And then there’s I Surrender All, written by Judson Van De Venter in 1896. Venter grew up in Michigan and went to Hillsdale College. The same Hillsdale Michigan I grew up in. The same Hillsdale Collage my sister attended. The College where I used to attend fancy dinners with guest lecturers. Where I climbed under the bushes of the campus arboretum for hours on snowy winter afternoons. I haven’t been to Ireland or Germany but I have been to Hillsdale.
When I sing these songs I begin to know my past, my people, and my place in this world.
The What and the Why
In 2009 a middle-aged man in a frumpy button up took a small stage in Seattle. Armed only with some paper on an easel and a mic wrapped in green tape he gave his talk. Just shy of 18 minutes. Today, Simon Sinek’s TedTalk has 43 million views and counting. It’s been translated into 48 languages. What was his big idea? Start with the WHY.
Many modern songs tell us what. They do this really well! We sing what God is, What He’s done, and what we do in response.
Hymns often tell us why. Why He is the way He is, why He’s done what He’s done, and why we should respond. If what brushes the skin, why penetrates the heart.
Let’s looks at three popular worship songs.
Build My Life
Worthy of every song we could every sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
What is God? He is Worthy. Why is He worthy? There isn’t much of an explanation.
Something like this adds flesh to the bones.
My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but in whole
Was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord O my soul! (It Is Well)
Great Are You Lord
You give life
You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope
You restore every heart that is broken
What is God? We get five different characteristics. Why can we describe Him this way? It doesn’t really say. Let’s zero in on hope. Why can we place our hope in God?
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy companions, they fail not
As Thou hast been, thou forever will be (Great Is Thy Faithfulness)
You’re a good, good Father
It’s Who You are
What is God? He’s Good. Why is He good? We get a small glimpse later in the song with the line “You are perfect in all of your ways.”
A verse like this turns that passing glimpse into a vivid picture.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home (Amazing Grace)
I love all three of these modern songs and lead them regularly at my church. Simple songs have an important place. But coupling the simple what with the descriptive why is a recipe for awe, wonder, and whole-hearted response.
So you tell me. Do we really need to keep singing hymns?
This article about should we keep singing hymns originally appeared here.