Immediately prior to worship in a church I served in the ’90s, we had the custom, each summer, of singing a verse or two of several hymns, as the numbers of old favorites were called out by members of the congregation.
There came a time when one hymn (# 525, I recall to this day), had to be banned now and then, to make room for others, because it was requested repeatedly. Though seen as a new hymn (written a mere 10 or so years earlier), it had become a favorite hymn of the church, despite the then typical congregational aversion to singing something “new”!
“Here I am, Lord,” went the chorus, “Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” [Daniel L. Shutte, 1981].
It reminds me of an old Gospel song, “So Send I You,” a song we sang as young teenagers at church conferences with a similar chorus: “May I hear you answer, “Here am I, send me, … .” Written by conference music leaders, Al and Alice Heinz, it, too, was quickly a favorite of all who sang it.
The appeal of these songs is certainly their tunefulness and “singability.” But their common theme is also part of the attraction.
Without even thinking about the meaning of the words, you’re placed in the presence of God. Without expressing thanks or asking for anything at all, (often why we pray) – you’re just there – present. “Here am I!”
“Here I am!” is found throughout the Bible as a response by many of its major characters to God’s call. Abraham said it; Jacob said it; Moses said it; Samuel said it; Isaiah said it; Mary said it; Jesus said it!
A recent sermon I preached entitled, “See! Lo! Behold! Here Am I,” sought to say it’s all the same thing. One word in Hebrew, the language of the Hebrew Scriptures; one word in Greek, the language of the New Testament, means all of those things, best said, “Here am I!”
It’s almost as if God says it first: “Here am I,” and we respond, “Me, too!” or as we used to say in school when the roll was called, “Present!”
It’s often a mantra of sorts in my own time of quiet devotion, or out riding my bike, or taking a walk, or just lying awake in bed early in the morning or on a sleepless night: “Here am I.”
Cue the music, which not only enhances it, but implants it in our souls, puts us there in the presence of God.
Hear it from God; say it to God; sing it: “Here I am, Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.”
Here am I! Me, too! Present!
Jim Graham is a retired Presbyterian minister.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.