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Sometimes we encounter things in life that just do not make sense. Like the person with tattoos who won’t get a flu shot because he is afraid of needles. Or trying to figure out why we drive on parkways and park on driveways. Think about it too long and your head will start to hurt.

I had a revelation today. Not as in the gift of prophecy (I’ve seen that debate sidetrack a website before and just don’t have the energy to keep up), it was more of an “Aha!” moment. I saw something I had never seen before and suddenly it all made sense.

When I was a child, my grandmother taught me a song to sing about 3 little fish. You may know it. We sang it often, but it never made sense to me. Seriously – and perhaps pathetically – this is one of those things in the back of my mind that I have actually spent time wondering about and trying to figure out. What was it that confused me?

Well when we sang the song, we only sang the first verse. At the time we were singing it I did not know there were any other verses. I thought that the first verse was the whole song. So we sang:

“Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too
“Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can”
And they swam and they swam all over the dam
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam all over the dam.”

Catchy little song about 3 little fish. Of course, I never admitted to anyone that I had trouble at first singing it because it used the word dam, but after it was explained to me that this was not the bad word, but a structure used to stop up a river and form a lake, you know, beavers build them – then I sang to my hearts content, yet always wondering what it meant that the little fishies swam “all over the dam.”

I understand a fish swimming over a dam if it floods, but how does a fish swim “all over the dam?” I settled it in my mind that this just meant that the fishies all swam around the area where the dam was in the water – the deep end of the lake. Yes, my explanation is wordy and does not fit the music, but my desire for logic and reason demanded that I explain it to myself this way.

Then, growing up, every time I was reminded about the song about the little fishies I wondered about that swimming all over the dam part. THEN it hit me – as I was listening to some big band music this song came on. I had no idea it was a big hit from 1939. And there were more verses!

The whole song, written by Saxie Dowell, tells a story about three fish who disobey their mother and swim over a dam out to sea! The danger there of sharks and whales drives them to all swim back over the dam. Here are the full lyrics:

“Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too
“Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can”
And they swam and they swam all over the dam
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam all over the dam

“Stop” said the mama fishie, “or you will get lost”
The three little fishies didn’t wanna be bossed
The three little fishies went off on a spree
And they swam and they swam right out to the sea
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam right out to the sea

“Whee!” yelled the little fishies, “Here’s a lot of fun
We’ll swim in the sea till the day is done”
They swam and they swam, and it was a lark
Till all of a sudden they saw a shark!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Till all of a sudden they saw a shark!

“Help!” cried the little fishies, “Gee! look at all the whales!”
And quick as they could, they turned on their tails
And back to the pool in the meadow they swam
And they swam and they swam back over the dam
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam back over the dam.”

So getting the whole story helped me understand that to swim all over the dam meant that these 3 fishies all swam over the dam and out to sea, and the lessons that are here to teach children – WOW. It all made sense now.

After I looked the song up online, I sat back in my chair and stared at my computer screen, thinking with a sigh of relief that now things made sense, suddenly I realized that there was an actual application here along the lines of my recent thought about As the Church Sings. You can hear it coming can’t you? You know – the loneliest verse in any hymn in a hymnal is the third verse. It rarely if ever gets sung.

“Let’s stand and sing verses 1 and 2, and then finish with verse 4.”

And what about the hymns with more than 4 verses?? Yes – there are hymns with more than 4 verses. Lots of them.

Skipping the third verse just doesn’t make sense. Hymns were and are written to tell a story put to music – to teach us truth – and yet so often we skip around over verses and leave things out. We are missing part of the story. It is like skipping a chapter in a book, or a verse while reading Scripture.

Are we in too much of a hurry to sing all the verses? What, are we trying to be like Reader’s Digest and condense it down to only the relevant parts? Like the Reader’s Digest condensed Bible (yes it is real…and yes, they cut the “unnecessary” parts out)?

Then on the other hand, there are those who are more contemporary and they will not sing the first, second, and fourth verses of any hymn, unless the first verse can be jazzed up and beaten to death with a drum. No. They will look up at the screen and sing the same chorus over and over and over again. And again some more.

In both instances, as good as the verses we sing may be, if we are skipping verse 3 or singing the first verse over and over then we are bound to miss things. The story never unfolds or develops. There is no progress. Logically we are left wondering if there is more. No wonder so many in our churches battle doctrinal confusion when our singing in worship is so shallow and incomplete.

Have you ever noticed that the songs in the Bible go on and on? Shouldn’t they though since they are written to praise and worship our God? Praising Him should never reach a limit should it, as if we had sung all we could about His glory and holiness and love.

I want to look at 2 hymns just as examples and see what we miss if we skip the third verse. Let’s start with an easy example. If we sing all but the third verse of Joy to the World then look at what we miss. We miss the whole reason Jesus came!

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

Where is the Good News if we don’t know the bad news? It is like Christmas without the cost!!

Now then let us look at a hymn with more than 4 verses. One of my favorite hymns is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty written by Joachim Neander. You can listen to the music here, and here are the verses:

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.”

Now – these are simple examples, not by any means a comprehensive illustration of my point, but if singing these hymns is boring, or if these great songs seem out of touch, not too hip, dull, old fashioned, or we think it is not relevant to us today then frankly I don’t think we paid attention when we read or when we sing the lyrics. And if someone complains that they don’t understand the song or some of the words, remember, we are supposed to be teaching one another with these songs…so teach one another!!

Too many today are looking for worship that makes them feel good. And they get angry if worship in song or by listening to a sermon makes them feel uncomfortable, convicted, or less than self sufficient. But how do we grow, how do we learn, how do we please God if it is all about making us feel good?

I would go so far to say that much of the worship going on in “evangelical” churches today is idolatry. We are worshipping ourselves at the altar of our feelings and felt needs. It is a production, a peformance, and a party. If we were worshipping God it would not matter how it makes us feel because our focus would be on HIM. That should make us feel humbled, thankful, reverent, awed – and loved!

We have not only neglected the third verse, I fear that we have lost what it means to “turn your eyes upon Jesus…”

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