Wednesday, August 30, 2017

3 Things to Pray Every Day

Dear Friends,

I arrived at the assisted living facility that Wednesday morning and started to unload all the equipment that we use in the service. Next to the walkway leading to the front door is a large patio area with shaded tables and comfortable chairs where the residents can sit and read, or just enjoy the sunshine. That’s where Bartolo was when I heard him start to sing. He’s only been at Abbey Road Villa for about six months and I’ve not really been able to talk with him because his English is limited and my Spanish is non-existent. He’s a middle-age man confined to a wheelchair by his disability but always has a huge, radiant smile on his face. I didn’t see him sitting in a far away corner of the patio that morning, but I heard his clear voice sing out in perfect English, “Day by Day.. Day by Day.. Oh Dear Lord Three Things I Pray...”

Last Wednesday, one of the staff members told me that throughout the week, she will sometimes hear the residents singing the song Day by Day when they’re alone in their rooms. Nothing she could have told me at that moment would have brought greater joy to my heart! When we started the weekly Wednesday service two years ago at this assisted living facility, we decided that every service would end with the congregation singing “Day by Day” and the lyrics are printed in every service bulletin. We wanted this wonderful prayer song to be embedded in their memory, and we encourage them to start their day with it because it’s the perfect prayer. It’s short, simple and expresses the heart-felt desire of every Christian believer! The song lyrics are: 

Day by Day..  Day by Day..
Oh Dear Lord, three things I pray..
To see Thee more clearly..
Love Thee more dearly..
Follow Thee more nearly..  Day by Day..

In 1969, a Christian college student named John- Michael Tebelak wrote a play called GODSPELL that was based on the book of Matthew. GODSPELL  retold the parables of Jesus in the context of a modern urban setting. The play was performed by college students in little theaters, but it soon caught the attention of producers who hired Broadway song writer Stephen Schwartz to put it to music. In one of the scenes, the cast acts out the Matthew 18 parable about the unforgiving servant, and as soon as Jesus explains that you need to forgive others in your heart, the disciples start singing the song Day by Day. 

In 1972, a year after this little off-Broadway production began, Day by Day was released as a single and  spent fourteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 list. This was absolutely extraordinary. A contemporary Christian song was the thirteenth most popular song in America! Now that Day by Day was a smash hit on America’s radio stations, the little struggling off-Broadway musical called GODSPELL became a hugely successful Broadway hit. There was a film version in 1973 and it had a successful two year revival on Broadway in 2011. Forty-eight years ago, a college student wrote a play for his master’s assignment and GODSPELL – the Gospel of Matthew – is still a popular musical today. The word of God, whether solemnly read in a church service or joyously sung on Broadway, is relevant and timeless!

Here’s some interesting trivia. Broadway song writer Stephen Schwartz is credited as writing Day by Day in 1971, but did he really? In the 13th century, the text was a prayer written by a Bishop of England, Saint Richard of Chichester 1197-1253. This prayer was later set to tunes and published in a 1940 Episcopal Church hymnal. Look at the photo of the page in this hymnal that I’ve had since my childhood, and compare the words of this 800 year old prayer with the lyrics of this “Broadway” hit song.

We never hear the GODSPELL version of Day by Day sung in church because this song is associated with the secular world of entertainment. Church denominations would never allow music from a Broadway production to be sung in a church service and that’s why this beautiful prayer song is not approved for denomination hymnals or even our contemporary praise and worship songbooks. But at New Hope Family Church, we end every Wednesday Service with Day by Day because these “three things I pray” really are what we most desire!  Amen?  
(You can listen to the original Broadway hit version HERE)

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