A few months ago I was fascinated to learn the history of the Doxology that we–and churches around the world–sing in worship every Sunday. I had always assumed that the words and lyrics were ancient, coming from the earliest centuries of the Christian church. But not so.
Actually, they were published in 1709 by Thomas Ken, a bishop and professor in England. To help his students develop daily prayer times, Thomas Ken wrote three songs, one each for the morning, evening, and night. He wanted the songs to encourage prayer throughout the day.
The morning hymn was appropriately titled “Morning Hymn” and had 14 verses. That might sound like a lot, but considering how much of a morning person I am not, it takes me 14 verses just to wake up. Here’s the first stanza:
Awake, my soul, and with the sun,
Thy daily stage of duty run,
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.
So where does the Doxology that we sing come in? Well, Thomas Ken wrote it to be the last lines for each of his morning, evening, and night hymns. So in the morning you would sing (or mumble groggily) all 14 stanzas of the “Morning Hymn,” then sing the Doxology chorus, and Bob’s your uncle, your day gets off to a good start. Same goes for when you lay down at night. Thomas Ken wrote the Doxology to close each prayer song in the same way. What a neat idea, because it gives your day and life such a good rhythm. Our needs and thoughts in the morning are different than what they are at night, so it’s normal to pray differently at different times. But some things never change no matter what time it is, so part of our prayers don’t need to change:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
So that’s where the Doxology that we sing every Sunday came from. The song we know by heart because it seeps into your heart…. but, I have to confess something. Sometimes, if it’s a Sunday when my mind is in a hundred different directions, or I’m distracted by a problem that’s bothering me, I’ll stand to sing the Doxology, and I plum forget the words! Isn’t that terrible? After the first few words, I start mumbling incoherently because I can’t get my mind on track and sing them right. Hopefully no one is looking close enough to notice that I’m singing nonsense.
So how could I ever forget the Doxology? I’ve only sung it a million times! But that happens in life. When your mind is distracted, burdened, scattered, and stressed, it’s hard to focus, even on the basic stuff we’ve always known. Like, we always know that our friends and our church family are here to support us in whatever we’re going through, but when we’re totally shaken, we forget that and feel alone. Or we always know that we are a beloved child of God, but when we’re really down, we forget that and feel worthless.
No wonder such constant, daily prayers are so helpful; we need reminders every day of even the simplest truths so that we don’t forget: we are created and loved by God, we are supported and loved by each other. And that’s something worth singing about–morning, evening, and night.