History of Hymns: Discipleship hymn comes from Filipino folk song

“Dear Lord, Lead Me Day by Day”
Francisca Asuncion
UM Hymnal
, No. 411

Dear Lord, lead me day by day;
make me steadfast, wise, and strong;
happy most of all to know
that my dear Lord loves me so.

Praise to God, fount of love,
praise from morn till the set of sun;
praise at home, praise in church;
praise to God everywhere on earth. *

Developing Christian hymns in non-Western cultures requires a variety of techniques. One of those techniques is to take an existing melody, often a folk song, and pair it with a Christian text. Such is the case with “Dear Lord, lead me day by day.”

According to Taiwanese composer and Asian hymnologist I-to Loh, the hymn was “adapted from a very popular Filipino folk song, ‘Planting Rice is Never Fun.’ . . . The original phrase ‘bent from morn till the set of sun’ . . . [was transformed by Francisca Asuncion] into ‘praise from morn till the set of sun,’ suggesting the intimate relationship between work and celebration.”

C. Michael Hawn

C. Michael Hawn

The Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, states that Ms. Asuncion wrote the hymn in August 1976 while recuperating from an automobile accident in Cottage Grove, Minn. It appeared as a children’s hymn in Dr. Loh’s Hymns from the Four Winds (1983), a United Methodist resource. The tune name COTTAGE GROVE comes from the Minnesota town. Dr. Young notes that “the hymn was first sung in the Community Church by the author’s eight nephews and nieces, accompanied by guitar, recorder, and piano.”

This hymn is one of discipleship. The incipit (opening line) is a personal petition for Christ to “lead me day by day.” The first petition is immediately followed by a second, “make me steadfast, wise, and strong. . . . .”

The second stanza repeats the opening line of stanza one and is followed by an ethical petition to “make me follow and obey faithfully your words of life. . . .”

The final stanza echoes the spirit of the refrain. Having requested Christ’s leadership and wisdom (stanza one), and actions based on Christ’s “words of life” (stanza two), we can “with confidence . . . sing joyous praises.” Our behavior will reflect Christ-like qualities as we offer “tender care and sympathy” toward others.

The refrain has the feel of I Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (KJV) God, the “fount of love,” causes our praises to overflow from “morn till the set of sun,” “at home, . . . in church,” and indeed “everywhere on earth.”

The stanzas, though not speaking specifically of Jesus, have the feel of following Christ, while the refrain changes the focus to praise of God.

Francisca Asuncion (b. 1927) was born in Manila, Philippines. She received a Bachelor of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines and a Master of Music Education degree from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J. Known as a choral conductor, Ms. Asuncion was the head of the music department at the Philippine Christian College and served on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines.

* © 1983 United Methodist Publishing House (administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

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