“Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. 2 Samuel 6:5 (NKJV)
I come from a musically rich heritage. My father, who was a mechanical engineer, was also a pianist who, as a young man, studied for five years at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While he never played piano professionally, he played in countless churches. I do not know who said it, but when my father’s musical skills were discussed, someone said, “Oh, Bruce plays by ear. Don’t ask him to read the music.” It always amazed me he could listen to a melody and then sit down at the piano and play it, complete with harmony and embellishments. He could always be counted on to sit down to play at the “drop of a hat,” and he would even drop the hat.
My sister, who is a medical technologist, by training and profession, plays the flute and piccolo (previously playing in several community orchestras and now exclusively in her church orchestra) along with the handbells in the handbell choir. She is actually quite good (although she will tell you otherwise) but she doesn’t enjoy performing. She would rather play in an orchestra than be the center of attention. She follows in the footsteps of a paternal grandfather who also played the flute.
My brother became an orthodontist after giving up on several instruments, but he still loves music! He used to play the first five or six bars of the “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano with great aplomb, but never quite made it past that point. He dabbled in saxophone (which he hated–he wanted to play the trumpet), piano, and who knows what else before finally putting them aside after high school. One of his sons now plays the piano, taking up the mantle his father laid down.
I played the violin for a short time as a young girl, and the piano from second grade through college graduation, when I no longer had access to one. Like my sister, I did not like performing. I remember waiting, one Sunday morning in the pew at church to play a piano solo for the offertory. My heart pounding and hands shaking, my father, seeing my discomfort, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “It’s time to get nervous now.” Trying to interject a humorous moment didn’t lessen my nervousness, but I was comforted by his love and concern.
One of my favorite hymns has always been the Swedish hymn, “Day By Day”. I remember sitting next to my father on our piano bench at home, during an especially difficult time in my life, listening as he played this beautiful old hymn. The words and melody have been a comfort so many times during my life. I was reminded of this hymn again recently.
Day By Day
Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best –
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
Everyday the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Power,
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
this the pledge to me He made.
Help me then in my every tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy word.
Help me Lord, when toil and trouble meeting
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
‘Til I reach the promised land.
It is unfortunate we no longer sing some of these hymns. While I enjoy and appreciate much of the new “praise and worship” music we sing in church today, it is some of these old hymns which still have the power to soothe and encourage during especially difficult times.
Hymns like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace” are still widely heard in many churches, but there are many more wonderful, inspired hymns that seem to have been forgotten. It is too bad that even when these older hymns are played, they are played more like funeral dirges than the praise and worship songs they were intended to be. No wonder people don’t enjoy them much. It gives me hope to see some of these old hymns re-born by such groups as, Selah, and others.
Many of these hymns have an incredible history. The older I get, the more I realize that understanding history is important. It was only during my daughter’s high school years that I began to realize how fascinating the study of history is. For me, history was always taught as names, dates, and places to be memorized; an incredibly boring process with little to recommend it. I never understood then that history is the study of people and how their decisions affected the lives of others.
When I begin to look at the “when and why” of some of these old hymns, I begin to understand what tremendous faith and courage they represent. They help me to remember and understand my spiritual heritage. Remembering keeps me connected to those who have gone before me in faith. They help me to stand strong in faith when I would rather give up.
My daughter has now added a new twist to my family’s heritage for music. Her instrument for praise and worship is dance. God has gifted her to play an “instrument” that is as expressive as any piano, flute, or violin. Her interpretation of music as she dances makes her one with the other instruments in the background.
For those that do not play an instrument, we can always lift our voices in song, whether on Sunday mornings as part of the congregation or in a choir. Even if we aren’t musically gifted, we can still sing our praises to the God Who is worthy of all praise. As a pastor once said: “Everyone can sing. Not everyone should record.” It is our heart for worship that pleases God.
I am so grateful to God for the gift of music. Music adds such beauty, richness, and enjoyment to my life. It expresses the deepest feelings of my heart without uttering a word. It is also a vehicle for my most earnest praise and worship. Music renews my spirit and restores a peace to my soul. Music brings the presence of God to me in a way that nothing else can.
God inhabits the praise of his people.
“But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3 (NKJV)
(I have included a You Tube rendition of “Day By Day” in the Comments section, for those who are unfamiliar with this hymn.)
Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved