The Power of Hymns

At the end of my time at the Best Practices conference in Phoenix, I experienced something unusual and unexpected: I wept.

It happened during the closingsinging hymns worship service when all participants were gathered in the traditional worship space and we sang with the organ from the hymnal (or from memory) the beloved hymns: “Lift High the Cross,“ “Thy Strong Word,“ “Hark the Voice of Jesus Crying“ and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (in harmony and a cappella). That’s when I lost it.

“So why the tears?” I pondered.

Hearing the participants sing with such gusto and experiencing the sounds of the 2000 voices echo through the vaulted space of the church brought out an emotional response in me in a way that the wonderful contemporary music I had been listening to and singing with over the previous days of the conference had not elicited.

To me the experience of a community of believers singing these well-known hymns with such energy revealed to me a glimpse of heaven and the singing I will experience there as all the faithful voice praises at the throne of the Lamb of God and glory in his presence.

I could sense a richness of history, that these were songs that had been sung for decades in similar places and had been passed on from generation to generation.

The hymns brought out a reconnection to my own personal history as a pastor’s kid, who had sung these hymns many times over the years in in congregation where my dad served, and they called to mind worship I had been a part of at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University when I was a student there.

I must admit, too, that the tears represented, as well, a feeling of loss. I had not sung these hymns in a long time. They seemed from a bygone era, a time that is no longer with us as worship music shifts as it must to adjust to changing needs and preferences, and a time I can’t go back to.

What that moment in time taught me was that in all the forward-thinking I am required to do for my work as a worship service provider, I need to take the time to return to the basics from time to time and incorporate the familiar and draw from the power of nostalgia.

When it comes to church music, we do not need to put all our eggs in one “praise band” basket and throw out all our traditional hymnody. There is still great impact that can come from singing hymns “like we used to.” And there is still value in closing songs with an Amen.

It is my humble prayer that the worship services I help develop put people in touch with the presence of God in their lives in a way that only music like this can—as it did for me on that day.

Blog question of the day:

How have you incorporated traditional hymnody into your more modern worship services in innovative and creative ways?



17 replies on “The Power of Hymns”

  1. Martha Torreson says:

    Hi Mark! 🙂 I use music, particularly the “old” hymns in my work at the nursing home, where I’ve even learned some “old” hymns that I didn’t seem to grow up with, but that are some of the many gospel favorites. We sing hymns almost daily at the nursing home, where I often lead the singing. Especially on our dementia unit I will bring my guitar (more portable than a keyboard), and the residents will love singing with me the many classic old hymns (How Great Thou Art, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Amazing Grace, Old Rugged Cross, etc., etc.). Interestingly, while many of the residents, due to their advanced dementia, cannot remember names of close family, they can still sing these hymns. Truly, I’ve experienced how deeply these hymns (the music & the words) are secure within their souls. While Alzheimer’s & other dementias destroy the brain, they do NOT effect the soul. Such comfort for families to recognize, and they see this most clearly (almost surprisingly so) when they witness their loved ones singing all 3 stanzas to a hymn, when they can’t remember anything else. Oh, the importance of these Scriptural truths in song… which arise from the soul to lift them out of their dementia for our 45 minutes of singing time. Too often “new” or “contemporary” hymns or even new hymns in the hymnals cannot do this. Hope this helps you in your work, to connect with your thoughts above… We minister to the souls primarily, not just to the “mind/brain”, and I definitely think that includes the use of the “old” hymns, along with Scriptural truths taught with the Lord’s Grace.
    Love to you & your family!!! Greet them for me! 🙂

    • Mark Zimmermann says:

      Thank you so much, Martha, for sharing how you use hymns in this way to the patients that you serve. What a miracle and a blessing from God! This really demonstrates what an impact that hymns have on people and does show how the soul is alive and well even when the body and mind may not be working as well. What a blessing you are! It does make me wonder if there is some product we could create to help caregivers that would incorporate hymns and favorite Bible verses for a daily devotional of some sort for people with Alzheimers or dementia. I will ponder that. So good to hear from you. You will always have a special place in my heart and in the heart of my family. I will greet them for you. Good to hear from you! Mark

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