“How Great Thou Art.”
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”
“I’ll Fly Away.”
All of these songs took on new meaning for me when they were sung at my grandmothers’ funerals. In those moments of deep, unexpected grief, my parents chose to sing praise to God. We remembered God’s greatness, His goodness, and His promises—even while painful tears ran down faces and the trappings of death surrounded us.
The flowers kind people sent faded. My grandmothers’ bodies were buried in the ground. But the truth that we sang never ended. It was spoken before the foundation of the world by God Himself. It continued on through the pens of Scripture’s human authors, through translations into the hearts of the hymn writers, into verse through their reflections on God’s Word, and onto our lips through song.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa. 40:8)
This is true and trustworthy. But how do we remember it—not just with our heads, but our hearts?
Songs Are Training Wheels for Your Heart
Have you ever noticed that when you sing something, it gets stuck in your memory? Whether it’s a catchy jingle, a top 40 hit, or a classic hymn, your mind starts singing it before your mind even recognizes it!
Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul encouraged believers at Colosse to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
We don’t live in an ancient Greek town, but we are united with these ancient believers through Jesus. So friends, this command is for us too. Praising God with song is not separate from following Christ, it’s key! As this passage teaches us, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly is linked with encouraging and teaching others and singing with gratitude. This isn’t a checklist of discipleship. It is a package deal of living “as God’s chosen ones” (v. 12).
We know this. We know that we should get God’s Word into us as much as we can in all the ways that we can. But why should we sing? Why was it important to Robert Wolgemuth that they sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” at his first wife’s graveside or to my sisters and me that we sang “I’ll Fly Away” at my great-grandmother’s memorial?
It’s simple. Music trains us. Like training wheels on a little child’s bike, the songs that we sing to worship God keep us upright. Sometimes you start to lean a little to the right—Maybe God’s not there for me after all. Before the thought gets its claws into your mind, a few lines of a hymn catch you and push you back to center.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.
Yes, you think, God is still faithful. He has not changed.
Your bicycle of faith shakily tilts to the left: Perhaps God isn’t really in control. That’s why I’m suffering. This training wheel tune shifts you back to the truth.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
Then perhaps you hit a giant, unexpected rock in the road. You’re wrenched into the air, limp and helpless, and a gospel melody comes to your mind:
Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away.
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.
Just as you’re about to land straight onto your head, hope catches you. You’re caught up in the precious arms of redemption’s promise. An end to suffering is coming. Your heart remembers that Jesus has won.
Praising Him with All That We Are
Scripture-saturated music especially trains us to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Our entire being is caught up in singing.
Our minds think the words.
Our hearts feel the emotion of the words, melody, and rhythm.
Our souls are strengthened by the truth.
Our lips form words, our lungs fill with air, and our bodies move with praise.
Each part of us influences the other as we are captured by the truth: our God is good, and he does good (Ps. 119:68).
Consider the stories we read in chapters 12 and 13 of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.
- Chase Kemp was able to recite Psalm 103 at his tiny son’s funeral.
- Peg Campbell and her loved ones sang at her husband Jon’s deathbed.
- George Müller preached a sermon on the goodness of God at his wife’s funeral.
- John Wreford proclaimed his desire to show God’s faithfulness and goodness as he was dying.
How in the world could these people rejoice in the midst of deep sorrow and grief? God had shown Himself to them—and they chose to believe. They had poured their sorrows out to the Lord. They had sung His praises as they clung to the truth.
Let’s do the same. Here’s a beautiful hymn-prayer to get us started.
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of God’s redeeming love.
Here I find my greatest treasure;
Hither by thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with his precious blood.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.
Reflect and Discuss
What circumstances cause you to need “training wheels” of praise most often? What lies are you tempted to believe in those moments, and what is the truth you need to remember?
Read Psalm 103 like Chase Kemp did and pray it back to the Lord. Thank the Lord for His blessings, even if they come mixed with grief’s shadows.
What songs do you come back to repeatedly to help remember the truth? (If you can’t think of any, ask some other believers for suggestions—or start with this list and pop the titles listed into YouTube or Spotify.)