Several years ago, our worship pastor introduced our church to an old hymn from the early 1900s entitled, “This is My Father’s World.” At first, I was not a fan of the song. I thought it sounded like a children’s song, both melodically and lyrically. It was too slow, repetitive, and boring, and felt like a chore for me to sing.
A little later, my wife and I had our first daughter, Rosamund. As we began a bedtime routine, I searched for different songs to sing so I wasn’t repeating the same ones to her every night. One Sunday morning during church, we began singing, “This is My Father’s World.” Instead of my usual attitude of “Oh great, here comes that boring children’s hymn again,” I thought, “This is a great hymn to sing to children!” I sang it that night to Rosie and have been singing it to her ever since. Kids have the powerful effect of rewiring their parent’s imagination to see old stale things as fresh and beautiful.
I was right about “This is My Father’s World” being a great children’s song, but all of us can learn from these lyrics. The song takes the perspective of a child singing to her Father, reminding us of our status before God. A life-transforming aspect of the gospel is that through the work of Christ, estranged children are adopted into the family of God, as we learn through the marvelous words of the Apostle Paul: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”(Rom. 8:15).
Singing “This is My Father’s World” reminds us that we are children invited into relationship with our heavenly Father. The hymn meditates poetically on the wonder of nature, God’s glory through creation, and how the world around us testifies to the sovereignty of the Creator God.
Through the Eyes of a Child
These themes connect well with the imaginative vision children bring to the world around them. Every day my two daughters stop to show me a ladybug that landed on them, a sunflower on the verge of blooming, or the beautiful pink and orange in the sky during sunset. The details of nature invite them to ponder the creativity of God. They want me to do what the song wants me to do: notice. To notice that “…his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20).
The hymn’s melody is simple and lovely, perfect for lulling a child peacefully to sleep under the secure watch of their heavenly Father, who embraces them as delicately as he does all his creation. The slow and soft composition compliments the lyrical theme of rest, inviting the singer to practice this theme.
Through the Eyes of a Parent
In the third stanza, the hymn proclaims where sons and daughters of God can find respite from the chaos and pain of the world:
This is my Father’s World. O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
When I first sang this to my daughter, I thought about all the threats she would face and all the suffering and hardship she would endure. I also thought about the challenges of parenting: the frustrations with disobedient children, the exhaustion of daily repetitive responsibilities, and most of all, the fear involved in wanting my children to be safe from harm in a broken and destructive world. Singing this hymn helps me take my parenting stress to the throne room of God and lay it at his feet. It points me toward my gospel hope of a Father “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19).
I later learned that the author of the hymn, a pastor named Maltbie Davenport Babcock (an all-time name in church history), was a man who endured great suffering as a parent. His two children died in infancy, contributing to his later bouts of manic depression. However, ten years after losing his second son, he would pen the words for the Church, O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. You can hear him wrestling with the truth of these words as if speaking to himself amid sadness. We can trace the direction of his emotions in the song as he moves from despair to trust. God is in control. If Babcock could proclaim his great hope in the Lordship of Christ, the Creator who is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1 Cor. 1:17), then I, too, can find respite in my parenting in the loving sovereignty of God.
The Parent As a Child of God
Thanks to my children, “This is My Father’s World” is now one of my favorite songs to sing in church. Singing it feels like taking a deep breath or drinking a cool glass of water during one of our hot, dry Colorado days. It reminds me of singing it to my daughter at night, praying for her to notice the beauty of God all around us (slightly easier in Colorado than for most). The song leads me to assume the role of a dependent child under a far greater and more powerful Father than myself. When the band leads the congregation into the great third stanza, my anxious parent heart rests by casting my weariness on “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:27)!
The great hope we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus and his triumphant return is made explicit in the final line:
This is my Father’s world. The battle is not done; Jesus who died, shall be satisfied, and earth and Heaven be one.
For weary parents who are in Christ, our future is secure because the God who made the magnificent beauty of the world and is Lord over every inch submitted himself to humanity and death in Jesus. To borrow from another hymn, He grew the tree that He knew would be used to make the old rugged cross. His death is proof of God’s love for us, and his resurrection is the first fruits of the union of heaven and earth, where tired parents will find lasting rest.
While we await the consummation of heaven and earth, “This is My Father’s World” serves as a reminder that even though I am not in control and cannot guarantee protection for my children from all the wrong, God is the ruler yet.
Parents, join us at Rooted 2023 for wonderful worship and encouragement to rest in the gospel.