Presented in no particular order, these are 10 of my favorite songs that you’ll find in most Protestant hymnbooks as well as the hearts and minds of millions of Christians. You could hear most of these songs at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/ttl/ttl.htm.
- Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand– This one takes me back to my humble beginnings in that clapboard chapel in Gutbucket, Mississippi at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement. All right, I never lived in Mississippi, but this song somehow takes me there. Things change, and the sands in the hourglass of time never stop running, but there is a power that stays the same amid the uncertainty. So, “when (not ‘if’) your earthly friends forsake you, still more closely to Him cling.”
- Lift Him Up– Want to know how to bring more people into churches, how to get along better with others, how to achieve peace of mind? Only say and do things according to Jesus’ teachings. Lift Him up. This is an excellent way to live. The hardest part is learning Jesus’ way. I don’t mean walking around with your hands folded like Eddie Murphy in Holy Man. I’m talking about reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to grasp how Jesus handled all that life threw at him. To the extent that you do what he did, you will enjoy equal personal magnetism, fulfillment, and wonder-working power.
- A Mighty Fortress is Our God– This was originally a drinking song back in 16thcentury Germany. Martin Luther kept the tune, but changed the words. Kind of like when I was in high school and some people turned “I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind” into “I don’t see nothing wrong with keeping God on your mind.” You think you don’t know this one, but you’d probably recognize the melody: bah-dah-dah dah-dah-dum, dun-de-dah-dah. Ah, just click the link to listen.
- Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing– The Negro National Anthem. When I was about six, I was in a children’s choir that sang all three verses. I unwittingly learned all the words back then and never forgot them. I only really sing it during Black History Month, which is a shame. For the record, it’s “sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us/sing a song, full of the hope that the present has brought us.” People get the “taught” and “brought” mixed up all the time.
- Great is Thy Faithfulness– I like to sing this one especially when things don’t seem to be going so well. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…” Who couldn’t use some of that? This was also one of the songs I learned in French when I was going to church in Haiti. There, it’s called “Grand en Fidelité.”
- Victory in Jesus– My mother has made it known more than once that at her funeral, she wants “Victory in Jesus” sung. I’m looking forward to being there to lead the chorus. Not that I’m looking forward to her death— who’s to say I’ll even outlive her? But since she told me that, I’ve paid closer attention to the words: “I heard about His healing, of His cleansing power revealing. How He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; And then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, come and heal my broken spirit,’ and somehow Jesus came and brought to me the victory.” Defeat is no fun, so I’m rolling with the Capital J.
- O Holy Night– One of my favorite Christmas songs. I heard a jazzed up rendition at a concert last night that moved me to tears, I admit. Talk about imagery. Every time I hear it I am taken to that cold, starry, cloudless night in Bethlehem. The tune is catchy, but what I really like are the later verses that are barely ever sung. “Truly he taught us to love one another…”
- I Love to Tell the Story– Calvin Sampson introduced me to this one when he appropriately put it on the program at my Trial Sermon service. There are a lot of things I can’t do so well, but one gift I have is expounding biblical teachings. I am blessed to be able to understand and explain many things that confound other students of the word. Long story short: I love to tell the old, old, story, and there is always a timely message in it. Gotta love that.
- All Hail The Power–For obvious yet still curious reasons, you are always supposed to stand when singing this one. The “all” in the title speaks to the point of the song: Jesus is not just for Christians. The unlocked potential available through Christ is truly for “every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball.” Sometimes Christian rhetoric can be a turn off for those not indoctrinated. Even a list like this may not hold the interest of those who aren’t familiar with the narrow musical tradition of hymnody. Hymns and anthems are cool and should be preserved, especially in the black idiom. Nevertheless, anyway that the true spiritual message gets out is all right.
- Faith of our Mothers– This song has been a tearjerker for me since age 6—no lie. In Baptist circles, they sing it every Mother’s Day. There’s an equally moving song with the same tune called “Faith of our Fathers” as well.
Do you have a favorite hymn?