Facing a task unfinished

‘Facing a task unfinished’ is one of those classic old hymns that I grew up with. But it’s also one of those old hymns I found thoroughly boring to sing as it comes with music that far too easily converts into a dirge. And so, because of the distractingly dull tune, it was only a couple of years ago that I realised that these words I’ve been singing my whole life are so amazing and incredibly challenging! Have a look:

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known

Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers

O Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them
To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

As you can see it is sobering to sing. Check out the second verse. The section about the huge numbers of souls passing unforgiven into the night is a terrifying visual, and one I imagine we’d prefer to not think about. And in a different way, the third verse also is quite scary with the weight of responsibility we share as ‘torch bearers’, plus the indication of the cost it could demand.

And yet how exciting! This song is steeped in evangelistic fervour. The task of sharing the gospel is undoubtedly hard, tiring and daunting, but yet so amazing as we consider the life-changing gospel that is ours to share, the countless brothers and sisters who have likewise laboured in the past, and most importantly, in verse 4, the fact that God has proven himself to be so much bigger and stronger than anything we face! Feeling fired up yet?

So now the problem of the tune. As aforementioned, when played as originally written in 4/4, it runs the risk of slowing down, becoming stagnant, and in no way helping us to understand the words.
So instead, how about trying it in 6/8, with a strongly lead guitar riff* at approx. 200bpm. (If you look in the PDF hymnal, you will find a lead sheet you can print out.) It doesn’t drastically change the sung melody, but lifts it from underneath. We tried it like this at the London Women’s Convention last month and the women sang it so well- it was fantastic to hear! It is so great to sing old, familiar hymns that people know well, but in a way that breathes a little new life into them.

Just a little word of warning. We want to play in a way that not only sounds good, but supports the words, so beware especially in the second verse. You don’t want to get carried away to the extent that you are merrily strumming your way through words that should be challenging and thoughtful, so make sure you take it down a notch or two there. But in verse 4, pull all the stops out and rejoice in the amazing God we serve!

This is the ideal hymn to end a service in which the sermon has been encouraging us to go and share the gospel with those around us. What better way to send out congregations into the world than reminding them of the need, the stakes, and the ever faithful God!

*don’t let this put off any of you who don’t have guitarists at your disposal. Long live ye olde faithful piano!

Heather Cowan

Please share this

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Cecily Maclagan

    As a serving missionary working in the Andes mountains in S. Peru, I LOVE this hymn and its challenge. The second verse in particular always draws me back to an incident that occurred 16 yrs ago….we had driven to a remote village in the high Andes to share the Gospel and arrived in time to witness the funeral of a villager who had gone missing a month before & whose body had been recovered from a nearby lake the previous day.
    The lostness and hopelessness of these people at his funeral will forever be etched on my memory. Yet later that evening while I lay on the earth floor of a borrowed house suffering from altitude sickness, it was a thrill to hear one of my Peruvian companions singing of the Saviour’s love in a voice that rang clearly through the village and out over the mountainside….thank God for those who answer the call and labour for His sake!

  2. Rich

    Hi Heather, just found this while lazily searching online for lyrics I know I have filed somewhere… I would love to get the 6/8 PDF lead sheet, but unless it’s under another name I can’t find it… Can you help me out? Thanks!

  3. George E Gilmour

    a great hymn and is complemented in its principles by an old American film called “The unfinished Task” which I used in mission work some years ago

  4. Peter Luu

    Just an insider tip :p

    Keep your ears to the ground as there’s some exciting things happening within OMF with this song. 🙂 Can’t say too much though…

Leave a Reply