Teaching Children with the Hymnody

London Organ
By Mary Abrahamson

Hymns hold within their lyrics and poetry the truths of Scripture.

God, we praise You! God, we bless You!
God, we name You sovereign Lord!
Mighty King whom angels worship,
Father, by Your church adored:
All creation shows Your glory,
Heav’n and earth draw near Your throne,
Singing “Holy, holy, holy,
Lord of hosts, and God alone!”

ELH 42
Text
God, we praise You! God, we bless You! by Christopher Idle©1982 Jubilate Group (admin. Hope Publishing Company). Used by permission.

Some hymn are prayers directly to God, and as such, vary as widely as our prayers.

We praise God:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy Health and Salvation!
Join the full throng;
Wake, harp and psalter and song;
Sound forth in glad adoration!

ELH 65 / LSB 790

We thank God for general and specific gifts:

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices,
Who from our mother’s arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.

ELH 63 / LSB 895

And we make requests for both temporal and eternal blessings:

Blessèd Jesus, at Thy Word
We are gathered all to hear Thee;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear Thee;
By thy teachings, sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love Thee solely.

ELH 1

Other hymns proclaim for the hearers and singers some aspect of God’s goodness.  These function as a creed or confession to unite musically the church of God and witness to anyone else who hears all that our God has done.

I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus
To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious
Till not a spot remains.

ELH 239 / LSB 606

There are hymns that offer the singer, hearer, or reader a short meditation on a particular doctrine of Bible truth.

God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it,
Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free
Lasting to eternity!

ELH 246 / LSB 594
Text Copyright 1991 Robert E. Voelker. Used by permission. 

Why teach children hymns? 

When we teach our children hymns, we are really only continuing the process, adding another dimension to, the training we give them in God’s Word.

But there are a couple of other reasons that make hymns an especially good teaching tool.  First, songs stick with us. The rhythms or the poetry, the rhyme, the melodies. All of these things have been widely used in society for teaching. Even advertising makes use of music to help people remember a brand or slogan.

The second reason to learn hymns, while related to the first point, emphasizes a different angle. We teach hymns for our children’s future. Call it preparedness. I don’t mean to sound bleak, but the truth is the future is never certain in this fallen world.

Once a hymn is in a child’s head, it is really hard to dislodge.  Books may someday be banned or otherwise unavailable; our children may become disabled and no longer able to hold a book or read for him or herself; and even the normal aging process can make reading difficult or impossible. Such things can rob us of the ability to make use of the printed word.

When getting to church or reading the Bible is not an option, the hymns we memorized in our youth can offer the comfort and strengthening of faith we need. My pastor husband tells of elderly people he has served whose memory and ability to communicate has mostly left them, but they can still sing hymns with him and participate in the liturgy. This vehicle of God’s Word in music is in their heads from their childhoods. They can be continually blessed with these bits of God’s Word they carry within themselves.

But, what about Bible songs?

There are many fun God-themed songs for children, ranging from the totally NOT Biblical to those rich with the message of salvation. Many parents and teachers prefer these songs because of their catchy tunes, the short phrases, and the repetition.

Within this category might fall Bible passages put to music. These musical selections are good for helping to memorize Bible passages.  Many, for instance grow up learning one or another tune to Psalm 118:24.

There are also songs that retell part of a Bible story. Some are Biblically sound, such as the one my kids learned based upon the first verses of Act 3. This is the story of Peter and John healing a lame man in the name of Jesus, and the song follows fairly closely the account as it is told us in Scripture.

But we can all too readily find Bible story themed songs that are nothing like the Scriptural accounts of Bible history. And even the simple songs of praise that children often learn can be misguided or even wrong according to God’s Word. Others seem spiritual but really tell nothing about God. I’ll include one example here of a children’s song that is considered a Bible song. If we eliminate the many repetitions, the song says simply,

I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.
I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul.
I’ve got love like the ocean in my soul.

Not much for Scriptural value in that one, and yet it parades as a Bible song.

