The Hymn of a Hungry Heart

Welcome back to the table! Exhausted yet excited by “running the good race” (Hebrews 12:1)? Praise God if you’re “feeling the burn”, yet joyous in the spirit from fighting the good fight, and hungry for some replenishing fare!

Let’s get the ingredients straight before we enjoy a feast of the heart together today: When we consider “The Hymn of a Hungry Heart” the first thing that may come to mind in regards to “hymns” is a classic, “high and lofty” piece of music akin to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, “Amazing Grace”, or “Rock of Ages”. Perhaps the remembrance comes with all the trimmings like stained glass, a pipe organ, “your pew”, vestments, a blue or red hymnal quickly thumbed through to find the correct page… and perhaps, for some of us, the faint scent of incense wafting in the somewhat stilted air.

I would like to offer another, broader, yet deeper definition of the word “hymn” for your consideration, “a song or ode in praise or honor of a god, a deity, a nation, a belief, etc.”

You see, we lift up our voices (“the outflow of the heart”—Luke 6:45) in adoration to lots of things don’t we? In fact, I would go so far as to say that when we sing most songs, we’re unwittingly “lifting our voice in praise” to words, ideas, ideologies that we’re not even aware of. Just consider the sights and sounds of non-stop shopping… the grand irony… AND the faint harmony well in the background of the credit card carnage, “Come unto Him, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (The Messiah Hymn, Part One).

Listen to the hymn, “the heavy yoke made light in the perfect gift”… was born on Christmas day!

Or, put it this way, when we take a closer look, we can be surprised sometimes about what we’re “singing praises to”, right? But our hearts are surely aware of what ideas we might be “sifting through the grid of our faith”… without our being aware of it! Spiritually speaking, “we are what we give honor and praise to”. More in a bite…

Now, a “Hungry Heart” may be more obvious, but, for the sake of a plumb line, please consider a definition like, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord” (Augustine, “Confessions”, Book One, Chapter One). Or perhaps, “Our hearts are hungry… famished… empty… fear-full… alone until…”. We could go on for a long time, could we not? The heart of EveryMan is created with a hunger… for something. Every heart has an appetite for something. But is it praise-worthy?

Perhaps you have heard another offering by one of history’s most brilliant men, the famous philosopher and mathematician Pascal (1623-1662) as he wrote (likely inspired by God, Augustine, and state of his own faith journey) in his Pensees, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a True Happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This man tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God Himself.”

Now, for me anyway, that’s an expression of a “hunger of reason, self-awareness and need… as glorious as a hymn”! But that’s just me. How about you?

The Two Categories of Hymns
Before we take a moment to consider a few “HOLY hymns of a hungry heart”, allow me to serve up another morsel to chew on: I believe that the two categories for “hymns of a hungry heart” are, a) “the hymns that satisfy, appease, and assuage the hunger” and, b) “the hymns that exacerbate, vex, and worsen the hunger”.

For the sake of brevity, allow me to offer two “hymns” (one song, one poem) that comes to mind in “Category A”. You might be familiar with them: “My Way”, by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics are well worth the read, but allow me to offer the first two stanza’s:

“And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friends, I’ll say it clear;
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full –
I’ve travelled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it myyyyy waaaay!

Can’t you just hear Frank’s melodious crooning… of self-satisfied stoicism, a declaration of “freedom” and no regrets of any sort… And, at least for me, by the time you reach the song’s final crescendo of an immutable “My Way or the Highway”, a sense of stark loneliness in the crowd of fellow MyWayers comes to mind.

The poem I’m thinking of is a hymn to a similar god of pride, “Invictus”, by William Henley. Check out the entire poem. Following is the final stanza that you might be familiar with:

“I Am The Captain Of My Soul!
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul!”

Yes, much the same as the fist of the devout atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, raised at God as he lay gasping on his deathbed. It gives one pause, does it not?

So, “Category A” is comprised of hymns to self. Honestly, incessant hymns to self will only harden the heart and leave one with hunger pangs galore! Please understand, the deeper issue is NOT “singing praises to or about bad things”, but rather it’s “singing praises to making good things… only things”! Sex, drugs (for healing), rock and roll… guns, family, money, power, status… can all be seen as good.

So, imagine all the “hymns” to these GOOD things which have been transformed into ONLY things, and you have a list of what is in “Category A”: Hymns of praise to an idol—that demands of us just as much as God, but is utterly devoid of His manifold mercies. It’s a long list. It’s self-serving. It’s the “musical fare of many hearts”. And yet “hymns” none the less: Words matter. The pen is indeed much mightier than the sword.

Spending Precious Moments in “Category B”
Christian, in general I would place every “hymn of the born-again and hungry heart” in three (oft times over-lapping) categories: The BIRTH, the DEATH, and the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ. (And, if not directly about Jesus, it’s a mere vestige of what each of these three categories consist of for the life of any author!)

Please consider just a few. And I would WHOLE-HEARTEDLY encourage you to download the music and the lyrics for these and other sorts of hymns.

There are more “hymns” raised to the glory of God than any other category of music. My Dad was an avid banjo player. He loved a great melody and the carefully crafted lyrics that tell stories of all sorts. I was extremely blessed to be raised in a home of music, and the classic melodies of the 30’s and 40’s. I lived in the heyday of the 60’s and had many life-time experiences of being present when the greatest bands of that era came… and went.

I tell you this to relate how impossible it is to just offer just a few titles below. There are thousands of worthy hymns raised to the glory of God!

Please take some time in this and every season to revitalize your heart (the core beliefs of your faith) by allowing “The Hymns of a Born-Again and Hungry Heart” to do their work: To sustain, to transform it to the glory of God and the blessings of His people—to serve, for the main duties and details of our Belief, our Obedience, and our Love of God and neighbor.

Jesus’ Birth

  • For Unto Us A Child Is Born, J. S. Bach, Messiah
  • It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Edmund Sears
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Casting Crowns

Jesus’ Death

  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts
  • Jesus Freak, Newsboys
  • By His Wounds, Brian Littrell, Mac Powell, mark Hall, Steven Curtis Chapman

Jesus’ Resurrection

  • It Is Well with My Soul, Horatio G. Spafford
  • A On Mission, Carriers of the Cross, Against the Grain
  • See What A Morning Brings, Apostle’s Creed

Perhaps you have some favorites in all/all of the above “Category B” hymns. Please do share.

Until we ‘sup again, may God richly bless you and yours. Be sure to be ready to pull up a chair next week when we’ll consider, “The Tension of the Crush and the Crèche”.


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