Enduring Songs - What Connects Them?

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I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a hymn or worship song last. What makes it enduring and grab people’s hearts and minds over time and even generations?

Theologian Tom Wright says that “unless our worship is joined (more or less consciously) with the praises of all creation, there should be a question mark as to whether it is really Christian worship”. Really? Creation? This seemed at first to be an overstatement – but after more thought, it began to make sense. The entire story of salvation is irrelevant without the story of creation. If God didn’t create, why would God save? And as to our involvement in the story, we are created in God’s image, giving us the capability to reflect God in all that we do, worship included. Thinking about this more deeply, I wonder if it’s not only songs that include reference to creation that are enduring, but songs that point to and give conviction to the hope of new creation! These are the bookends of all things God! Creation and new creation give not only hope for today but for eternity.

I thought about the songs that many would put on their Top 5 list – and I don’t mean the current top Christian hits, but the short list of songs that an individual Christian would choose to have sung at her/his funeral. To my surprise, the most popular hymns and songs I’ve experienced in the last few years at funerals meet the creation/new creation criteria. I’ll admit, I had to expand the idea of new creation to include the expression of eternity with Christ. But here’s a list of songs I’ve sung at funerals lately and a brief reference to how they connect with creation and new creation:

  • When Peace Like a River –creation: river, sea billows, clouds; new creation/eternity: the day when my faith shall be sight, the Lord shall descend, the trump shall resound…
  • How Great Thou Art –creation: stars, thunder, woods, birds, trees; new creation/eternity: when Christ shall come and take me home, then I shall bow…and there proclaim…
  • Ten Thousand Reasons – creation – sun, new day dawning, evening; new creation/eternity – sing you’re your praise unending, 10,000 years and then forevermore.
  • In Christ Alone – creation – solid ground, drought, storm, from life’s first cry to final breath (birth, human life); new creation/eternity – till he returns or calls me home… 
  • Amazing Grace –creation: human life, blindness and sight; new creation/eternity - when we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days…than when we first begun!
  • Because He Lives –creation: baby, new life; new creation/eternity: And then one day I’ll cross that river…and then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives”

What do you think? Could it be that as created beings we find our ‘home’ in our connection with creation and our hope for new creation?

Please add to the list of hymns/songs above. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I was at a funeral this past weekend where we sang "Nearer Still Nearer." I hadn't sung that hymn in a very long time, but found the words coming back to me and very meaningful.

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One that speaks to me is "When peace like a river". So powerful when you know the story connected to it. Thank you for writing this piece.