by Jesse Ratcliffe
“I need Thee, oh, I need Thee; Ev'ry hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.”
I Need Thee Every Hour - Robert Lowry
Earworms… I’m plagued with them. Clueless as to what I’m referring to? They’re snippets of music that get stuck on repeat in your ear to the point of madness. During the last few weeks, as I solidified the musical selections for Lent 2022, the refrain at the top of the page has been on loop.
The evangelical hymn writer Robert Lowry was born in Philadelphia on March 12, 1826. His fondness for music was exhibited in his earliest years – as a child, he amused himself with the various musical instruments that came into his hands. At the age of seventeen, he joined the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia and soon became an active worker in the Sunday school as a teacher and chorister.
Following study at the University of Lewisburg, Pa., he began his career as a minister. In addition to working as a minister, he composed hymns and hymn tunes. His work as a hymn writer attracted the attention of William Bradbury (composer of the hymn tunes to the beloved hymns "Jesus Loves Me" and "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand") and was elected to serve as his successor as editor of the Sunday School Songbook firm of Biglow and Main. His most well-remembered works include "Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy"; "How Can I Keep from Singing?"; "Shall We Gather At The River"; and "Take Up Thy Cross the Savior Said." Lowry died at his residence in Plainfield, NJ, on November 25, 1899.
Back to the earworm… according to Hymnary.org, the stanzas of I Need Thee Every Hour were composed by Annie S. Hawks, a member of one of Lowry’s congregations, in 1872. Lowry composed a tune to match the text and added the refrain. When the hymn was first published in 1873, a verse from John 15 was included: “for without me ye can do nothing”. Each of the first four stanzas of this hymn dwells on a different facet of our dependence on God.
During this season of Lent, I hope you find this simple hymn as a touchstone - as we ponder what troubles our souls, may this old hymn guide you back to the love that God promises.