The inspiration behind the modern hymn ‘By Faith.’
Several years ago I turned to a wise and older friend for some much-needed advice. My friend humbly replied that while he didn’t have all the answers, he’d gladly offer his shoulders for me to stand on, so to speak, in order for me to gain perspective. He provided thoughtful counsel, and still does so on a regular basis.
Since then, the image of standing on someone’s shoulders often comes to mind, perhaps because of how rarely it seems to happen. Our culture is so fixed on chasing what’s most current that we often miss seeing how God has worked in past generations. We can learn, for example, from the incredible passion, conviction, priorities and art seen in the lives of the first hymn writers (while also realizing that even our newest ideas often can be traced to earlier origins).
Creativity can take on new forms of expression and human insight can produce fresh fruit with each age, but none of us begin with a blank sheet of paper! We are in the middle of the story.
As God’s people, we need to lean on those who’ve gone before us.
Tonight we ate Mexican food with a pastor friend who shared how young members of his congregation are finding themselves in need of the older ones to demonstrate what it means to live and grow as men and women of God. As a young boy I observed my grandfather’s practice of arriving at church an hour before the service began to spend quiet time with the Lord in preparation for worship. Both examples demonstrate the impact one generation can have on the next. Scripture also reveals this:
“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all he has made. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” Psalm 145:4, 13, 21
When I read this passage, I’m reminded that the praises and testimonies of one generation are to echo into the next. All ages serve and worship the same God, gather under the same gospel and add to the collective song that praises the faithfulness of God as each generation shares in his promises to us. We are part of something timeless, and the exercise of stretching our vision beyond ourselves leads us further down the road to an eternal perspective on all of life and our very reason for being.
In our own songwriting for the church, we often consider these questions:
- Is there a musical vocabulary that might link generations and not separate them?
- What thoughts were important to believers in the church from generations past?
- Are the lyrics we sing expressing these overarching themes or dispelling both the challenge and relief that comes when considering the well-trodden path of faith?
These questions influenced the lyrics in “By Faith,” our song inspired by Hebrews chapter 11. We tried to tell the chapter’s overarching story and show how believers today are traveling on the same journey of faith as those throughout the ages who’ve walked before us. Our prayer is that our songs–and lives–will give something whole and bright to the those coming after us who are ready to take hold of it!