Hymn-writing has been practiced by believers for centuries. We can trace that all the way back to the book of Psalms. David, Solomon, Moses, Asaph, and the sons of Korah all have psalms attributed to them. We also have songs by Miriam (Ex. 15:21), Deborah (Jg. 5), Hannah (1 Sam. 2), Mary (Lk. 1:46-55), and Paul (Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 3:16).
Literally, psalms are “songs of praise.” These include contemplations (Ps. 78) and prayers (Ps. 17; 142). There are also songs of remembrance (Ps. 70) and teaching (Ps. 60). No matter the label, each song found in Scripture is written to magnify, glorify, and praise our Heavenly Father. Inside of that purpose, these songs reveal some part of the character of God and our response to Him. They show that we are sinful people who don’t respond to Him rightly. They tell of what He has done for us. Psalms are poetic expressions of our own theology.
The biblical songwriters often had specific reasons for writing. Perhaps God had miraculously saved them from some calamity. Some sprung out of prayers or trials. Some were written to teach others. Some were an outpouring of love, gratitude, and admiration that stemmed from meditating and contemplating God’s Word and character.
As believers, we have been saved from eternal death by a God who is worthy of our love, praise, and adoration. We discipline ourselves to read His word, talk to Him in prayer, and learn about His Person. We each have a worldview and some sort of grasp of our own theology. There are times when we have an overflow of emotion toward this God who saved us. We should be writing these things out. You don’t have to be eloquent or have a large vocabulary. You don’t even have to like poetry. All you have to be able to do is write out your thoughts. As your write them out, your attentions will probably focus on a particular trait, and you may find yourself paging through Scripture to find a certain phrase or to ensure you understand it thoroughly. That’s a good thing!
As you think, write. As you write, learn. Then comes the creative part. Find a sentence to use as a sort of base. If you can think of a song you already know that the sentence works with, use that song as a template for yours. If it’s close, use a thesaurus to help it fit. The number of syllables is the key, but if you’re using specific terms or a thesaurus, make sure you double check with the dictionary to ensure you are using your words correctly. Not all synonyms are exact. If you’re worried about using someone else’s song as a tune for your own, don’t. This hymn-writing exercise is for your own benefit. If at some point you want to share your hymn with a congregation or large (public) audience, then you can talk to a talented musician or work out copyright issues. You could also look in an old hymnal, as there are many tunes without copyright limitations. Also, the Psalmists often used and reused familiar tunes to put their hymns to.
Whether your outpouring of praise comes from despair or joy, it will remind you of who God is and why you should trust in Him.