Poetry is one of our primary means of worship. The prayers and praises recorded in Scripture are nearly always written in verse, and today we still worship God with congregational hymns and choral music.
Some hymn texts shape us with their crystallizations of great truths, and many give us simple words for the cries of our hearts. Their well-turned phrases enter our vocabulary, and they encourage us toward trust and thanksgiving when we face uncertainty.
Furthermore, hymn poetry binds our communities together by giving us shared words for our spiritual journey. When I’m worshipping with a group of Christians for the first time, their songs help me to understand what they believe and where God is leading them. The words that people use to describe their lives helps to define their lives. Congregations who sing songs of depth will be pushed toward a deeper oneness with God and with each other.
But hymns and singing communities do not just appear. When we read the Psalms, we read hymns that grew out of an actively worshipping culture whose love for God overflowed into new songs. The first Christians composed new songs, and the early Anabaptists also wrote songs to express their fervent newfound faith. Throughout the centuries, the fresh faith of Christians has always driven them to praying and praising anew.
Singing the Psalms and other ancient hymns of the church gives us unity with the historical body of Christ. But we must also sing new songs that arise from our renewed hearts. We need to integrate these songs into our communities, seeking for more opportunities to sing fresh praises composed by brothers and sisters that we know. We will rediscover truths about God by writing these truths again. There is an urgency in songs that are written as a result of our own thanksgiving or our contemporary needs. We can hardly praise Him or pray too often.
Nor do we wish to give God anything but our best. Many people rightfully point out that recent songs often lack the depth of older hymns. But if this is true, it means that we need to encourage the poets among us more, not less. Good writers write well because they have had writing experience and because their communities encourage them to develop and share their God-given gifts. If we want valuable new hymns, we will need to encourage a culture of poetry that expresses both our worship and the experiences of our daily lives.
Let’s provide our poets and songwriters with a community that values their insights and their praise of God, so that their poems can become shared words for the next generations of the Spirit-filled church.