Having This Ministry
A Digital Newsletter from Living Stream Ministry

Principles for Using the Hymns:
Sensing and Following the Flow in the Lord’s Table Meeting

In recent issues of this newsletter we have considered the history of the hymnal, our need to study the hymnal, and the characteristics of a good hymn. But we may wonder how we should use the hymns in various settings. In this article we will consider a few principles for using the hymns in the Lord’s table meeting specifically.


A basic principle is that “the hymns we select in a meeting need to match the nature of that particular meeting” (The Collected Works of Witness Lee, 1959, vol. 3, “Lessons for New Believers,” p. 131). This means that the hymns we call in the Lord’s table meeting should be suited to the remembrance of the Lord and the worship of the Father. Concerning this matter, Brother Lee observes that “the purpose of the Lord’s table is to remember the Lord…However, some of the hymns called in the Lord’s table meeting are not unto the remembrance of the Lord. A hymn may be very good, but it may not fit the nature of the Lord’s table” (CWWL, 1990, vol. 2, “The Practice of Prophesying,” p. 353). There are many wonderful hymns in our hymnal, but some of these—such as those on the preaching of the gospel—simply do not fit the nature and purpose of the table meeting, and they are best enjoyed in other settings.

Another principle is that we should learn to touch the atmosphere, or feeling, in the Lord’s table meeting. This principle is emphasized repeatedly in Brother Lee’s ministry, and it is worth dwelling upon here. In Guidelines for the Lord’s Table Meeting and the Pursuit in Life, Brother Lee says, “There is always an atmosphere when the saints gather together. We need to learn to sense the atmosphere, the feeling” (CWWL, 1952, vol. 1, p. 264). In the same message Brother Lee explains that our selecting of hymns should be according to the atmosphere that we sense in a meeting:

Hymns are for the expression of feelings. We cannot sing a hymn that expresses a certain feeling if we do not have one. We should find a hymn that best expresses our feeling. Hence, we must learn how to select hymns. This means that when we touch a certain atmosphere, according to the prevailing feeling in the meeting, we should select a hymn from the hymnal that expresses that feeling best. When we choose a hymn in this way, the feeling will be expressed and will flow out through the singing of the congregation. This is the principle of selecting hymns. (p. 261)

Touching the corporate feeling of the saints in a table meeting is no small matter, and it surely requires our ongoing learning. One facet of this learning involves putting aside our personal feeling so that we can sense the feeling in the meeting. Another facet involves knowing the hymns thoroughly so that, during a meeting, we can select hymns that match the meeting’s feeling and atmosphere. Specifically, we should know the hymns in their categories, contents, focus, and sensation and taste. In a chapter on the practice of the Lord’s table meeting in Basic Lessons on Service, Brother Lee says,

In order to call the appropriate hymns in the table meeting, we need to learn to know the hymns first in their categories. The table of contents in our hymnal can help us with this, since it categorizes all the hymns. Then we need to read and even to study the contents of the hymns. We also need to find out the central thought, the focus, of each hymn. Finally, we need to know the hymns in their sensation and taste. Each hymn has its own sensation, so it has its own taste. When you know the hymns in these four aspects—in their categories, contents, focus, and sensation and taste—you know the hymns thoroughly. (CWWL, 1979, vol. 2, p. 28)

Regarding the sensation and taste of the hymns, we can readily distinguish, for instance, between two hymns that many of us have sung in the Lord’s table meeting: “O how deep and how far-reaching (Hymns, #152) and “It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine” (Hymns, #154). Both hymns are excellent, and both are in the category “Praise of the Lord—His Love” in the hymnal. But whereas the sensation of “O how deep and how far-reaching” is deep and profound, the sensation of “It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine” is sweet and tender. Given this difference in taste, one hymn may be more fitting than the other depending on the particular atmosphere in a table meeting. As we become intimately familiar with the hymns not only in their categories, contents, and focus but also in their sensation and taste, we will be better equipped to select a hymn that matches the feeling in the meeting and enables this feeling to be expressed through the saints’ singing and praising.

A third principle—closely related to the previous one—is that our selection of hymns in the Lord’s table meeting should match the progression of the meeting. This requires that we follow the corporate flow in the meeting and learn to apply proper hymns at the proper time. Some hymns may be more appropriate at the opening of the table meeting, others at the climax, and still others at the conclusion (see CWWL, 1959, vol. 3, “Lessons for New Believers,” pp. 131-132). In a message given in 1979 concerning the Lord’s table meeting, Brother Lee shares that “the Lord’s table is a feast,” which includes particular “courses” that are not served randomly but in a “certain order,” or progression (CWWL, 1979, vol. 1, p. 147). In this light, our selection of hymns in a table meeting should be attuned to the progression in that meeting. Before we call a hymn, we may want to consider, “Are we enjoying an ‘appetizer’ in the early stage of the meeting? Or have we progressed to a delicious ‘main course’ at the meeting’s climax? Or, having enjoyed the ‘main course,’ are we now enjoying a sweet ’dessert’?” Considerations such as these can help us determine not only what hymns to call in the table meeting but also when to call them.

Concerning the selection of hymns according to the corporate flow in the table meeting, Brother Lee offers the following example:

In a particular Lord’s table meeting, someone may call Hymns, #86, which is not high but is deep and tender. This hymn praises the Lord for His human living…There will be a lack of continuation if soon after we sing this hymn in a Lord’s table meeting, someone calls a hymn such as Hymns, #142, which begins, “Crown Him with many crowns.” After a hymn has been called, we should spend some time to taste and digest the hymn. At least four or five prayers of praise are needed to digest most hymns. The dishes in a feast are not served in rapid sequence; instead, there is time between each dish for enjoyment. To call a hymn with a different feeling soon after another one has been sung is to not sense the atmosphere but only take care of one’s personal feeling. Our hymn calling should build up a proper spirit of remembering the Lord in His presence. We all need to learn, but no one should be discouraged or take this fellowship as a legal regulation. (pp. 148-149)

Of course, in some instances following the flow in the table meeting might mean refraining from calling a hymn if doing so would disrupt the flow of the Spirit. In The Ground of the Church and the Meetings of the Church, Brother Lee gives a healthy word of caution:

At the beginning of the meeting there may be a real flow of prayer which is not fully expressed. This is not the right time to announce a hymn. Any hymn at such a time becomes a frustration to the flow of more prayers in the spirit. At other times, the worship to the Father may be the best portion of the meeting, but just when we come to the highest tide, a certain hymn again can frustrate the flow. Such a hymn can be like cold water poured on the fire. Just as we have the real sense that two or three more prayers will bring us to a climax, our mouths can be shut by the wrong hymn. To call a hymn in this way is the result of our forms, rituals, and knowledge. Therefore, we have to learn to sense the flow. We have to forget about mere knowledge. First, we must sense the flow, and then we should exercise our proper knowledge to do things in an adequate, proper way. (CWWL, 1965, vol. 2, p. 260)

The purpose of the table meeting, after all, is not to sing hymns but to remember our Lord—in the deepest and fullest sense of remembrance—and to worship our Father in spirit and truthfulness. Our use of the hymns should serve this high purpose, and we trust that in these days the Lord will train us to use the hymns skillfully to this end. May the Lord give all of us a learning and endeavoring spirit.