Our Resolutions vs. "O God our Help in Ages Past"
- 2007 1 Feb
What's up with your New Year's Resolutions? Several weeks into the New Year and I am already a little sluggish with some of mine. But I regain my determination with one of the greatest hymns of prayer ever written:
"O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home."
When a "stormy blast" comes, I will always rely on God's presence and promises, not on a New Year's resolution. Then, I find my strength as He guides me through every new year.
Composer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote this powerful hymn over two hundred years ago. In his youth, he decided church music was too stiff and laborious. One particular Sunday, when he found it to be very dull, he expressed that to his father, who was a leader in the church. His reply to Isaac was: "Well, young man, why don't you write something better for us to sing."
That brief conversation set the stage for Isaac Watts to become a prominent composer of over 700 hymns. When he died in 1748, he had given the church new expressions of praise, emotion and simplicity which was very different from the traditional music of his day. It was considered an insult to God to sing any words that were not directly from the Bible.
"O God Our Help in Ages Past" was one of his hymns contained in the first of three hymnals published by Watts. It was entitled, THE PSALMS OF DAVID IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. (1719).
The majestic music, which carries these words was written by William Croft, an organist in the Church of St. Anne in Soho, London. He was known as one of the finest musicians of that day. Portions of this tune were used by composers George F. Handel and J. S. Bach in some of their famous musical compositions.
Thirty years after his death, Isaac Watts was honored for his many contributions to the growth of the church in England. A monument was erected in his memory in Westminister Abbey. He is often called the father of English hymnody.
Psalms 90 is the foundation for "O God Our Help In Ages Past." It is one of Watts' strongest texts. He was able to put deep meaning into the lyrics of his music. The Psalms he used were surrounded by descriptive words and gratefulness.
"Lord you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations" (Psalm 90:1). In other words, we are secure in the knowledge that God has been there for us. And our hope does not waver with the knowledge that He is with us now and in the future.
New Years' resolutions? "Bah, humbug," to use a famous phrase from the writings of Charles Dickens. Why should I resolve to do anything that could possibly be my whim at the moment? I choose to be guided through Bible study and prayer as I listen for the voice of God.
Yes, Father, I rest in the knowledge that you were there for me through all of my past. Forgive me for the times I attempted to go my own way with my will uppermost in my mind. I thank you for your love and guidance even before I understood. The day my heart was filled to overflowing with Jesus, my greatest desire was to be in your perfect will. You are "our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home." In Jesus' name.
Lucy Neeley Adams has always loved music. She began telling the story of hymns on Christian radio WWGM in Nashville, TN, in the '80s. She then wrote a newspaper column titled "Song Stories" for five years. During that time Lucy's book, 52 Hymn Story Devotions, was published by Abingdon Press in Nashville. Each of the 52 stories contained in the book is written in a devotional format, with the words of the hymn concluding each devotion.
Lucy, dubbed "The hymn lady," can be heard on the first Thursday of each month when she discusses hymn stories during a telephone interview with Michelle Mendoza of "Living Christian." The program is aired on station KCIS in Seattle, WA.
Lucy lives at Lake Junaluska, NC, with her minister husband, Woody. They have four children and fourteen grandchildren. She may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her at 52hymns.com