The song-writer Matt Redman has known his share of tragedy, something that surely informs the hymns/songs he writes. The thing is, as I observe it, they are often sung by people who have not yet known personal tragedy, who can be quite glib and triumphalist in their singing. The hymn "Blessed be your name" is profound and beautiful - but possibly not understood when belted out at full blast...
In the last couple of years another of his songs, "Ten Thousand Reasons", has become very popular. We sang it at the BUGB-BMS Assembly last week, and at the BUS-BMS Assembly last autumn. Each time I found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable as people sang the last verse with huge gusto, eyes closed, arms raised and happy faces...
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
To be confronted with our own mortality, to know that one day that will be us, not vaguely somewhere in the 'far distant future' but actually as an ever-present possibility, makes such words hard to sing. Not because we have abandoned or lost the hope of which they speak, not because we have no desire for God's promises to find fulfilment, but because actually we know just a little better what we are singing.
Like many other ministers, I have had in my congregations people with terminal diagnoses, people for whom the day "when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come" is a very present reality. The song does have something to say to that moment - not by high volume, high energy singing, but in the trembling voices and tear-washed faces of those for whom, or for whose loved ones, it is lived reality.
I'm not sure we should sing it unless or until we grasp that, until we are ready to accept our own mortality and stop taking for-granted that tomorrow will always (or for donkeys years anyway) come.
And day by day in my joys and sorrows,
My hopes, my fears, my uncertainty
Whatever life brings, and whenever death may call me
Let me be singing confident in hope:
Bless the Lord, oh my soul;
Oh my soul worship God's holy name.
Bring your heart to God, through it all
And worship God's holy name.