September 6, 2020
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
I have a small reed organ that is technically called a harmonium. There is a Western European harmonium (usually quite large and pumped with the feet) and there is the Indian harmonium that is played—usually when seated on the ground—with the right hand and pumped with the left hand. My instrument is the Indian harmonium and, while it can be played with great virtuosity by skilled players, one can also use it as a plaintive drone effect, in which just one note or chord is held for an extended amount of time.,
The beloved hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is a Christian hymn that originated in Assam, India, in the mid-19th century. The short text was purported to have been uttered by an Assam man named Nokseng as he and his family were going to be murdered for worshiping Jesus. Its simple melody and powerfully succinct words can easily be sung over top of the harmonium’s C-chord drone. If you know piano and can play a C and G, try singing the melody of the entire hymn while playing those two notes throughout, and you’ll experience the Indian flavor of the music.
This hymn is meaningful to me as we often sang it in my hometown Baptist church in Graham, North Carolina, at the conclusion of a service. In the Baptist tradition, the pastor welcomes folks to come to the front during the last hymn, inviting them to be baptized into faith or to renew their commitment to Christ. That is the way you are baptized in the Baptist denomination, and indeed the way I was baptized into the Christian faith: by specifically choosing to be baptized.
As you sing or think about “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” consider not only the far-reaching spread of Christianity into India over 150 years ago, but also the weight that the few words of each verse carries, whether with an Indian harmonium or grand pipe organ.
1. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.
2. Though none go with me, still I will follow.
3. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus.
4. The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back…
Lord, I pray that as I sing our hymns, may the words go beyond my lips and into my soul, that I may fully comprehend and experience the depth of the music and words.
Dr. Jeremy Peterman