Monthly Archives: June 2013

Try the Request Line

Hardly any radio stations take requests anymore. Some nationally syndicated radio hosts (Delilah, John Tesch, et. Al.) occasionally open a 1-800 phone line to solicit requests from people far, far away. Some of the stories of love, struggles, or betrayals may be mildly interesting, but they lack the immediacy of local requests in bygone days when Frank would plead for the DJ to play “Cherish” and dedicate it to Susan who shouldn’t-have-gone-out-with-Phil. In those days you just might have known Frank, or Susan, or Phil and having their love story play out on the radio could be captivating. Now the hit-or-miss chance of getting through to the DJ in order to hear a favorite song has given way to the instant ability to download the tune from iTunes or a vast playlist on any of a variety of electronic devices and to play it instantly – and over and over.

A similar passing of song requests seems to have occurred in church worship services. A staple of worship services – especially on Sunday nights – as I grew up involved the music leader opening the floor for people to call out their requests for hymns to sing, and especially to tell a little bit about why they liked to sing them. Often the stories of faith kindled by meaningful lyrics sung at a decisive moment in the person’s life made worship take on added impact. Changing and declining Sunday evening services certainly have contributed to the ebbing away of hymn request times.

Does your worship music leader take requests? I want to launch a campaign for as many people as possible to request a particular hymn to be sung as soon as possible – and perhaps as often as possible – in as many worship services as possible. This may be no small task. The hymn I have in mind may be unfamiliar to many. The lyrics were written in 1962and set to a traditional Irish melody. It was first published in 1964. Still, numerous hymnals have included the hymn in succeeding years. As the hymn nears its 50th anniversary of publication it certainly is deserving of much broader exposure.

The hymn is “We Praise You with Our Minds, O Lord.” Written by Hugh T. McElrath, the late Professor of Church Music at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the hymn served as the unofficial “seminary hymn” for a number of years. Dr. McElrath was a marvelous teacher who shaped hundreds of church musicians across 5 decades of seminary classes. An English major in college, he had planned to be an English teacher until he sensed God’s call to music ministry. The masterful crafting of words in this hymn is poignant for the experience of students attending graduate school in preparation for proclaiming the gospel of Christ and ministering God’s grace. But it is not limited in application only to followers of Jesus in a formal education setting. The hymn voices the total commitment and all-encompassing praise the Bible calls for each person who seeks to live in personal relationship with God to display. Hymns have always served as powerful teachers of theology and profound influences on how faith is lived out in individuals’ lives. This hymn sung often enough to become an abiding foundation stone for our practical faith could help to mold us to be more like Jesus.

Read the words to “We Praise You with Our Minds, O Lord” carefully and meditatively. Unfortunately, I found no online presentations of the hymn to link in this devotional. If you are not familiar with the hymn, ask a musical friend to help you find and learn the tune:

We praise Thee with our minds, O Lord, Kept sharp to think Thy thought;

Come, Holy Ghost with grace outpoured, To teach what Christ hath taught.

In all our learning may we seek That wisdom from above

Which comes to all: the brave, the meek, Who ask in faith and love.

We praise Thee thro’ our bodies, Lord, Kept strong to do Thy will;

Thy Spirit’s temples, which afford A means to praise Thee still.

We give ourselves, a sacrifice, To live as unto Thee;

For Thou alone hast paid the price To bring salvation free.

We praise Thee in our hearts, O King, Kept pure to know Thy ways;

And raise to Thee a hymn to sing Eternally Thy praise.

Although adoring hearts will bow As age on ages roll;

We praise Thee in our beings now, Mind, body, heart and soul.

(“We Praise You with Our Minds, O Lord,” Hugh T. McElrath, 1964)

The comprehensive call to praise God with our whole beings – “mind, body, heart, and soul” – stated in the last line of the hymn draws from the very center of God’s intention for every faithful follower. When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandment (see Mark 12:30) he quoted from the shema, the thesis statement of God’s law Moses delivered to God’s people: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. {6} These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV) Every facet of life is supposed to be engaged in our relationship with God. The stanzas of the hymn detail often neglected areas of disciplined commitment every follower of Jesus can strive to practice more fully. How many of us think of sharpening our minds as preparation for thinking and understanding more of God’s thoughts? When we actually do think about improving our physical fitness by eating a more healthy diet and getting regular exercise, do we consider that we are working to maintain the temple of the Spirit of God in order to serve God more effectively? The hymn reminds us to cultivate this attitude. The biblical principles incorporated in the hymn come from some favorite passages of scripture. Note the echoes of these verses throughout the 3 verses of the hymn: “You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, {20} because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NCV) “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. {2} Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV)

So, open the request line! Whether your worship music leader calls for requests or not, I invite you to ask for “We Praise You with Our Minds, O Lord” to be sung in a worship service soon. Explain why you are making such a request. More importantly, I hope that you will begin to internalize the hymn in your own life of faith. I find it to be a challenging goal and ardent prayer for the kind of life I understand to be God’s call for us to live.

By the way, what other songs are among your favorites for a request line?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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