Hymns are not only powerful, they sneak into our soul. As William Cowper sings, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings; it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.” William Cowper was well aware of the power of hymns, as he wrote in a letter to a friend, “It is a noble thing to be a poet. It makes all the world so lively. I might have preached more sermons than even Tillotson did and better, and the world would have been still fast asleep. But a volume of verse is a fiddle that puts the universe in motion.” Hymns have this ability to sneak in undetected and surprise us! And we desperately need the truth of the mercy of God to break through, to reform us, to restore our sanity, to open our eyes to help us see Jesus as beautiful and believable—in short, to shape us as a people of God.
In her book A Royal Waste of Time, Marva Dawn tells of Vaclav Havel, a playwright who was also the president of the Czech Republic. He was asked how the revolution to overthrow communism in the Czech Republic was bloodless and yet had experienced real staying power. He simply replied, “We had our parallel society. And in that parallel society, we wrote our plays and sang our songs and read our poems, until we knew the truth so well that we could go out into the streets of Prague and say, ‘We don’t believe your lies anymore!’ And communism had to fall.”
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what worship should be about? We gather to sing our songs so we will know the truth so well that we can go out into the world and say, “We don’t believe your lies anymore! We won’t be squeezed into your mold!” And so we can speak to our fearful heart and say, “Heart, I don’t believe your lies anymore!” (or as Charles Wesley put it, “Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off your guilty fear!”), because Jesus can trump even what my heart says! And Jesus does trump our hearts as He becomes beautiful and believable to you. That is why we gather in worship.”
“Chant down Babylon with music!” —Bob Marley