and patient Father to us. He knows our obedience is fickle and our hearts are brittle and resentful, so instead of bleak and sterile marching orders, he provides us with a vast many reasons to sing. God doesn’t just command our affections, he spurs us onto obedience through the work of the Holy Spirit to stir our fallen affections towards him. Not only does he help us to obey his statutes, but he enables us to delight in our obedience. If that doesn’t make you want to sing, I don’t know what will!

Secondly, Christians should sing because God’s people have always responded with songs of praise whenever there has been a significant salvific event in the history of God’s people. God saves, and his people rejoice in thankfulness and adoration through song. This is a biblical-theological pattern we see all throughout scripture. The Lord delivers the Israelites from the Egyptians, and Moses, along with the whole nation of Israel, sings in response (Exodus 15). Deborah and Barak rejoice and sing after the defeat of Sisera (Judges 5). Hannah sings with thankfulness for the gift of Samuel (1 Samuel 2), David breaks into song after the Lord delivers him from Saul (2 Samuel 22), Mary sings with sweet joy after Gabriel’s tidings (Luke 1:46-55), and the whole heavenly host trumpets into mighty song after the message of the birth of Christ is proclaimed to the shepherds (Luke 2:13-14). How much more should God’s people rejoice in song because of our salvation through Jesus! No other deliverance in the history of God’s people compares to Jesus’s dying work on the cross, and so the church has reason to sing like never before. “Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!”[2] Samuel Bolton wisely observed, “The lack of mercy sends us to prayer; the enjoyment of mercy sends us to praises.”[3] What great mercy we have received; revel in song!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Ps. 100:1–5)

Thirdly, notice the command Paul gives us in the prequel to his instruction to sing: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Music is a wonderful pneumonic device; we all know that words put to a simple and singable tune are easy to recall. Our songs should be full to bursting with scripture. When I glance through my hymnal, I see verses that are paraphrases of scripture, summaries of biblical doctrines, and poetic phrasings of God’s promises. Setting these to beautiful and accessible tunes helps us to recall them with ease. For example, I remember one of many, many nights pacing up and down the hallway with my baby girl who would not sleep. Physically and mentally exhausted, I started singing a soft lullaby to soothe Ellie. The only words that would come to my weary mind were, “The Lord is good, his praise proclaim; since it is pleasant, praise his name.”[4] I sang this over and over again until she mercifully drifted off to sleep, and as I laid her in her crib, I thought, The Lord is good, and it is pleasant to praise his name, even at 3am. Those lyrics which were cemented in my head enabled me to worship, to give thanks, to rest in my Savior during an otherwise stressful moment when I would not have been inclined to do anything other than curl up in a ball and cry. Nathaniel Holmes once beautifully remarked, “Singing is making, in a special manner, man's tongue to be God's glory.”[5]

Finally, think back to what both of those verses in Colossians and Ephesians have in common: thankfulness! And complete and utter thankfulness is always the mood we’re in on Sunday mornings, right? Ha! If you’re at all like me, you’ve got a million things rushing through your brain: let the dog out, put up the trash can, the baby blew out her diaper, Dad’s shirt isn’t ironed, grab the casserole for church lunch, child needs to pee again, turn off the coffee pot, child just busted his brother’s lip, clean blood off the carpet, and where did the toddler hide my other shoe? By the time I get to church I’m somewhere between frazzled and murderous. The sheer act of singing, even before we consider lyrics, is a physical exercise which radically alters the state of our minds. Some days singing comes easily, and some days I have to will myself to join the congregation’s voices, but there is something inherent in the act of raising our voices in song which stills our minds and begs us to consider greater things than ourselves. Listen to St. Augustine’s recollections of congregational singing:

During those days I found an insatiable and amazing delight in considering the profundity of your purpose for the salvation of the human race. How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the sweet chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience.[6]

Part of teaching and admonishing each other in song is reminding each other of the great truths we have in Christ. Our Heavenly Father knows that our hearts are often more like that of stone than of flesh, and his commands to us to sing are for our eternal good. The music of the saints sustains our minds with truth, our hearts with thankfulness, our strength with that of Christ’s, and our souls with everlasting treasures. Jonathan Edwards noticed this phenomenon as well:

And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.[7]

So sing. Raise a joyful noise to your Creator. Make melody with one another. Let the words of life dwell in you richly. Do not neglect such a great salvation, but rejoice! And rejoice with your brothers and sisters so that all the church is spurred on to extraordinary thankfulness. Don’t sing your heart out, sing your heart full.

[1] All Scripture quotations are in the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

[2] Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), 1990.

[3] Samuel Bolton, The Wonderful Workings of God for His Church and People, (Crossville, TN: Puritan Publications, 2022), 13.

[4] “Exalt The Lord, His Praise Proclaim,” paraphrase of Psalm 135, Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), 1990.

[5] Nathaniel Holmes, Gospel Music or the Singing of David’s Psalms, (Crossville, TN: Puritan Publications, 2012), 27.

[6] Saint Augustine, Confessions, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 164.

[7] Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, (Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada: Devoted Publishing, 2019), 23.

Psalm 1

That man is blest who, fearing God,
from sin restrains his feet,
who will not stand with wicked men,
who shuns the scorners’ seat.

That man is nourished like a tree

set by the river’s side;
its leaf is green, its fruit is sure,
and thus his works abide.

The Lord will guard the righteous well,
their way to him is known;
the way of sinners, far from God,
shall surely be o’erthrown.

Yea, blest is he who makes God’s law
his portion and delight,
and meditates upon that law
with gladness day and night.

The wicked, like the driven chaff,
are swept from off the land;
they shall not gather with the just,
nor in the judgment stand.

“I just want my kid to fit in.” How many times have you heard this sentiment from a parent? Maybe you’ve even said something like this before. I think most of us moms and dads want our children to make friends. Some of us dearly hope our child isn’t ostracized by his peers, or heaven forbid, gets labeled “weird” by her class. But in today’s society, what’s “weird” may not be a bad thing. We live in a world where sin seems normal, and holiness is most definitely weird. What was once deemed unthinkable, even 50 years ago, is now glorified. Tolerance does not simply mean tolerance anymore; it means unquestioning celebration. Our children are growing up in a world that has lost its mind. And if our children are professing believers, the world they live in already hates them. As much as we parents feel the mocking jeers from our culture for raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, our children are going to experience society’s repulsion in a way that we never have. How are we to prepare them for this? Are they ready to exponentially not fit in?

One of my boys’ favorite songs is this paraphrase of Psalm 1. They memorized this psalm at the tender ages of four and six, but being able to sing it with their church family always excites them; they usually look up at me and grin as if to say, “I know this one!” Some of the language is a bit lofty for elementary ages, so parents, go verse by verse in simplified explanation as they learn the words. Some concepts will be lost on them, but that’s ok. How many things do we teach our children to do before they understand exactly why they’re doing it? Children memorize scripture with astonishing ease, so fill their little heads with the everlasting words of life now. These seeds, which will have been deeply rooted in their minds since youth, will later begin to sprout fruit in their hearts as they age and mull over these truths in greater understanding. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)

When you open up the Bible to Psalms, know that these 150 compositions are arranged deliberately. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the front of the book because they summarize the main themes of the entire Psalter. Psalm 1 gives us instructions regarding how to live as God’s child, and it shows us how delighting in God’s law is precisely what the blessed life looks like. And then Psalm 2 is about God’s Messiah. The nations may rage and wickedness abound, but it’s all in vain, for the Redeemer is coming, and he shall reign victorious for ever and ever. You can see why, especially Psalm 1, is so vital to us as families living and rearing children in a wicked age. Looking at the first verse, the psalmist begins by telling us what the blessed man is not. “That man is blest who, fearing God, from sin restrains his feet, who will not stand with wicked men, who shuns the scorners’ seat.” This man of God does not walk in the company of the unrighteous. He is not intrigued by what they have to offer. He does not take delight in their companionship. Notice the progression of what merely flirting with sin will do to you: at first you tag along, observing from the outskirts, until you have been drawn in and are standing in solidarity with the wicked. And if that is not enough, you join in the mocking, the scoffing, the cynical scorn of righteousness that this fallen world takes such pleasure in. It brings to mind our modern-day sagas of once former Christians going through the “deconstruction” of their faith; how they slowly, bit by bit, discard all truth for a few fleeting pleasures, for the praise of men, how they now boast in their new-found enlightenment and savagely eviscerate the “backwards” Christian homes and churches they were brought up in. The blessed man understands how dangerous sin can be, and he stays far from it.

