Hymns that heal

It was advice that annoyed me. I had heard it several times -- usually from some sweet person who I was sure couldn't possibly grasp the problems I was facing, much less offer a solution for them. Sing hymns! they had said. It was advice I promptly ignored.

I knew prayer could change things for the better -- prayer that was inspired by an understanding of God's goodness. I had seen this in reading about Christ Jesus' life, seen it firsthand in my own life, for that matter. But singing hymns always seemed too naive, too unrealistic.

Then I put the advice to the test. Working intensively for weeks to complete a project, I went for the last three days with little or no sleep. Late in the afternoon of the last day the project was finished. I was exhausted and also had a splitting headache. Instead of dropping into bed, as I wanted to do, I had to take part in an important function that night. During the sixty-mile drive there , two friends sang hymns we all knew from the Christian Science Hymnal. Never mind how naive it seemed. I needed help and joined in the singing.

Bit by bit the message came through: God was with me. He would sustain me, was already sustaining me. One hymn began, ''God is my strong salvation;/ What foe have I to fear?'' n1 Another said, ''Thou art my health, my joy, my staff, my rod;/ I lean on Thee, in weakness I am strong.'' n2 Still another, one by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, began:

O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,

Thou Love that guards the nestling's faltering flight! Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.n3

n1 Christian Science Hymnal, No. 77.

n2 Ibid., No. 195.

n3 Ibid., No. 207.

I began to feel God's presence. Minute by minute I was feeling stronger, clearer, more refreshed. The headache was gone now. We kept singing, not so much for hope or encouragement, but to say, Thank you Father, for being You.

It's nothing new, singing hymns and finding help. In the Bible we read that when Paul and Silas were imprisoned, they ''prayed, and sang praises unto God.'' The result? There was an earthquake, ''so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.'' n4 The jailer took Paul and Silas into his house, and the next day they were freed.

n4Acts 16:25, 26.

God is good. He is Love and Life. He is the source of all that expresses Love and Life: strength, health, peace, joy, freedom. Man is the image of God. So it's natural for us to live these God-derived qualities. The trouble is, fear or doubt often gets in the way. Or perhaps we give in to the widely held belief that things eventually go bad. But God's gentle presence enables us to clear off the fear and doubt, because these negative elements have no place -- no reality -- in His presence.

If we are in prison, perhaps the prisoner of some past hurt, we can get our freedom from God. If we are weak or ill, we can get strength and health from Him. As His spiritual offspring, we're really inseparable from these qualities; we include them every moment. To prove this, we have to turn to Him. Strive to understand Him. Quiet those fears and doubts that would block our understanding of Him. Then we'll find we have whatever we need. The message from an inspired hymn may be just the thing to help us do our part.

Now, our aim here isn't to give a rubber stamp endorsement to every hymn ever written. It takes a clear understanding of God, and of man as God's image, to bring healing. When a hymn expresses something of this enlightened understanding , we're more likely to feel God's closeness, His everlasting love.

Of course, singing hymns is only one way to turn to God. But I've found that when I'm too tired or discouraged or afraid to reason with myself about God's presence, singing praises to God gently brings me back to an understanding of His closeness and tender care. And that's an understanding that leads to healing. DAILY BIBLE VERSE I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. I Corinthians 14:15.

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