Tag Archive | Psalm

The Little Books Are Here!

9b9cc55960ea3611d835b85b118f3ac4When I was a freshman in high school I went to a national convention in Washington D.C. sponsored by Youth For Christ (YFC). If I remember correctly, there were 10,000 high school kids from all over the country at this convention. The main speaker was Billy Graham. I had heard him speak before in Chicago, and I heard him speak again several times later. He was even our commencement speaker when I graduated from Wheaton College. But the one thing I remember most vividly from all the times I’ve heard Graham speak was at that YFC convention in Washington. He said that one of the most important things in his Christian life was spending time reading the Bible. Specifically, he said he read five Psalms and one Proverb every day, month after month, year after year. The Psalms helped him learn how to communicate with God, and the Proverbs helped him learn how to get along with people.

I remember I tried reading the Psalms and Proverbs every day for a few weeks after I heard him say that, but no magic lights went on. I didn’t quite understand what the Psalms and Proverbs really meant for me in my life as a high school student back in the 1960s. There are a few Psalms that I like reading, like Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. And there are a few verses that stand out, like:

Psalm 19:1 – The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

But in general, I haven’t bothered reading either the Psalms or Proverbs very much in the 55 years since the day I heard Graham commend them so highly. That is, until I started working on my current writing project –  TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC, a book of reflections on some of my favorite hymns.

As I started to organize my thoughts for this project, I made a list of over 300 of my favorite hymns, and then I started to do research into the historical background of each hymn and the Biblical references within each hymn. I was quite surprised to discover how prominent the Psalms were in what I was learning. I decided to make the first section of my writing project include only hymns that are based on scriptural references from the Psalms. I selected 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns for this section.

My original concept for this writing project was to write a 365-day devotional, with a 2-page spread for each hymn, with the first page being factual information and my reflections on the hymn and the second page being the melody line and lyrics. The 31 Psalm-based hymns would be the hymns for January. It has since dawned on me that a 730-page book is a bigger project than I want to undertake. My current vision for this project is to include 101 of my favorite hymns, with reflections on about 10 hymns for each of about 10 different themes – like peace, joy, comfort, etc. A book that’s a little over 200 pages will be much more manageable to write, and even to hold as you read it.

fullsizeoutput_22baAs I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve decided to publish my 31 Psalm-based hymns as a separate book, a 68-page prototype of what my 101 favorite hymns book will look like. That spin-off project is now completed. If you would like a FREE copy of this little book, please send me your mailing address, and I’ll be happy to send you one. After you have had a chance to look at the prototype, I would appreciate your sending me any suggestions you may have for how to make the next book better. The last page of the book provides details on how to send feedback.

Meanwhile, an unexpected personal benefit to me of this writing project is that I think I understand a little more of what Billy Graham meant 55 years ago when he talked about the importance of reading the Psalms for learning how to communicate more deeply with God. I’ve gone back to looking at the Psalms again – both in the Bible and in hymnals. Maybe, you will find that reading TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns will provide you with a similar unexpected benefit.

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This Is the Day

fullsizeoutput_204fLast week I posted a blog entry called “Progress.” It was an update on the progress I’m making on my latest writing project, a devotional series based on my favorite hymns. The first part of the series will be a booklet of reflections based on 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns. My first draft of last week’s blog post was too long to expect you to read all of it, so I chopped off the last several paragraphs of the post. Here’s the rest of it – what you didn’t get last week.

The next Psalm-based hymn I wrote about in my booklet (after the four hymns based on Psalm 100) is “This Is the Day.” This hymn, written just 50 years ago, is a short, simple song that is a direct quote from the King James Version of Psalm 118:24. Les Garrett put the words of this verse to music. He was a pastor and traveling evangelist, originally from New Zealand.

The music is based on a Fiji folk tune. Musically, it has a simple call and response pattern, which makes it easy to learn, and easy to add verses to. Garrett wrote only the first verse, or should I say copied the words of Psalm 118:24 as verse one. Today the hymn is often published in hymnals with additional verses that have been added anonymously by oral tradition, a good example of the call and response pattern prompting other people to add new verses to a hymn.

fullsizeoutput_2056One of the books I’m reading as part of my own devotional reading this year is JESUS ALWAYS by Sarah Young. In the “Introduction” to her book, Young writes, “I enjoy singing this short, simple song in the morning, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ It helps me approach the day as a precious gift from God – remembering that every breath I breathe is from Him.”

During my last stay at Christmas Mountain, I re-read Young’s “Introduction,” and I decided to place “This Is the Day” as the next hymn after the four Psalm 100 hymns in my booklet. I’ve adopted Sarah Young’s practice of singing “This Is the Day” every morning as I begin my day. I even started to play with the call and response pattern of the song, and came up with some of my own words.

What can I do, What can I do
to reflect God’s love, to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind, I can be kind
to everyone, to everyone.
What can I do to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind to everyone.
What can I do, What can I do,
to reflect God’s love.

I’m not a hymn writer, but it was a fun exercise, and it reinforced for me that music, and the Psalms in particular, are wonderful gifts from God. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

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God Sent a Deer to Remind Me

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
[Psalm 42:1 NRSV]

A young deer was cautiously watching me as I stood at my copier making a few copies of some music to put in my organ binder for Sunday’s church service. I spied her as I looked through the patio door while I waited for the copies to print. Slowly and quietly I pulled my camera out of my desk drawer, slid open the patio door, took about ten steps toward the pond, and snapped the picture. One picture is all I got before the deer decided to flee into the cover of the woods behind her. I hope she was able to get her drink of water first. I hope she feels safe enough to come back for more drinks whenever she’s thirsty.

Seeing the deer beside the pond in my back yard immediately brought to mind the Psalm that begins – “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Throughout the month of September, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the noisy and busy world we live in. “The Monastic Way” pamphlet written by Joan Chittister has been prompting me to think about these things, especially about how important it is to live my life intentionally rather than just going along with whatever happens. How important it is to take time to examine my life and to think about what I’m doing with the time that I have. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The pond and woods outside my office, next to Whispering Winds.

It’s important to think about my life and how my daily activities are forming that life, but in order to do that self-examination in our busy, noisy world, it’s necessary to find some way to be where it is quiet, a place where we can take the time to meditate, away from the noise and distractions. Chittister quoted Hans Margolius as saying, “Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Is it really possible to quiet our minds in today’s fast-paced, noisy world? “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” We seem to have a natural thirst for quiet time together with God, “to see the world undistorted,” “to examine our lives,” and to think about the life God has called us to live.

Some days we may be able to set aside just a few minutes of quiet time with our thoughts and with God. Other times, perhaps, we can schedule more time, maybe even a whole day, or even several days to ponder our lives and focus our attention on drawing closer to God, on understanding our purpose in life.

Music is something that helps me quiet my soul for prayer and meditation. Here are links to four YouTube music videos that just might be a good start for some quiet meditation today.

AS THE DEER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZv3jzOTE70&feature=related (with lyrics)

AS THE DEER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wzWWggsOJI (piano only with wonderful pictures)

TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zut3rCzk6bw (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but with less commonly used tune for this hymn)

TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMlsifnlQN8  (Instrumental version with original tune. Lyrics shown over scenic pictures.)