‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Pet 3:9)
You may or may not be a fan of the BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’. Broadcast every Sunday, it is a programme that offers a wide range of live Christian music, often recorded in a church building, but also in various other places that seek to provide some insight into the local community.
This week Songs of Praise played the ‘top ten’ pieces of Christian music, as voted for ‘by you, the British public’ – which probably means ‘you, the viewers of Songs of Praise’.
I was trying to guess which popular hymn would come at the top of the list: ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’, perhaps? Or Graham Kendrick’s ‘Shine Jesus Shine’? Or how about ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’?
Wrong every time. Number 3 in the BBC’s top ten was ‘How Great Thou art’ – and yes, I was happy about that. Number 2 surprised me a little: Stuart Townend’s ‘In Christ Alone my hope is found’, although it is a great modern hymn and well worthy of the vote.
But it was when we reached number 1, ‘the nation’s favourite’, that the shock-horror set in. What was the Hymn that received the highest number of votes?
‘And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?’
‘No!’ I wanted to shout at the TV! They didn’t, and He wasn’t! And this can’t be the nation’s favourite, promoting the idea that Jesus came to England. You simply will not find that in the Bible.
But of course, the song is hugely patriotic, and patriotism is not necessarily based on truth or evidence. Maybe it’s more a case of poetic licence; the words were set to music during the first World War, deliberately stoking powerful feelings of loyalty and love for one’s country. So successful was it that even King George V apparently said that he preferred this song to ‘God Save the King’!
And yet …… I wonder if we might detect, hidden within the poetry, a deep longing for a genuine closeness with the Lord Jesus? Is there, in fact, evidence of an aching soul desiring real contact with a yet unknown God, sensing that there really is a God who loves and cares, but always seems, somehow, just out of reach?
How many people must there be in the UK who have lived through ‘unparalleled times’ in the past few months, realising how precarious life is, how easily it can be brought to an end – and how unprepared they are for that end. And if they have thought a little further, have they realised how empty their lives are without a relationship with God, and how the things they fill their time with are ultimately quite unsatisfying.
We have prayed so long for revival; could this be God’s time to ‘walk upon England’s mountains green’ once again?