Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Need Thee Every Hour

Nothing is more precious to the believer than the Lord's abiding presence--His constant readiness, even eagerness, to guide, encourage, and comfort all who seek him with a sincere and contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15). He is with us "always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20); He will never leave us, or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and "in [His] presence is fulness of joy" (Psalms 16:11). Knowing this, it is right and good to take everything to Him in prayer--our doubts, our regrets, our anguish, our joy, our thanksgiving. Nowhere in scripture is our dependency on the Lord, and our need to commune with Him always, reflected more clearly than in the Book of Psalms (see, for example, Psalms 27:7-9; 69:14-17; 86:1-5; 143:7-10).

And nowhere in Christian music is this truth more simply and beautifully exemplified than in the hymn I Need Thee Every Hour, written in 1872 by Annie Sherwood Hawks (1835-1918). The text expresses our need for God's constant guidance and strength in our lives, and how lost we are without Him.
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.


I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.


I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.


I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessèd Son.

From the general tenor of the text one might think that I Need Thee Every Hour was written during a time of great personal trial--but quite the opposite is true. Near the end of her life Mrs. Hawks described how the hymn came to be (see Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (1985, Kregel Publications) pp 132-134):
One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, "I Need Thee Every Hour," were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me. Seating myself by the open windows, I caught up my pencil and committed the words to paper - almost as they are today. . . .

For myself, the hymn, at its writing, was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of great personal sorrow, with which it has often been associated.
Born in Hoosick, New York, on May 28th, 1835, Annie was already an experienced, published poet when she penned I Need Thee Every Hour. She and her family had moved to Brooklyn, New York and joined the Hanson Place Baptist Church, where Dr. Robert Lowry--himself a distinguished hymn writer and musician--was pastor.

Annie S. Hawks and Dr. Robert Lowry

Dr. Lowry recognized Mrs. Hawks' literary talents and encouraged her to write hymn texts. Impressed with her work on I Need Thee Every Hour, Dr. Lowry composed the music for the hymn and added a refrain. The hymn was thereafter included in a collection prepared for a convention of the National Baptist Sunday School Association in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1872, as well as in a new songbook compiled by Dr. Lowry in 1873. Still later the hymn was popularized in America and Great Britain through the evangelistic campaigns of Ira Sankey and Dwight L. Moody.

Sixteen years after writing I Need Thee Every Hour, Mrs. Hawks' husband died. She wrote:
I did not understand at first why the hymn so greatly touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long years after, when the shadow came over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words, which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hours of sweet serenity and peace.
Thus, the story of I Need Thee Every Hour itself shows how compellingly it speaks to our need for God in our lives every moment, in times of both happiness and trial.

Though it is beautiful sung by a choir, I Need Thee Every Hour is especially moving as a solo piece, as it is written in the first person and reflects such a powerful bond between the individual and his Lord. The first video below is sung by the wonderful Christian musician Fernando Ortega.

The rendition below is by the Christian singing group Selah, introduced by a short but moving segment of the contemporary gospel song Part the Waters:

See this video for an upbeat, folk-tinged version by Diane Gibbs.

The following rendition, though perhaps not a slick professional production, is too moving and profound to omit. The hymn is sung by a young married couple, Kate and Ryan Alder, and compiles images from their life together. According to the notes accompanying the video on YouTube, "Kate Alder and Ryan Alder were in a car accident on 9/3/09. Tragically, Ryan passed away as a result of his injuries." If ever a video illustrated what a hymn was all about, this is it. God bless the Alder family, wherever they are.

Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth:
hide not thy face from me,

lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning;
for in thee do I trust:

Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk;
for I lift up my soul unto thee.
Psalms 143:7,8

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