Year by Year, from past to future

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At last, we come to the end of this year-long project of singing and blogging about every one of the 330 hymns and songs in the Sing Praise hymnbook.  I have enjoyed the singing, alone or to John’s online accompaniment, and reading the words carefully to find something to write about them.  I have written very nearly 100,000 words in the last 365 days and I hope that someone will find some of them helpful, sometime. I will now ‘unpin’ the explanatory text from the home page, but it can still be found here

For the last one, New Year’s Eve, I picked ‘Year by year, from past to future’ by Alan Luff.  Although not specifically written for a New Year service, its theme is very much about our progress through life one year at a time, which makes it suitable. The first verse talks of worship ‘marking our upward climb’ (in the metaphorical sense of getting closer to God, presumably) and ‘following God’s heavenward calling’.  The Christian should seek to be closer to his or her master with each passing year, though of course in practice we must recognise that it isn’t always so.

The second verse uses a vivid imagery of our life being woven like a pattern on a loom, longer with each passing year, a different pattern for each, and with any mistakes ‘grieved over by the Father, master craftsman’ and showing up as a flaw in the textile.  But a well woven cloth can contain flaws without falling apart, and sometimes it’s only when the piece is complete that its true beauty from start to finish can be revealed.

The last verse uses a different imagery, that of pilgrimage. It acknowledges that our journey on this earth must come to an end in what seems like an abyss, a deep canyon that cannot be crossed.  But in a striking phrase we are reminded that ‘Within the dark are waiting hands that bear the print of nails, which will hold us safe and bear us where the worship never fails’. This is the faith of the Church, that Christ has gone before, has emerged from the abyss and will take us safely across to his eternal home.  It is a message of hope rather than fear, and expressed more poetically than in yesterday’s hymn.

Like the last two days’ tunes, the one suggested here (Eifionydd, a Welsh tune presumably) is in two flats, but my more musically knowledgeable mother realised straight away when she saw it that this is in the relative minor key.  I wondered at first whether that was appropriate, but I think it is.  New Year is often a time of reflection on the past as well as looking to the future. The hymn notes the challenge of getting closer to God, the mistakes we make on the way, and the reality of death.

This year with the combined weight of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and climate change evident in disasters all around the world, both reflection and looking forward demand a more sombre outlook than usual.  The ‘days of auld lang syne’ may look increasingly appealing compared with what the new year may bring, but however deep the abyss, Christ is beyond it.  Happy New Year, whenever you read this.

The Bible in a Year – 13 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and the introduction to the Psalms for this book of the Bible in particular.

13 July. Psalms 86-89

Psalms, patterns and petitions

Part of my work for the Church of England is checking the “Statement of Significance and Needs” which any church council has to provide if they want to make changes to their building. It accompanies another document called the ”petition” and it is expected to follow a set pattern, in which the actual request (“what do you want to change?”) is only a small part that has to be set in context.  The pattern is:


  • Introduction to the history of the building
  • What’s special about it
  • What would be improved or spoilt if the changes go ahead


  • What is the building used for?
  • What do you want to change?
  • What are the reasons for the chosen option?
  • Why is change needed now?
  • Justification for any alteration to the building

That is fairly clear (although some people still need help getting their thoughts into this format). A similar structure can be seen in traditional “collect” prayers of the Church of England, which always follow the same pattern:

  • A form of address to God
  • A reminder of what God does or has done for us
  • A specific request for God’s support
  • The purpose resulting from that support
  • An expression of praise.

The pattern is not always obvious until you see it broken down. Often the “request” – also called a “petition”, as above, is also only a small part of the whole.  Take as an example the Collect for this week:

  •  Form of address-  O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
  • What God does- without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
  • Petition- increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
  • Purpose- that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
  • Expression of praise- who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Many of the psalms follow a comparable structured pattern, although the order is not as fixed as in Anglican prayers.  Again, often the elements of praise and recounting of God’s goodness are longer than the actual request for help. Take for instance Psalm 86, which can be considered as follows:

  • A call to God to hear [me/us] (verses 1-4)
  • Praise for God’s nature and/or his previous deeds (v. 5-10)
  • A pledge to serve God in return for his help (v.11-13)
  • A more detailed statement of the problems (“petition”) (v.14)
  • Reasons why God should offer help (v.15-16)
  • A final element of praise or thanksgiving  (v.17)

So we can see a wider pattern to all these patterns.  Whether asking God for help in our personal or corporate prayers, or in sung forms such as the Psalms, or seeking permission for work to the church building, the actual petition, the bit we might really think of as prayer or request, should only be a part of the overall statement, much more of which should be about the purpose of the request and the wider context in which our Christian lives, worship and mission are set.  Prayer should never be just “help me!”, except perhaps in the most urgent moments when God will of course hear that heartfelt cry. Normally it should be linked with praise, thanksgiving and a wider concern for the work of God’s people.