“I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” – Psalm 104:33
I have been reflecting on the songs we sing at Table of Grace and how often, the songs are not a product of one person. Many people play a role in writing then performing the songs as we gather and sing together. Worship is not about any one person but a community who comes together to celebrate the goodness of God. This is reflected in, perhaps the greatest song next to Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art. It is a song that celebrates the greatness of God in creation, salvation and the life to come. It is a song that has been sung in countless congregations and translated into numerous languages. It has given many people the words they want to sing to worship and celebrate the work of God in their life and in the world. It’s a song that is synonymous with worship and has a great story. What most people don’t know, is that many different people and cultures helped to shape the song into what we sing today.
How Great Thou Art began as poem written by a Swedish pastor named Carl Boberg in 1885. He published the poem and did not think much about it until he heard it being sung years later. While it never gain wide attention, the song was translated into Russian where an English missionary heard it and wrote three more verses to the song. Many years later, hymn writer, Dr. J. Edwin Orr heard the song in India and decided to introduce it to congregations in America. The song eventually came to the attention of George Beverly Shae who shared the song with the teams working with Billy Graham. In 1957, it was sung ninety-nine times at the Billy Graham Conference in New York.
When I think about the influence the song has had on worship with countless people in numerous cultures, I am in awe of all the people who shaped the song. That when we sing together, we join with the Heavenly chorus as well as the chorus of saints throughout history and around the world. It reminds me that worship is not just about me, it’s about we. It’s about what we do together as we gather as the people of God to proclaim the goodness of God. No matter how challenging and difficult the world can be, we are not alone when we sing together.
Rev. Chad McSwain