Go Forward and Raise Your Ebenezer!
Ready for a quiz? Match the following words to their meaning:
Strand A. Celestial or Heavenly
Ebenezer B. Hosts or Armies
Main C. Land bordering a body of water
Supernal D. Stone of help
Fain E. The open ocean
Sabaoth F. Happily, Gladly
How did you do? The words chosen for this quiz are not simply random vocabulary terms; instead, they are words taken from older hymns still in use today. While it is likely that some quiz takers scored 100%, it is also likely that many did not. Language is fluid; words popular in previous generations may very well fall out of mainstream usage or take on definitions very different from their original purpose. It is no different when it comes to hymn lyrics, meaning that there is work for Christians to do!
As the apostle Paul instructed Corinthian Christians on matters relating to spiritual gifts, he included a striking idea about worship: “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding” ( I Corinthians 14:15 NIV). Though this statement was written under the purview of spiritual gifts, its application extends to all matters involving worship: the mind must always be engaged and fully aware of what is being offered to God. This, however, cannot happen if the singer does not focus on the message of the hymn or understand the content of the message.
Concerning the matter of focus, a worshiper must concentrate on the message being presented in each hymn sung. While restlessness in an assembly or a missed pitch by a song leader can lead to distraction, it is primarily within one’s own mind that most distractions occur. A worshiper seeking to give God the glory He deserves must work to remove the obstacles that get in the way. This is accomplished only when praising God is given priority over those thoughts which, like mental thieves, seek to steal away attention. Much of this can be accomplished by preparation. Allowing the glory of God to fill the mind before entering into worship will help allay those issues that divert focus. Reading a Bible passage, reading the lyrics of hymns, or praying can aid the worshiper in turning attention to God. With such preparation, the mind is then prepared to exalt the Lord in song.
Concerning the matter of understanding, a worshiper must become familiar with the lyrics offered in praise. In recent times, some religious groups have made efforts to push the “old hymns” from use because of the antiquated language. Such is a disservice to worshipers. While there are many new hymns that wonderfully express praise to God, older hymns often present lyrics with a sturdy message pertaining to God’s glory paired with music that is easy for the worshiper to sing. Abandoning these stalwart hymns because of ignorance of word meaning is a tragic mistake. Instead, Christians should take it upon themselves to learn the meanings of unfamiliar words and phrases. This not only will make the use of the song in worship more meaningful, it will also allow more time outside of worship to study and focus on what the hymnists sought to express about God and service to Him.
As with all aspects of worship, singing should be a time of reflection on God and His glory. With minds focused and an arsenal of well-crafted hymns of praise, each Christian should seek to give Him the glory He deserves. So, “in vain, in high, in holy lays” allow your soul’s grateful voice to raise songs about the wonderful love of Jesus. If discouraged, borrow “the Balm of Gilead” and remember what God has done for you. Go forward and raise your Ebenezer as you give God praise in song!
Answers: c, d, e, a, f, b.