“Yea, blest is he who makes God’s law his portion and delight, who meditates upon that law with gladness day and night.” Now having been warned about what the blessed man is not, we are told what he is. The use of the Hebrew word, Torah, is an Old Testament way of saying all the Word of God and all the ways of God. The blessed man is not infatuated with mere rules; his affections have been captured by the whole counsel of God. And this is not an infrequent exercise which he partakes in; he meditates upon the word of the Lord day and night. The law of God comes to this man’s mind as easily as breathing comes to his chest. Parents: do you love God’s law? Do you find joy in his promises? Are the words of the Lord sweet to your taste? True, godly affection does not come naturally. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Relationships flourish when appropriate time and energy are lavished upon them. Spend time, unallocated leisure time even, in God’s word. Practice delighting in it until you do. This is not clinical, this is practical. Model for your children what time truly well-spent looks like.

Verse three is my favorite. “That man is nourished like a tree set by the river’s side; its leaf is green, its fruit is sure, and thus his works abide.” When I consider my children, the three running around my house in joyful chaos and the one kicking the living daylights out of me from within—my sweet little olive shoots­—this is what I desire for them. Read the verse that these lyrics are paraphrasing: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Ps. 1:3) This is what my soul craves for my children: that they would be firmly planted, exceptionally nourished, that their lives would yield much spiritual fruit, that their faith and joy would not wither, and that they would prosper. And prosper not in the way that the world would consider prosperous, but what the psalmist means by prosper; that in all they do they would spiritually flourish. The righteous will always prosper over the wicked, even when everything seems to say otherwise. The fourth verse of this psalm reminds us of this.

“The wicked, like the driven chaff, are swept from off the land; they will not gather with the just, nor in the judgement stand.” The wicked will eventually be swept away, but the righteous will eternally prosper. Eighty years of “prosperity” on this earth pales in comparison to an everlasting treasure that is laid up in heaven for the sons and daughters of God. It is an irrevocable inheritance. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–3).

“The Lord will guard the righteous well, their way to him is known.” Moms and dads, if you’re ever at a loss as to how to pray for your children, pray that they would grow in righteousness, and that the Lord would guard them well. Right after my children were born, my husband cradled their soft, wriggly little bodies in his arms and sang this psalm over them. Amidst the chaotic sounds of hospital monitors and scurrying nurses, he brought something sacred into that mess of a delivery room. The first few minutes of their little lives were spent listening to their daddy softly singing these marvelous promises of our Lord.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deut. 6:6–9)

Let us pray that our children would know, hunger, and thirst for the Lord, for the Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice.

We should not compare our children to their peers or even to other Christians. We should instead teach our children to compare themselves to the blessed man of Psalm 1. This psalm points us to the only sinless, Blessed Man who kept all of these statutes perfectly. What better instructions for living the Christian life are there than those which call us to imitate Jesus? Who cares if the world thinks you’re weird? Who cares if our kids don’t exactly fit in with the popular crowd? The world rejected our Savior, and the world will reject us and our children as well. But this is not a cause for despair, for our joy is not rooted here, but in the everlasting words of life. “Yea, blest is he who makes God’s law his portion and delight.”

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A Debtor to Mercy Alone

A debtor to mercy alone,
of covenant mercy I sing;
nor fear, with your righteousness on,
my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
with me can have nothing to do;
my Savior’s obedience and blood
hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began,
the arm of his strength will complete;
his promise is yea and amen,
and never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
nor all things below or above,
can make him his purpose forgo,
or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands
eternity will not erase;
impressed on his heart it remains,
in marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
as sure as the earnest is giv’n;
more happy, but not more secure,
the glorified spirits in heav’n.

As a child, I was absolutely terrified of going to hell. I grew up in the rural South, in churches with laudable enthusiasm for Christian service and evangelism, but not much attention to detail when it came to precise theology. Salvation was always a bit uncertain. Getting “saved” meant saying a prayer, walking the aisle, or simply attending Mama’s church. I knew adults who believed you could lose your salvation, and others who believed you had to be “rededicated” every so often to appease our Creator. I knew I needed to “ask Jesus into my heart,” but I didn’t know if he was going to stay there. My salvation was completely up to me; my choice, my decision, they all said. And it terrified me. What if I made a mistake? What if I got something wrong? What if the adults around me were mistaken? Had I lost my salvation at any point? Would I even know if I had? My little heart cried out many nights, “Lord, what must I do to be saved?!”

How many of us still share these fears? As adults, we silently brush unwelcome thoughts to the side and distract ourselves with the next activity or responsibility. But if we’re honest, how many anxious nights have some of us spent contemplating eternity? So many Christians have wrestled with their assurance of salvation through the ages; you are not alone. Moms and Dads, the above hymn is a treasure trove of assurance for you and your family. Its words display the beautiful reality of the perseverance of the saints. Oh, how I weep when I sing this hymn! It is so precious to me that I can’t even read its verses without tears; it is balm to my timid soul. Admittedly, the vocabulary found amongst these stanzas might reach above the understanding of small children, but its words will not be lost on your teenagers’ minds and hearts. Besides a careful explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I cannot think of a greater gift to give your children than to point them to the Bible to assure their tender hearts of the unchanging nature of their salvation.

The man who wrote “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” also penned the famous hymn, “Rock of Ages.” Augustus Montague Toplady was converted at the age of 16 while on a trip to Ireland during a church service held in a barn and led by an illiterate preacher. Toplady later remarked, “Strange that I, who had so long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought nigh unto God in an obscure part of Ireland, amidst a handful of God’s people met together in a barn, and under the ministry of one who could hardly spell his name. Surely this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous.” The tune this hymn is traditionally set to is a hauntingly beautiful Welsh tune by the name of “Trewen.” There have been other more recent tunes composed for this hymn, but none even come close to the perfection with which this particular tune captures the weight of these verses. It is minor in nature, but neither dreary nor despondent. The gravity of its text is impressed upon the singer’s heart, and the music echoes the steady, determined cries of a believer whose faith is unwavering and whose God is trustworthy. “The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete.” Oh Christian, your God keeps his promises!

“A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear, with your righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
“Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above, can make him his purpose forgo, or sever my soul from his love.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).
“My Savior’s obedience and love, hide all my transgressions from view.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1–2).

Faith is clinging with shaking hands to “his promise is yea and Amen.” Faith is the weak whisper of a dying man, “the terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do.” Faith is the joyful marveling of an aged saint, “my name from the palms of his hand, eternity will not erase.” Faith is the strangled and desperate cry of a repentant sinner, “I to the end shall endure!”

At a small reformed church in college, my understanding of God as a capricious, angry dispenser of judgement was transformed. I understood what saving grace was for the first time, that my sins were covered to the fullest by a perfect sacrifice which could never be undone, and that my salvation was kept by Jesus, my great high priest. I had nothing to offer, nothing to bring to the heavenly table, and oh, what a blessed relief it was! The terrors of hell could no longer plague me; I marveled at my Father’s pure and unmitigated mercy, and his vast, unexplainable love for his people, of which I was finally assured I was one. And I wept in that little church pew and soaked the hideous aquamarine carpet beneath me. “More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.”

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How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place

How sweet and awesome is the place
with Christ within the doors,
while everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

“Why was I made to hear your voice,
and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?”

Pity the nations, O our God,
constrain the earth to come;
send your victorious Word abroad,

and bring the strangers home.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
each of us cries, with thankful tongue,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

We long to see your churches full,
that all the chosen race
may, with one voice and heart and soul,
sing your redeeming grace.

Do you love the Church? Is the fellowship of believers a greatly cherished reality in your life? Immediately, some of you will nod your heads enthusiastically in agreement, and some of you will feel a bit sheepish and more than a little guilty that you don’t seem to possess the love for God’s people that you think every other good Christian does. And then there’s the last group, who read those two questions with a snort of sarcastic laughter and thought, Okay lady, just stop with your sanctimonious guilt trip. Churches are full of difficult people and trainwrecks of relationships. No, I don’t love the church! I do my best to endure it. I’ve been burned one too many times; they’re all a bunch of hypocrites.

Sound familiar? Guess what? The church is full of people who say they believe one thing and occasionally do the opposite. It’s called being human. Medical centers are full of sick people, gyms give out memberships to overweight patrons, and financial counselors have dockets of clients in dire financial straits. The church is full of sinners in varying stages of sanctification with baggage of all kinds, mental instabilities, taxing personalities, and honestly some of the most socially daft and awkward people I’ve ever met. It’s ok, you can laugh; sometimes laughing is all you can do.

