For Christian music’s premier country recording artist, following up 2010’s best-selling cross-genre debut, Breathe Deep, as well as a series of career highlights—multiple Dove Award nominations, his Grand Ole Opry debut and induction in the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame—could have been a difficult assignment. Not so for Guy Penrod. Entering the sophomore season of a milestone-studded solo career after 14 defining years with the legendary Gaither Vocal Band, Guy now turns his focus to some of the most relevant songs he’s ever recorded—hymns.
The aptly-titled Hymns fits Guy like a well-worn, beloved cowboy hat, paying tribute to the beliefs that motivate the man behind the music. “I believe in a biblical way of living. I also believe in loyalty,” Penrod says, explaining why he decided to follow up a commercial country record with a set list of hymns.
Further expounding on the desire to revisit the hymns, Guy assesses, “With Breathe Deep we tackled subjects like marriage, materialism, abstinence and creation and answered them with a Scriptural view wrapped in everyday language. But it was decidedly country. With Hymns, I want fans to know I am very much the same person I’ve always been. It’s not just a matter of a style. It’s a matter of a belief system.”
“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed . . .”
Growing up the son of a West Texas preacher, Guy feels right at home in church. “I’m a pew baby,” he comments, crediting the construct of his beliefs to the community who tutored him in faith as a young person. Music also played a significant role in anchoring his faith. “I grew up with the hymns, and love the hymns,” he says, citing the medium of music as an important aid in understanding spiritual truths. “The melodies tend to be memorable and singable. Gloria Gaither once said to me about hymns, ‘You embrace good songs because they are like portable pieces of theology and philosophy that you can recall in challenging times to feed your soul.’” The singer concurs, “Hymns are thorough theologically.”
Guy references “Amazing Grace” as a perfect grace sermonette. “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved’–that’s amazing word usage,” he shares, pastorally stressing the importance of the hymn’s second verse. “The grace of the Lord teaches us fear in the context of God, the One that can separate our soul from our body. And then that same grace relieves those fears.”
“If we aren’t careful, when writing songs of worship we can adjust methodology and overlook theology in an attempt to ‘be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22),’” he states, also referencing “Softly and Tenderly” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” both recorded on Hymns, as astute reminders of the grace God gifted to humanity through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus.
“Because they are 100-plus years old, the vernacular has changed, but they address the human condition and give help, guidance and encouragement through truths that survive the test of time,” he continues. “Hymns are an important part of our history as believers.”
“Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye, to the dearest on earth to me /And my sad heart aches ‘til it nearly breaks . . .”
Hymns also play an important role in modern music history. Many of Guy’s favorite voices from his childhood incorporated hymns into their recordings and set lists. Voices like Andy Williams, Marty Robbins and Gospel crusade singer George Beverly Shea. “I was the kid that ordered George’s records,” Guy remembers. “Watching him perform on Billy Graham’s crusades, his rich and confident—yet kind and gentle—baritone really impacted my musical journey as a young kid.”
Making a lifelong dream come true, the 103 year-old icon joined voices with Guy on a tender duet of “Does Jesus Care?,” a personally poignant song for Guy. “When my mother and father passed away, and when I decided to leave the Gaither Vocal Band to go solo, during fearful times, that particular song ministered to me.”
Recalling hymns for comfort from fear is a practice Guy not only prescribes for himself, but for all believers. “The first line in ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’ says, ‘What have I to fear, what have I to dread / leaning on the everlasting arms / I have blessed peace with my Lord so dear / leaning on the everlasting arms,’” he shares. “The enemy is really on the loose as far as fear goes in our culture. We see an overwhelming problem with depression, anxiety and all the residual health effects that occur to our bodies. Yet the Bible tells us, ‘God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 2:7). Whether you were born in 1815 or 2011, we need hymns to remind us of these timeless truths.”
“Count your blessings name them one by one /Count your blessings see what God has done . . .”
A father to eight children ranging in age from 6 to 20-years-old, Guy and his wife of 27 years, Angie, only have to number the heads sitting around the kitchen table to remember God’s blessings in their lives. Homeschooling their kids in a self-constructed schoolhouse on the family’s property about an hour south of Nashville, Tennessee, hymns have become a practical help in organically teaching the elementary–and eternal–truths of the Bible to their kids.
“I think of the old Sunday school song that says, ‘Be careful little eyes what you see, little feet where you go and little hands what you do,’” Guy says of the godly environment he and his wife try to facilitate for their children at home. “What you listen to, what you watch, ends up affecting you and can become who you are. So we try to allow things like hymn records, worship music, books that point to the good things of God, instruments lying around so the kids will play them, to be present in our home.”
In the same way he keeps hymns handy at home for his kids, Guy keeps these historic songs on the tip of his tongue as a day-to-day resource for spiritual help and strength. “As I ingest the Word of God, as I talk to Him in prayer, as I listen to music in the form of psalms and spiritual songs, hymns are an ever-present molding, an infusion in my life as I’m asking God for help. We all have to come to a place of brokenness to come to God. But the beautiful part is the putting back together—the restoration and the healing—culminating with His peace and His joy, which is our strength.”
As he utilizes the hymns in his personal relationship with God, Guy hopes to preserve these classic songs of faith so future generations can find the same relief he has discovered in this historic catalog. “I certainly want to do my part in keeping hymns front and center so they stay listened to and sung,” he concludes. “But people are the point. I want to point people in an attractive way, with arms wide open, not finger pointing, to the goodness of God. Hymns do that.”