Archive for March, 2014

Lord’s Day 46: Childlike Awe

Catechism and Psalter

Lord’s Day 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism introduced us to the topic of prayer, which comprises the last section of this confession.  Prayer is, as question and answer 106 says, “the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us,” and thus plays an essential part in the believer’s ongoing sanctification.  Today’s excerpt in our URC Psalmody series, Lord’s Day 46, examines the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

120 Q.  Why did Christ command us to call God, “Our Father”?

A.  At the very beginning of our prayer
Christ wants to kindle in us
what is basic to our prayer—
the childlike awe and trust
that God through Christ has become
our Father.

Our fathers do not refuse us
the things of this life;
God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.

121 Q.  Why the words, “Who art in heaven”?

A.  These words teach us
not to think of God’s heavenly majesty
as something earthly,
and to expect everything
for body and soul
from his almighty power.

Suggested Songs

204, “O Come, My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord Thy Maker” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at a Reformed Youth Services convention)

“Christ wants to kindle in us…the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father.”  To the rest of mankind God is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and an avenger of wickedness, but we Christians name him as “Our Father.”  The magnitude of this privilege, the fact that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14), far surpasses our comprehension.  We can only respond in the beloved words of the psalmist, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).  Below is the text of a familiar blue Psalter Hymnal setting:

O come, my soul, bless thou the Lord thy Maker,
And all within me, bless His holy Name;
Bless thou the Lord, forget not all His mercies,
His pardoning grace and saving love proclaim.

Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion,
Most slow to anger, plenteous in love;
Rich is His grace to all that humbly seek Him,
Boundless and endless as the heavens above.

His love is like a father’s to his children,
Tender and kind to all who fear His Name;
For well He knows our weakness and our frailty,
He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.

We fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty,
Like tender grass that soon will disappear;
But evermore the love of God is changeless,
Still shown to those who look to Him in fear.

High in the heavens His throne is fixed forever,
His kingdom rules o’er all from pole to pole;
Bless ye the Lord through all His wide dominion,
Bless His most holy Name, O thou my soul.

Bless Him, ye angels, wondrous in might!
Bless Him, His servants, that in His will delight!

261, “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains” (Psalm 121)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.”  Another awe-inspiring image in Scripture, particularly in Psalm 121, is that of God as “the Keeper of Israel.”  He is the one who keeps our very lives (v. 7), and we cannot doubt that he will provide whatever else we need for body and soul—especially when we request it in faith.

The Keeper of Israel guards thee
And keeps thee in pathways of right;
He circles His canopy round thee
For shelter by day and by night.

Jehovah will keep thee from evil,
Thy coming and going He knows;
Thy soul He preserves unimperiled;
Look thou to the hills for repose.

181, “Jehovah Sits Enthroned” (Psalm 93)

(Recorded on organ)

“These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly.”  Even though God is our Father through Christ, he still “dwells in unapproachable light” (II Tim. 6:16).  Psalm 93 reminds us how holy our God is, and how holy his servants must be.  Of course, Jesus Christ was the ultimate Suffering Servant, the one who satisfied this demand of perfection and opened up the way for us to have access to the Father.

Jehovah sits enthroned
In majesty most bright,
Appareled in omnipotence,
And girded round with might.

The world established stands
On its foundations broad;
His throne is fixed, He reigns supreme,
The everlasting God.

Thy testimonies, Lord,
In faithfulness excel,
And holy must Thy servants be
Who in Thy temple dwell.

231, “Praise Jehovah, All Ye Nations” (Psalm 117)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

These words also teach us “to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.”  The shortest song in the Psalter also packs the most powerful punch, exhorting all the nations to praise God for his unchanging faithfulness.  The teaching of the Lord’s Prayer leaves us with no excuse not to do the same!

Praise Jehovah, all ye nations,
All ye people, praise proclaim;
For His grace and lovingkindness
O sing praises to His Name.
For the greatness of His mercy
Constant praise to Him accord;
Evermore His truth endureth;
Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

–MRK

A Shape-Note Sampling

Greetings, readers.  It’s been more than a month since my last post, and much has been transpiring in my second semester here at Geneva College.  I’m continuing on as a communications major and preparing to add a music minor; I’ve picked up an apparently permanent job as “staff accompanist” for several of Geneva’s voice majors; and just two weeks ago I was touring Ohio with the college choir, The Genevans, singing a concert of a cappella psalms in various churches.  For a psalm-singing nerd, that’s pretty close to heaven (and I hope to share more about it at some point).

Today, however, I just participated in a very unique experience from a rather different part of the church music spectrum: Sacred Harp singing.  This old American tradition is often called “shape-note singing” because its hymnals assign their noteheads four different shapes to aid non-musical singers in picking up the complex four-part harmonies.  The first verse of every song is sung in a simplified form of solfeggio with the syllables “fa,” “so,” “la,” and “mi.”  After that the words are sung—always with a strong rhythm and as much gusto as possible.

Sacred Harp setting of

Sacred Harp setting of “Amazing Grace”

Featured Recording

The biggest contributor to the texts in the songbook we were using today was Isaac Watts, whose hymns and psalm paraphrases have had a tremendous impact on American hymnody.  While I’m not a huge fan of Watts’s attempts to “Christianize the psalms” by turning them into loose paraphrases, it was nice to find so many connections in our singing today to texts I already know and love from the Psalter.  Below is our group singing a Watts setting of a portion of Psalm 65:

[youtube http://youtu.be/syOMXuEJPeo]

What made this hymn-sing such an unusual experience, however, was its undenominational character.  Perhaps even “undenominational” is an understatement, since this event attracted many participants who love shape-note singing simply because of its cultural and communal ties, not because they have any religious attachment to the words they sing.  One man I had lunch with, who views himself as undeclared with regard to religion, views many of the song lyrics as “hair-raising.”

On one hand, the thought of self-declared nonbelievers singing these psalms and hymns is a little jarring.  It’s unsettling because it forces me to ask: Do I really believe everything I’m singing?  Am I still being nourished by the content of worship, or have I become hopelessly preoccupied with its form?  Has church music in total become nothing more than a quaint set of styles and traditions?

So, in that respect, this shape-note singing experience served to me as a sober reminder that God delights not in hollow worship but rather in broken hearts (Psalm 51:17).  On the other hand, however, it also struck me that these words—even if sung by unbelieving hearts—continue to attest to the glory of God.  And as we sang, “‘Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand, God of eternal power,” I found myself rejoicing, for the day is approaching when all flesh shall come to the One who alone hears prayer (Psalm 65:2).

–MRK

More selections from this hymn-sing:


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