Reflections on Sunday School Songs: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

It’s about creation. It’s about sovereignty. It’s about protection. It’s about salvation.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

I left one of my favorite Sunday School songs for last, and in these days after Christmas, when our minds still dwell on the baby in the manger, these simple words seem even more profound. In the tiny hands of a newborn rested all the world…in every sense of the word. He, through whom the world was made (Hebrews 1:2), figuratively held the Planet Earth in His hands.

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.

Sometimes when we talk about the world, however, we mean all the people on the planet. Like in Joy to the World, there’s the line, “the weary world rejoices.” In that way, too, He holds us all. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:29-30) and the number of days we’ll remain on earth (Psalm 39:4-5). He holds our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows (Psalm 139, Matthew 6:27, 34). Nothing happens without His knowledge. Truly, He is sovereign.

I’m struck here by the combined intimacy and sovereignty of our Lord. Think about that for a moment.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“Hold my hand,” I told my little ones when we went into public places or crossed a street. In the same way, Jesus holds our hands as we walk through life. The Psalmist wrote,

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. -Psalm 138:7

Those tiny hands that reached for the dust floating in the stable’s light also protect us from everything that is not part of His will for our lives.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

When someone takes responsibility for something, we say, “It’s in your hands.” Christ Jesus, though no longer a baby, took responsibility for our sinfulness when He died on the cross. The nails that penetrated His hands and sunk into the wood behind them at the same time punctured the consequences of our sin so that we became free through His bondage (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:9-11, Hebrews 1:3). He carried the salvation of the whole world in His hands.

All these ways we rest in Jesus’ hands? It’s not just you who reads this or me. Recall the other verses of our song:

…you and me, brother

…you and me, sister

…little bitty babies

…the mamas and the papas

…everybody

Maybe it’s simplistic, but this song brings me peace. I find rest in these facts:

  • He is the structure upon which our world stands,
  • He is sovereign,
  • He offers safety,
  • He saves.

The same hands that reached for dust in the stable’s light hold “the whole world.” (click to tweet)

Structure, sovereignty, safety, salvation—all because “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” (click to tweet)

When you sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” what comes to your mind? How does this song make you feel? Please share in the comments below!

Series Conclusion

I’ve known most of these Sunday School songs since before I could speak plainly. Simple or strange, silly or significant (or sometimes both!), they are the foundation of my spiritual worldview. I didn’t realize that fact until now, as I look back on the series. So, for me, returning to them as an adult affirms the fundamentals of my faith. They bring me back to some of the most important truths we possess as believers. Seems like I needed that this year. I pray they’ve done the same for you as we dug into them together.

 

ss-songs-whole-world
(c) Carole Sparks

Attribution: traditional American spiritual (several on-line sources)

 Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

If You’re Happy and You Know It

 

 

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Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: My God Is So Big

Sometimes this parenting thing gets more than a little overwhelming. There are days (both with very young kids and with older ones) when I have slumped into a chair and thought, “I just can’t do this!” There have been nights when I rested my head on the pillow thinking, “I don’t know what to do about that.” And there have been times when I felt certain I was doing it all alone…and all wrong. Please tell me you’ve felt the same way.

So today, I don’t have anything new or innovative. Maybe today, you and I both need to be reminded about the character and nature of God. This fun song does the trick for me every time. Don’t just teach it to your children or sing along with them. Take time to really think about Who God is.

My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. 
There’s nothing my God cannot do.

Consider each of these adjectives.

ss-songs-god-is-so-big-pic
Waiting at the airport when we moved to Africa, my children stood in the picture window and sang “My God is so Big.” (c) Carole Sparks
  • God is bigger than my…
    • dwindling bank account
    • depression
    • child’s temper tantrums
    • ____________.
  • God is stronger than my…
    • pride
    • frustration
    • teenager’s rebellion
    • ____________.
  • God is mightier than my…
    • friend’s harsh words
    • child’s learning difficulty
    • exhaustion
    • ____________.

