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A Hymnal for a New Generation

"A new hymnal for a new generation.” Sounds like the latest television advertisement, except the word “hymnal” just doesn’t seem to fit. You can almost hear people asking, “Isn’t a hymnal something from, like, 1901, where they sing songs accompanied by ancient, dusty instruments?”

When the Lift Up Your Hearts committee began talking about some of the characteristics of Lift Up Your Hearts (LUYH), we talked about how it truly is “a new hymnal for a new generation.” These days, the publication of any hymnal is a brave venture, since many churches initially may not see a need for it. With the latest contemporary music accessible at the click of a button, a hymnal seems like a dying entity. But don’t be too quick to dismiss hymnals. Let me introduce to you some of the reasons that this hymnal will bless a new generation and bring new life to churches whose faith language is different from what it was twenty-five or so years ago (which is when many churches began using their current hymnal).

In many ways, the points I am about to list are not new—these ideas, impulses, and expressions of faith have been around for centuries. While the gospel message has not changed and we don’t want to abandon the rich hymn heritage we have received, the world’s acoustics have changed in the past twenty-five years. Each generation seems to emphasize particular aspects of the Christian life, bringing what was in the background to the forefront. The current generation is globally minded, action-conscious, universally connected, and authentically aware. Each of those themes are explored and highlighted in LUYH, making this a hymnal that will bless a new generation.

Globally Minded

The internet—Google, Facebook, Twitter—has completely changed our view of the world. No longer can we claim ignorance of what is happening beyond our own communities. Information is readily available, and news comes to us the moment it happens. We have friends living in other countries, and we realize the center of Christianity is no longer in the West. We have also discovered what a joy it is to share music from fellow Christians around the world.

In addition, many of our neighborhoods are housing immigrants from around the world and our churches are increasingly multicultural (praise God!). How better aato welcome people of all cultures and races, acknowledging God’s creative spectrum, than by singing their songs?

LUYH gathered songs from every continent and from many different languages. We can sing the songs our Christian brothers and sisters sing in Japan, Argentina, and Ghana. We can sing the Lord’s Prayer with our fellow Arabic Christians (“Abana in Heaven” p. 35) or confess our sin using the songs of our Hispanic brothers and sisters (“Perdon, Señor”).

Action-conscious

With this global perspective in mind, the new generation is realizing that we cannot ignore injustices and world issues that Christians sometimes gloss over. The new generation is weary of fellow Christians ignoring what is happening in the world, and they want to take action. The LUYH committee was intentional about including songs that call us to recognize and take action against the world’s injustices and to repent of our indifference to them (“Let Justice Flow”). Some of these “action” songs call us to take care of God’s creation (“Touch the Earth Lightly”). Others were chosen to reflect our call to spread the gospel. We can no longer assume that our neighbors, coworkers, and family members are familiar with the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Universally Connected

We often assume that young people won’t want to sing hymns or songs that use “archaic” language. However, people enjoy hymns and their unique language because they like to be connected with something greater than themselves, like the universal church—the church of all times and places. By including many of the most beloved hymns, and in many cases preserving their original phrasing, LUYH connects to something far greater than the here and now, reminding us all of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations. In addition, when we hold and sing from a hymnal, we are connected to members of the universal church of years past who also sang from hymnals. We also connect to brothers and sisters who are singing from the same hymnal, singing the same songs, proclaiming the love of God in all times and places.

Authentically Aware

More than anything else, there has been much discussion about the fact that the church of this new generation is tired of what they perceive as hypocrisy and inauthenticity. “Contemporary” church music means nothing if the words are empty, or do not address the entire scope of our daily lives—from joy to anger, from grief to peace. It is exciting that many new and contemporary songs were chosen for this hymnal, but chosen with great discretion and intentionality.

Not surprisingly, there are many new songs in the praise and adoration section, but there are also new and modern songs in every other section as well. There are new songs of deep lament (for example in the “death and dying” and “difficult times” sections) that bring us to our knees before God as we pour out our grief, realizing that our lives are far from easy. There are new songs of confession that name specific sins instead of glossing over sins we sometimes dare not mention in our churches. The hymnal includes new songs of baptismal joy and true communion that authentically celebrate our new life in Christ. The new generation does not want to leave emotions, difficulties, joys, passions, or challenges at the door of the church.

For some, the word “hymnal” may conjure up images of blowing dust off a dying book that has been sitting on the shelf for years, but it is our prayer that LUYH will spark images of life, breathing new life into a new generation as we “Lift Up Our Hearts” to the God of all times and places.