On the third Sunday in January forty-five years ago, I was catapulted into God’s family by believing in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ—who was crucified for our sin and resurrected to give to anyone who will believe, His everlasting LIFE!
That January day is etched in my heart and head; never before had the sun been so bright and the snow so pristine white. In the morning I went to a new-to-me church where I heard the Gospel preached. I had heard God’s truth on other occasions, without response. But on that day forty-five years ago, I was ready to believe. It had to be true; there was no other answer to life!
As I walked into the church service on that Sunday, the congregation was singing a hymn—and the sound of that singing shocked me. I’d attended church services in “quiet” Protestant churches all my life. Never before had I heard hymns sung the way that congregation was singing. Suddenly it occurred to me: these people really mean what they are singing!
I believe the hymn singing marked the beginning of my new birth process that day. When the Gospel message was preached, everything clicked. It was true, and I knew it. I was a sinner. I needed salvation, and the Lord Jesus is real. He died and rose for me, and now I belonged to Him. I could sing the hymns, and really mean what I was singing.
How I love the old Gospel hymns. Thankfully, the church where I now attend has not discarded the old favorites, although we do have contemporary praise music as well. But there is nothing like the hymns, because so many of them teach as they sing—reinforcing the truths of Scripture, implanting these truths in our minds, challenging, encouraging, comforting us with every line.
Just a few of my favorites are: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Joseph Scriven and Charles C. Converse), “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (Helen Howarth Lemmel), and of course John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” which, according to my wishes and depending on God’s will, is scheduled to be played by a bagpiper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration; I have my Celtic heritage to thank for that desire.
My paternal grandfather was a Congregational preacher who loved the Lord Jesus with all his might. I know that my grandparents’ witness and prayers were among the many factors which God used to draw me to Himself. Grandpa Longenecker loved hymns. In his last years on earth he played through his hymnbook on his violin, nearly every day.
I can still picture Grandpa fiddling away. Sometimes he would pause, rest his violin on his knee, and preach at me about the coming glory when he would be face to face with the Lord. At the time, I was a clueless teen-ager thinking about the coming high-school dance (or my coming violin recital) rather than the Lord.
But the shine on Grandpa’s face was not lost to me. His face literally glowed when he talked about the Lord—and his snappy, deep brown eyes sparkled. If I’d been into musing beyond dances and recitals in those days, I might have wondered about the shine and the sparkle! To me he was just “Grandpa”. But how I loved him!
Now, like Grandpa Longenecker, I play through my hymnal frequently—enjoying my favorites and occasionally trying a selection which is new to me. But unlike Grandpa, I play the hymns on my piano. A broken left arm and dislocated wrist curtailed my violin playing back in the 1990s—after I’d finally begun to retrieve some of the technical skills I’d put in storage for decades of raising a family and doing other things. Meanwhile, I never put music per se in storage; I’d kept right on singing and playing my piano through the years.
Today, at age eighty two, I simply do not sing like I once did—unless you call a one-octave tenor bass range “singing”. At least you can call it a “joyful noise”. But I can play my piano, and play I do. It’s great therapy for the soul, as well as for arthritic fingers. “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”
And often while playing I recall that cold Sunday many years ago, when I first heard hymns sung as if the singers really meant it. The power of the hymn!
Margaret L. Been — January 13, 2016
NOTE: The above sunrise photo was taken in our front yard this very morning. Too beautiful for words. Fortunately I grabbed my I-Pad immediately and took pictures of the sunrise over our park. Five minutes later, the colors had disappeared into normal morning daylight. Lovely, but not so spectacular as those first moments of dawn.