In fact, there is absolutely nothing beyond the scope of His power or ability! Easy to say, harder to live out. Am I right? If you do a word search at BibleGateway (or in your concordance) for mighty, or strong (big would probably give you too many options), you’ll find encouraging verses like this one:

The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.  -Psalm 50:1

The mountains are His,
The rivers are His, 
The stars are His handiwork, too. 

We look to creation to affirm what the Spirit speaks to our hearts—that He is sovereign. Flip through some pictures of your last hike or vacation. Or just look out the window! The Apostle Paul said, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20).

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  -Colossians 1:16-17

 Everything belongs to Him—the storms and the butterflies, the decay and the sunrise, the hugs and the heartbreak.

My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty.
There’s nothing my God cannot do!

Parents, God can handle this…whatever “this” is! Reset your focus off the issue and onto Him. He will adjust your perspective and begin to show you the way forward. Remember when Job asked God “why”? (This is one of my favorite Bible points right now.) God didn’t answer Job’s question. Instead, God invited Job to see Who He is. When we bring Him our problems, often before He gives us solutions or answers, He asks us to remember the same thing: that He is so big, so strong, and so mighty, that there’s nothing He can’t do.

If it helps, you can do the motions for the song. Do you remember them? I especially like “so mighty.”

When you feel overwhelmed, take a minute to sing this fun Sunday School song to yourself. (click to tweet)

 

#IntentionalParenting: Bringing back church songs from your childhood to help you be a better parent now. (click to tweet)

Do you ever have those end-of-the-rope moments? What do you do at those times? When you begin to reflect on God’s size, strength and/or might, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Attribution: by Ruth Harms Calkin. There are many variations on this song, some copyrighted, some not.

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

 

Still to come:

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Father Abraham

Here’s the truth: I can’t stand this song. When I was young, I thought it was a subversive plot to force exercise upon us unwitting children. Now that I’m older, I think it’s boring and lacking in significant theology. Plus, I have an aversion to looking foolish, getting dizzy, and falling down. Because a friend requested it, however, I now include it in this series. You’re welcome, JV.

There’s just one refrain for this song, sung to various additional body motions. No reason to repeat ourselves here. We’ll walk through it only once.

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham

At first, this seems contradictory. From what I recall in Genesis, Abraham had only two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (respectively, the son of flesh and the son of promise, according to Galatians 4:22-23). That’s not “many.” Turns out, there were more biological children. In Genesis 25, we learn that Abraham took another wife/concubine, Keturah, who subsequently had six sons. Neither the chronology nor the terminology are clear in this case, but we know that Abraham actually had eight sons and who-knows-how-many daughters, since they weren’t usually listed. All these sons ended up fathering whole people groups, just as Isaac became the progenitor of the Hebrew people.

So there’s a not-very-exciting but true statement in this song: Abraham actually did have many (on the lower end of many, by Biblical standards, but still…) sons. Maybe this fact will help you win a Bible trivia competition. For the song, we sing it in a traditional grammatical structure, then in Yoda-speak.

But here comes the weird, wild, and interesting part!

I am one of them, and so are you…

One of my relatives recently did the DNA test to discover his/her global ancestry. Turns out, we’re part Jewish! Who knew?!? I have not, however, suddenly developed a taste for gefilte fish.

My DNA is not why I am one of the “sons of Abraham,” though.

[Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them… -Romans 4:11b

That would be everyone who isn’t Jewish and who believes what God promised Abraham.

And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. -Romans 4:12

And that would be Jewish people who believe as Abraham believed.

What did Abraham believe? First, he trusted God when God said he would have descendants even though it looked virtually impossible. But even more importantly, Abraham believed that his descendants would bless the whole world (Genesis 12 and 15). We now know that one of those descendants—a great-great-great-etc.-grandson—was Jesus, which makes faith way easier for us than it was for Abraham. He trusted a promise. We trust a Person.

Short version of Paul’s argument here: Circumcision was the main sign of following the Law. Jewish people thought the Law was the way to be holy or righteous (considered right by God), so getting circumcised (just the boys) put you on the path to holiness. It was about what people did. Paul, however, said they missed the point. Abraham already believed God before he was circumcised. In fact, God said Abraham was righteous way before He told Abraham to get circumcised. Therefore, circumcision couldn’t be the path to righteousness. It had to be straight-up faith!

But still, how are we Abraham’s children? In the Old Testament, there were these sort-of apprenticeship programs, and the apprentices were called “sons of [whatever trade they were learning].” For example, Amos said, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), meaning he wasn’t even studying to be a prophet. This is the way in which we are sons/children of Abraham. We follow in his faith footsteps as an apprentice would follow in the footsteps of his master.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. -Romans 4:16

And later in Romans…

It is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. -Romans 9:8

So let’s just praise the Lord!

What is your response to this idea that we belong to the lineage of Abraham because we believe God has created a way for us to become righteous? Don’t you want to “just praise the Lord”? Me, too.

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for [Abraham] alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. -Romans 4:23-24

I said in my introduction that there’s not much theology in this song. I was wrong! There is theology, you just have to dig into Romans to find it. And I’ve only scratched the surface. Not in the middle of a Bible study or quiet time plan right now? Spend the next week in Romans 4. I’m serious—the whole week. Oh, it’s just so deep and rich!

I hope the next time you’re forced to sing this song it will be a little easier for you as you remember the theology behind the simple words. Take a few minutes to explain it to your children, while you’re at it! Maybe they’ll have a better attitude than I did.

Father Abraham: Remember an essential truth of Romans through a silly children’s song. (click to tweet)

Do you have memories of singing this song as a child…or an adult? Do you skip it on the children’s Bible songs playlist? (I always did.) You’re welcome to share your memories or observations in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Attribution: (public domain)ss-songs-father-abraham

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Still to come:

  • My God is So Big
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

beach storm
beach storm (c) Carole Sparks

Just as I went to bed one night last week, it started storming. Thunder rattled the windows and rain battered the roof. Did I lie awake in bed, worrying about the effects of the storm? Did I think my house might go splat? No. In fact, I probably went to sleep faster because the sound of rain relaxes me. I have the freedom to relax in a storm because I know my house is solid and the weatherproofing on my windows is strong.

Jesus knew what a big storm feels like. We have documentation of his presence in a couple of storms (e.g. Matthew 8), and I imagine he lived through many others before His ministry became public. Jesus had this fantastic ability to take the everyday “stuff of life” and use it to instruct his listeners…and us. That’s what He did with the storm. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a parable (which is an analogy or word picture presented as a short story) to help us understand the importance of His teachings (Matthew 7:24-27/Luke 6:46-49). Many, many years later, someone (we’re not sure who) created this children’s song about it. Let’s dig into the parable and song for a minute to see what parents can take away from what’s seemingly “just” a children’s song.

wise man, foolish man
car window on a rainy day (c) Carole Sparks
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
But the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up

And the house on the stand went SPLAT!

We can assume these two men are equally dedicated to their task, using quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. We can assume they equally desire to protect and comfort their families.

What’s the difference between them? Below the foundations of their homes, they have different substrata. It wouldn’t even be apparent at first. Both families move in. Both families throw housewarming parties. But at some point, a huge storm comes. As the rain beats against the windows and the shutters creak in the wind, one house hangs on…possibly a bit worse-for-wear, maybe a few shingles missing and a cracked window pane, but still solid. The other house? Well, it goes SPLAT!

