In recent decades there has been a change in many churches musical diet, from singing traditional hymns to using contemporary songs. But before that trend started, a genre of music known as “Choruses ” became popular among churches that described themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic. “Choruses” were scripture based songs, set to worshipful melodies, that would be repeated two, three, or more times.
I recall attending a small Pentecostal church in the late 1970's and enthusiastically singing choruses such as “Great is the Lord,” “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart” and “This is the Day.” Some moved along at a speedy tempo, didn't require you to pick up a hymnbook (so you could clap along) and stayed in your mind long after their singing had finished. Others were slower and more adoration focused, such as “Turn Your eyes Upon Jesus” and the song we'll be considering today; “Thou Art Worthy.”
Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing a series of sermons on “Thessalonian Songs,” linking church music to passages from Paul's letter. Last week we were using a campfire song, “Pass It On.”
This week we'll be using a worship chorus and looking at 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, in which Paul exhorts his readers to “Live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”(v12). Paul links Christian conduct to living a worshipful life. The church in Thessalonica faced unbelievable problems, but rather than despair, he challenges them to make God their focus and overflow with thanksgiving as they responded to the initiative of love God had taken towards them in Jesus Christ.
Such is the theme of the short chorus, “Thou Art Worthy,” composed by a lady called Pauline Michael in which she puts to music words from Revelation 4:11; “Thou art worthy, O Lord, To receive glory, glory and honor, for Thou hast created, hast all things created, Thou art worthy, O Lord.”
Pauline Michael was a lady well ahead of her time and wrote this chorus of worshipful expression at a time when such pieces were not readily accepted by those who held the keys of liturgy and worship publishing. She was born on October 13, 1898 in Portland, Indiana. When her mother was unable to make it to a funeral service to play the organ, she sent Pauline. That was her first experience, at age 12, of playing in public. She claimed her abilities were a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In 1940 she began to set scriptures to music. "Thou Art Worthy" came about when Pauline was traveling with her son on an Evangelistic tour. He asked the congregation to send up their favorite scripture and told them that his mother would write music to the song before the service was over. She did not know that he was going to do this!
By the end of the service the song had formed in her heart. Though many times at meetings she would sing the song, and it proved to be a great blessing, it would be another 25 years before it was ever published. It has now appeared in many volumes of hymns and songs and been translated into 16 languages. Pauline Michael passed away at the age of 94, on December 18, 1991.
Truly our God is worthy of all praise. This little gem of a chorus (and others like it) can inspire us to lay our lives before God and open our hearts to the influence of God's love! Here's a version from an album called “America's Favorite Praise And Worship” by the Brentwood Music Company. May it lift our hearts to focus away from ourselves and into God's presence.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.