So how do you cultivate love for the dysfunctional family that is God’s people? It doesn’t happen overnight, or over a few months, but slowly, painstakingly, laboriously; over years and years of serving, forgiving, pulling your hair out, grieving and rejoicing, through periods of peace and strife, hilarity and misery, love for the brethren will begin to grow. God commands us not to forsake the fellowship of believers, and not because they are this amazing group of people, but because the fellowship of believers serves, worships, and seeks to glorify the same amazing God. We are to love our brethren because the Father loves them, Christ died for them, and the Holy Spirit resides within them. We were not created to worship alone, but with other saints. God designed us to need each other, and so he commands us to love each other. I hope this hymn will help you and your family to love the church and cherish her as much as it has helped me.

Isaac Watts (1674–1748) penned the text to this lovely hymn, although his initial title read: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place.” Aweful, meaning full of awe, was eventually modernized to “Awesome,” and although part of me actually prefers the old text, modern singers might raise an eyebrow or two at the original vocabulary. Because of the meter, this hymn can be sung to a number of different tunes, but my personal favorite, and the one I believe best suits its text, is an old Irish melody by the name of “St. Columba.” Folk melodies are usually very simple to learn, a delight to sing, and thus are easily impressed upon the memory. Our hymnbooks use a rather recent (1990) arrangement of “St. Columba” as a setting for this hymn; it is a wonderful example of how modern music can be written and skillfully arranged in such a timeless fashion as to helpfully accommodate the needs of congregational singing.

“How sweet and awesome is the place with Christ within the doors.” This could be a church, a Christian home, a family of believers: anywhere that the body of Christ resides. We all know those believers, who, upon leaving their company, we are spiritually refreshed and greatly edified; they are like a breath of fresh air to our sometimes-stale faith. These words are reminding us of the splendor of communion with Christ, whether that takes place during corporate worship or among the fellowship of the saints. “That is the beauty of Christian fellowship, not the communication of their gifts, but the virtue of the Christ on their spirits. If there is anything alluring in this world, it is the virtue of Christ seen in his people.”

“While everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores.” It is so important for us as the Lord’s children to recognize what a wonderful, benevolent Father we have. We have been given so much and our response is often to ignore the bounty of our eternal riches and to instead fixate on the few trinkets that we don’t possess. The phrase, “the choices of her stores,” asks us to envision a vast market square or an enormous banquet hall, with table upon table of the finest, choicest offerings. The Lord’s love for his children is lavish! I love this observation from Derek Thomas: “It is a prevailing tendency of the devil to make us think that God’s love is…miserly, stingy, that God loves reluctantly, and that when He loves His arm is twisted behind His back and that love is given not in its fullest extent.” Far from it dear Christian! It is an opulent, costly, elaborate, and marvelously splendid love.

We are overwhelmed by this feast; we are dumbfounded by its plenty. Our hearts are filled to bursting, and burst forth we do in thankful song. But as we marvel at our great fortune, there is a gut-wrenching question which begs asking: “Lord, why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear your voice and enter while there’s room, while thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come?” I can never make it all the way through those words without losing my voice, ending in a grateful, choked-up whisper. This is the basic doctrine of election right here, but presented in such a way as to deeply affect the hardest of hearts. Even the smallest of children will understand the tragedy of choosing to starve instead of partaking of the choicest, freely-offered sweets imaginable.

“‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in.” Not only did God in his love lay out such lavish delicacies for us, but he also had to invite us, make us willing to come eat, “else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.” In the famous words of Jonathan Edwards, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of
works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 1:4–5, 8–9)

“Pity the nations, O our God, constrain the earth to come; send your victorious word abroad and bring the strangers home.” Our response to the abundancy of riches God has lavished on us should be the kind of thankfulness that longs for God to be gracious to countless others. May God raise up many faithful ministers of the Gospel, may many churches be planted, and may every tribe, tongue, and nation be compelled to come. O Father, bring the strangers home so that we may rejoice alongside the angels in heaven.

“We long to see your churches full that all the chosen race may, with one voice and heart and soul, sing your redeeming grace.” There’s something magnificent, other-worldly almost, about singing this last verse, acapella, with a full-to-bursting congregation. Our church tends to get louder the longer they sing, so that by the end of this hymn we are nearly shaking the rafters of our building. It is spectacular! We are afforded a tiny glimpse into what awaits us in eternity; singing with the great multitude of saints, our cups overflowing, without tiring and never ceasing. This is why I love the church—not because its people are perfect, or because all my felt needs are met, or because I’ve never been deeply wounded by the sheep —but because these are the children my Father loves, ransoms, redeems, and in his wise and glorious providence, are the saints he has chosen for me to spend the rest of eternity alongside.

Do not persist in your resentment of the church, in haughty cynicism and fermented bitterness, belligerently clinging to your every grievance against her. Remember that Christ died for the church; what have you done? Have you been even a fraction as forgiving towards your brethren as Jesus has been with you? “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1–3) And so is theirs. Loving the church is not an emotional command. God is not saying that the entire congregation should be best friends, that you should have endless feelings of fluffy bunnies and unicorns towards her people, or even that you have to like everyone all the time. Love is an action, not a feeling.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
(1 Cor. 13:4–8)

God’s love is a gift that has been unduly lavished upon us. Let us therefore be imitators of Christ and strive to cherish all those whom he cherished, and for whom he died.

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My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

My God, my God,
O why have you forsaken me?
O why are you so far from giving help
and from my groaning cry?
By day and night, my God, I call;
your answer still delays.
And yet you are the Holy One
who dwells in Israel’s praise.

All those who look at me will laugh
and cast reproach at me.
Their mouths they open wide;
they wag their heads in mockery:
“The Lord was his reliance once;
now see what God will send.
Yes, let God rise and set him free,
this man that was his friend.”

Our fathers put their trust in you;
from you their rescue came.
They begged you and you set them free;
they were not put to shame.
But as for me, I am a worm
and not a man at all.
To men I am despised and base;
their scornings on me fall.

You took me from my mother’s womb
to safety at the breast.
Since birth when I was cast on you,
in you, my God, I rest.
When I proclaim my praise of you,
then all the church will hear,
and I will pay my vows in full
where men hold him in fear.

On the morning of Monday, March 27, 2023, I felt the soft kicks of my little baby boy for the first time during my pregnancy. It wasn’t until later in the day that I learned of what had transpired less than three hours away in Nashville. In the same moments that I was feeling the sweet, fluttering evidences of new life growing within my womb, three other mothers were learning that their young children had been cruelly taken from this world in a school shooting. I sunk down on my kitchen floor and wept as this sobering realization struck me, grieving the horrifying reality that these families were currently enduring. No matter how old we get, how mature we become in our faith, I believe there are always circumstances that cause us to beg, Why, O Lord? Less than two weeks away from Easter, the words to Psalm 22 were fresh on my mind, and I whispered them in prayer because my own words would not form. O, how often do the Psalms provide language for the wretched soul!

As parents, one of the most important truths we will ever teach our children is that the Lord is always good, no exceptions. At some point, every child asks their mom and dad, “How can God be good when he lets so many bad things happen?” We can explain that when sin entered this world through Adam, it left nothing untouched in its wake. We can teach our children to realize that we often have too tame a view of sin, and that it is pernicious, violent, insatiable, and evil beyond what our frail minds can comprehend. Acknowledging these realities gives us a biblical lens by which to view this fallen world, and maybe we can muddle through an answer to our children by telling them that creation is fallen, and that sin has entered the world and made everything terrible. But there’s a question behind our child’s rather simple query that disquiets our souls. And it’s not so much why God allows bad things to happen, but why he sees fit for us to suffer, sometimes grievously, when they do. If that weren’t enough, he also asks us to be joyful in the midst of our suffering. How can this be, Lord? It is too much! How are we supposed to endure? Our Father has not asked anything of his children for that which he has not already provided instruction and encouragement.

This song is a paraphrase of Psalm 22. There are many other verses to this psalm than just the four listed above. Some psalters include renderings of the entire psalm. I have always sung this psalm to the tune, “Kingsfold,” but other suitable renditions exist. Though David authored these verses, they were ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. This is the psalm of Calvary, the agonizing cry of Golgotha. We see the cross from the vantage point of the one who hung there. No greater depths of woe have been endured. “My God, my God, O why have you forsaken me? O why are you so far from giving help and from my groaning cry? By day and night, my God, I call; your answer still delays.”In these lines we see how Christ clings to a father he can’t see or feel, a God who seems far off. But this is not a cry of unbelief. Jesus cries out in anguish to “My God, my God.” This is faith, dear believer. This is your Savior enduring his greatest affliction and responding with confidence that the God who is allowing him to suffer is still his Lord.

