Monday, February 20, 2012

Sweet Hour of Prayer

As for me, I will call upon God;
and the LORD shall save me.
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud:
and he shall hear my voice.
~ Psalms 55:16-17

When we were born, we passed from our Creator's presence into a world of shadows and fog, illusions and half-light, mountains and chasms. At any moment in our lives we grasp only part of the truth, and must search for the rest, which may be obscured and distorted. Our intellect is limited, and we are distracted from pursuing what is true and right by the temptations of this world. We are discouraged by obstacles and may fall into a pit of confusion and despair, over and over again. How do we regain the road of hope and purpose? How do we discern the will of Him who made us, and secure His aid and comfort amidst the stresses and storms of life?

Prayer! It is our lifeline to God, our tether to the Eternal, our anchor in an endless ocean of trouble. Through it we repent of our waywardness and lay our lives at His feet. Through it we can pour out our hearts and seek guidance and support from our loving Lord. Through it we gain strength to fight the powers of darkness and to do God's will. Prayer is also the means by which we thank our Heavenly Father for all our countless blessings and for His help, and by which our souls sing His praises, as it should every moment. Prayer opens to us the light of God's truth and peace, and involves our Lord in every aspect of our lives and our doings here on earth. It is truly a stairway to, and from, Heaven.

This is how we were meant to walk upon the earth, our whole lives offered up as a prayer of supplication, consecration, thanksgiving, praise, and joy to our beloved Lord. In order to do this, as the Apostle Paul taught, we must “[p]ray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The formula is to "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6,7)

Nothing written, outside Scripture, better expresses the importance and miraculous role that prayer plays in the believer's life than the hymn Sweet Hour of Prayer. The traditional account of the story behind this beloved work is itself a simple but touching lesson in the power of prayer.

The writer of the text, William W. Walford (1772-1850), was an elderly blind man occasionally called on to preach in a rural English church, who--by reason of his disability--composed sermons in his head to deliver on Sundays, while sitting by the chimney in his home carving shoe horns and other small implements out of bone. Despite his humble circumstances Mr. Walford's command of the Scriptures was so comprehensive and precise that, among those privileged to hear him speak, he had the reputation of “knowing the whole Bible by heart.” One day in 1842 he was visited in his home by Rev. Thomas Salmon, a native of New York who was then serving as pastor at a Congregational church in Coleshill, Warwickshire, England. Walford asked him to transcribe some text he had composed and memorized, as he had no one else at home to commit the lines to paper. Mr. Salmon jotted them down with a pencil as Walford recited them, the old man pausing occasionally to ask “How will this do?” with, as Salmon related, "a complacent smile touched with some light lines of fear lest he subject himself to criticism." After returning to America Salmon submitted the text to the New York Observer, which on September 13, 1845, published what came to be known and loved years later as the hymn Sweet Hour of Prayer:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
"Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!"

Little else is known of William W. Walford, except the exquisite lines he bequeathed to posterity. No photograph or portrait of him is known to exist, yet the impact of this simple, blind man on untold millions of lives is incalculable.

In 1860 or 1861, some 15 years after the text's publication, American composer William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) wrote the tune "Sweet Hour" commonly associated with it (Bradbury also wrote the music for other popular hymns, including Just as I Am). The hymn was first published in a Methodist hymnal in 1878.

The beautiful rendition below is a traditional choral setting by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

Here is a solo rendition, along with a very moving video, by the great gospel singer and hymn composer George Beverly Shea:

Below is another solo rendition by American folk singer and song writer Iris Dement. Her unique voice may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but you won't find a more heartfelt and endearing performance of Sweet Hour of Prayer anywhere:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. ~ Matt. 7:7-8


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  2. Thank you for sharing this informational hymn. Praise the Lord God always. Very refreshing!


  3. Life is a battle, if you don't know how to defend yourself then you'll end up being a loser.
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    explore and make a lot of memories.

  4. Thank you for this post! I am teaching handbells to youth and wanted to know the origin of the song. I have drawn them a picture of a clock to put in an "hour of prayer". Bless you.

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