When I was first learning to run, I’d do one mile every day, and I’d always listen to the song “Mr. Blue Sky.” It’s not my favorite song, but it has a great beat that helped me to stay on pace while running. When I hit half a mile, I knew where in the song I should be. When the song ended, I knew I should be turning a particular street corner. At first, I needed the song to help me finish the run. But after a few weeks, my legs and lungs knew what to do on their own.
The Bible sometimes describes our Christian journey as a long-distance race. It takes dedication and practice. It’s often hard work, but the reward is beyond any earthly prize. But sometimes, when we are running this race, we can get off of our desired pace. Stresses from work or family obligations, unexpected disasters or obstacles, even just boring seasons of life can get us distracted and pull us down.
The best remedy for this is time in Scripture or prayer, or community with other believers. But God has also gifted us with music. There are so many beautiful Christian songs out there, many that pull their lyrics directly from the pages of Scripture, to remind us of how loved we are and get us back on track. Other songs may just preach the gospel into our weary hearts, or praise God for his power and majesty. Some songs may give us a loving smack and remind us that we have been embracing a sinful behavior, and we need to repent and return to God.
Regardless of what you are feeling or what you are in need of, I pray that these five songs will encourage you and keep you “on pace.” Listen to the lyrics and write down a lyric that stands out to you, or one of the verses I’ve included. May they remind you of why we run this Christian race.
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1. For When You Are Tired: In Christ Alone
“No guilt in life, no fear in death / This is the power of Christ in me / From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man / Can ever pluck me from His hand / Till He returns or calls me home / Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
This is one of those songs that feels like an old hymn to me, even though it was written in 2001. The song begins by just praising God for his incredible, steadfast love for us. It then walks the listener through the story of the Gospel, from Jesus’ birth to his death which paid the price for the sins of the world, and finally to his triumphant resurrection.
The final stanza, which I included above, is what really helps me to refocus and stay on pace when I feel tired. Because of all that God was willing to sacrifice for me, I can be confidant that He is in control of all aspects of my life. I don’t need to live a life of guilt or fear, from my first breath to my last, because Jesus is in control of my destiny.
When you feel tired by the weight of the world, or need a reminder of just what God did for you, give this song a listen.
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2. For When You Feel Hopeless: Abide with Me
“I need Thy presence, every passing hour. / What but Thy grace, can foil the tempter's power? / Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? / Through cloud and sunshine, abide with me.”
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
The version of this song that I’ve chosen is a bit different than the original hymn (don’t throw anything at me!) But the lyrics have always hit a deep place in my soul. The main message of this song is in the title; it’s asking the Lord to be with us.
Jesus promises us in John 16:33 that we will have troubles and pain in this world. This song does not shy away from that, beseeching God to abide with us as the darkness falls, and “when other helpers fail and comforts flee.” Sometimes, the only peace we can find in this life is found with the Father. But what a comfort that is, and it’s something that we need every second of every day, “through cloud and sunshine.”
Maybe you, or someone you know, has been feeling helpless and hopeless recently. Maybe something has happened that’s driven you to your knees. I encourage you to pray through the words of this song, and seek comfort by abiding with Christ.
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3. For When You Want to Thank God: Come Thou Fount
“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.”
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (Psalm 96:1-4).
I’m sure most of us have sung this song at one point or another, but have you stopped to really consider the lyrics? It, like many great worship songs, reads like a prayer. The first stanza is a shout of praise – almost like the author can’t find a powerful enough way to praise such a mighty God. We follow that with the second stanza, which is why the author is so wowed by God. “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.”
But the last stanza is the one that always stands out to me. It reminds me of God’s infinite patience with us. We are constantly in debt to God’s grace; we can never pay Him back adequately. And on top of that, we are prone to wander away from the God who loves us so much. But He is patient with us. He will win us back to Him. I love that the line “let they goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee,” puts all of the action on God. We can’t work hard enough to stick with Him. But He can grab ahold of us.
Listen to this song to remember what a marvelous God we serve. As the author asks “teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above,” maybe you too can seek a new, creative way to worship God and marvel at His magnificence while you sing.
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4. For All the Time: Give Me Jesus
“In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.”
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Have you ever heard the terms “7/11 songs”? It’s generally referring to worship songs that just say the same seven words, eleven times (or over and over and over again.) However, rather than becoming boring or trite, the repetition of this song helps the main refrain, “give me Jesus,” to truly stick in our heads. Within our own power, we can only get so far. And that power runs out so quickly. That's why, in every moment of our lives, we need to fix our eyes on Christ. He gives us the strength we need, but He also keeps our feet on the correct path.
The song only lists three specific scenarios when we need Jesus: in the morning when I rise, when I am alone, and when I come to die. But really, we can take any life situation and add the refrain to it.
When I commute to work, give me Jesus.
When I cheer for my child’s soccer game, give me Jesus.
When I’m grocery shopping, give me Jesus.
In all things, all the time – give me Jesus.
The repetition of this song beautifully cements this line in our hearts and minds, so that we can easily recall it when needed. Give it a listen, and see if you don’t find yourself thinking “give me Jesus,” throughout the highs and lows of everyday life.
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5. For a Time of Repentance: Kyrie Eleison
“If we love our God with all our heart, mind and strength / And we love our neighbors as ourselves / Then this law of love will heal the nations of earth / And the glory of Christ will be revealed.”
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Kyrie eleison means “Lord have mercy,” and is used in Catholic mass, and some Protestant liturgies. In this song, it’s repeated along with the English translation “have mercy,” several times. I love this song because it feels unique; there aren’t many songs out there with such a strong focus on repentance. As Christians, we don’t have to live in guilt over our sin, but it is important to be aware of it, and to come to God in repentance when we do make mistakes. This song reminds us of that.
But beyond our own individual sins and shortcomings, the song also powerfully begs God for mercy from the sins that we commit as a people group. Like Isaiah crying out to God for forgiveness for the nation of Israel, this song also asks Him to be merciful to us for corporate, societal sins and injustices.
But it ends with hope, and the reminder that only God’s “law of love will heal the nations of earth.” We can cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, but there is also something we can do to show that love and mercy to others who so desperately need it.
In times of personal repentance, this song is wonderful for preparing your heart. But it is also encouraging for times when you feel overwhelmed by the injustices of the world. God is still sovereign, and His message of hope is something that this broken world desperately needs.
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