An article entitled ‘Learning by Listening’ from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (USA)1, wrote: “You can learn a lot through listening. In college, it will be a prime source of information. Unfortunately, people do not instinctively listen well.”
It is quite true that we are by nature not good listeners, and this is made doubly so by the noises and distractions that constantly bombard our lives. This is even truer whenever we try to listen to the Word of God. We are oft in need of divine inspiration to help us grasp the true meaning and purpose behind God’s Word. To open the hearts and minds of worshippers to listen to God’s message, a prayer of illumination or a hymn of preparation may be incorporated into the worship liturgy.
‘Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word‘ is essentially a prayer asking for illumination by the Holy Spirit as the Christian community gathers in worship around the Lord’s Word.2 German-born Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684) first wrote and published this pre-sermon hymn in 1663, some 15 years after he retired as a chaplain in the Swedish army and became a pastor in Weiden. His original German text was translated into English in 1858 by Catherine Winkworth, a gifted translator of foreign lyrics.
The hymn first appeared in the Altdorffisches Gesang-Büchlein and later in the second series of Winkworth’s Lyra Germanica in 1858 with the original three stanzas.
The first stanza of this hymn of preparation is a petition for a heart that is receptive to the Word of God proclaimed. Stanza two declares that only God can illuminate human hearts and bring the “beams of truth” to all the knowledge and education we have attained. The final stanza ascribes praises to Christ, and once again implores the “Light of light” to “open thou our ears and heart[s]” to the Word of God.
Indeed, we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to fully understand God’s message to us. Our Lord Jesus has promised to help us. He said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26, NIV)
1 Academic Skills Center, ‘Learning by Listening’ (Dartmouth College, 2001), available from http://www.dartmouth.edu/acskills/learning_by_listening.doc, accessed on 12 April 2017
2 Tiffany Shomsky, ‘Blessed Jesus, at Thy word’, available from www.hymnary.org/text/blessed_jesus_at_thy_word, accessed on 12 April 2017
Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word (The United Methodist Hymnal, #596)
Blessed Jesus, at thy word
we are gathered all to hear thee;
let our hearts and souls be stirred
now to seek and love and fear thee,
by thy teachings sweet and holy,
drawn from earth to love thee solely.
All our knowledge, sense, and sight
lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
till thy spirit breaks our night
with the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
thou must work all good within us.
Glorious Lord, thyself impart!
Light of light, from God proceeding,
open thou our ears and heart;
help us by thy spirit’s pleading;
hear the cry thy people raises;
hear, and bless our prayers and praises.
Words: Tobias Clausnitzer, 1633; trans. by Catherine Winkworth, 1858
Music: Johann R. Ahle, 1664
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.