This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.1
There is a comfort found in hymns that anchors us when times are rough. When well-conceived, and grown mature through echoing the thought of Scripture, they circle in the mind when sermons fade. Who hasn’t known some aged loved one—lost, it seems to all cognition—still singing hymns deep-planted in the soul?
Because we know hymns—and remember— through the agency of tunes, they stay with us. The words and melodies still merge when our minds are harried by a hundred grim distractions, or when our fears have got the better of our faith. Somewhere in the basement of our lives we murmur hymns when all the house seems blown away: “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side.”2
This is no argument for older hymns or tunes I like: my preferences are only that. They help me when my days seem bleak, or I forget the promises of Scripture. In all those moments “in between”— while traveling; in waiting rooms; while waiting on short nights for sleep that sometimes never comes— the deep assurances of much-loved hymns provoke my trust and stir my faith. Their genre, age, or rhythmic beat are not essentials of their value. I can rejoice as fully with Andrew Peterson as with Charles Wesley; with Lauren Daigle as with Fanny Crosby. “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing; You say I am strong when I think I am weak.”3 “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.”4
And yet, with all that’s rattled with the earth, I turn again to words—and tune—I learned some 60 years ago: “This is my Father’s world.” These words are both assurance and defiance, comfort when I crave protection, and confrontation with the powers that seem to rule the planet. Like David’s joyous exultation—“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1)—they challenge what the networks doubt, that “above, behind, and through all the play and counterplay of human interest and power and passions, the agencies of the All-merciful One, [are] silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”5
This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is a truth I’m tempted to forget when tank battalions smash across the Ukraine border; when Chinese warships prowl the waters off Taiwan; when soaring prices for essentials threaten travel, food and shelter. “He looks on the earth, and it trembles; He touches the hills, and they smoke” (Ps. 104:32).
I sing these words against the news, for God’s unhurried sovereignty seems far away when breaking headlines make us worry about the politics in Pakistan, or unlit corners where White zealots spew their race-laced hate. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing . . .”6 The hymn itself, like the Lord it celebrates, is a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
So pick a hymn; engage with it; rehearse it till it seems a prayer. Yours won’t be mine, nor should it be, as though God only could be praised in English, or in twentieth-century lyrics. Make sure it sings with Bible truth and finds a dozen touch-points with the Word. Then let both time and memory do their work until the hymn, though authored by another to someone else’s composition, is fully, finally your own.
You will be singing for a while.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.7
1 Maltbie D. Babcock, “This Is My Father’s World,” 1901.
2 Katharina von Schlegel (translator: Jane Borthwick), “Be Still, My Soul,” 1855.
3 Lauren Daigle, “You Say,” 2018.
4 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,”1739.
5 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 500.
6 Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “ 1529.
7 John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” 1779.