O God, our Help in ages past, our Hope for years to come!
Be Thou our Guide while life shall last, and our eternal Home!
Sometime ago, I was sharing with some friends how much I benefit from singing the same old hymns in church as my family sang in our church when I was a child. Not all “old hymns” are sources of spiritual nutrition simply because they are “old,” but the ones that are Biblically accurate serve a dual purpose for me.
The first and main benefit of theologically sound hymns or songs (regardless of their copyright date) is available to anyone: our spirits are encouraged when we focus on God, reminding ourselves of the truth.
When we add to this the knowledge that these “old hymns” have stood the test of time and have been sung for a few hundred years, we benefit from the reminder that the people of God are one in Christ. Even though we are separated by time, all believers from previous and future generations will be in Heaven for eternity, praising and serving God together. God has always had a remnant of believers on earth. From Adam and Eve to the present, someone has always been passing along the truth about God to the next generation. We are linked together across the generations in an unbroken chain because God is preserving the truth for His glory.
The hymn, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” is an example of this. Roughly 300 years ago, Isaac Watts wrote the words of this hymn based on the song Moses wrote several thousand years ago, Psalm 90. When I remember that this Psalm was written for the people of Israel to praise God for His eternal nature, I am encouraged in whatever my daily struggles are. No matter what trial or temptation I face today, God has not changed. He is the same God who cared for His people in the past, as He was working out His plan. He is not going to change tomorrow, no matter how difficult my life may be tomorrow.
Why should I not trust God? He is the same God who kept all His promises in the past… and one of those promises was to Abraham, that He would bring His descendants out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was one of those descendants; God used him to lead His people during that time in history, and Moses wrote Psalm 90.
Isaac Watts was one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, as am I. In the life of Watts, we have a reminder of another promise made and fulfilled by God to Abraham…. when God promised Abraham that one of his descendants would be a blessing to all nations, He was promising that through Christ, even those who are not physical descendants of Abraham would have access to God. So, Isaac Watts and I, along with all other believers are spiritual descendants of Abraham.
Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
(You can click on the references to see the wider context of the verses at www.BibleGateWay.com.)
I enjoy a second benefit from singing hymns such as this one in church… and I realize that not everyone will benefit in this way. God graciously gave me parents who loved God and lived for Him, and so I cannot remember not attending church with them and my older brother. I remember sitting near the front as a young child, listening to the sermon and singing the hymns the best I could for my age. I still remember snippets of sermons I heard at a very young age. I remember being a part of the congregation, participating in the service.
So, when I stand in the congregation as a 40-year-old, and sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” I can remember singing these same words and tune for a few decades, as I faced different challenges at different stages of life. I remember the fears I had for my safety as a young child in a country torn by civil war, the concerns I had about school as a teenager, the dread I felt as an unmarried adult when I feared I would be single until the day of my death…. and as I sing the words and tune again, surrounded by my brothers and sisters in the Lord, I can remind myself that God worked out everything in the past for my good and His glory…. and I can trust Him again in my current circumstances. The fears and struggles have changed as I have aged, but God has not. There is certainly a benefit to singing the “old hymns” throughout the decades of life.
I also have a deep appreciation for newer songs that have solid theological content. A song written in 2008 that ministers to me so much spiritually that I even experience relief from physical pain is “His Robes for Mine.” The soothing, melodious tune, coupled with the life-giving words brings a calmness to my soul every time I hear it.
As Brody and I remember becoming engaged 8 years ago, we remember the various health and economic challenges we have faced together and how faithfully God cared for us through each difficulty. Truly He has been our Past Help and He will always be our Future Hope.
I had not prepared our “Pork Chops” from A Recipe for Survival on page 134 recently, so I decided to make a batch to celebrate our engagement anniversary. Recipes are another way I enjoy being connected to the past… I developed this recipe based on Brody’s memories of his mom’s way of preparing pork chops. I enjoy keeping his and my family culinary traditions alive even though we modify the recipes to make them more effective for his dietary needs.
We enjoy adding fruit and fresh or steamed vegetables to our meals – this is a simple way for us to add variety and nutrition.
Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.