Old Texts with New Life: Five Hymns for Parents to Play for their Teens
A few years ago I was at a conference where music leaders introduced several new worship songs. Many of them were good songs, some easy to catch onto, but I will never forget when the worship team played the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The thousands of attendees bellowed the words, and it struck me that until that moment, I had not heard the groups unified voices in such a powerful way. We had sung together for two days straight, and while voices were heard, it wasn’t until this familiar hymn was played that the room shook with praise.
Old hymns of the faith bring together the hearts and minds of believers as they transcend generations and reinforce Biblical theology. Having three teenagers, I’m well aware that the old hymns are not always very popular with young people. Honestly, they’re not always popular among their parents. But there is noble work being done by artists who are giving us new musical experiences with old hymn texts. Some of these artists are literally breathing fresh life into words that are rich and have been sung by believers for hundreds of years. I’d encourage you to play hymns in your home from time to time. Because of the Scriptural truth they declare, hymns are worth becoming a part of our musical repertoire. The stories they tell speak into all different seasons of life, providing Biblical lessons both for us as parents and for our children as they grow in their understanding of Jesus.
Here are a few of these great hymns and the artists who have given them new life:
Praise to the Lord (Joyful, Joyful), Shane and Shane – Shane and Shane have volumes of old hymns that have been refreshed with additional instruments and choruses. This hymn, first published in 1680, is based on Psalm 103 and 150 and its melody is uplifting and inspiring. The author, Joachim Neander, wrote the hymn with these Psalms in mind, but he was also inspired by the beauty that he experienced while walking through the German Countryside. I love the reminder that Jesus is King over all of creation, and when there is confusion around us, we are shielded and sustained under his wings. As mighty as He is, the Lord tenderly watches over His children. These are reasons to unabashedly praise the Lord with everything we have. In this particular arrangement, the singer breaks into Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee in the middle of the hymn, and the exuberant burst of music is felt emotionally. May our praise for Jesus be readily seen and felt, especially by our own children.
Come Ye Sinners, Norton Hall Band – I love seeing groups arrange hymns with modern instruments, like electric guitars, while stilling keeping the integrity of the original melody and text. Norton Hall Band is doing just that with many old hymns – literally reawakening the melodies of old texts that might otherwise be overlooked. What’s remarkable about this particular hymn is that the author, Joseph Hart, grew up in a believer’s family, but he walked away from the Lord in his twenties, becoming an enemy of Christianity. Hart wrote, “I ran such dangerous lengths both of carnal and of spiritual wickedness that I outwent professed infidels” (Morgan, 46). After discovering, in his forties, that Jesus loves him, Joseph Hart gave His life to Jesus, entered into the ministry, and began writing poetry that later turned into hymns we sing today. Stories like this provide so much hope in Jesus who never turns His back on our searching children. The chorus of the hymn is most poignant: “I will arise and go to Jesus; He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.” The Lord welcomes sinners, and in His embrace, we experience all the goodness of Christ. May this freeing truth be taught and modeled in our homes with our children.
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, Page CXVI – This arrangement is one big crescendo from beginning to end. It emphasizes beautifully the need for God’s grace in order to trust Him more and more each day and with each new trial. One of the most difficult questions we’re asked as parents is, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” We won’t have all the answers this side of heaven to our “why” questions, but as this hymn reminds us, we can lean into Jesus and trust that He is working all things together for our good. The hymn was written over a century ago by a woman named Louisa Stead who experienced great tragedy herself. While vacationing with her family, Louisa watched her husband drown while attempting to rescue a boy from the ocean. It’s out of this tragedy that the words to this hymn were written. You can almost feel her pleading with God to give her the grace needed to trust Him in the face of suffering. When we don’t have the answers, may we be quick to remind our children that God’s grace is sufficient and that He will give us the strength needed to trust Him more, and more, and more.
My Jesus I Love Thee, Red Mountain – The gentle melody of this song incorporates intimate words that express a deep love for Jesus. This hymn was not written by an experienced writer, but it was a simple poem written by a teenager named William Featherston shortly after he became a Christian. Featherston eventually sent his poem to his aunt who wanted to publish it, but it wasn’t until years after his death (at the very young age of 27), that a gentleman named Adoniram Gordon added a melody to it and it became the hymn that we sing today (Challies, “Hymn Stories”). My favorite lines are found in verse three: “I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, and praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath.” This is my own intimate prayer, that I will love Jesus with all my heart for all of my days, and I pray this fervently for my kids. There is no greater desire for parents than to see their children walking with the Lord. May the gospel message not be forgotten in our own homes as we teach our kids that love for Jesus comes out of His great love for us shown by His death and His resurrection, securing for us an eternity with “mansions in glory and endless delight.”
A Mighty Fortress, Matt Boswell – This is a great example of a hymn arrangement that has been modernized with a new, beautiful chorus while keeping the strong words and lofty melody. Written by Martin Luther in 1527 (it has remained popular for almost 500 years!), it was penned as the second wave of the Bubonic plague began spreading. How intriguing to think that these words, based on Psalm 46, can provide comfort and strength in the face of our modern pandemic: Covid-19. The hymn has been translated into almost every language, and it’s said that many Christian martyrs sang it in the face of their own death. By the strength of Christ, which is powerfully conveyed in this hymn, we can face the trials of tomorrow, no matter how unimaginable. “We will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.” May we always be mindful of telling our children that we serve a God who is a mighty fortress, a rock unfailing, and who will reign forever and ever. Amen!
For the first in our series on songs to share with your kids, please see Five Worship Songs for Families in Uncertain Times.
Challies, Tim. “Hymn Stories.” Challies, 2017. www.challies.com/series/hymn-stories/page/2/.
Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul. Thomas Nelson, 2004.