Higher Ground

There are many songs in our repertoire that are favorites of individuals and congregations because they contain the magic combination of an upbeat tempo, a positive message and generally memorable lyrics. “Higher Ground” is one such song. In fact, it is so well-liked that we have two versions in circulation, the original version and a more recent version that changes the musical time signature from 3/4 to 4/4 and has the male voices singing a counter-melody. The original is a staple of hymnals, while the variation appears in Hymns for Worship (Supplement) and some “home-made” church supplements. The overall message of the song is the Christian’s desire to continue to move toward the goal of heaven. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading