It was J.C. Ryle, the nineteenth-century English evangelical Anglican bishop who once wrote, “Good hymns are an immense blessing to the Church. They train people for heaven, where praise is one of the principal occupations.”
The subject of hymns can elicit and stir up the “worship wars” – debates over music preferences in church and differences in style of song, particularly between traditional hymns and more contemporary selections. Many Christians have strong opinions on the matter, in fact some church congregations have literally split over the divide.
In reality, though, all hymns are not equal – and when one hears the word “hymn” they may think of a two-hundred or three-hundred-year-old song.
But not Keith Getty.
Hailing from Northern Ireland and married to Kristyn, who is also his musical partner, the Christian singer and songwriter has led the growth and expansion of the modern-hymn movement.
Composing and recording since 1995, Keith Getty has told interviewers his music is motivated and compelled by what he understands to be a biblical mandate.
“I think we have to remember that early in the Old Testament, Moses was commanded by God to teach the Hebrews through hymns (see Deuteronomy 31:19),” he told the Baptist Press. “In other words, what you sing doesn’t just affect how you think or how you feel or how you pray. It is presumed that singing will affect how you live your life. In fact, 20 percent of the Bible is songs. We learn from the Word of God that we’re created to sing.”
From the beginning, Keith Getty and his team have strived to write songs “that explain the Gospel in beautiful ways.” They’ve sidestepped the “worship wars” because their musical lands in various stylistic camps.
For the Gettys, that means writing pieces that blend numerous genres, from traditional, classical, folk, and contemporary.
Behind their two most popular pieces, “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross,” is the lilting and soaring work, “Speak, O Lord,” – a hymn written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, a British worship leader who has collaborated with the family on numerous occasions.
Written and released in 2006, this modern hymn urges believers to not just talk with God and share with Him a litany of concerns and requests – but to listen and prayerfully ponder what He is quietly telling us in our hearts.
“One of Christianity’s distinctives is that we worship a God who has spoken – who is not silent,” Getty and Townend explained concerning their composition. “From God the Father, speaking the world into creation, to speaking through His Living word in Christ, to speaking by His Spirit through the written word.”
Secularists may scoff at the idea of God “speaking” to anyone. Even within evangelical circles, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “God spoke to me. Not audibly, but He spoke to me.”
What an incredible privilege to communicate one-on-one with the master of the universe. I thought of this just this past Sunday, when our church congregation sang the aforementioned hymn, “Speak, O Lord.” A sacred spirit descended over the congregation as congregants raised their voices in song.
The final verse of this modern hymn strikes me as particularly relevant and timely in our increasingly upside-down culture:
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity
The apostle Paul spoke regularly about the need to renew our minds. “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is acceptable perfect,” he told believers in Rome (Romans 12:2).
When was the last time you considered God’s plan for you? Are you mired in a mundane routine that seems far from the “heights” of what He may have for you? Are you telling Him what you want – or are you listening to what He is trying to tell you?
The culture rages and the world embraces lie after lie. Christianity is the better way. It’s the best way. We must speak up and speak out, and do so with confidence knowing that God’s truths are “unchanged from the dawn of time that will echo down through eternity.”