lyrics for living 11 (change be blest)

In these troubled times, my mind and heart have travelled, yet again, to a hymn.

It comes from my bulging 'hymns I've sung only when I have chosen them' file. The most recent selection of this hymn was almost 30 years ago - and even then I probably chose it only 2-3 times.

'This post really is going places, Paul. That is a great start.'

Well, it keeps going downhill from here. The customary tune, Chilton Foliat, is hardly a keeper. And unlike every other hymn in this 'lyrics for living' series, I could not find a single recording of this one on You Tube. I guess that says something.

It gets worse. Look at this little graph that I discovered (yes, sorry, it is very little). The horizontal axis is a time line (1750-2000). The vertical axis is the percentage of hymnals in which the hymn can be found. Allow me to interpret the graph for you. This hymn was born into the hymnal world in about 1900, but its life has always been endangered, peaking at a presence in a whopping 20% of hymnals, before suddenly becoming extinct in about 1975. Where is David Attenborough when you need him for a little hushed commentary to set the mood...?

Sit tight. This marketing exercise has further downhill to go. Some may see a likeness between Henry Twills, the hymnwriter, and the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan (I certainly do) - but I suspect there won't be too many who join me...
Henry Twells
So here I am with an extinct hymn that I've only sung 2-3 times more than 30 years ago, written by a singularly good-looking guy ... and about to commend it to you. And yet... And yet... A bit like a recent lyrics for living post, this is a hymn for this troubled year of 2016 - with phrases I may have rarely sung, but which I have never been able to shake.

Awake, O Lord, as in the time of old.
Come down, O Spirit, in thy power and might.
For lack of Thee our hearts are strangely cold,
Our minds but blindly grope toward the light.

What?! A little theological incorrectness to get started? The Lord is the last one who needs to be woken. The Spirit hardly needs to 'come down', as he is already fully here. But to write it as he has intensifies the pleading in this prayer. I love it. Then to speak of cold hearts and blind minds... Is this not the very combination that annoys me in Christians here and there? And might this combo not be a bit obvious when I take a selfie of my own soul?

Doubts are abroad: make Thou these doubts to cease.
Fears are within: set Thou these fears at rest.
Strife is among us: melt that strife to peace.
Change marches onward: may all change be blest.

What a Fab Four these are?! Doubts. Fears. Strife. Change. It doesn't matter where I seem to look, I see them. Politics plays with them. The media lubricates them. They are there in the sweeping global trends that overwhelm us ... they trouble far too many of those dear to me - and they invade my own private world. Be it deep, deep inside - or wide, wide outside ... what on earth could be better than experiencing doubts to cease, fears to rest, strife to melt - and change be blest?

It is not knowledge that we chiefly need,
Though knowledge sanctified by Thee is dear:
It is the will and power to love indeed;
It is the constant thought that God is near.

Most versions of the hymn omit this verse. No! No! Don't do that. When he goes looking for an answer, he does not fall into the head versus heart trap. The cognitive and the affective both need to be switched on. Knowledge may not be the chief need, but when touched by God, it is still precious. It is still to be sought ... alongside the chief need: an outpouring of love and compassion ('love indeed', and love in deed), refreshed as we are, as Advent approaches, by the conviction that God draws near in Christ.

Make us to be what we profess to be;
Let prayer be prayer, and praise be heartfelt praise;
From unreality set us free,
And let our words be echoed by our ways.

I can hear the accompanying instruments go quieter, gentler. Most hymns have a verse like this one. The prayer goes intimate. The prayer pulls back the curtains to discover life backstage, far from the public persona. The concern? Hypocrisy. Give this a tweak, says Twells. The world hates our hypocrisy. Jesus hates our hypocrisy. Not only must we love what Jesus loves, we must hate what Jesus hates. In this post-truth world, with lying as the new normal, we find a fresh truthfulness, a fresh authenticity, a fresh liberating reality ... and transforming echoes resound throughout a troubled world.

Turn us, good Lord, and so shall we be turned:
Let every passion grieving Thee be stilled:
Then shall our race be won, our rewards earned,
Our Master looked on, and our joy fulfilled.

It is more than a tweak that we chiefly need, it is a turn. A return for most of us. In a handful of phrases, the hymnwriter calls us back to the Lord and, at the same time, draws us forward to the Master. Repentance, mixed with hope. The hymn concludes as we need to commence. May it be so.

nice chatting


PS: I discovered this hymn, as a young pastor, in the (NZ) Baptist Hymn Book (#222), published in 1962.


Riad Kassis said…
Dear Paul,
Thank you for your interesting insights although it is my first time to hear about this hymn! However, I am really annoyed with hymns and songs that are not biblically correct. I was a guest preacher one Sunday and to my utter surprise the two hymns/songs that were sung after my sermon said exactly opposed to what I have said in my sermon! My big surprise came when the host thanked me for such a deep and relevant sermon and then he quoted verses from the two songs to make his concluding remarks!!!
Keep up the good work of unpacking!
Unknown said…
Thanks, Paul. My heart resonates much of what you write here. Thanks for writing "lyrics for living" and especially #11. May the Lord give you and Barbara and those with you a blessed and happy Thanksgiving (24th)! dad warren.
Thanks, Riad. That is a good story. I am sure you were quietly gracious in response! I look forward to the day when the poet-theologians write the songs - and the musicians stick to writing the music for the songs :). Blessings.
Well, friends this is my 95 year old father-in-law adding a comment to my post. What a guy. Happy Thanksgiving, Dad.

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