A Hymn That Taught Me How to Pray

When I was a teenager, our local church had singing classes on Sunday evenings. We sat according to the part we sang (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), learned new songs, and learned how to sing familiar songs correctly. In addition to learning the musical notes, we also discussed the lyrics. Among the reasons cited in the Bible for our singing is revealed in Colossians 3:19: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. We sing to teach and instruct one another, and to thank God.  That last component, thanking God, explains how we may pray through song.  We praise God when we express our gratitude to him.  The other components, teaching and instructing, also include praise of God, for through praise and prayer, we communicate to those who hear what we believe about God. One of the songs that I learned in that Sunday night class more than forty years ago still resonates with me.  It’s a traditional hymn, one that one might not think would appeal then or now to a teenager. However, its message and its music, if you will, struck a chord with me. The words were written in 1824 by John Bowring. The hymn is “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love.” Bowring’s lyrics are a prayer of praise and gratitude to God. The words that captured my imagination and built my faith then, as they still do, were:

“Father and Friend, Thy light, Thy love, Beaming through all Thy works we see; Thy glory gilds the heav’ns above, And all the earth is full of Thee.

Thy voice we hear, Thy presence feel, While Thou, too pure for mortal sight, Enwrapt in clouds, invisible, Reignest the Lord of life and light.

Thy children shall not faint nor fear, Sustained by this delightful tho’t; Since Thou, their God, art ev’rywhere, They cannot be where Thou art not.”

The prayer/hymn echoes the words of Psalm 19 – “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The song proclaims the transcendent power of God, but also affirms his love as does Psalm 136, which begins, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.”  It affirms that God, despite his transcendence, is in some way near us. We cannot see him, but we sense his presence. We have learned his message through his Word, both written in Scripture and embodied in Jesus. The prayer concludes by affirming that wherever we are, God will be there also.

I learned in the singing class how to sing better.  I also learned about God and how he relates to His creation.  I learned that I cannot be where God is not. I learned how to sing, but also how to pray.

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About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. He currently preaches for a Church of Christ in Leavenworth, Kansas. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael runs more than twenty miles most weeks, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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3 Responses to A Hymn That Taught Me How to Pray

  1. I grew up singing in my dads church choir and learned much there about music, harmony singing, and scripture through the words of many old ‘anthems’ we learned. Seems like ancient history now, that style of music, but a most valuable and enjoyable way to learn of salvation in Jesus.

    • Yes, we learn when we sing. You and I learned much about music through the church, although I actually learned the rudiments of reading music from a public elementary school teacher. Many “old” hymns still teach faith-building lessons. Some new praise songs do, also. The critical task is encouraging Christians to sing the songs that will mature their faith. Thank you for sharing your story.

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