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"I Need Thee Every Hour:" Why I Now Understand the Power of the Old Hymns

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I grew up memorizing Bible verses both at church and at the Christian school that I attended for junior high and high school. In my youth, scripture memorization was something I did because it was required of me. I don’t remember giving much more thought to it than that, though I do recall that certain verses became favorites that I liked to meditate upon as a teenager. I committed verses to memory because it was part of my grade in Bible class or because I would be tested on it during Sunday School.

I also learned many hymns. I remember my father repeatedly stating his preference for hymns over the increasingly popular choruses of the day. Often my mother would express agreement, declaring, “There really is nothing like the old hymns. They have a way of standing the test of time.” My parents found most modern choruses repetitive, less thought provoking, with less depth. They still sang them at church, and my mother had her favorites, but they both valued the power of an old hymn above a short, repetitive chorus. I remember hearing their conversations on the subject and not fully understanding why they preferred hymns so much. The language in many of the hymns seemed dated, the syntax archaic. I found some of them quite pretty, but as a child, I did not really understand the true value or staying power of a hymn.

In my childhood bedroom, I sometimes heard my mother having her nightly bath in the bathroom next door, singing the old hymns and a few favorite choruses. It was comforting. It was beautiful, though I don’t think I appreciated it adequately at the time. It is interesting how moments that seem relatively inconsequential can turn out to be the most persistent childhood memories in adulthood. My mother’s bathtime hymn singing falls into this category. Those evening songs were rare moments in her life when she wasn’t doing something for someone else. She was singing for herself and for her God. Here were peaceful moments of communion that I got to experience secondhand. All the while I was absorbing the words to those hymns. They were becoming a part of me. Only in recent years have I become deeply grateful for that fact.

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Now I know precisely what my parents were talking about with their penchant for traditional hymns. Largely, a hymn is what springs to mind when I am in need of something to hold onto, something to quiet my soul or to encourage me to take heart. There are some favorite choruses that help to sustain me, but most often I find myself inwardly exhorting myself with lines like, “Be still, my soul. The Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the path of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain.” I now also am appreciative of those years spent committing scripture to memory, because when I need certain verses most, they are readily available, right there, offering assurances like, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7, New King James Version). I have no particular need to hurriedly look up the verse because it is embedded in my mind, in my spirit, and the hymns function the same way.

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Lately, I think about whether my own daughters will inherit this rich storehouse of memory for them to turn to as they enter their adult lives, and sadly, I realize that they will not have the same significant bank from which to draw. As a result, I am punctuating our usual listening habits on car rides with a hymn played here and there. But as for the scripture knowledge: short of assigning our daughters scripture to memorize each week (which I did do for a while when they were younger), I regret that our children will not have as robust a collection of stored verses unless they intentionally set out to make up for lost time and develop this memorization habit themselves. If I could go back in time, I would ensure they had more regular opportunities for scripture memorization and for learning hymns.

Do you have some favorite hymns, choruses, songs or mantras that are foundational to how you live your life: lines, verses, and affirmations that fortify you on hard days? Here are some of my favorite hymns. A few in the list were my grandmother’s favorites and my mother’s favorites. There is one that my dad is especially partial to. But most of these hymns I love because I find their lines come to me right when I need them, without me searching for them. Like an earworm that you actually want to nurture, these hymns reverberate when I am feeling tired or weak or confused. I find that I know more of their words than I realized I’d committed to memory, and when I need a burst of faith or reassurance or when my heart fills with gratitude, and praise must find its expression, the lines of these hymns resonate.

I Need Thee Every Hour

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Be Still My Soul

It is Well With My Soul

Be Still and Know

In the Garden

Come Thou Fount

Blessed Assurance

Trust and Obey

For the Beauty of the Earth

This is My Father’s World

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Because He Lives

If you are a hymn appreciator, I’d love to hear some of your favorites. I also would love to hear your favorite choruses, inspirational songs, scriptures or mantras. Please share them as a reply!

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