hymnals

Modernize Hymn Lyrics for Contemporary Worship

One way to help hymns flow more smoothly in modern worship is to update the archaic language. This might be a touchy subject, depending on your church, as traditionalists tend to place hymn lyrics almost on par with Scripture.

In reality, you wouldn’t believe how hymn lyrics are twisted from hymnal to hymnal. As I began the HymnCharts.com website and started researching hymn lyrics for my arrangements, I was surprised to find that a hymn might have several different lyric versions as it floats from denomination to denomination. I use Word’s Celebration Hymnal as my hymn lyrics standard.

Try an experiment: take your favorite hymn and modernize it by changing all the archaic words. Substitute “You” for “Thee,” “Thou” and “Ye.” Leave off the “st” – “canst,” “shouldst” and “wouldst” will now be “can,” “should” and “would.” Change anything else that sounds like it came from your old English teacher.

This can be tricky – it won’t work if the archaic word is part of the rhyme scheme.

I was at a big-time worship conference some time ago where they incorporated “My Jesus I Love Thee” into the praise set. Here’s how their version went:

My Jesus, I love You, I know You are mine,
For You all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior are Thou: (OUCH!)
If ever I loved You, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Uh oh, they should have known better. I ain’t no English major, but I don’t think you’re supposed to mix King James English with the modern vernacular. In this case I’d leave the hymn alone.

Take a look at the free download for “Lead Me to Calvary.” I wrote this new melody for the traditional hymn text back in 2002 and for years left the lyrics as is because an archaic word was part of the rhyme scheme.

But when I revisited it this year I decided the old time words just did not work, especially in a very contemporary church like Brookwood. So I decided to re-write the line that contained the archaic word in the rhyme scheme.

Here are the original lyrics:

verse 1
King of my life, I crown Thee now,
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget Thy thorny brow,
Lead me to Calvary.

chorus:
Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget, O Lord, Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

verse 2
Show me the tomb where Thou wast laid,
Tenderly mourned and wept;
Angels in robes of light arrayed
Guarded Thee whilst Thou slept.

verse 3
May I be willing, Lord, to bear
Daily my cross for Thee;
Even Thy cup of grief to share,
Thou hast borne all for me.

Here’s the modernized version with the rewritten line in bold:

verse 1
King of my life, I crown You now,
Yours will the glory be;
Lest I forget Your thorny crown,
Lead me to Calvary.

chorus:
Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Your agony;
Lest I forget, O Lord, Your love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

verse 2
Show me the tomb where You were laid,
Tenderly mourned and wept;
Angels in robes of light arrayed
Guarded You while You slept.

verse 3
May I be willing, Lord, to bear
Daily my cross for You;
Even Your cup of grief to share,
Give me a heart renewed.

The hymn retains the same meaning, yet is much more singable without the “wast” and other tongue-twisting words.

What hymn can you modernize for your worship this week?

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