Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 4-H hymn?

As we were singing our hymn of the day, "Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways" (ELW 772), this past Sunday, part of the last verse caught my eye.  Here is the entirety of the verse:

Make me to walk in your commands,
'Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my head or heart or hands
Offend against my God.

I hadn't noticed it in my preparation earlier in the week, but this verse lists three of the four H-words that constitute the four areas of personal development of the organization 4-H.  (It only took me the rest of the day to come up with the missing one - health.)  Despite growing up in rural Minnesota and despite having many friends and classmates involved in 4-H, I was never a member.  But I think the mission of the organization is pretty widely known.  Similar to the many other youth organizations, they encourage students to do their best while engaging with their community.  This is spelled out explicitly in the 4-H pledge:

I pledge my HEAD to clearer thinking,
my HEART to greater loyalty,
my HANDS to larger service,
and my HEALTH to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

While the text by Isaac Watts was first published in 1719, it engages in dialogue across the centuries with this mission statement.  Each of these statements is an important aspect of faith, good citizenship, and a well-lived life.

The only unfortunate thing about the hymn (from my perspective today at least) is that the phrase is negative.  It talks about preventing offense.  While abstaining from offense and sin is important, it's still only a first step.  We also need engagement and participation - in our families, community, country, and church!  To take a bit of poetic license, allow me to suggest a minor rewrite:

And let my head and heart and hands
Do service for my God.


  1. maybe the author had in mind the bible verses about putting out your eye lest it cause you to sin. avoiding sin would help explain the negative wording. but it's a neat coincidence with 4h.

  2. I love the 4-H reference, since NDSU is the center for 4-H in ND. Like many things, Christians seem to focus on the "not to do." Luther's catechism has the "nots" first and then the "to dos," as was pointed out by the pastor in Moorhead a couple weeks ago. maybe churches would be more inviting if we focused on the "to dos?"