How the Great Songwriters Teach Us to Sing Life into the Face of Death


March 2, 2021

Psalm 61

To the tune of “Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service” 87.87 D Sing it at

1 Hear my cry, O God my Savior,
listen to my prayer below;
2 From the ends of earth I call You,
as my heart grows faint and low.
Lead me to the rock that’s higher
than I am, or e’er could go;
3 You have been my constant refuge,
a strong tow’r against the foe.

4 How I long to dwell with You, God,
in Your tent forevermore;
And take refuge in the shelter
of Your wings amidst the storm.
5 For You’ve heard the vows I’ve made, God,
and You’ve given unto me
the inheritance of all who
fear Your name so faithfully.

6 Now increase the days the king lives;
generations his years be.
7 May he be enthroned forever,
in God’s presence gloriously.
Send your love and faithful mercy
to protect him all his days;
8 Then I will fulfill my vows and
to Your name always sing praise.


I will forever remember the funeral of Martin Lee Walt, my grandfather. We knew the day was coming, and yet we all resisted it. Still, there we found ourselves, huddled as a family in the narthex of the church, a place so familiar to us, yet a place we had never known. The forced march down the long center aisle loomed before our grieving family. The patriarch of our clan lie in state, lifeless, at the front of the sanctuary. The Spirit beckoned us onward, down the well-worn path where so many had walked, crossing the ancient Rubicon of death itself.

All of a sudden, the doors to the great hall flew open, as though to reveal a bride entering the courts of her wedding. Then the organ started to play a song we knew so well in a way we had never heard it before. Five hundred years ago, writing under extreme duress, another Martin—Martin Luther—the battle-weary patron saint of the Great Reformation, penned a hymn for the ages, yet we heard it as though written for us, for this particular day in history: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

As we stepped into that small-town sanctuary, the song surrounded us like a cosmic cathedral. The cowering death march immediately transformed into a parade of victory.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

The ancient story of struggle, of life versus death, of God versus Satan, rose up around us. Yes! He must win the battle! Our collective vision lifted from the casket, the emblem of death, to the cross towering above, the sign that sang of ten thousand victories.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

One little word, a word that shouted the salvation of all that is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This little word, the name of the Lord, rose up like a strong tower, and though by appearance we moved in a steady gait, in the Spirit we ran into that tower.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

We ran to the rock that was higher than ourselves. We raced into the tower of the name of the Lord. We stood in the fortress that is our mighty God. And for all the stony strength of these strong metaphors, the reality of it for us felt like being gathered under the wings of a protective parent, surrounded with the perfect peace of a holy love. It just doesn’t get any better than this . . . until it does. And it will.

That’s what Song 61 sings for me. It’s a page out of the playbook of the songwriters of the ages.

If you are not ready to sing by now, you may want to check for a pulse. . . .

Ask Yourself. Share with Another.

Do you know God as a refuge? Can you remember a time of challenge, struggle, or hardship where you ran to the Mighty Fortress?.

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

One Response

  1. God as my fortress Is my greatest memory. When all around was sinking sand, I found him to be faithful and true.
    In the darkest of night, he proved himself to me. Every soul should go through the fire, so that they may experience the wonders of his love. I need to build an alter so that I would never forget. For reasons I do not know, the greatest times of intimacy are when the fire is the hottest. The more fierce the trial, the sweeter his embrace. Can we experience this kind of glory in the mundane of life?

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