The parallel is hard to miss. The conviction needs little explanation. What’s under your family?

flash flood
flash flood 2015 (c) Carole Sparks

It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into parenting if your foundational faith system is misplaced. Think how much time and money the foolish man wasted because he built in the wrong place, on the wrong soil. Your family may look good and function well for a while, but eventually—when the inevitable difficulties arise (a.k.a. storms)—your Pinterest-worthy family structure will crumble. You can provide your own examples. I know you’ve seen it happen.

On the other hand, parents who rely primarily on God’s direction (through His Word) will weather the difficulties and stand tall against the storms. They may have to fight, and they may come out with some scars (Trust me, I know.), but they survive intact. Not because they are better than the other families but because they located their family structure on the One and Only Solid Rock.

A simple song reminds us to reevaluate the assumptions that underlie our family culture. (click to tweet)

Maybe you didn’t start your family on the Solid Rock. Maybe shifting sand better characterizes your first years of marriage and/or parenting. There’s good news: it’s not too late! Like those big trucks that come in and move existing houses to new locations, your family can resettle. It’s painful and might require some major upheaval, but it’s possible. I know a family who did it well!

This admonition from Jesus is certainly for all believers, but there’s a similar warning just for women.

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. -Proverbs 14:1

Two random things in my mind now:

  1. “The Three Little Pigs.” Anyone else reminded of them? No? Hmm… Might be a good lead-in to a discussion of this parable with your children.
  2. My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less by Edward Mote, is a “grown up” hymn based on the same parable. It’s one of the best!

Want to share your story? Please leave your response in the comments!

Attribution: unknown, public domain

wise man foolish man score

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham
  • My God is So Big

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: I’ve Got the Joy

When I recall this song from my early childhood, there’s hand-clapping. Only…we weren’t any good at it. The effort of my 3-year-old self to clap in time to the music was so strenuous that sometimes I forgot to sing.

My more introspective (or maybe cynical) adult self has learned to clap with the rhythm, but sometimes I look at the words to this song, and I’m the one asking, “Where?”

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart.

Sometimes, the joy feels so deep down in my heart that it isn’t springing up far enough to reach my lips or my mind. When joy becomes elusive, what then?

Fish for it. You know you still have it because the Scriptures say joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23). Use verses about joy to reach deeply into your heart and pull out the joy that’s stagnating down in that cave.

When the daily drag of parenting looms large, sing this simple song to yourself—a declaration of truth! (click to tweet)

Because the song repeats joy four times, consider memorizing four verses about our joy as Christ-followers. Then you’ll have them ready the next time your joy feels like it’s waning. Want some suggestions?

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place. -1 Chronicles 16:25-27

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. -Psalm 5:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Psalm 16:11

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:8-9

What happens when you start saying—I mean declaring—these verses to yourself? You bring your mind into alignment with your heart (where the joy already dwells) so that your outlook begins to change. It more closely resembles Jesus’ perspective.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

This joy that you know exists down in your heart…it’s a permanent thing. It’s there to stay. I don’t believe it’s something you can conjure up or create out of nothing. You can, however, call it up. (See my post, On Joy for more about this.)

Joy: You can’t conjure it up, but you can call it up. (click to tweet)

It’s about a refocusing…a shift in mindset from the groans of earthly life to the glory of the Kingdom.

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart…
I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart
    to stay!

Time doesn’t permit a discussion of the additional verses to our song, but you can apply the same principle of Scripture memorization and/or application on your own.

Sometimes those simple songs speak truth into our hearts when we need it most. Let’s use this one for His glory!

What verse helps you maintain your joy? Please share in the comments below!

Attribution: according to hymnary.org, this one is by George Willis Cooke (copyright not renewed after 1926).

