What Christian has not had the experience of going through the motions of devotions without an engaged heart? To help believers overcome stagnancy in their time with God, I want to recommend a forgotten but highly effective devotional tool. I warn you, though, that this particular devotional aid is no longer a bestseller. It is not trendy, confronts spiritual issues head on, and maintains a serious tone. It is also a devotional tool that you might have difficulty locating initially. Sometimes, it sits uncomplainingly in the back of pews, at the bottom of bookcases, and in the storage area of piano benches. Once you locate one, however, you will be amazed at what it says. Its depictions of Calvary tend to touch a chord in the human heart and its encouraging words resonate in the deepest chambers of the soul. The tool that I speak of is often entitled, “The Hymnal,” and, even if you can’t carry a tune, play a piano, or read music, it can serve as a vibrant means of enlivening your devotional time. Here are some simple ways to rediscover the value of a hymnal.
Read through a Hymnal Systematically
Most hymnals contain a lot of hymns (and thus a lot of spiritual insights) that many people never read or sing. One of the best ways to get a look at these undiscovered gems is to develop a systematic reading or singing schedule that takes you through the entire hymnal. For example, you could read/sing hymns 1, 101, and 201 when you first get up in the morning. Then, you could read hymns 301, 401, and 501 before you go to bed at night. The next morning, you could read hymns 2, 102, and 202. At night, you could cover hymns 302, 402, and 502. This kind of routine will not only introduce you to many unsung, poetic masterpieces, but also enrich your devotional time with the Lord.
Study Hymns by Specific Writers
A few years ago, I heard a pastor recommend Horatius Bonar’s hymns for meditating on the work that Christ did for us on the cross. Intrigued by the pastor’s recommendation, I turned to the index of hymn writers at the back of one of my hymnals and discovered that four of Bonar’s hymns had been selected for that particular hymnal. Sure enough, all were Christ focused. I turned to one that I had never heard of, a song entitled, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face.” The hymn was a celebration of the benefits of taking the Lord’s Supper. The following stanzas particularly grabbed my attention and have been shaping my preparations for the Lord’s Supper ever since:
Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with Thee the royal wine of Heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.
Search books and the Internet for Hymn Histories
This past Thanksgiving, I found myself struggling to come up with something fresh to say about the concept of giving thanks. Thus, I began searching on the Internet for hymns about gratitude. I quickly ran across the title “Now Thank We All Our God” by Martin Rinkart. The text interested me so I read a small excerpt about Rinkart’s life and the events that inspired the writing of the hymn text. During thirty years of war in Eilenberg, Germany, Martin Rinkart buried two of his fellow ministers and saw another leave for safer territory. He officiated at an average of fifteen burial ceremonies a day, including the funeral of his wife. At the end of three decades of war, famine, and disease, however, he could write these words, the very words that I shared with my congregation:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Share a hymn at mealtime
For families who still find time to eat together, a hymn might be the perfect aid to creating an environment ripe for family devotions. A psalm reading before the meal and a hymn sing after the meal could be a wonderful source of mind renewing thoughts for believers of all ages.
Select a Hymn to sing and memorize each week
Because the Christian life is a constant battle, every saint is in need of fresh supplies of ammunition week after week. One way of getting supplies for fighting the good fight is to select a hymn to memorize and sing throughout a given week. The topical index in the back of a hymnal can point you to hymns that address your particular needs. As you commit these hymns to memory, you will find yourself directing your heart upwards toward God. As that communication opens up, fresh manna from heaven begins to nourish and cheer the soul.
The hymnal is not the Bible. It is just a tool, a manmade devotional aid. Nonetheless, it is a tool that contains the Spirit’s teachings to many saints from many corners of His church through many centuries. It probably grieves God’s Spirit that many of the hymns so rich with praise, testimony, encouragement, and instruction lie abandoned in so many churches and homes today. My guess is that if you will decide to renew a relationship with your hymnal, you will be struck by two things almost immediately: 1) The depth of the hymnal’s insight about God, and 2) The breadth of spiritual topics that the hymnal addresses. Why not approach that forgotten hymnal patiently waiting on your shelf and renew a dynamic spiritual friendship right now?