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Singing With Emotion and Intellect

The Bible makes it clear that the songs we sing originate in our heart. If you’re like me and are melodically-challenged, it’s reassuring to know that God is happy when the melody in our songs come from the heart. 

Ephesians 5:19 – Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

But it’s not just the melody that originates in our hearts; it’s the actual words and emotions that we express that originate there, too.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

James 5:13 – Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Psalm 95:1-2 – Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Those songs are written and the music composed by brilliant and talented minds. And they compose songs that not only move us emotionally but inspire and challenge us intellectually.

1 Corinthians 14:15 – What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

I think this blending of the emotion and the intellect can really be seen, when we hear the stories that inspired the songs we sing. I don’t know the exact background of each of the songs I’m about to mention, but I’d like to take a minute to consider them in context of when they were written.

Near the end of the 1930s the Dust Bowl had ended but the Great Depression was still crushing many Americans, as it had been for nearly a decade. We’ve all seen pictures of poor migrant workers from this period and when I imagine them singing these songs the words take on a deeper meaning for me.  In the 1930s over 2 million people left the dust bowl states. They were refugees in their own country. Consider that when we read the words to a few of the songs we sing and imagine those refugees, without a home, singing to their God specifically about their desire for a home with Him.

Take My Hand, Precious Lord (#104), written in 1938: “When my way growth drear... When my life is almost gone... Hold my hand lest I fall ... I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

An Empty Mansion (#198), written in 1939: “Here I labor and toil as I look for a home... My savior and Lord promised unto the weary sweet rest... There’s a mansion now empty just waiting for me, at the end of life’s troublesome way. And I know that the savior will welcome me there, near the door of that mansion someday.”

This World Is Not My Home (#230), written in 1938: “My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue ... I know He’ll take me through, though I am weak and poor... If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do? I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

When All Of God’s Singers Get Home (#232), written in 1937: “When all of God’s singers get home, where never a sorrow shall come. There’ll be no place like home, when all of God’s singers get home.”

There are a few other songs from that period that aren’t as popular today but express the same longing for a home.

The Home Up There (#252), written in 1935: “This is not our rest, this is not our home. We are travelers bound for a world to come... To the home up there we oft turn our eyes... Previous home up there which the Lord prepares... Oh it won’t be long til we reach our home... Where we’ll sigh no more ‘neath the loads we bear, be with Christ forever in the home up there.”

God Shall Wipe Away All Tears (#238), written in 1940: “When we reach that home and lay our burdens down... When the pearly gates unfold for you and me... God shall wipe away all tears. Give us joy from all our fears. When we meet him in that home beyond the sky, God shall wipe away all tears.”

Obviously not all songs from the 1930’s are about our desire for a home. But there does seem to be a trend in the song themes, and it would make sense that songs written around times of great tragedy would reflect those events. I’ve noticed similar trends from other time periods as well. Songs written during and immediately after World War 2 and the Civil War often sing of death, the desire for being reunited with family we’ve lost, and our desire for an eternal life after this one.

I’m in the habit now of looking at the copyright dates on the songs we sing, and it’s often given me a greater appreciation for the lyrics we sing. Hopefully it will for you, too.