01(07): Story behind the hymn ‘Living For Jesus’

Nicholas Loh Avatar

I first heard the hymn during a church service a few months ago. It was the closing hymn for the service, and I could not help but feel how apt the hymn is as a choice for the closing hymn. Its melody is truly grand and majestic. Do you remember my post regarding the hymn ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’? Well, the composer for that hymn, Thomas O. Chisholm, also composed the hymn ‘Living for Jesus’. In case you were wondering, Chisholm’s middle name is Obadiah.

Fun facts: The name ‘Obadiah’ is Modern Hebrew for ‘slave of God’. It is a theophorical name, meaning ‘servant of God’ or ‘worshipper of Yahweh’. The book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament; the text consists of a single chapter, divided into 21 verses. Hence, when citing a verse reference from Obadiah, the convention is to omit the chapter reference. For example, quoting from verse 7 would just be ‘Obadiah 7’, and not ‘Obadiah 1:7’. Can you imagine a scenario where someone asks everyone in the group to flip to Obadiah 7, and another person asks, ‘Which verse?’ Haha!

It is cognate to the Arabic name ‘Abdullah’, which is probably much more familiar to you. The suffix of Obadiah’s name (i.e. -iah) means ‘of God’. It thus should not surprise you that there are many names with this suffix in the Old Testament (e.g. Moriah, Josiah, Isaiah, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah; ok, I think you get my point). Interestingly, consider the name ‘Elijah’ too. The suffix ‘-jah’ is basically ‘-iah’, since the letters ‘i’ and ‘j’ are simply variants of each other.

The progression of Chisholm’s life was covered in a previous post, so I shall not be repeating it here. Additionally, you may check out the references for a more detailed exposition of Chisholm’s life. According to Dr Hawn’s article on the history of ‘Living For Jesus’, the late hymnologist William J. Reynolds noted that ‘Living For Jesus’ actually started with the tune. The words were only added later by Chisholm. The following paragraph is a direct quote from Dr Hawn’s article, which expresses the subject matter more succinctly than I could ever achieve:

“C. Harold Lowden [1883-1963] composed the tune about 1915, and it was first published under the title ‘Sunshine Song’ in a Children’s Day Service that he wrote. Early in 1917, while preparing a collection of hymns for publication, he came across this song and was impressed that the tune needed a stronger text. He substituted ‘Living for Jesus’ for the original title and sent the tune to Thomas O. Chisholm, then living at Winona Lake, Indiana for a new text.” Even though Chisholm protested that he had never written a text for a pre-existing tune, Lowden insisted, telling the author that he “believed God had led me to select him” to provide a text for this music. Within a short time, Chisholm returned the tune with four stanzas and a refrain. The hymn appeared as a separate song sheet in the spring of 1917, and was used at a number of youth conferences that summer. More than a million copies of the hymn were sold in this form.”

Once again, enable the annotations to view the lyrics while the video plays.

Yours faithfully,
Nicholas Loh
31 January 2019

1. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-living-for-jesus-pledges-full-commitment-to-christ.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obadiah
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Obadiah

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