I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, September 5, 2016


Max Lucado once told this story of an encounter he had with his 3-year-old nephew: “He asked me to play some basketball. A towheaded, spark plug of a boy, he delights in anything round and bouncy. When he spotted the basketball and goal in my driveway, he couldn’t resist. The ball, however, was as big as his midsection. The basket was three times his height. His best heaves fell way short. So I set out to help him. I lowered the goal from ten feet to eight feet. I led him closer to the target. I showed him how to “granny toss” the ball. Nothing helped. The ball never threatened the net. So I gave him a lift. With one hand on his back and my other beneath his little bottom, I lifted him higher and higher until he was eye level with the rim. 

“Make a basket!” I urged. And he did. He rolled the ball over the iron hoop, and down it dropped. Swoosh! And how did he respond? Still cradled in my hands, he punched both fists into the air and declared, “All by myself! All by myself!” 

I think we are all like that sometimes? We don’t want to be dependent on others; we are slow to ask for help, and we are proud of our “can do” confidence. 

I had a very simple mechanical equipment problem, some time, ago that took me nearly two days to fix. Because I didn’t know anything about the equipment, I made several mistakes and had to do some research and repeat some of my work at extra expense. The day after I finished, I was telling my friends about it and one of them asked, “Why didn’t you ask me? I could have fixed that for you in a few minutes.” 

That kind of independent spirit is innate in all of us but in our American culture, the qualities of independence and self-reliance are valued as virtues (especially for men). They have been ingrained in us through our national history and in our family upbringings. We tend to think of dependence as a weakness. But the truth is - we are all needy. We all need help from God every day. We need Him more than most of us realize. 

In fact, Jesus told us just how much we need Him:  "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for WITHOUT ME, YOU CAN DO NOTHING.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned." 

That passage from John 15 may have been the inspiration for the lyrics to the old hymn, I NEED THEE EVERY HOUR. It was written in 1872 by Annie Hawks, a prolific writer who wrote dozens of articles for magazines and newspapers and she wrote almost 400 hymns during her lifetime. 

When she was asked about this hymn, she wrote: “One day as a young wife and mother, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, I NEED THEE EVERY HOUR, were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me. Seating myself by the open window in the balmy air of the bright June day, I caught up my pencil and the words were soon committed to paper.” 

God’s power and help in our lives are continuous and practical functions of His grace. We don’t just need God for our lives; we need Him in our lives. It is impossible to live a clean, obedient, God-honoring and glorifying life without Him. None of us can rightfully boast that we did anything good without Him!

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