There were a lot of givens in my childhood education. I knew if I got to school early, I could play on the field. I knew that at 7:50 every morning, the teacher on duty would blow a whistle three times, signifying the start of school. I knew Bible was always the first class of the day, and I knew we always started class by singing the hymn of the month. Thanks to my music teachers, hymns were as routine as lunch, carpool, and wearing a tie each Friday.
Eight years after graduating from Providence Christian School of Texas, I was delighted to learn my childhood music teachers, David and Barbara Leeman, had published an improved version of the hymnal that was central to my childhood. The publication of Our Hymns, Our Heritage: A Student Guide to Songs of the Church has given me occasion to reflect again on the formative power of hymns.
How can hymns influence a child? As the Leemans explain, they teach children to “love what is excellent” (13). Here are four excellent loves these hymns from my childhood have given to me.
Our Hymns, Our Heritage: A Student Guide to Songs of the Church
David and Barbara Leeman
Our Hymns, Our Heritage encourages a love and appreciation for the church’s hymns—a significant way to pass the Christian faith from generation to generation. The book features music and lyrics for 121 hymns that every person should know, drawn from a cross-section of styles, themes, and historical eras. The hymns are divided into sections based on the church year, God’s nature and attributes, and our responses to Him. Each hymn is presented on single book spread—the left-hand page gives a brief biography of the text’s author and the melody’s composer as well as a devotional summary to aid singing with understanding. The right-hand page is hymnal-like with the music and stanzas for simple playing and singing. Our Hymns, Our Heritage can be used by parents and educators alike to instill a life-long love for the richness and beauty of hymns.
1. Love of My Heritage
Our Hymns, Our Heritage offers a contextual experience of hymns. With each song in the hymnal, there’s a helpful “text and tune” paragraph describing the hymn’s history: the places and times in which it originated. Hymns didn’t arise in a vacuum. Each one has a story, and learning these can help children see how God reveals himself through story.
Children will see the continuity of the church throughout history: “This book is like a family picture album with great-great-great grandparents you have never met, as well as gifted relatives who are still alive” (11). Children who treasure the inheritance of their faith family learn gratitude and affection for fellow “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). Consider how “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” grounds future hope in God on his help in his historic faithfulness:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
As we rehearse heritage-rich hymns, we give glory to God for his providence throughout church history and say with Samuel, “Till now the LORD has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12).
2. Love for Scripture
The Leemans have chosen many hymns that put Scripture to music, which help Christians to internalize the language and truth of the Bible. When a child revisits these hymns, she lets “the word of Christ dwell in [her] richly” (Col. 3:16).
Hymns help Christians to internalize the language and truth of the Bible.
Singing and listening to such hymns reminds Christians of the Bible’s great worth, and they encourage believers to memorize Scripture. As “Thy Word Is Like a Garden, Lord” declares,
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine;
And jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths
For every searcher there.
In listening to hymns, we can develop a love for the words of God, saying with the psalmist, “More to be desired are they than gold” (Ps. 19:10).
3. Love of the Liturgical Calendar
Our Hymns, Our Heritage is divided into four main sections: The Church Year, God Is, We Respond, and Spirituals. The first of these categorizes hymns by their location in the liturgical calendar, bringing color and shape to an otherwise flat experience of time by placing the Christian into the story of Jesus. Whether one belongs to a liturgical tradition or not, a familiarity with the church calendar reinforces a Christ-centered experience of time. When we sing along with the calendar, we confess with “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated,”
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Singing the movements of Jesus’s life helps children develop a deeper love for Christ and learn to offer him one of their greatest resources: time. Since I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, these hymns were my first point of contact with the church calendar. Eight years later, I can trace my appreciation of liturgy to this hymnal.
4. Love for God
The Leemans offer a doctrinal experience of hymns. Christians don’t worship an unknown God (Acts 17) but One who has made himself known to us clearly in Scripture. The “God Is” section of Our Hymns, Our Heritage names God’s attributes through hymns.
In listening to hymns, we can develop a love for the words of God.
Many of these hymns are doing theology. They lead students to imbibe the words of theologians throughout the centuries of the church: “In so doing, they create a [theological] reference point in the pathways of their minds, construct a framework in the core of their spirits, lay a foundation in the soils of their souls” (15). Consider the creational theology in “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Join me in glad adoration.
Hymns with sound doctrine teach Christians that God is Lord, King, Creator, Healer, and Savior. They instill in the minds of children that God is omnipotent and worthy of praise. When we sing theologically rich hymns that name God’s attributes, we praise God with our minds and lodge truth about God deep in our hearts.
Hymns have helped me to love what is excellent. I’m indebted to the Leemans for making this collection of hymns an integral part of my early education, and I urge Christian parents to pick it up to supplement their family life with hymns, whether this means rehearsing them at a Christian school or bringing them into the home.