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham (maybe—if I can get over how silly it is)
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This must be one of the simplest children’s songs we sang in Sunday School when I was growing up. Bonus: it helped us learn our colors! Not that people are actually red or any of the other colors listed, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus loves the little children

SS Songs - Jesus loves children
My first Bible (c) Carole Sparks

When you think of this song, you probably recall Jesus blessing some children. Maybe there was even a picture like this one in your children’s Bible or hanging in your church. That situation happens in Matthew 19:13-15 (also Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17). It’s short, so let’s just read it here.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Why did the disciples rebuke (that means scold or correct) those parents? I can only think of one possibility: they thought Jesus had more important things to do. Maybe they were in a hurry, since the text says they left as soon as He finished blessing the kids. Or maybe the disciples just thought Jesus should focus on the grown-ups, the important people. Far more so than today, children in that culture had very little value. Luke says they were actually babies (Luke 18:15), who couldn’t even respond to Jesus.

But Jesus valued them. He stopped talking to the grown-ups; he delayed his trip a little. Why? So he could smile into their eyes, put his hand on their heads, and bless them. Would they even remember this moment? Only the older ones, but that didn’t matter to Jesus.

Yes, we must teach our children to respect their elders. Yes, we must teach them not to interrupt us constantly. Let’s be careful, though, not to imply by our actions that they are unimportant. Pay attention to the times you say “wait” and the times you divert your attention toward them. Make a conscious decision to train them in respect and/or patience at times or to reinforce their importance—their priority—in your life. This is the epitome of intentional parenting.

Personally, I hate to lose my train of thought (especially when I’m writing). I also hate to miss part of a good news story on NPR. So I confess that I react far more often that I respond thoughtfully, and I’m convicted by this children’s song. *Insert groan of frustration here.*

All the children of the world

Okay, get ready for more conviction. This one is tough.

“All” really means all: the impoverished kid in Africa with no diaper and no shoes, the refugee kid in Greece who will never return to his home, the child of a Muslim terrorist pressing his forehead to the mat in prayers this evening, the minority kid who needs ESL help in your child’s classroom. All these children matter just as much to God as your child. As parents, we’re hard-wired to protect and promote our own children above all others. But God wants the absolute very best for every child in the world. He wants it fiercely, as fiercely as you would fight for your own child!

I know we can’t personally rescue every child in a difficult situation, and I’m not suggesting we open an orphanage or move to the other side of the world. Really, what I know I need (and maybe you too), is an attitude adjustment. It’s so easy to insulate myself, to tie my understanding of God to what happens under my own roof, to think God’s priorities mirror mine. In that case, my kids would always get the best, even to the detriment of other children. The more we can see children (our own and others) with God’s eyes, the better balance we’ll have in this area.

I’m still working on it. If that was you and me near Jesus back in Matthew 19, you can bet I would have been elbowing you out of the way to get my children first in line for a Jesus moment. Pull out the cellphone cameras—this is way better than Santa! (Please infer the sarcasm I intended here.)

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight

None of us are really comfortable with these words any more.  I found one alternative online that said, “Ev’ry color, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace.” That’s pretty good.

At our house, we sometimes substitute the THUMB guide used to pray for world religions: Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and the Buddhist. That also works.

I already covered the meaning here in the section above.

Jesus loves the little children of the world

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

The next time you hear or sing this song with your little ones, take time to really listen to the words and let God bring balance to your parenting perspective.

Want to share?

Use Jesus Loves the Little Children to bring balance to your parenting perspective. (click to tweet)

Fresh thoughts (for parents) on an old Sunday School song: Jesus Loves the Little Children (click to tweet)

Attribution: Words by C. Herbert Woolston, lyrics by George F. Root (according to this website)

I’ve written about Jesus and children in the past:

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Still to come:

  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Zacchaeus

I once met a woman named Zachaea, and I shared this story with her in another language by simply translating the words to this song.

I don’t know why we think of it (Luke 19:1-10) as a children’s story. With “wee little,” my mind goes to leprechauns and elves, but Zacchaeus was simply a short man, not a mythical creature and not a child. What is more, his life experience was far beyond that of those who usually sing about him.

Read on to discover how this story-song speaks to parents (perhaps more profoundly than it speaks to their children) in the 21st century.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.

