Sometimes when we are asked which books are our favorites, or which books have greatly influenced our lives, after stating the disclaimer, “Well, outside of the Bible”, we list our books. When I have been asked this I usually say, The Holiness of God by Sproul, The Pleasures of God by Piper, and so forth.
A book I generally do not list, probably because it is not often thought of as a book, is a hymnal. So, let me go ahead and state on the record, “A hymnal is one of my favorite and most influential books.”
But not just any hymnal. Being the faithful Southern Baptist that I am, I like the ‘Baptist Hymnal’ produced by Southern Baptists, but it is not my favorite. My favorite hymnal is ‘The Lutheran Hymnal’ that I picked up for a dollar at a used bookstore somewhere in Florida.
(Let me now insert an apology to all my Baptist and Presbyterian friends. “I’m sorry.”)
I like this hymnal for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are Biblical, and some are ‘just because’.
Among the Biblical reasons I like this Hymnal are;
the number of hymns contained in it that are based on scripture,
the theological content of the hymns, and
the number of Psalms contained in the hymnal.
Some ‘just because’ reasons are;
the liturgical aspects of the hymnal (an over-balance the opposite way from most Baptist meetings to keep me focused on God and God’s works),
all of the verses are included (did you know ‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded’ has ten verses?), and
I like this style of music.
This hymnal influences me in many ways. ‘Outside of the Bible’, where else would I want to learn theology than from those hymn-writers who studied God’s Word and then let it bubble over into worship? This is theology doing what it is meant to do. Theology in practice, if you will. Knowing God and then worshipping Him. J.I. Packer in his 1993 forward to his classic work, ‘God Has Spoken’, writes,
“The older I get, the more I want to sing my faith and get others singing it with me. Theology, as I constantly tell my students, is for doxology: the first thing to do with it is to turn it into praise and thus honor the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out. Paul’s summons to sing and make music in one’s heart to the Lord is a word for theologians no less than for other people (Ephesians 5:19). Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.”
(Taken from: God Has Spoken. J. I. Packer. Baker Books. P. O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI, 49516-6287. 1994. Page 7.)
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? If I may paraphrase, “Take the knowledge of God that you have learned from Scripture and worship God with it.”
What an upside down view of worship we have in the church today! We find what Scripture says about us and then sing and preach and pray as though God should worship us! Look for it. You won’t look long before you find this attitude, believe me.
A little off track there, but I think Packer is on to something. The Bible is God’s book. He has revealed Himself in it. We find that He is worthy of worship through this book that has revealed Him as our Creator and Lord. And then we find how and why we are to worship Him in this book.
So, my advice, as worthless as it may be, is this, learn theology and sing it to God! Doesn’t have to be a hundred year old hymn, a modern worship song, or a praise chorus. Pick a medley you already know, read your Bible, and sing what you’ve learned.