Let your eyes scan over the remaining lyrics. The next thing the psalmist does is rehearse to himself God’s past faithfulness to his people. “And yet you are the Holy One who dwells in Israel’s praise. Our fathers put their trust in you, from you their rescue came. They begged you and you set them free; they were not put to shame.” The remaining verses alternate back and forth between sections of agony followed by sections of unwavering faith; great distress met with a confident response. There is the dehumanizing aspect of the cross, “But as for me, I am a worm and not a man at all.” Then the sneering ridicule follows, “The Lord was his reliance once—now see what God will send.” Another wave of suffering, but this time the psalmist rehearses to himself God’s faithfulness in his own life. “You took me from my mother’s womb to safety at the breast. Since birth when I was cast on you, in you, my God, I rest.”

This psalm ends with the psalmist delighting in how he shall sing his deliverer’s praises in the great congregation. “When I proclaim my praise of you, then all the church will hear.” Even if our tribulations lead to death, we will still join the eternal throng in ceaseless praise. “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (Ps. 22:30–31). “He has done it,” or how Jesus understood those words on the cross: It is finished! Not even death itself can destroy our hope or silence our praise.

At some point for all of us, our theoretical knowledge of God’s goodness will be tested with fire through various torments, grief, and for some, persecution. Supply your children’s souls, and your own, with solid ammunition against the devil’s snares. It is the oldest lie in creation which Satan wields cleverly against God’s people: “Is God really good? Don’t you deserve better?” My husband preached through this psalm during the evening service on Easter Sunday, and he made this wise observation: If we would reread our life’s story, not with us, but with our covenant-keeping God as the central character, we would have abundant fuel for our souls in times of great distress.

Moms and Dads, teach your children the psalms! Let them read of David’s sorrow, how he cries out in agony in times of distress, how the Lord allows David to question his providence. Let them see for themselves that it’s okay to ask God, “Why, O Lord?” But let them also realize that despite David’s circumstances, he never doubts that the Lord will deliver him. Let them sing of the Lord’s salvation amidst the psalmist’s groanings. Give them 150 reasons to trust that the Lord is good.

John Calvin referred to the Psalms as “an anatomy of the soul.” The entire range of human emotion is on full display throughout this ancient prose, and this is not a coincidence. We are shown what the right expression of human emotion looks like in a man after God’s own heart and in a Savior whose sufferings on the cross were unlike anything we will ever endure. The Psalms are a treasure trove of unwavering hope; divinely-inspired words of beauty amidst anguish, written for the benefit of the King’s sons and daughters in earthly exile, that they may endure faithfully until they are called home.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
(Hab. 3:17–19)

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Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity joined with pow’r:
he is able, he is able, he is able,
he is willing; doubt no more;
he is willing; doubt no more.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
bruised and broken by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all:
not the righteous, not the righteous,

not the righteous—
sinners Jesus came to call;
sinners Jesus came to call.

Lo! th’incarnate God, ascended,
pleads the merit of his blood;
venture on him, venture wholly,
let no other trust intrude:
none but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus
can do helpless sinners good,
can do helpless sinners good.

Come, ye needy, come and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
true belief and true repentance,
ev’ry grace that brings you nigh,
without money, without money, without money,
come to Jesus Christ and buy;
come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him;
this he gives you, this he gives you, this he gives you;
‘tis the Spirit’s rising beam;
‘tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Do you remember a time as a kid when you were scared to death to tell your parents what you had done? Did you try, albeit unsuccessfully, to fix the problem before you approached them? Did you prepare a speech, a kind of rehearsed preamble to your “I did something stupid” admission in order to mitigate their response? Did you attempt to reason through the situation in a hilariously doomed endeavor to make your actions seem plausible? If you were like me as a child, you tried everything you could think of, racked your brain to think of some possible solution, agonizing over the situation with dread and despair before you would eventually admit defeat and trudge slowly towards the house, overcome with worry, and accompanied by a nauseated pit in your stomach of what was surely to come.

Now, how many of us as grown adults still resort back to this behavior? When we have sinned, do we come to our heavenly father in this beleaguered, despairing manner? Generally speaking, there are usually two types of believers. The first kind are a little too familiar with messing up, too nonchalant in their apologies, and too little bothered by their sin. They tend to approach God almost flippantly. They expect boundless mercy from God, minimal obedience from themselves, and are the kinds of people to whom Paul asked, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1) There’s a reason he vehemently exclaimed, “By no means!” (Rom. 6:2) If this description feels familiar, then this hymn was not necessarily written for you. Its truths are yours, but its lesson may not be the lesson you need to learn.

However, there is the second kind of Christian. This kind of person carries a weight of guilt which is rarely assuaged. Forgiveness seems a foreign concept to them, and they are convinced that God’s mercy must be bought with spectacular obedience. They search the scriptures for assurance, for relief from their constant anxiety, but they are always brought low and discouraged by a sentence here, a fragment there. They have no problem accepting that they are sinners in need of a Savior; instead, they have a problem believing that the Savior is, in fact, their Savior. “What must I do to be saved? Surely there is more? What if I haven’t done enough?” If this is you, dear child, then this hymn needs to be seared into your memory.

“Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity joined with power.” Jesus ready stands to save you. Full stop. I have said it once, and I’ll say it again: Jesus is more ready to save you than you are to be saved. And you know how much your soul longs to be saved, how desperately your conscience aches to be freed from guilt. He is full of pity and compassion, but he is also full of power: power and authority to save his people, and to save them for eternity. “Come, ye needy, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify…without money come to Jesus Christ and buy.” Come, come and welcome. Don’t do anything else, merely welcome God’s free bounty. You can do nothing else; you cannot buy salvation with works, with sufficient self-flagellation, or with any other offering known to man. No currency is accepted at Calvary except for the priceless blood of Christ. He has paid your debt and given you an everlasting inheritance, so come to Jesus Christ and buy, but your every purchase is on his tab.

“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, bruised and broken by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all: not the righteous—sinners Jesus came to call.” There is a kind of inverted pride which can encourage a martyr complex; a stubborn resistance to ever acknowledging someone else’s generosity or unwarranted forgiveness. It is a great blow to our egos to forgo an earned respect. We feel more in control when we play our own judge, jury, and executioner, when we pronounce our own sentences and labor tirelessly under our own penalties. This is a death sentence for the soul, for we cannot play our own Savior. If you seek to earn Christ’s salvation by your own devices, on your own terms, and through your own judgement, you will only earn wrath.

“Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him.” We would not hesitate to tell an unbeliever, “Do not attempt to get your life together and then come to Christ. Come to Christ first! Everything else in your life will follow.” And yet, sometimes as believers, we still struggle with the age-old mistake of trying to fix our sin first before asking God for deliverance from it. Even Adam and Eve did not turn to the Lord for aid when the fruit had been eaten; there was no call for help in Eden. They panicked. They tried to remedy their dire situation in almost comical ways. Then, out of pure desperation, they attempted to hide from their Creator. But God initiated reconciliation. Godalways initiates reconciliation. Dead men cannot save themselves.

“Lo! The incarnate God, ascended, pleads the merit of his blood; venture on him, venture wholly, let no other trust intrude.” In the heavenly court of justice, you have the greatest defense attorney of all time, who for eternity has not, and will never, lose any case ever given to him. At the end of all things when final judgement is rendered, you have the perfect mediator; the glorified Son of God who is ever interceding with the Father on your behalf. Your judge is also your advocate, your redeemer, and your great high priest.

For those of you who are weary, exhausted by the weight of guilt you refuse to surrender, know this: You will never find peace if you will not trust your Savior for everything. Trust may not come easily to you, especially if your earthly father’s favor was a poor reflection of your heavenly father’s love. Some of you have never known unconditional love, but merely a fleeting approval upon a satisfactory performance. Your worth was bound up in another’s capricious temperament; one day beloved, the next despised. Your heavenly father is nothing like this. His love is steadfast, unshakable, never fluctuating, with no strings attached. He beckons you to approach him. Because of Christ, you are his delight. Too often, in reaction to our sin we tend to think along the lines of, “I messed up. My dad’s gonna kill me.” Instead, as children of the King, we can say, “I messed up. I need to call my dad.” Rest assured, dear Christian, God does not offer redemption to his people begrudgingly. His grace is freely and cheerfully given. Come, believe, trust, and rest. “None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.”

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God, Be Merciful to Me

God, be merciful to me,
on thy grace I rest my plea;
plenteous in compassion thou,
blot out my transgressions now
wash me, make me pure within,
cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

My transgression I confess,
grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned again thy grace
and provoked thee to thy face;
I confess thy judgement just,
speechless, I thy mercy trust.

I am evil, born in sin:
thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
teach thy wisdom to my heart;
make me pure, thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.

Broken, humbled to the dust
by thy wrath and judgment just
let my contrite heart rejoice
and in gladness hear thy voice;
from my sins O hide thy face,
blot them out in boundless grace.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;

cast me not away from thee,
let thy Spirit dwell in me;
thy salvation’s joy impart,
steadfast make my willing heart.

