Joachim Neander was German. And he was good at it.
Industrious – Seriously minded – Gifted.
He was born in Breman (as in the musicians) in 1650. His father, a Latin teacher, died with Neander was 16. Unable to afford to go away for a respectable education, he stayed at home, enrolling at the local bible school.
At first, he didn’t take to it. He actually led a pretty wild life until one day his faith was rocked by a stirring sermon from Theodor Undereyk – a relatively unknown preacher.
When he was 21, he moved to Heidelburg where he became a tutor at the University. Heidleburg was an awakening for Neander. Surrounded by a larger city, and one of the oldest and most respected universities in Europe (founded in 1386), Neander’s horizons were expanded and his faith was given wings. This season of Neander’s life laid the foundation for prolific few years which were to follow.
After only three years at Heidleburg, Neander moved to Dusseldorf to continue his education and prepare for pastoral ministry. Still only 27 years old, he served as a tutor at a Latin school in town.
In between classes, Neander would take long walks in the valley near the Dussel River. Alone in the rolling hills and removed from the hectic pace of scholastic life, Neander felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred. He would sing – often singing and adapting Psalms into tunes that would fit his mood:
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so woundrously reigneth
shelters thee under His wings yea, so gently sustaineth,
hast thou not seen,
how all thy longings have been,
granted in what He ordaineth?
Here’s the point:
We can fake worship any time we feel like it. Throw a key-change in here or there – dim the lights – squint our eyes – lift our hands and we’re there. Or are we?
One of the strangest realities for worship leaders, pastors, and artists in the church (at least for me) is to neglect the private adoration of God. We simply haven’t cultivated the discipline of intentionally leaving space in our calendar – allowing us to “ponder anew.” If you’re not a worshiper of God in private, you’re not called to lead His church.
Neander died when he was 30, serving only 1 year as a pastor in his hometown Breman. But not without leaving his mark – writing over 60 hymns in the short span of 5 years. Ironically, the famous “Neander-thal” skeleton (literally, “Neander’s valley” in German) got its name from the valley where Neander contemplated the beauty of God’s creation.