Sweet Hour of Prayer

Those who write hymns can be said to be servants of many masters (Matthew 6.24 notwithstanding). Two such masters are Scriptural integrity and genuine emotional expression. These two considerations are often at odds with one another (or seem to be so). For instance, while the Psalms contain some of the strongest emotions of all of revealed inspiration, paraphrases of the Psalms—attempts to render the Psalms according to the conventions of English poetry—often feel stilted and completely devoid of emotion. On the other hand, many of the songs that are said to be the most emotionally-stirring are those which give only a token nod to an actual scriptural reference.

This does not have to be so. William W. Walford’s hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” is a personal statement of a disciple’s devotion to a life of prayer. It is filled with statements about one’s attitude toward prayer and relationship with prayer. At the same time, almost all of the phrases, while not necessarily direct quotations from the Bible, are clearly based on God’s word.

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known,
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

This attention to Scripture begins with the title and the repeated refrain of “sweet hour of prayer.” This may seem a contrived idea, but the notion of an “hour of prayer” is found in Acts 3.1, as Peter in John were in the temple at the hour of prayer. The first verse speaks to the benefit of a life of prayer. The call from a world of care (and later casting our cares on God in verse 3) is an allusion to 1 Peter 5.7. Our “Father’s throne,” the throne of grace, is found in Hebrews 4.16. Making our wants and wishes known comes from Philippians 4.6. The relief promised and received in times of distress is found in James 1.2-5. We have an example of this in the comfort that Jesus received in Gethsemane the night of His arrest (Luke 22.39-46). One of the things Jesus gave in His model prayer as an example petition was deliverance from evil (Matt 6.13). We are promised that if we resist temptation, the tempter will flee (Jas 4.7).

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
The joy I feel, the bliss I share
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

The second verse describes the benefit derived from communal prayer. Walford returns to Philippians 4 to reflect the joy shared with other praying disciples. Additionally, we are reminded of Paul’s admonition in Romans 12.12 to rejoice in hope and be devoted to prayer and the instruction in 1 Timothy 2.8 to lift up holy hands in every place (and the numerous examples of the early disciples doing so through the book of Acts). Gladly taking our station for times of prayer reminds us of Daniel’s habit of prayer in Daniel 6.10 and Paul’s instruction to rejoice always and pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5.16-17).

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

The third verse expresses our trust in God to hear our prayers. “Thy wings shall my petition bear” is perhaps the only somewhat “gratuitous” (not strictly based on Scripture) picture in this song. The idea of God’s truth and faithfulness regarding our requests can be found in Matthew 7.7-11. We know not only that can we seek God, but that God wants us to seek Him, from John 4.23. We finish the verse the with idea reappearing of casting on Him our every care from 1 Peter 5.7. Since most printings of this song only include the first three verses, this brings us back full circle to the beginning of verse 1.

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise
To seize the everlasting prize.
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

The fourth verse, often omitted, contains a strong reference to the scene at the end of Deuteronomy, when Moses was allowed to view the Promised Land. The personal application comes with a reference to leaving this body from 2 Corinthians 4.8 and receiving the prize mentioned in Philippians 4.12-14. The song closes with the encouragement offered in 1 Thessalonians 4.17 that those who are alive when the Lord returns will meet Him in the air and we no longer will need prayer because we will be in God’s presence (Rev 21.3-4).

This is a beautiful hymn that not only is a genuine expression of a believer (or should be), but also manages to be filled with a variety of biblical references and allusions without feeling like the only purpose of saying things is to check off a passage about prayer.

2 thoughts on “Sweet Hour of Prayer

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