Unimportant, overlooked, insignificant. That was Zacchaeus. Like a hobbit jumping to see over the shoulders of the race of men, he just didn’t measure up. Even worse, his occupation as a tax collector meant his own people despised him.

In the day-to-day, my life as a parent often feels inconsequential. It’s hard to keep focused on long-term parenting goals when every day feels the same (young kids) or you’re tired of driving all over the place (older kids). I can start to question my value to society. Then I catch myself saying, “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”

Do you ever feel like a “wee little mama” (or papa), without much impact in the world? Take another look at Zacchaeus. (click to tweet)

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

07-18 pretty tree
Not sure this is a sycamore tree, but you get the idea. (c) Carole Sparks

Zacchaeus had to make an effort to get close to Jesus. Unlike those tall, respected guys who just wandered down and stood along the road, he had to get creative. I imagine he looked around for a solution until he saw the tree. He hesitated before he climbed it because, well, climbing trees is not something we adults do. Especially not in a robe. When’s the last time you climbed a tree? It’s not as easy as it was when we were kids! Ever done it in a skirt? No, me either, but I think it would be really hard. If I did climb a tree out in public somewhere, I can imagine that people would stare at me incredulously. Zacchaeus’ desire to be close to Jesus superseded everything: effort, difficulty, embarrassment…

A young mother told me recently that she tries to get up early and spend time in Scripture, but her toddler invariably starts crying before she can. Been there? Me, too. Remember those days before kids when you could sleep as long as you wanted, get up slowly, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down with your Bible for as long as you wanted? I think I vaguely recall something like that. Like Zacchaeus climbing the tree, spending time with Jesus takes more effort and creativity now. If we think it’s worth it, though, we find a way.

Here’s one idea that’s great for summer: audio Bible and a stroller. You can make notes on your phone. You can even pray out loud because people will think you’re talking to someone on the phone. (Bonus: exercise!) Sure, it takes some effort to get the kid strapped into the stroller and the diaper bag packed and the audio file or podcast set up. But it’s worth it.

As the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down…

This is the best part of the story. Jesus could have changed directions or He could have ignored Zacchaeus. But He didn’t. He stopped and honored—not just acknowledged but honored—this overlooked, despised tax collector. I’m going to go out on a limb here (all pun intended!) and say Zacchaeus was pretty embarrassed to be discovered up in that tree. But Jesus didn’t care. He already knew Zacchaeus by name, and overlooking his ridiculous position in the tree, Jesus looked him in the eye.

When we make the effort to get close to Jesus, He knows exactly where and who we are, and He always responds. He will not overlook us. He will not ignore us. He will not laugh at us.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. –James 4:8a

For I’m going to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.

Jesus didn’t wait on Zacchaeus to invite Him. Jesus invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house. It was a sign of respect that Jesus would eat with Zacchaeus—one that Zacchaeus probably didn’t think he deserved.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. –1 Samuel 16:7

Jesus wants to come into our homes today, with the piles of dirty laundry, the unswept floors, the clutter on the kitchen counter. Jesus wants to come into our lives, with the feelings of insignificance, the effort we make just to open our Bibles, the embarrassment of “putting ourselves out there” again and again.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. –Revelation 3:20

Dear parent, like we’ve considered this children’s song afresh, receive this news today as if it’s fresh. God knows where you are, and He knows who you are. He wants to join you in the middle of your parenting mess.

Parents: Like Zacchaeus, God knows where you are and who you are! (click to tweet)

Do you have a special memory or significant understanding of this song or story? Share it with us in the comments below!

Song Attribution: traditional

Previously in this series:

            This Little Light of Mine

            The B-I-B-L-E

            Deep and Wide

Still to come:

  •             Jesus Loves the Little Children
  •             I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  •             Father Abraham
  •             The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Is there a children’s song you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments.

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Deep and Wide

I base this series on the principle that God still has something to teach us in everything we encounter, even the simple Sunday morning songs of our childhood. I must confess, however, that this particular song is difficult for me.

