Poetry Only Goes So Far

Poetry Only Goes So Far

This will be one of those posts that only a small percentage of you will care anything about – namely, the songwriters and musically inclined. But it’s worth sharing as it’s been on my heart for a few days. I’m currently reading The Birth of a Hymn, a compilation of short biographies of hymn writers and the stories behind some of their hymns. In so reading I came across a quote by Robert Lowry that has resonated with me. Robert Lowry was a Baptist preacher and hymn writer of the 19th century. He authored more than 500 hymns such as “Nothing But the Blood,” “Shall We Gather At The River?,” and “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (no, he didn’t borrow from Chris Tomlin).

Here’s what he said about hymn writing that immediately struck a chord with me:

“Not even the highest grade of poetry will secure a fixed place in the service of praise if it be lacking in spiritual quality. There must be in a hymn something which is readily apprehended by the Christian consciousness, coming forth from the experience of the writer, and clothed in strong and inspiring words, if it would hold its place as a permanent factor in Christian worship.”

My translation: Without spiritual depth and personal passion, a song is just a bunch of poetic garbage that won’t stand the test of time.

My conviction is that we have a bunch of “hymn writing” in the church today that doesn’t fit this criteria. We have songs with lyrics, but no passion. We have songs with words, but no Scripture. We have songs with lyrics and melody but no spiritual depth or affections to which the soul can relate and attach itself in meaningful worship of the Creator.

Fellow hymn writers, let’s put our pens to the task of being a prophetic voice, not just a flowery poetic voice.