Updated: May 3
German: Befiehl du deine Wegen
Text: Paul Gerhardt 1653 Tune: Johann Crüger
1. Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears;
God shall lift up thy head.
2. Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears the way;
Wait thou his time, so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.
3. Still heavy is thy heart,
Still sink thy spirits down?
Cast off the weight, let fear depart,
And ev’ry care be gone.
4. What though thou rulest not,
Yet heav’n and earth, and hell
Proclaim, God sitteth on the throne,
And ruleth all things well.
5. Leave to his sov’reign sway
To choose and to command.
So shalt thou wond’ring own his way,
How wise, how strong his hand!
6. Far, far above thy thought
His counsel shall appear,
When fully he the work hath wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.
7. Thou seest our weakness, Lord,
Our hearts are known to Thee;
O lift Thou up the sinking heart,
Confirm the feeble knee.
8. Let us in life, in death,
Thy steadfast truth declare,
And publish with our latest breath
Thy love and guardian care.
Tr. John Wesley 1737
Paul Gerhardt, (1607-1676) known as the Sweet Singer of Lutheranism, grew up in a small town between Halle and Wittenberg, in Saxony. He attended school in nearby Grimma. While Gerhardt was still a student, plague ravaged the town. At his graduation, in 1627, given the exigencies of the Thirty Years War, which raged from 1618 to 1648, he did not receive a call, but served as a tutor to a family in Berlin.
During that time he became acquainted with the organist, Johann Crüger (1598-1662) the cantor at the Nikolai church in Berlin. In 1647 they began working together and
published significant collections of hymns called Praxis pietatis melica. Over ninety of
Gerhardt’s hymns appeared in these collections. This hymn appeared in the 1653
In 1657 he was called as Deacon to the Nikolai church but became embroiled in a
theological dispute. He lost his position, his wife died after a long illness, leaving him
with their one surviving child out of five. It was a difficult time for him. In 1668 the
Lübben congregation, south of Berlin on the Spree River, called him to serve as
Archdeacon. He served there until his death in 1674. The congregation wrote under his
portrait in the church, “A theologian sifted in the crib of Satan. Theologus in cribro
John Wesley, (1703-1791), pictured above, the founder of Methodism, on his trip to work in Oglethorpe’s colony in Georgia, sailed with a group of Moravians who sang Gerhardt’s hymns while the ship tossed and turned. He marveled that their singing seemed to stave off the seasickness and sheer terror he suffered from the violent sea. He learned their hymns to find out why. Later he paraphrased this one, changing it considerably into an English form, shortening it, without the acrostic. “Give to the Winds thy Fears” has been a
favorite Methodist hymn from the first.
Over my years of teaching hymnody, I would ask students at the end of the course to
share their favorite spiritual songs or hymns with the class. Shortly before I retired, a
student played on her iPhone a hymn she loved, “God Will Lift up your Head” performed
by the contemporary group, Jars of Clay. When I asked who wrote it, she said Paul
Gerhardt, translated by John Wesley. Why did she like it? It speaks directly to me, she
said, and comforts me.
It is still speaking. Let it speak to you as the quarantine continues! “Give to the winds thy
fears, /Hope and be undismayed; /God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears; /God shall lift
up thy head.”
The Norwegian film, De Unsynlige/Troubled Water (2008) includes an organist playing
the German tune on its soundtrack. The Oslo Gospel Choir used the hymn in one of its
albums of hymn classics. It is out there, from Bach to rock. Whichever musical setting or
translation you prefer, praise God that the hymn is still speaking to people.
Iver Kleive De Unsynlige/Troubled Water 2008
Oslo Gospel Choir
Jars of Clay/Lift Up Your Head
Give to the Winds your Fears