Every song has a story

Guest post by Doug Ranck of Free Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, CA

This morning I am sitting at Gate 10, Terminal 1 of Los Angeles International airport beginning the long journey back to the Washington, D.C. area where I will spend time with my dad, who is now in the final days of his life.

As I ponder the legacy he has left me for the past 54 years and 10 months, one piece clearly rings out: music. Through his college years Dad sang in a quartet, recording some of his music on old 78rpm record albums … the kind you could break if dropped!

With his love for singing it was not uncommon to hear him singing almost anytime or anyplace. Long car rides became times for sing-a-longs where I first learned the fun of vocal harmonies. The joy he found in music transcended singing, and he listened to all types of music. I always thought it was cool to have a mom and dad who would let me listen to “my” station (pre-mp3 era!) in the car. One of our favorite programs turned out to be Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. Similar to the present day Ryan Seacrest’s AT40, Casey would introduce songs in descending order from 40 to number 1. For many of the songs he would tell the story behind the song and how it was written. Even for a song I didn’t like, it was interesting to know more of how it came to be. Hearing the story proved to be a fresh reminder of the creative origins and inspiration behind music.

If you were to ask me my Dad’s favorite song now I would quickly say: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is considered one of the classic hymns of the church. It has been adopted by different Christian colleges as their “theme” song and sung at commencement ceremonies. It will definitely be sung at the service where we celebrate my father’s life.

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisolm, who lived from 1866 to 1960. Thomas had a challenging adult life; his health was fragile and he was often confined to bed, unable to work. In his “healthier” moments he made himself put in extra hours on different jobs to financially provide for himself.

At age 27 he chose to follow Christ and found joy in reading the Bible. He found God to be faithful in his times of illness and the great provider of his needs. Lamentations 3:22-23 became some of his favorite verses, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (NIV)

While he was away on mission trips, Thomas often wrote his good friend, William Runyan, an obscure musician. In his letters, Thomas sometimes included a few of the poems he had been writing. Runyan liked one poem in particular and decided to compose music for it. “Great is Thy Faithfulness” was published in 1923.

For many years nobody knew about the hymn until a professor at Moody Bible Institute discovered it and repeatedly requested it at chapel services, until it became their “theme” song.

In 1945 George Beverly Shea began singing it at Billy Graham Crusades, allowing the hymn to receive worldwide exposure.

Thomas Chisolm died at age 94, but not before writing 1,200 poems and hymns.

Every song has a story. Do you know the stories behind the songs connecting with your heart and mind? Dig deep and research. Let the stories bring further life and meaning to songs of your heart.

As for me, through tears of joy I will be singing of God’s great faithfulness, knowing the deeper meaning in the life of Thomas Chisolm, my dad and now my own life.


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