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What Makes Hymns So Special
The Tradition of Hymns
Singing hymns has a long history as a method of worship. Hymns are also one of the ways of worshiping God that is specifically approved of or sanctioned. There are many ways of worshiping, some which are approved of and some which have never been sanctioned in Scripture. Depending on the church you attend, some worship according to Scriptural guidelines and others are an orgy of either self-expression or self aggrandizement by the worshipers. Hymns are special in that they worship God in a reverent and respectful manner without bringing undue attention to the performer.
In the Biblical accounts, Moses, Deborah, Hannah and Mary broke out in hymns or songs expressing either their gratitude, praise and worship. Their hymns are recorded for eternity. Besides being an expression of worship, these hymns convey gratitude for what has been done for the person. The hymns they sang direct attention to God rather than toward themselves or how wonderful they were. A good hymn does the same thing. It evokes an attitude of worship and praise. Hymns may not get the congregation up dancing or elicit great applause, instead it directs the singers attention to God.
Hymns also have a long tradition in Judaism as a way of communing with God. Hymns had a special purpose of preparing a person for their prayer time or reading of scripture. Hymns were one of the ways that their minds were stilled and their focus was directed to God. Hymns were also thought to open up spiritual pathways as part of their personal development.Hymns were often interspersed with the Psalms as a tool used to enhance their meditation.
In my own development, there have been some hymns which have moved me and touched me in such a manner. Many of the songs by the legendary hymn writer Fanny Crosby evoke strong emotions in me regarding worship. There is a power in her songs that has lasted the test of time. It is hard for me to identify a specific hymn by Fanny Crosby as my favorite, since the songs that move me often change depending on what challenges I am facing. She has a way of pairing the music and words in such a way to convey a heart felt message and worship.
When I have studied the back story behind her hymns, they mean even more to me. I do not think that it was by accident that she was a frequent visitor at the White House through several administrations. Each hymn she wrote was another victory over her disabling blindness.
One modern song that has consistently moved me is “When I Look Into Your Holiness” by the Maranatha Singers (on their Praise 9 album). This song consistently moves me whenever I hear it. Perhaps it goes back to the first time that it moved me. When I hear it, my mind grows calmer, and I realize that the chaos that surrounds me is not so important anymore. I feel more in touch with God and the need to praise and worship Him for who he is and the many wonderful blessings he has given. I am never in the same mood or funk after I hear that song. My focus changes and my heart is put at ease. For me, it reminds me of the purpose of hymns. I can easily imagine Moses, Deborah, or Hannah singing that hymn as well.