From the DarknessA Sunbeam!

by Lindsay Terry

What a fascinating journey it has been for me as I interviewed the songwriters of more than 200 Christian songs, and researched the background of scores of additional songs whose authors have long since gone to heaven. Then to share those stories from countless platforms and in a number of books has been a continuing bliss.

My study of the history of our classic hymns, gospel songs, and praise choruses started in college. Many years ago I enrolled in a "hymnology" class at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga and began to be totally captivated with the subject. I soon was searching for any songwriter I could find, just to talk with him or her about the wonderful "gifts" God had given him. My first interview was with Mosie Lister in Tampa, Florida. He has become one of the great songwriters of all time.

Born Out of Hardship and Human Suffering

I remember that one basic, underlying fact came to the forefront of my study. Most of the hymns of yesteryear, which have become very meaningful to Christians around the world, were born out of human suffering and hardship—some quite severe and some less harsh. On many occasions a combination of suffering and the study of God's Word gave rise to a meaningful song. Writers often went through dark periods in their lives—tough times—and from those shadows burst forth a sunbeam, a song!

What is more intriguing to me is that the same process continues to this day! Let me, at this point, make it clear that suffering or hardship is not connected with the writing of every cherished Christian song, but it seems to be true in the majority of cases, starting in the Scriptures. Job said, "Where is God my Maker; who giveth songs in the night?" David, the "Sweet singer of Israel," fell on hard times, and God used those experiences to give us several of the Psalms.

Early Hymn Authors

Martin Luther, a man of great persecution, was said to be the greatest hymn writer of the greatest period of hymnody in Christian history. Who has not been blessed by his "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"?

John Newton's history of human misery could only be told by himself, and he did so in his biographical letters that have been widely published. He, while the captain of a slave ship, was so wicked and loathsome his own ship mates despised him. Once, in a drunken state, he fell overboard and his crew refused to throw him a life line. Instead they threw a harpoon at him, catching him in the hip, and with it dragged him back into the ship. He limped for the rest of his life. He later confessed that every step was a reminder of the grace of God in his life. His "Amazing Grace," written after he became a pastor in Olney, England, is the most widely known Christian song in the English speaking world.

Charlotte Elliot, an invalid in England, in 1836, was in great lamentation because she could not help with the fund raising to build a school for the daughters of poor clergy. She, instead, wrote a poem for those in her same condition. It was the testimony of her salvation. The poem was later sold and the money given to the building fund. Her song: "Just As I Am."

Joseph Scriven, a young college graduate in England in the mid-1800s, became a wanderer after his bride-to-be fell into a pond and drowned. From Canada he wrote his mother a poem when news came that she was going through sorrowful times. The poem later became one the most popular hymns ever written, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

Songwriters in Our Day

In the early 1960s, on New Year's Eve, Gloria Gaither sat in her darkened living room, agonizing and fearful. Her husband was recovering from mononucleosis, they were objects of accusation and belittlement, and she feared the future for the child she was carrying in her womb. God mercifully replaced her panic with peace and she wrote the lyrics to "Because He Lives."

Darlene Zschech experienced dark days in her life in 1993. Her burdens seemed to her unbearable. She turned to the Bible and from Psalm 96 penned "Shout to the Lord."

Don Moen was on a plane going to sing for the funeral of his young nephew who had died in a horrific automobile accident. As he read Isaiah 43:19, which says "I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert," God gave to Don his beautiful and comforting "God Will Make a Way."

Laurie Klein, the young wife of a Bible college student in Oregon, during her quiet time early one morning, before the baby awakened, reflected on her life which was confined to a house trailer beside the highway. The loneliness and the financial strain prompted her to say to the Lord, "If you want to hear me sing, would you give me something You would like to hear?" She started strumming on her guitar and out of her mouth came, "I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You."

Brian Doerksen moved from Canada to London with his family to take the only job offer he had, as worship leader of a small church. He had recently lost one million dollars and their home in the collapse of a major ministry project. Three of their six children had recently been diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a form of mental retardation. As he walked and prayed early one morning near Wimbledon Stadium, God said to him, "Come, now is the time to worship," and there came a wonderful melody with it.

Marc Byrd, in deep despair and penniless, turned to the Scriptures, and for a whole weekend buried himself in the Psalms. Out of that weekend came the beginning of "God of Wonders," a song used on two of the space flights to awaken the astronauts, and which has gone like a meteor around the world.

I could go on and on with such stories, but space does not permit. You will find these, in more detail, and other stories in my books. The happenings in the lives of the great writers and the resulting songs, give you an idea of what my research has revealed.

When God Steps in

In most every case, as I talked with the songwriters, each one refused to take credit for the song he or she had written. They would say something such as, "I did not write the song. It was just there. All I did was take dictation." Some said, "I wrote as fast as I could write. It came like a day spring." Some even related, "I wasn't thinking about writing a song. It came unexpectedly."

As I thought back over the myriad of interviews in which writers made such statements, and as I reviewed the songs we had talked about, one thing became very apparent. In almost every case the song was accompanied by a tune with a slow to moderate tempo that could be easily sung by a congregation of worshipers. I don't really know what that means, but I do believe that God wants us to worship Him with songs that are of a tempo and nature that we can get our minds and hearts around, and sing sincerely and meaningfully to Him. It is all about Him.

Sing While in Suffering or Hardship

In Acts, chapter 16, Paul and Silas found themselves in a dark, dank prison cell with their feet held fast in stocks. They had been unlawfully accused and beaten before being cast into the dungeon. At midnight in the darkened cell, Paul turns his face toward Silas and says, "Silas, I think we ought to pray. And a prayer meeting followed. Then Paul said, "Silas, I think we ought to sing to God." As they sang, it was almost as if God joined in on the bass, because the whole place was shaken. I believe Paul was strengthened as he had never been before—after the singing!

Because of the praying and singing three things happened for Paul and Silas. They led souls to Christ, received medical attention for their wounds, and gained their freedom. I don't believe it would have happened without the prayer and praise songs during their time of suffering.

Just before Jesus was to suffer, in a manner that we will only understand when we stand before Him in heaven, He wanted those gathered in the upper room with Him to sing. He wanted them to sing a song of praise to God. The Bible says, "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." I believe Jesus gained physical and spiritual strength as He sang a song of worship and praise to His heavenly Father.

No matter what your problem, suffering, or hardship may be, it will be easier to deal with if you will praise God in song—if only in your heart.

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