Behind the Hymn: I Need Thee Every Hour

I recently came across this hymn during a devotional and was drawn to the words. I was also reminded that this is not a hymn I hear sung in church very often anymore.  Yet, even today the message seems to remain the same.  We need Jesus every hour of every day.

Annie Sherwood Hawks

Annie Sherwood Hawks

This hymn was written by Annie Sherwood Hawks.  She was born on May 28, 1835, in Hoosick, New York.

By the age of fourteen, Hawks was writing poems that were being published in a variety of newspapers.

In 1859, she married Charles Hawks and focused on raising their three children.

Dr. Robert Lowry, a prominent writer of gospel songs, was her pastor at Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N. Y. Lowry encouraged her gift of poetry.  Dr. Lowry promised to write the music for her poems and encouraged her to continue writing prose.

I Need Thee Every Hour was written in June 1872.

Hawks writes, “One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks during a bright June morning. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me — ‘I Need Thee Every Hour. . . . Seating myself by the open windows, I caught up my pencil and committed the words to paper –

Dr. Robert Lowry

Dr. Robert Lowry

almost as they are today”

She took the poem to Lowry, who added the refrain and music to the poem.  Mrs. Hawks continued by explaining “For myself, the hymn, at its writing, was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of great personal sorrow, with which it has often been associated.”

In 1872, Ira Sankey used this hymn at the National Baptist Sunday School Association Convention.   The following year the song appeared in the Royal Diadem for the Sunday School, which was compiled by Lowry and William Doane.

The term “I Need Thee” is repeated 20 times throughout the hymn.

Following the death of her husband, Hawks reflected on the power of her song: “I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.”

Hawks wrote over 400 hymn text, but I Need Thee Every Hour is the only one sung today.  Her hymns were published in a variety of popular Sunday School hymnbooks of the day.

Mrs. Hawks died on January 3, 1918, in Bennington, Vermont.

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