4 Songs for the Burdened Soul

What do you do when you are sad?

Simple question, I know, but you probably have an answer for it. On your best days, maybe you know yourself well enough to know that you need to get out of the house and exercise. Or perhaps there is a trusted friend that you will call upon in your sadness. Or maybe you find it better to just sit alone with your sadness for a while, perhaps with a photo album, and wait it out. Of course, there are more self-destructive things to do with your sadness, and you might be well acquainted with these, too.

But if I could, I wonder if you’d allow me to suggest one other thing to do in the midst of sadness: Sing.

Singing, in general, is essential in the life of a Christian. God commands us to sing to Him, and He does so not only for the sake of His glory but also for the sake of our own souls. We sing, in other words, for our own good, and perhaps one of the best times to sing is precisely when we don’t feel like doing it. Singing, and music in general, connects with us at a level nothing else does. God has designed us this way. Singing lifts the eyes to heaven and the soul follows with it.

When you read through the psalms, you of course find jubilant emotional expressions, but you find at least as many of those ancient songs written from a place of pain and sadness. It’s almost like for the psalmist, music was cathartic; it was the means by which he expressed his sadness to God and received a measure of comfort back from heaven.

So if your soul is burdened today, you might consider setting aside some time to sing. But sing what? There are lots of things, but here are four songs that come to mind:

1. Great is Thy Faithfulness

Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, in 1866 and never received a formal education. Despite that, he wrote as many as 1200 poems and had 800 of them published. He became a Christian in 1893, and eventually an ordained minister in 1903.

Great is Thy Faithfulness is based around Lamentations 3:22-23, the verses the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, wrote about the faithfulness of God despite bearing witness to the destruction of Jerusalem:

Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!

Singing this song is a testimony of the unchanging nature of God. And when we are sad, it’s good to remind our souls that though everything else in life might feel upended, that even the earth is tilting on its axis, God is still the same:

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be.

2. How Firm a Foundation

We actually don’t know the author or the circumstances of the writing of this hymn. It first appeared in a British hymnbook in 1787 with the author listed only as “K”. The first verse is an exhortation for the Christian to return again to the promises in God’s Word, and then the following verses are written from the perspective of God to the Christian. As we sing the song, it’s as if God is singing back to us, and we can count on the truth contained there because most of the lyrics come straight from the Bible.

This is what we need to do during times of sadness, on days when we tend to forget all that God has promised us. We must remind our souls of the good and faithful Word of God and the truth we find there:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

3. O Love, That Will Not Let Me Go

According to George Matheson, who wrote this hymn in 1882: “Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high. I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse.”

Matheson was nearly blind by the time he turned 18, and perhaps that was the source of the intense suffering that led to this hymn. Like him, songs like this can help us endure by reminding us of God’s promises for both the here and now, and for what is to come, a glorious day when there will be no more sadness at all:

O Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

4. Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior

And here we have one hymn by the incomparable Fanny Crosby. She was blind at six weeks old, and began writing when she was six years old. The story goes that Crosby was visiting a prison in 1868, and after she read some of her poetry and the inmates had sung some of her hymns, she heard one prisoner cry out, “Good Lord, do not pass me by.” She incorporated the line, and this particular hymn first appears in 1870.

It reminds us of the blind beggars that cried out after Jesus:

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd demanded that they keep quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matt. 20:29-31).

During days of sadness, we can feel forgotten. Overlooked. Discarded. But we are not alone. We can know, by God’s grace, that Jesus will not indeed pass us by. Indeed, He is not only with us, but is feeling what we feel to an even greater extent. His tears join our own as He stoops low to meet us:

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

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