For most of these Bible based songs, there is enough truth to be gleaned to counteract the bad and let your kids have fun with the songs. But you as a parent must be the interpreter.  As your children sing and dance to these Bible songs, be ready to show them any faulty doctrine or to fill in missing pieces. Without that, such songs are at best fun noise, and at worst, can — like so much of the fun noise in this life — introduce false doctrine.

If you have questions or concerns about using certain songs in your home, your pastor can offer you guidance.

Which hymns should we start with?

With the vast hymnody we have at our fingers, it can be difficult to know where to start. Following are hymns I sing to my children from their earliest days and nights.  I’ve collected these from the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH), but most can also be found in most Lutheran hymnals.

You may have learned some or all of these as children. As with any kind of traditional song or carol, there are often many versions floating around. The editors of The Lutheran Hymnary chose these versions because of their rich content and clear expression of God’s grace and mercy toward sinners.

Children of the Heavenly Father (ELH 174 / LSB 725)

Children of the heavenly Father,
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird or star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.

 

Text of Children of the Heavenly Father copyright©1925 Board of Publication Lutheran Church in America admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress.

I pray Thee, Dear Lord Jesus (ELH 178)

I pray Thee, Dear Lord Jesus, My heart to keep and train
That I Thy holy temple From youth to age remain.
Turn Thou my thoughts forever From worldly wisdom’s lore;
If I but learn to know Thee, I shall not want for more.

God Loves Me Dearly (ELH 175 / LSB 392)

God loves me dearly, Grants me salvation.
God loves me dearly, Loves even me.

Refrain: Therefore I’ll say again: God loves me dearly,
God loves me dearly, loves even me.

I was in slav’ry, Sin death and darkness;
God’s love was working To make me free.

(Refrain)

He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer,
He sent forth Jesus And set me free.

(Refrain)

Jesus, my Savior, Himself did offer’
Jesus, my Savior, Paid all I owed.

(Refrain)

Now will I praise you, O Love Eternal’
Now will I praise You All my life long.

(Refrain)

I am Jesus Little Lamb (ELH 177 / LSB 740)

I am Jesus little lamb Ever glad at heart I am,
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need and well provides me;
Loves me every day the same, Even calls me by my name.

Day by day, at home, away, Jesus is my Staff and Stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, He bids me go Where the quiet waters flow.

Who so happy as I am, Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast, There within His arms to rest.

Jesus Loves Me (ELH 179 / LSB 588)

Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong.

Refrain:
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! See His grace! On the cross He took my place.
There He suffered and He died, That I might be glorified.

(Refrain)

Jesus loves me! God’s own Son over sin the vict’ry won.
When I die, saved by His grace, I shall see Him face to face.

(Refrain)

Jesus loves me! He is near. He is with his church so dear.
And the Spirit He has sent By His word and Sacrament.

(Refrain)

Text © Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.  Used with permission.

Away in a Manger (ELH 119 / LSB 364)

Away in a manger, No crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus alseep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.

I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.

I Know that My Redeemer Lives (ELH 351 / LSB 461)

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives my ever living Head.
He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save.
He livers all-glorious in the sky;
He lives exalted there on high.

Just as I Am (ELH 319 / LSB 570)

Just as I am without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am and waiting not
To ride my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am; Thy love unknown
Has broken ev’ry barrier down.
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

I’m But a Stranger Here (ELH 474 / LSB 748)

I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home.
Earth is a desert drear; Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand.
Heav’n is my fatherland; Heav’n is my home.
There at my Savior’s side–Heav’n is my home–
I shall be glorified; Heav’n is my home.
There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best,
And there, too, shall rest; Heav’n is my home.

God’s Word is Our Great Heritage (ELH 583 / LSB 582)

And shall be ours forever;
To spread Its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life It guides our way;
in death It is our stay.
Lord,grand while worlds endure,
We keep It’s teachings pure,
Throughout all generations.

Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word (ELH 589 / LSB 655)

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend They Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

On my Heart Imprint Thine Image (ELH 593)

On my heart imprint Thine image,
Blessed Jesus King of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures,
Have no pow’r Thee to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation.

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Comments

Teaching Children with the Hymnody — 4 Comments

  1. Yes, thank you Jeff. I forget how relatively small the ELS is, and that our ELS might need a little introducing.

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