Sinners then shall learn from me
and return, O God, to thee;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
and my tongue shall sing thy love;
touch my silent lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall praise accord.

“Sorry.” My son shrugged his shoulders and glibly recited a quick apology lacking even the tiniest hint of remorse. My other child wasn’t fooled for a minute. Even from the other end of the house, I could hear him take a deep breath to shout, “Mommy!!!” I sighed as I headed down the hallway to dispense justice. My son defiantly stared me down and retorted, “I said I’m sorry.” His two-year-old brother looked up at me with tears streaming down his chubby cheeks and declared, “Heee’s Naht Sohwy!” Even my toddler could tell that this attitude was definitely not repentance and that his brother’s words were empty.

The longer I parent, the more I realize that showing our children how to repent and rightly apologize is one of the hardest lessons we will ever teach them. Maybe part of this is due to the fact that in order to teach, one must model the instructed behavior as well.

How many of you struggle to apologize to your children while also trying to maintain an authoritative posture of respect? Do you show your children regularly what it looks like to sincerely apologize? Do your children trust you not to repeat your behavior once you’ve apologized for it? Nothing makes our apology seem emptier than when our actions do not follow it up; our children begin to learn that apologies are merely words, socially acceptable niceties spoken to diffuse a tense situation. If you’re beginning to squirm in your seat, let me make you even more uncomfortable by asking if your pleas for God’s mercy are ever accompanied by true repentance? Do we use God as a magic sin eraser, only to carry on in our behavior unchanged, unaffected, and unbothered? As I write this, I am squirming in my seat along with you. But sometimes uncomfortable soul-searching is necessary for lasting spiritual growth. And God has provided us with examples of how to apologize; we need look no further than the Psalms.

This song is a paraphrase of Psalm 51, and is traditionally set to the tune, “Redhead.” David wrote this psalm after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan over his sexual sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Do you remember the passage? It has always stood out to me as one of the most vivid depictions of guilt in the Bible.

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And hebrought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1–7)

You can feel the heavy pit in your stomach, the nauseating realization of what David has done, and the dread of what he deserves. Our sin is no different. We may not have committed physical murder or adultery this week, but I’m sure many of us are guilty of hatred towards our fellow man, of calling one another “fool” and murdering them in our minds (Matt 5:22), or of lusting with our eyes, coveting a spouse who is not ours, and committing adultery with them in our hearts (Matt 5:28). We are a wretched people: who shall deliver us from our bodies of death? “God, be merciful to me, on thy grace I rest my plea.” We must turn only to the grace of God. There is no other way. “Plenteous in compassion thou, blot out my transgressions now.” Send my sin as far as the east is from the west. Banish it to eternity. “Wash me, make me pure within, cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.” Don’t leave me as I am. Change me, cleanse me, wash me whiter than snow. Burn away the dross like a refiner’s fire. Use this pain to remove my impurities; put back together the shattered pieces of my conscience.

Let your eyes glance over the remaining stanzas. Does anything stand out to you? One particular phrase has always stuck with me: “I confess thy judgement just, speechless, I thy mercy trust.” I struggle reconciling David’s acceptance of God’s perfect judgement and wrath towards his sin with David’s complete assurance that God’s mercy will nonetheless be applied to him. Isn’t this the pendulum on which we all swing back and forth? Either judgement or mercy? Not both simultaneously. When I think about God’s judgement, I don’t naturally expect his mercy. And when I expect his mercy, I tend to downplay my own sin and his anger over it. Christian, this is not so. You belong to a holy God who cannot abide sin, whose wrath towards the wicked is terrifying, and who will punish those who continue in their rebellion with everlasting torment. You must then ask, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” And you MUST then respond with all blessed confidence: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.”

He is more willing to save us than we are to be saved. He is more willing to forgive us than we are to ask for forgiveness. Cry out to your Savior: “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.” Repent, and he will deliver you. “He breaks the power of reigning sin, he sets the prisoner free.”With joyful relief and assurance, lift your voice to your maker: “Let my contrite heart rejoice, and in gladness hear thy voice.”

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For All the Saints

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But, lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

My throat tightened and my eyes rebelliously filled with tears as I made my way down the aisle in that chilly stone chapel. The majestic pipe organ’s triumphant rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ famous tune, “Sine Nomine,” filled the air. My grandfather had passed away less than two years ago. He would have been 76. He should have been here, I thought, He would have loved Sean. He would have been so happy to see this. Grief swept through me, and I took a deep breath and strained against my heavy wedding dress as I continued slowly in processional fashion.

It used to be common to walk past the cemetery on the way into church. Every Lord’s Day was a reminder that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. I imagine it was helpful to view yourself in light of eternity several times a week; to be reminded that now we worship with the saints on earth, but soon we shall be worshipping with all the great host of heaven. Conversely, our culture has done its best to sanitize death. In our modern era where people die in hospitals and nursing homes, tucked away nicely from public view, we can almost achieve a mental barrier, removing ourselves as much as possible from the reality of death. Almost, that is, until it descends upon our own families with its dark and final actuality. The world simply doesn’t know how to handle the concept of dying, but Christians should. Paul gives us great hope:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6–8)

This hymn captures Paul’s description of his soon-to-be homegoing, his declaration of faithfulness, and his great assertion that there is, indeed, a crown of righteousness laid up for him in heaven, and that not only will it be awarded to him by the Lord himself, but also to all those who die in the faith. “For all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.”William Walsham How uses the familiar biblical description of soldiers fighting the good fight. His verses are full of bright imagery and concepts that children will easily understand. It should be of no surprise, then, that How wrote a great many hymns for children during his lifetime. Born in England in 1823, he was known as both “the children’s bishop” as well as the “poor man’s bishop” due to his labors particularly among the destitute in London’s slums. One can understand why the subject of death, the great rest that it is, and the reward that it brings to the saints, would have been of a particular urgency to How and his parishioners, and most certainly on the forefront of his mind as he penned these words of hope, courage, and faith.

He encourages Christians to fight nobly as the saints of old, to “win the victor’s crown of gold,” in a paraphrase of Paul. The final three verses of this great hymn give me chills. “But, lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way.” They are beautiful. They are determined. They are joyful and expectant and glorious and triumphant.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15:55, KJV) Cling to these promises, dear readers. Teach them to your children, bind them around your hearts. Sing them with joy and thanksgiving!

As much as my grandfather would have enjoyed being present at my wedding, he was delighting in his eternal rest with his Savior. This fact didn’t stop my tears, in fact, they flowed all the more, but they were not tinged with bitter sadness. I smiled. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Ps. 30:5) I had chosen “For All the Saints” as my processional as a sweet reminder that there would be another wedding supper awaiting us soon. We will be reunited, we will see Jesus, and we will join with the all “the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia, Alleluia!”

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Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ‘tis he, ‘tis he!
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken:
‘tis the true and faithful Word.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
‘tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress;
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
many hands were raised to wound him,
none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that Justice gave.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

I remember exactly when the heinousness of sin finally hit me. I grew up knowing sin was evil, understanding that a holy God could not abide with it, and acknowledging a perfect Savior’s death as the only acceptable sacrifice to cancel it. I mostly possessed theoretical knowledge of sin’s destructive nature, with a few exceptions here and there, and a well-informed theology of the atonement. I desperately wanted to be saved from the fires of hell, but my affections towards sin were rather ambivalent, considering it to be more of a nuisance rather than the mighty enemy that it was. It wasn’t until the embarrassing age of 27 when this all changed.

I was rehearsing a Christmas song with a vocal group. I had listened and sung along to this piece hundreds of times before, but this time, as we made sure of rhythms and harmonies, I found myself physically unable to sing. “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born.” The giant lump in the back of my throat wouldn’t allow me to even speak. You see, a little baby boy had just made me a mother two months earlier. Suddenly, in an unhinged wave of postpartum hormones, desperate lack of sleep, and a stark, newfound awareness of just what this sacrifice for sin entailed, I was undone.

Maybe this seems silly to you. Maybe you’re thinking, What exactly did she expect? She acts like she had never considered the gruesomeness of the cross before motherhood. How shortsighted of her. Well, yes. But how often does our theoretical knowledge of a biblical topic immediately impact our hearts? The affections are fickle things, and Christians need to be wary of assuming that, just because we have filled our heads with much knowledge of God, our hearts will automatically be filled with much love towards God. Our affections need sanctification too. One man noted, “Sin will be burdensome if the Savior is precious to you.” John Owen, the eternally perceptive Puritan, explains this concept:

Sin also carries on its war by entangling the affections and drawing them into an alliance against the mind. Grace may be enthroned in the mind, but if sin controls the affections, it has seized a fort from which it will continually assault the soul. Hence, as we shall see, mortification is chiefly directed to take place upon the affections.