You see, when I was a child, we sang subsequent verses in which we substituted “mmm” for “deep” (verse 2), then for “deep” and “wide” (verse 3). Anyway, “mmm and mmm” quickly became “m&ms” so that our imaginary fountains flowed with m&m candies! With so little context in the song, we had nothing to bring us back to reality. So just try not to think about that as we reflect on the deeper…or maybe the wider (sorry—couldn’t help it)…meaning of this song.

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

A fountain of what? A fountain of God’s love.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. – Ephesians 3:17b-18

Deep and Wide
Indian Ocean sunrise  (c) Carole Sparks

Try praying this very specifically for each of your children. Substitute that child’s name for “you” and substitute “our family” for “the Lord’s holy people.” Then pause with each adjective to reflect on the extent of it. If you’re with your child, ask him or her, otherwise think about the width of an ocean, the length of train tracks across the country, the height of the redwoods in California, the depth of the Mariana Trench…and we haven’t even escaped the atmosphere!

Remember that sweet, simple children’s book, Guess How Much I Love You? In the end, the parent and young child “discover that love is not an easy thing to measure.” That’s why Paul couldn’t really quantify Jesus’ love for us.

Paul wasn’t alone.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. – Psalm 103:11 (emphasis added)

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. –Job 11:7-9 (emphasis added)

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

And it’s a fountain! Just after the Psalmist says, “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens” (Psalm 36:5) and “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” (Psalm 36:7), he continues, “For with you is the fountain of life” (36:9). This fountain of love gives us life!

Deep and Wide: This fountain of love gives us life! (click to tweet)

When I imagine a fountain, its source is hidden but never-failing. I don’t know where the water comes from or where it goes. And although my logical mind knows you can turn off a fountain, they somehow feel eternal. It’s more like a geyser, really…like Old Faithful: reliable yet mysterious, abundant yet veiled, drenching us in blessings.

The New Testament image of a spring fits our song’s “fountain.” In fact, different versions of the Bible interchange these words.

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” –John 4:14

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” –Revelation 21:6

So if or when you sing this song with your kids, think about the enormity and constancy of God’s love for each of us, and try not to start craving m&ms.

 

Attribution: According to about fifteen minutes of internet research in which I found *this* and *this*, Deep and Wide was written by Sydney Cox in the first half of the 1900s. I found no copyright claims/issues.

 

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Still to come:

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…

Father Abraham

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: The B-I-B-L-E

Back when I was a little kid, all the pre-school children sang together at the beginning of the Sunday School hour. We sang the same songs so often that they lost any meaning; we didn’t even think about the words. As a teenager, I took over the musical portion of preschool Sunday School for a while, so I reacquainted myself with those same songs. I realized that some of them were keyed way out of my alto range, but I still didn’t pay any attention to the words.

Things about church childcare changed between my own childhood and that of my children. They don’t sing in Sunday School anymore. Heck, they don’t even call it Sunday School nowadays! Feeling nostalgic one day, I got to thinking about what my kids were missing because they didn’t learn those songs. Realistically, from a theological perspective, they aren’t missing much; I’d rather they sing “10,000 Reasons” than “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart.”

Nevertheless, I made a casual attempt to introduce those simple, old songs. In my attempt, our Heavenly Father revealed some surprising truths…and challenges for parents…buried in there with all the silliness.

I wrote about “This Little Light of Mine” last year. For the next few months, I will share a monthly parenting reflection from these children’s songs. This series will replace the Content & Context series that we finished last month.

The B-I-B-L-E

I’m fairly sure I learned how to spell Bible before I could read even the simplest Bible story book. Why did the lyricist spell it? Probably because it’s so easy to rhyme things with E.

Yes that’s the book for me!

