Church songs often have rich stories behind them demonstrating God at work through an assortment of people. As a worship musician who has spent many Sunday mornings serving as part of a worship team the past dozen or so years, I have developed a love for these stories and the testimony of God’s faithfulness they tell. Songs play a vital role in the church and the spiritual lives of God’s people. For example, following hundreds of years of dormancy during the Middle Ages, congregational singing was rediscovered after a revival (The Reformation) took place. Throughout history, evidence shows that spiritual revival results in an outburst of new church songs. The hymn “Be Still, My Soul” is one such example.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
Psalm 46:10 (ESV)
After the rebirth of faith in the 16th century, the church again grew cold and non-evangelistic in the 17th century until a spiritual revival took place. The Pietistic Revival focused on individual spiritual devotion and characteristics like humility as believers sought to live a vibrant Christian life. Participants in the revival believed Christians could point back to an inner struggle with sin that cumulated in a crisis that ultimately led individuals to make the decision to start a new, Christ-centered life. The Pietism Movement served as a major influence on numerous religious leaders, including John Wesley. The spiritual revival also birthed many rich German hymns including “Be Still, My Soul.”
The words to “Be Still, My Soul,” were first penned in German by hymn writer Katharina Von Schlegel. Little is known about her except that she lived between 1697 and until about 1768, spending much of her adult life living in a Lutheran residence for unmarried women who desired to live a simple life of faith. Von Schlegel sought a deeper walk with God and wrote many poems, lyrics, and psalms. In 1752, she published a portion of her work in a collection of spiritual songs, including the words to “Be Still, My Soul.”
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
A hundred years or so after Von Schlegel first published her works, renowned English scholar and translator Jane L. Borthwick converted Von Schlegel’s words from German to English. Several years later, the words to “Be Still, My Soul,” were matched up with a tune written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius called “Finlandia.”
Weaving through a span of lifetimes, God used the talents of three individuals from different countries to collaborate and provide the church with a hymn that reminds believers of the biblical truths found in Isaiah 40 and Psalm 46.
“Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change of life, He, faithful, will remain.”
You and I don’t know how God is going to use us or what we do today in the future. It’s one reason why guarding our witness is so important. As believers, we can rest in the knowledge that if we do our best to live a vibrant Christian life today, the Lord will surely use it to bless others tomorrow. For with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).
The Devotional Guy™