Hymns & Songs

Making the most of our time

Sep 2015    

Take Time to Be Holy

(The United Methodist Hymnal,



Take time to be holy,

speak oft with thy Lord;

abide in him always,

and feed on his word.

Make friends of God’s children,

help those who are weak,

forgetting in nothing

his blessing to seek.


Take time to be holy,

the world rushes on;

spend much time in secret

with Jesus alone.

By looking to Jesus,

like him thou shalt be;

thy friends in thy conduct

his likeness shall see.


Take time to be holy,

let him be thy guide,

and run not before him,

whatever betide.

In joy or in sorrow,

still follow the Lord,

and, looking to Jesus,

still trust in his word.


Take time to be holy,

be calm in thy soul,

each thought and each motive

beneath his control.

Thus led by his spirit

to fountains of love,

thou soon shalt be fitted

for service above.


Words: William D. Longstaff, ca. 1882

(1 Peter 1:16)

Music: George C. Stebbins, 1890

On 30 June 2015, as the clock ticked down to 23:59:59, a leap second was added to ensure that the time became 23:59:60.1 According to the timekeepers, or the specialists in the study of time, a leap second was added to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to synchronise with the International Atomic Time (TAI).2 The insertion of a leap second was to compensate for the Earth’s ever slowing motion and rotational speed, which wobbles about with small deviations and caused the two time standards to fall out of sync.


But what is the big fuss about a mere second? Does an additional second really matter to the man in the street? In our fast-paced society, where most people are hard-pressed for more time, time management is crucial with many things to accomplish in a single day. It takes time to build a business empire, to learn a new skill and to nurture a lasting relationship. But how much time do we allocate to following Jesus?


The lyrics for the late nineteenth-century hymn, ‘Take Time to Be Holy’, was written by a humble and devout Christian layman who took his faith seriously. Inspired by a sermon based on 1 Peter 1:16 by Griffith John, a missionary to China, William Dunn Longstaff resolved to make the achievement of holiness his life’s goal.3 Although this was Longstaff ’s only hymn, his hymn text provides invaluable insights to sincere believers of all ages who truly desire to live a holy Christian life.


Longstaff started each of the four stanzas with the invitation, ‘Take time to be holy.’ The key presumption upon which this hymn is based is that holiness must be pursued and perfected and this endeavour takes time. Christians must spend time in secret with the Lord (stanza 2) in our hectic and fastpaced world that rushes on. This hymn encourages us to ‘abide in him always’ through prayers (“speak oft to thy Lord”) and through the Word of God (“feed on his word”).


In stanza 3, with Jesus as our guide, we will be blessed with inner peace and happiness (“calm in thy soul”), having our thoughts and motives beneath his control (stanza 4). The ultimate goal of taking time to be holy is being more Christ-like (“like him thou shalt be”) in our conduct, and being better prepared for greater service (stanza 4). Will you take some time to ponder over the lyrics of this hymn?

Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.


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