My “Go-To” Parenting Book

There are thousands of books about parenting out there. Most of them offer contradictory advice. I’ve found a couple of good ones but these few are good because they are so solidly rooted in Scripture. When it comes to parenting, what’s the book for you? What book will you choose above all others?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -2 Timothy 3:16-17

Feeling a little intimated by the Bible as a whole? (It is big and sometimes random.) Do a search for “parent” or “child” on www.biblegateway.com or another website/app. Prayerfully read those verses and the surrounding context to discover God’s heart for your relationship with your child(ren). It won’t usually give you specifics for the exact situation at hand, but it will point you in the right direction, after which the Holy Spirit can guide you more exactly.

Pointing Our Children to the Word

Not only do we parents seek guidance in the Word, but we also teach our children to use the Bible for their own guidance. Look what Paul wrote to Timothy just before the verses above.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. -2 Timothy 3:14-15

Why was Timothy so strong in his faith? Because he had been learning about the Scriptures and from the Scriptures since he was a baby! Our children are never too young to understand God’s love and desire for their good. Timothy was wise beyond his years because of this training.

The Bible in Our Own Lives

Let’s talk about this for a second. I don’t know how Eunice (his Mom) and Lois (his grandmother) taught Timothy, but they probably didn’t sit down for an hour every day and have family Bible study…although I’m sure they did that sometimes, and probably regularly. I think more often they followed the pattern of Deuteronomy 6:7, where God told the people of Israel to Impress [the Scriptures] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. In order to talk about the Bible in this manner, you have to know it for yourself.

And thus, we circle back to our song. Is the Bible the book for you? Are you intentionally making space in your life to:

  • learn more than you already know
  • study beyond what is comfortable
  • reflect on what you read
  • obey in a timely fashion?

The Bible will never become the book for your children until it’s the book for you.

I stand upon the Word of God

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. –Psalm 40:2

To stand on the Word of God means to have confidence in it, to rely on it. Remember Gandalf in the Mines of Moria when he confronted the Balrog? Balanced on a narrow outcropping of rock, he declared, “You shall not pass!” He took a stand. (The music in the header photo is from Lord of the Rings, by the way.)

Sometimes in the desire to protect my home from the onslaught of sinful culture, I feel a little like Gandalf, telling destructive habits and attitudes that they “shall not pass” the threshold of my home. I’m standing on that thin outcropping of rock, like he was. Gandalf eventually feel into an abyss. But God is our Rock (Psalm 18:2), and His Word is unmovable. This is where we all have to stand, fellow parents. Our firm place to stand is on His Word!

Our “firm place to stand” is on His Word! (click to tweet)

Struggling with a possible compromise? Feel like giving in to the constant barrage of pressure from the world? The Bible is our standard against which all of life is measured. Go back to His Word. Stand there. Then let everything else wash around you.

The B-I-B-L-E.

When we finished singing this last line in preschool, we would all throw our hands in the air and shout, “Bible!” Oh, the excitement of preschoolers convicts me here. I want to approach the Word of God with joyful abandonment, with hands thrown in the air just because I get to be in His Presence without distraction for a few minutes.

Out of the mouths of babes

As I said, I tried rather half-heartedly to teach these songs to our children when they were preschoolers themselves. I remember the first time our firstborn sang it like this:

The B-I-B-L-E
Yes, that’s the book for me.

I read and pray, and then obey
The B-I-B-L-E!

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked, “Those aren’t the actual words.”

She replied, “I didn’t hear them anywhere. I made them up.”

In our family, we sing it that way most of the time now. Isn’t it just right? This is how we use the Bible: read, pray, obey. It’s that simple.

 

Author’s Note: I tried to find copyright information or some history for this song, but I could find nothing—not even at Wikipedia. www.childbiblesongs.com says it’s free to use. So I’m going with “public domain” for the song lyrics.

Up-Coming in this series:

  • Zacchaeus
  • Jesus Loves the Little Children
  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

How have you been affected by these simple children’s songs? What other songs would you like me to consider? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!