Summer Soul Refresher: ‘How Great Thou Art’

By   •   July 24, 2019   •   Topics:

This summer, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is taking a look at five popular hymns sung at Billy Graham Crusades—and how those songs fit into our lives today. This is part 4. Read part 1 (“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”), part 2 (“Amazing Grace”) and part 3 (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”).

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

The Christian walk can sometimes feel more like a strenuous workout than a casual stroll in the park.

Rising early to spend time in God’s Word. Gathering with believers multiple times a week. Treating coworkers, classmates and neighbors with kindness, even when your efforts aren’t reciprocated.

Our faithful obedience to God’s calling—to love Him and love others—often doesn’t lead to immediate, visible results.

But then there are those moments.

A random conversation that turns into an opportunity to share the Gospel. A sermon that references the same passage of Scripture you’ve been studying. A beautiful sunset after a difficult day.

Moments like those remind us of the greatness of our heavenly Father.

How to Respond to God’s Greatness

God’s greatness on full display is responsible for the creation of the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” A violent thunderstorm followed by complete peace led Swedish pastor Carl Gustaf Boberg to fall to his knees in worship—and to pen what would eventually become the world-renowned hymn.

Maybe you think you’ve encountered such breathtaking moments just a couple of times in your life. But it’s only our awareness of God’s goodness and power that comes and goes like the ocean tides.

God is always good, He is always powerful and He is always worthy of praise. His character is not lessened by our lack of attention to it. The Creator of the world is just as powerful on an average Monday morning as He is in the midst of a booming thunderstorm.

“God is infinite, and we’ll never fully understand His greatness—not on this side of eternity,” Billy Graham once wrote. “He is the awesome, holy, all-powerful God who created the heavens and the earth. He is far greater than anything (or anyone) we can ever imagine.” 

While our human brains cannot fully comprehend God, recognizing His greatness can give us strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Here are some ways you can respond to Him:

  • Worship
    Like Pastor Boberg, our natural reaction to God should be to fall on our knees in worship. When you experience God’s awesome character, give Him praise through writing, prayer or song. >> See how Billy Graham defined worship.
  • Remember
    The Old Testament reveals what happens when God’s people forget what He has done (Deuteronomy 8). Sin, punishment and even 40 years of wandering in the desert could follow. Write in a journal or take photos when you experience God’s sovereignty in a personal way. Those records can help you rely on Him during difficult seasons of life.
  • Stay Alert
    Our own lack of awareness prevents us from recognizing God’s greatness each day. He is always present, but it takes intentionality to give Him credit for “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17). Ask God to help you spot His gifts in the world around you, and keep watch.
  • Proclaim
    The Bible says the stones will cry out if we fail to tell the world of God’s greatness (Luke 19:40). As you notice God at work around you, share those experiences with your friends and family members. You never know where those conversations may lead. >> Use these practical tips to tell others about God.

Behind the Music

early BGEA
George Beverly Shea (far right) was a musical mainstay at Billy Graham’s Crusades and a member of the original Billy Graham Evangelistic Association team. “When [Shea] sings, he sings a sermon,” Billy Graham said.
After that wild thunderstorm, Carl Gustaf Boberg penned a poem titled “O Great God.” In 1891, the pastor published it in a weekly newspaper, and local congregations began singing his words to the melody of a Swedish folk song.

Over the next several decades, the song was translated from Swedish to German (1907), from German to Russian (1912) and from Russian to English (1949).

In the early 1950s, a friend introduced George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows to the “new” hymn. Even at first glance, Shea “could see that the hymn had majesty and power to it.”

After singing it for the first time at the 1955 Toronto Crusade, “How Great Thou Art” exploded in popularity across the United States and the world. The hymn became one of Shea’s most popular, and he even sang it 99 times during a 16-week Crusade in New York City.

He remembered the historic event in his book, Then Sings My Soul:

Singing any number that often can sometimes cause us to lose the full impact of the words. I remember one night toward the end of the Madison Square Garden meeting when my weariness got the best of me.

In my room that night, I had a talk with the Lord: “Father, please forgive me for my apathy in singing that great hymn this evening,” I prayed. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

And it hasn’t.

>> Watch George Beverly Shea sing “How Great Thou Art”: