Monday, February 10, 2014

A.W. Tozer, The Ministry of Hymns, and Why We Chose the Name Elisha . . .

I run my fingers over the weathered old keys and poise my hands to play. They strike the notes, not as fluidly, gracefully as I'd like them to, but the music comes steadily, an outpouring of myself through the worn instrument. I'd never been good at the technical part, just at "feeling" the music and digging deep into the hush of the meaning - so my fingers stumble, but my spirit plays free. 

The old hymns. I begin with these, before the scales or the drills or the classics. The Watts and the Wesley and the Bliss and the Crosby. These are the melodies that my heart loves, longs for. 

This was why I wanted to learn how to play. So that I could play the music and press the words to my soul, the words saturated in the truths of Scripture, the words that dance and spin and stick and humble and bless. 

I love the old hymns. 

And some of the modern music that's been written lately is good, too--especially when its lyrics are embedded with those heavy ancient truths of the Word - but it's harder to find and so few and far between that I just pick up my hymnal and spiritually press it to my heart and feel its flames envelope me. 

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee . . ." 

"'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word. . . "

"Depth of mercy can there be, mercy still reserved for me ? .  . ." 

And the Words bubble up inside of me and fill my flesh with a longing to be closer to the One with Whom I am one through the Holy Spirit of God. 

One of the greatest gifts that God had given to me has been the ministry of the hymns of His sons and daughters. 

In times of sorrow, in times of joy, in times of pain, in times of longing for my heavenly home - to be free from this world of pain, the old hymns have been some of my dearest friends and teachers. 

"Blessed Redeemer, Jesus is mine, 
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation 
Purchase of God
Born of His Spirit 
Washed in His blood . . ."

So grateful . . . 

Lately, I've been enriched through reading the biography of A.W. Tozer. I discovered as I read, that this faithful saint loved to sing and to read hymns and that they were a great encouragement to his ministry. His biographer, James Snyder, said of him, 

"Each writer has his or her own way to get the creative juices flowing. For Tozer, he would get his Bible and hymnbook from his desk, walk over to the sofa in one corner of his office, kneel there and begin worshiping God. He would read from the Bible and read or softly sing a few hymns. He especially liked the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. By his own confession, he sang - on his knees - one of A.B. Simpson's songs almost every day.

"Tozer was an ardent lover of hymns and had in his library a collection of old hymnals. Often on his way to an appointment, he would meditate on one of the old hymns. 'Get a hymnbook,' he frequently advised as he counseled people. 'But don't get one that is less than a hundred years old!'"

"After the Bible . . . the next most valuable book is a good hymnal. Let any new Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he or she will become a fine theologian. Afterward, let that person read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed," said Tozer. 

Right now, I sit in my room and I listen to hymns, hymn after hymn quietly playing, and I write - and the words encourage and nourish and feed my soul and my little Debbie sleeps peacefully to the sound of hymns. Not to whales in the deep or to a fan blowing or to the sound of manufactured rain, but to the beautiful, tender hymns with their strong-as-steel doctrine and their prayerful comfort that feeds the heart like a shepherd does his flock. 

I want my Debbie to know that her Shepherd will supply her need, that peace like a river will attend her way as she trusts in the Lord through her trials, that there is no sorrow that Jesus cannot bear. 

I must tell Jesus!
I must tell Jesus! 
I cannot bear these burdens alone--
I must tell Jesus
I must tell Jesus
Jesus can help me--Jesus alone. 

And this hymn is the reason behind our new baby's name . . . 

Years ago, I went through a series of heavy trials, trials that felt "unbearable" to me. I had been misunderstood and crushed, my reputation attacked by some who thought me vulnerable and a frustration to them. 

I cried out to the Lord and He brought me over and over to this hymn - "I Must Tell Jesus" - written by a man named Elisha Hoffman. 

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.


I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
He is a kind, compassionate friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.


Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior;
One Who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
He all my cares and sorrows will share

O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the victory to win.


Over and over, "I must tell Jesus;" He alone knew my sorrow; He alone could help me and defend me and cause my heart to leap and to sing for joy. 

Shortly after these events, the Lord miraculously brought one of the greatest joys into my life - my marriage to my dear husband and friend after a long (5-year) engagement. 

My Lord and Savior faithfully protected me and allowed me to stand in the midst of my trials through His grace. Then, He lovingly restored me, and lifted up my face, just as He did with His servant Job after a time of severe suffering and anguish.

He is faithful. 

And so we chose the name "Elisha" for our son, after the name of that hymn writer, to the glory of the Father . . .

And for the sake of remembrance of the Lord's mercies.

Because His mercies endure forever, His faithfulness through generations. 

The words of the old hymns remind me.

And I am glad. 


  1. Hi Becki,
    Thanks for this blog post. As I read it, I could hear the words and music of the old hymns sounding in my mind! You always bring such life to the hymns as you sing them in true worship to our Father. T. McKenna