This hymn has long been one of my favorites, but singing these verses is a weighty undertaking of the soul. Its words are piercing, painful, and the believer will find his conscience more than pricked upon completion. But it is good to sing songs which cause us to examine ourselves, to look upon the ugly portions of our hearts which need reforming, and to let the light of our Savior sanitize what has been growing in darkness. The German choral tune, “O Mein Jesu, Ich Muss Sterben,” is a hauntingly beautiful medium through which this text is conveyed. The four verses are exquisite and powerful answers to these questions:

  1. Who is suffering?
  2. How did he suffer?
  3. Why did he have to suffer?
  4. What did his suffering accomplish?

Who is stricken, smitten, and afflicted? It is the Christ, the long-expected prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord, Son of God, the true and faithful Word. Jesus wasn’t just a good man, a respected teacher, he was God incarnate; the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophesy of the coming Messiah. And his was immense suffering. “Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his.” He was beaten, mocked, betrayed, and disowned by those he loved. His physical suffering was atrocious, “but the deepest stroke that pierced him, was the stroke that Justice gave.”

Now come some of the most sobering words ever written in all of hymnody: “Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.” Let your mind wrap itself around this concept, and let the wind be knocked out of your chest. Sin is dreadful. Sin is pure evil. The wages of sin is death; it is slavery of the soul and not to be trifled with. You cannot, dear reader, flirt with sin, for it will not merely flirt with you. It will not be satisfied until is has seared your conscience and devoured your soul. King David even laments the physical distress of unrepentant sin: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

We are comfortable with a God who is love, who is merciful and gracious, who is longsuffering. And God is all these things to the fullest. But God is also holy, and we are not comfortable with a holy God. God is angered by sin, and God will pour out his wrath in eternal judgement of sin. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wisely remarked, ‘God never showed his hatred of sin so much as he did in Christ. When God sent his Son into the world to die for man’s sin, he is saying, “they shall see the extent to which I hate sin in how I deal with my son.”’ “Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load.” During a recent conversation I had with author Rosaria Butterfield on sin and sexual identity, she said something which stopped me in my tracks: “The blood of Christ does not make an ally with the sin it crushes, ever.” My dear brothers and sisters, neither can we. “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

The last stanza of this powerful hymn picks us up from our proverbial fetal position on the floor and gives us reason to rejoice. “Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost; Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.” Just reading that word—salvation—doesn’t it sound sweeter after all that we’ve considered? Salvation! Hallelujah! The Lord does not leave us in our despair; he saves us! “Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!”

The good news often doesn’t seem good without the bad news. It is good, even healthy, for us to consider the magnitude of what Jesus endured on the cross and the terrifying reality of the wages of sin. But we should not dwell there for prolonged periods of time. The Bible calls for self-reflection, not self-castigation. Your sins are heinous, but they have been atoned for; no more punishment is due. Sing these words as heartily as your throat will allow: “None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”

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Abide With Me

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

What can the miserable Christian sing? American evangelicalism refrains, for the most part, from even acknowledging the existence of miserable Christians. You’ve heard it before: “Come to Jesus, and all your problems will disappear!” I cannot think of a worse burden to lay upon sincere Christians who are in the pit of despair. Life is messy; full of grief, sorrow, and bitterness. We shouldn’t be ashamed to admit this. The brief life Jesus lived on this earth was no different. He was a man stricken, smitten, and afflicted; a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Jesus did not come to take all your earthly problems away; he came to reconcile you to a holy God, to give you everlasting life. Sin and death have been defeated, but this fallen world remains.

Christians should be able to reconcile earthly misery and suffering with a faithful servant’s steady walk with the Lord. They are not mutually exclusive. There is no greater faith than that which has been tested in the sorest of ways and has emerged victorious. Yet, victory in Jesus doesn’t always look triumphant. “Abide With Me” summarizes this reality in some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written. “Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see.” Christians who have endured much of this world understand exactly how the trials of this life can reveal earth’s joys to be dim and bereft of glory; how the world is full of change and decay.

Part of the immaturity of the Western church stems from the temptation to shield ourselves from anything unpleasant. We are comfortable, spoiled, and prone to delight in all the world’s trappings and tinsel. But there is no glittering appeal of this life to the persecuted church. Those believers who live in places of famine, drought, and plague are not tempted to worship the earth and all her stores. To the parents of a child who has received a terminal diagnosis, this world is a bitter place. Moms and Dads, it is good for our children to be gradually exposed to the sufferings of their covenant family. Sometimes I think we make the Christian life out to be a Jesus version of Disneyland, and a saccharine, happy-go-lucky visage isn’t helpful to anyone, especially young believers. Our families will experience suffering, in one form or another. Let’s make sure then, to arm ourselves and our children with truth and reality, and with well-placed hope.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Pet. 5:8–10)

An Anglican minister by the name of Henry F. Lyte wrote the text of this hymn in the late summer of 1847 after preaching his final sermon. According to some accounts, Lyte, knowing that his time on this earth was drawing to a close, walked out to the garden in front of his house and started composing these lyrics, inspired by Luke 24:29, in which the travelers to Emmaus tell Jesus, “stay with us, for it is nearly evening.” As the sun set, Lyte walked back to his home. His family thought he was resting, but he returned to his study to write the last few lines to what would be one of the most beloved hymns in all Christendom. Henry Lyte passed away soon after; his last words were, “Peace! Joy!” “Abide With Me” was sung for the first time at his funeral, and it has been sung at the funerals of many thousands of other saints since. This text is traditionally set to the tune, “Eventide,” which William H. Monk apparently composed in only ten minutes. Some tunes merely accentuate the meter of a verse in order to be of aid in congregational singing. This tune, however, is married to this particular text in a profound way. It is easily accessible and beautifully melodic, yet there is a depth of sorrow, bittersweetness, and a great longing for eternity among its notes. There shall never be another piece of music so exquisitely suited for this hymn. Don’t you dare sing it to anything else!

When I read the words to the fourth verse, I can almost picture Lyte sitting in his garden, scratching out these words onto his notebook; the end of his life setting like the sun on the horizon, and with it, the end of his earthly battle with tuberculosis. “I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless: ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.” The Lord never promised us a comfortable, painless life, and though he is enough to sustain us, he does not expect his children to be everlastingly chipper. It is okay, dear reader, to grieve, to feel the effects of the fall, to acknowledge the way in which sin taints and destroys everything it touches. We long for an everlasting kingdom. We were created to worship without sin and without misery. Rest assured that this is not all there is; this is not our home. Sometimes during days of exhaustion and weariness, when I am tempted towards despondency, I will whisper the last verse of this hymn to myself. “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.” Peace is coming. Rest is coming. “Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.” Joy will replace sorrow, and there will be no pain, no misery, no heartache. “Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee.” Take these tears, Father, and undo everything that is wrong. But until then, “in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

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How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Wafting over the airwaves of the local Christian radio station came the predictable chord progressions of every modern worship song known to humanity. I had turned on the radio to quell the boys’ incessant bickering currently testing my patience, and after a quick scan, realized nothing was child-friendly except for the hyper-caffeinated, ultra-cheery Christian radio hosts who were currently discussing their “fur babies.” I groaned in defeat and told the boys it was time to be quiet. I listened to the male voice crooning in the background, wondering why all male singers are now tenors. Taking a deep breath, I resolved to be cheerful, that is, until the crooning male voice wretched out the lyrics, “Oh. the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” I nearly ran off the road. “OH COME ON!!!” I shouted in exasperation, while my poor children stared wide-eyed at their deranged mother.

I’m sorry if this particular song is one of your favorites, but it’s horribly flawed. God’s love is not reckless. I can hardly think of a worse description. Recklessness is an absence of good sense; someone who is reckless is careless, foolhardy, rash, makes decisions without giving thought to their consequences, is unconcerned, without caution, and possesses a defiant disregard for peril. Does this sound like your Savior, Christian?

There is a perennial temptation in our churches to make Jesus relatable, to reinvent him as a visionary; a magnetic revolutionary figure who is more like us than previously thought. So much like us, in fact, that some assign him pro bono attributes such as “recklessness” to boost his appeal with the masses, and in doing so run the risk of stripping away his divine nature. But 2000 years of Christian doctrine, practice, history, and scholarship do not afford us the option of distinctive, individually-curated, theological opinions. In the realm of orthodoxy, creative theological pioneers have few seats of honor.

