“Almost every hymn is a result of revival–whether personal, local, denominational, or regional.” (Fred Coleman, Head, Department of Church Music at BJU)
This is a striking statement. I would probably be a bit more skeptical if it didn’t come from Fred Coleman, a man who has done massive amounts of research in the area of hymnology. I should know: I took his graduate hymnology classes. I remember sitting through his riveting lectures, listening to him rattle off hundreds of years of church music history practically by memory. I had to think back through some of these lessons as I wrote the script for the recently released Watchsong film. Luckily for me, “Uncle Fred” is also my music pastor, so I was able to pick his brain as well.
Hymns are inspired by revival. The more you think about it, the truer the statement becomes. Look back through history, or think of David writing the Psalms–listen to the stories of hymnwriters past and present: when God works, people sing. The great periods of prolific hymnwriting through history correspond to periods of great revival. At the very least, hymnwriters testify to experiences of personal revival as their creative spark. This very website is the result of personal revival. The hymn that started it all, O God, My Joy, was written as God was lovingly leading me through a period of repentance and restoration. It’s a freeze-frame of what God was teaching me.
Singing is often a telltale sign of God’s reviving work. So is prayer. In fact, when God works, people exult and worship and weep and repent and preach and witness. Just yesterday, I was reading Luke chapter 1 where God was working in extraordinary ways in the lives of Zecharaiah and Elizabeth and Mary. All three of them were prompted to give blessing and pray and prophesy because of God’s work in their lives.
So, how is your singing these days? From my church’s choir loft, I get a chance to watch people sing. I try not to, actually–I need to focus on worshiping God myself, not wondering about everyone else–but sometimes, in my weakness, I glance around. I can’t help but wonder what’s happening in a person’s heart who isn’t singing or even looking responsive at all. I’ll admit, sometimes I need to stop singing and just meditate on the words I am supposed to be “praying” to God. But usually, the more excited I am about worshiping my Lord, the louder I sing (and, being a tenor, the higher I sing, too).
Perhaps you’ve forgotten what’s worth singing about. My wife and I both confessed to each other recently that we were in need of personal revival. Life happens, and before we know it, there are 1,000 things that distract us from seeking God. I was encouraged again by Hosea 3:6, a verse I return to often:
“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
God is faithful and merciful and eager to restore and revive parched, thirsty hearts. The greatest revivals in history started in one heart–with one person. Humbly press on to know the Lord, and watch Him work in you and in others through you.
It is here, I believe, that Christian artists have a unique and wonderful privilege. As we respond to God’s work in our lives by creating, very often we are not the only beneficiaries of this God-inspired creativity. When God works, other people sing, too. How many sparks of revival have been lit by a song or a poem or a work of art or a book or a journal or even a single sentence? The influential Moravian leader and hymnwriter Nikolaus von Zinzendorf is said to have committed his life to Christ after seeing the painting Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. Frances Havergal was inspired by the same painting to pen the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee. I wonder if Feti had any idea that his painting would influence thousands and thousands of people for Christ in the centuries to follow.
My prayer is that Christian artists would experience deep personal revival and be used of the Lord to inspire others through their art to “press on to know the Lord.” My prayer is that revival would break out in my own heart and in yours. When God works…well, I hope you can fill in what happens from your own experience.