We are more like ancient Israel than we would care to admit. Our God is too big and too wonderful to wrap our infantile minds around, and so we delight in ourselves instead, spending many an hour enraptured by the navel-gazing activity of crafting gods of our own imagination who think like us, speak like us, act like us, and relate to our shortcomings. The hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” gets us back to the basics of who God is and what he’s like. We don’t need an entirely relatable, flawed protagonist to save us, to be able to sufficiently comfort us—we need Jehovah. We’ve always needed Jehovah.

“How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled.” Our faith’s firm foundation is not found in our ingenuity, but in the word of God, and in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus. I love that line: “What more can he say than to you he has said?” Stop seeking signs and miracles to shore up your faith and charismatic personalities to tickle your ears; there is nothing more that can be said that God has not already promised. This isn’t hard. This isn’t complicated. Read God’s word. In fact, this entire hymn, apart from the first verse, is a summary of mostly Old Testament promises, and it is written as if God is speaking directly to his people. Think of your Bible as one enormous letter to you from your Father regarding his love and your security. Pore over it, studying its every paragraph, and rest in his Son.

“Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed; for I am your God, and will still give you aid; I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” This is the God we have: righteous and omnipotent, a truly wondrous and terrifying combination if you really take time to think about it. He is our help, our salvation; he will cause us to stand, uphold us, and strengthen us. God preserves us, and thus we persevere. It is good for us to recognize the power of God and not just his love. Too many pastors preach only half a Jesus, emphasizing the softer, more comforting attributes of our Savior. But there is power in the blood! He commands the seas, rides on the clouds, and appears at the end of all things in bright white, face shining as the sun with flaming eyes of fire, a double-edged sword proceeding from his mouth, and a voice like the roar of many waters. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17b-18) Do not trade some culturally-relevant drivel marketing Jesus as an empathetic bestie or a controversial political zealot as any substitute for everything that is the king of Kings.

These first two verses lay the necessary groundwork to bolster our confidence that God will indeed fulfill all his promises that are described in the following three verses. When we feel as if we are drowning in grief, he promises us that “the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow.” When our faith is tested by fire, “the flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.” As we enter the final quarter of life, nearer to the gates of death and frail in body and mind, God promises “like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.” We belong to a God who has not only adopted us as his children, has given us an everlasting inheritance, but who also cares tenderly for us as we experience these light, momentary afflictions on earth. He doesn’t merely take care of us; he also concerns himself with assuring us over and over that he will take care of us. The omnipotence of God does not negate the kindness or the goodness of God. He is both compassionate and almighty, gentle and all-consuming.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” This is exactly why I’m so glad I don’t serve a God who is like me. We need everything about who God is in order to rely on him for salvation, to trust him to sustain us amidst all the schemes of hell. The spiritual realm is very, very real. Modern Christians tend to dismiss demonic and Satanic activity as some weird outlier notion, but the Bible warns us otherwise. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Not until we comprehend what we’re up against does God’s promise to never forsake us begin to sound sweet. Not until we have dutifully endeavored to wage war with our sin do God’s promises to not desert us to our foes seem like priceless jewels in our hands.

God’s love for us is not reckless. It is purposeful, planned, and steadfast; there is nothing reckless about a “sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.” At the end of time and the beginning of eternity, when God’s people are assembled around the throne, we will all worship a Creator whose love sustained us through life, through death, and now into forever.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

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How Then Shall We Sing?

So how then shall we sing? The practical application of Christian worship through song is often a tricky problem to sort out. There is nothing that splits a church faster than the music wars of the modern church. Any pastor can tell you how much he dreads these fights. Everyone has an opinion; everyone has different tastes. “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” “Fix everything but change nothing.” “The old hymns are better than this new stuff.” “We need to branch out and sing more contemporary music for the young people!” “I like music that makes me feel closer to God; it helps me to worship!” With all these competing voices, is there any biblical guidance for these questions? Is music really just a matter of taste? Must the loudest, most obnoxious, and perpetually offended church member always win?

The first and easiest thing we can conclude from Scripture is that we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Eph. 5:19) When we sing in worship we sing to each other, together, as a whole congregation. We shouldn’t all sit back and watch while a few musically gifted people sing for us; the command is to all of us. Whether or not you are tone deaf or classically trained makes no difference. There is no musical instrument more beautiful than the joyful noise of an entire sanctuary singing heartily unto the Lord with all thankfulness.

Secondly, in order for us all to sing, regardless of musical skill, our music must be accessible to the common man. Would most of us be able to follow along with a classical oratorio? No! Of course not! Alternatively, can most of us sing along to all the songs on Christian radio that have come out in the last two years? This is not to say that a congregation should never learn anything new, but there should be a gracious understanding of how many new songs a congregation can feasibly learn within a short period of time. As with all things, patience and moderation win the day, in addition to unselfishly bearing with one another’s quirks. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18)

Thirdly, we are to sing to the Lord with all thankfulness in our hearts towards God. (Col. 3:16) There has been a popular trend in modern “worship music” to sing almost exclusively about ourselves, how we feel, and our own personal experiences. While this is occasionally appropriate, singing about ourselves and only ourselves tends to result in a kind of spiritual naval gazing, and it unfortunately diverts our affections away from our Savior. It’s hard to cultivate thankfulness towards our Lord when he’s not the subject of our attention. We gather on the Lord’s Day each week to worship the living God, but our hearts are idol factories (to paraphrase John Calvin), and we have a sinful proclivity to worship ourselves—the creations rather than the Creator. The Lord did not instruct us to assemble together so that we could all gather in one room, and yet each of us have our own little individual worship “experience” with Jesus. The people of God have always come before his presence together. “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Ps. 34:3) We should sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which give appropriate praise and attention to God, his church, his statues, and his wonderous and mighty works.

Another tricky area to navigate, especially in the American church, is the emotional experience that music invokes for so many people. You’ve heard it before: “I go to such-and-such church for the music.” “This music makes me feel closer to God.” “I love when they play such-and-such song—I feel more like worshipping.” Jonathan Dickenson, an eighteenth century American Presbyterian minister active during the Great Awakening, once observed “that there has been the least of the power of godliness, where there has been the greatest attachment to human inventions, to external pomp and ceremony in the worship of God.” I think it’s high time for the Western church to ask itself if we’re equating feelings with worship. Let’s think seriously about this for a few minutes. Do we go to church to have an emotional experience? Or do we go to church to worship? Are the two necessarily exclusive of each other? Of course not! But are certain emotions a requirement for worship? These are hard questions, and if you’re reading this and starting to get a little irritated with me, it’s okay. Actually, that’s great! I really want to make us dig down deep! Should we go to church expecting to come back feeling a certain way? What if we don’t—does that mean we didn’t worship? What does the Bible say about feelings? Hmmm . . . actually, not much. And that’s an encouragement for us. God doesn’t command us to feel certain things, he simply asks us to obey.

So should worship be devoid of feelings? Absolutely not! But should we try to manufacture those feelings; emotionally manipulate ourselves with music that hypes us up and sends us into a frenzy? Also, no. Music cannot and should not be the tail that wags the dog. Meaning, as we read and sing and pray and recite God’s promises, our affections will be naturally stirred towards the Lord. Just as we can’t manufacture a spiritual revival, we can’t manufacture spiritual affections. We must trust the Holy Spirit to produce true and godly affections within us. He has raised us from the dead and has given us new life; he can handle our stubborn emotions too. If we go to church for the musical experiences, we will often be disappointed. It is a plastic enjoyment of God which dissipates and fluctuates with our notoriously capricious feelings. “Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God, not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin, thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.”

Alternatively, there are those Christians who seem to worship stoicism. I once heard a man say that he wouldn’t sing a particular hymn because it made him emotional, and worship should be devoid of emotion. It took a good deal of restraint not to smack him over the head. When I was in college, we used to joke that some segments of the church were on the lookout, fastidiously keeping watch, horrified that somebody somewhere might be having fun. My dear reader, holiness is not dour, piety should not be separated from mirth, and joy and soberness of heart go hand in hand. As to how this pertains to music, it doesn’t mean that we are constrained to sing only the wretched funeral dirges of old. There are beautiful minor tunes which pair well with psalms of lament, and there are joyfully exuberant tunes that perfectly accompany shouts of praise. Music should complement the text in such a way that the tenor of the text is reflected in the music. For example, it’s hard to take poignant hymn lyrics about sin and repentance seriously if we’re singing them to a tune that sounds a bit like the Friends theme song from TV. Also, music should assist us in worship, but it should never distract us from it. I am our church’s pianist, and if I accompany our psalms and hymns in such a way that it draws attention to me and away from the worship of God, then I have failed egregiously. Music is a precious gift from our creator; let us not celebrate the gift at the expense of the Giver, but let us use it to enable God’s people to obey his commands to sing to him together.

Finally, there is a common concern with our hymnody that bothers the consciences of many well-intentioned Christians. Why is it that most of our hymnals are filled with the compositions of primarily sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century European authors? Shouldn’t we be singing hymns from the early church? What about the global church? Aren’t there musical traditions from many different nations which we should be incorporating? In order to answer these questions, we must review a few important facts about church history.

We know very little about the early church’s hymnody, mostly due to the fact that prior to the fourteenth century, music didn’t exist in notated form. Music was passed down orally rather than sight-read from paper. A few of the early church fathers mention different hymns by name, so we know that they sang, we just don’t know exactly what it sounded like. Around the seventh century, the beginnings of organ music started making its way into the church, and by the ninth century, Gregorian chant was underway. The church sadly moved into a direction during the Middle Ages where trained choirs did most of the singing, while the lay members would sit in silence and listen.

It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that the entire congregation would start to sing as one again. Consequently, it’s no surprise that the Reformation produced a burst of hymnody. And remember where the Protestant Reformation took place—Europe. The prolific hymn writing that sprung out of western Europe also happened simultaneously alongside one of the greatest eras of musical composition. The greats such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms were all composing some of the greatest music ever written at the same time that hymn writers were putting biblical truths to pen. It is no wonder, then, that our hymnals are chock-full of European authors and tunes—it is where, in the mysterious providence of God, modern hymnody began!

Before you protest, let me assure you that while your hymnals may have many hymns of European ancestry (of which Christians have no reason to be ashamed), they also hold treasures from many other nationalities. “Shepherd of Tender Youth” was written by Clement of Alexandria (Egypt) around the year 200. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is adapted from the fourth century Liturgy of St. James of the eastern church of Constantinople in the Byzantine empire. “O Light That Knew No Dawn” was written in the mid-300’s by one of the Cappadocian fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus. In case your geography is rusty, Cappadocia would be present day Turkey. John Damascus was Syrian and penned the familiar, “Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain” hymn around the year 700. One of my favorite hymns, “God of Abraham Praise,” was adapted from Daniel ben Judah’s “Yigdal Elohim Hai,” a musical summation composed in the mid-fourteenth century of the thirteen articles of the Jewish faith drawn up by the Maimonides. Quite a few African American spirituals such as, “Were You There,” “There is a Balm in Gilead,” and “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” as well as many others are sprinkled throughout our hymnals.

Good music stands the test of time. Some of the above-mentioned hymns have been around for almost two thousand years! While some of today’s contemporary hymn writers have a long way to go in terms of musical longevity, we have to remember that at some point, all music was once new music. Should we fill our worship services with music exclusively from the past 10 years? Ehhh…probably not. But should we jettison music just because it is new? No. The church should continue to produce new songs of thanksgiving in every age to be sung alongside the great hymns of old.

In “10 Songs to Sing as a Family,” I had to excruciatingly whittle my favorite psalms and hymns down to a mere ten to highlight. These songs range from the familiar to the more obscure, but all of them are more than worth your time to learn and study. Singing doesn’t just happen in church, but it naturally flows in and out of a Christian’s day-to-day activities and routines. My children love to grab the family hymnal or psalter off the shelf and plop themselves down in the middle of our living room at the most random of occasions and belt out their favorites. The songs I’ve chosen, I have chosen specifically with you and your sweet families in mind; to treasure, to consider, to meditate upon, and to teach to your children. These are my cherished favorites, and I hope that in passing them along, some of these will become your family’s favorites too.

How to Make Your Hymnal Work for You

Did you know that your hymnal is actually an incredible tool? Many of us use our hymnals to sing from, or maybe to look up the title of a specific song or number, but there’s so much more that this handy little book can do for you. My personal favorite is the Trinity Hymnal, published by Great Commission Publications. The indexes and reference material it contains are superb, and I honestly think their collection of hymns as a whole is far superior to any other hymnal I’ve ever used. And I’m a church pianist, so I’ve used plenty! If you flip to the back of the Trinity Hymnal, you’ll find congregational responsive readings from the Psalms, the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Shorter Catechism. These are all marvelous readings to work through with your kids or as a family during evening devotions around the dinner table. There are also several different indexes which contain information about tunes, meters, hymn topics, Scripture references, composers, arrangers, and authors. “But I don’t know what half of those things mean!” you might say. Well, yes, most people don’t know what to do with all this information, but we’re going to try to remedy this right now and give you a quick tutorial of how you can make your hymnal work for you.

Let’s start with “Amazing Grace” as an easy first example. Look at the information that’s provided for you at the bottom of the page. We’re given the author of the text (John Newton), the year it was composed (1779), the tune name (“Amazing Grace”), the meter (C.M. or Common Meter), the composer of the tune, or in this case, the arranger of the tune (Edwin O. Excell), and the date it was arranged (1900). Now, if we turn to the back of our hymnal to the index of meters, we can see a long list of tunes, over 40 in fact, under the C.M. heading—you can sing any hymn to any tune with the same meter. So, for example, we could sing the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” to the tune, “St. Anne,” which is the same tune to which we’re accustomed to singing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” This is helpful in case you come across a hymn or a psalm for which the tune is completely unfamiliar, either to you or to your congregation. You really love the text, but you’re looking for an alternate tune that’s easier to sing: just look at the meter. Say you’re preaching or studying through Psalm 91, and you want to sing the paraphrase of Psalm 91, “Call Jehovah Your Salvation,” which is set to the tune, “Christ Church for Sydnor” and is in meter The tune is so unfamiliar that I couldn’t even find a recording of it anywhere on the internet. But no worries, “Hyfrydol” is listed under the same meter heading, and this is the very familiar tune to which we sing, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Keep the text, switch the tune: easy.

Hmmm, I wonder how many hymns are actually set to “Hyfrydol” in my hymnal? Look under the tune index, and you’ll see two: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners.” This is handy if you’re trying to figure out what a tune sounds like, or you’re looking for the actual music score for your accompanist or to be able to sing the four parts acapella. Let’s say you’re flipping through a psalter with no music, just tune names, and you have no idea what any of these sound like. The suggested tune at the bottom of the psalm is “Lyons.” Well, if you look up “Lyons” in your tune index, you’ll see that it is the tune to which we sing, “O Worship the King.” Or, let’s say, you really want to send a recording of “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place” to your congregation or church pianist, or just listen to it with your family, but you want to search for that hymn set to the tune “Dundee” instead of “St. Columba”—well, now you know what to include in your search bar. I find the tune and meter indexes to be incredibly useful, especially when it comes to navigating congregational singing or family worship.

Another great tool is the index of Scripture references. This gives you all the hymns which are based off of specific passages or direct paraphrases of Scripture. If your family just read through the Bible’s famous chapter on love, then you can look up I Corinthians 13 in the Scripture references index and find the hymn, “Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire.” If you’re a pastor who’s trying to slowly introduce Psalm singing to your congregation, but you’re trying to do it with hymns that are already familiar to them, and/or your church isn’t ready to purchase a psalter yet, look up the Psalms in this index. At least in the Trinity Hymnal, there is a “hymn” for nearly all 150 Psalms. You can also use this public index which gives you a little more information about these settings such as their source and difficulty level. Your congregation probably already knows, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell” set to the famous tune, “Old Hundredth.” But what they’re actually singing isn’t a hymn, per se, it’s a paraphrase of Psalm 100. Chances are, your congregation is already singing some Psalms without even knowing it. In addition, the topics index is helpful if you’re not wanting to cover a particular Bible passage, but say, hymns about the crucifixion or the incarnation.

Other indexes, such as the author and composer indexes, can be fascinating treasure troves of information. The dates during which the author lived are listed next to his name along with all the other hymns he wrote in your hymnal. So, if you were curious about singing ancient hymns and tunes, you could scan through the author or composer indexes and find people like Ambrose of Milan (340–397) or Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca.220) and try singing their hymns. You might learn that some of your favorite hymns are thousands of years old, and you never knew it! Or, let’s say you loved the lyrics to a particular hymn and wondered if your hymnal contained any other hymns by the same author: just look his name up and find out! You want to sing through some of John Newton’s hymns? Well, in my hymnal, you’d have 13 hymns from which to choose.

Your hymnal was designed to make singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs as easy as possible. The songs in your hymnal are usually pretty accessible, but on the off-chance they’re not, hopefully now you have the reference material and know-how to be able to work around difficult settings, regardless of whether you have any musical background. Dear reader, it has been an absolute joy to walk through these ten songs and more with you. It is my prayer that you have been encouraged to sing together with your families in addition to singing with your congregations. I love to remember this marvelous truth: regardless of where we live in this world, we will one day be singing together in the next! May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(Ps. 95:1–2)


  • This index was created by Bruce Benedict and is shared with permission: