Annie Sherwood Hawks was born in Hoosick, New York in the spring of 1835. Though she never graduated, she went to the Troy Seminary in New York and was well read, writing and publishing poems by the time she was fourteen. In 1859, Annie married Charles Hawks and lived in Brooklyn until Charles’ death in 1888. Together they had three children. By the time of her marriage, she was attending a Baptist church where Robert Lowry preached. With his encouragement, Annie wrote many hymns which he put to music. Over the years, she composed at least 400 hymns, most of which were published and used for Sunday School. Annie wrote the five stanzas to “I Need Thee Every Hour” in 1872 with the refrain and tune composed by Lowry. She did not write this hymn in a time of deep sorrow but during a time of joy. Yet she later wrote,
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.
Her later years were spent with her daughter in Vermont. Annie Hawks died in the January of 1918, recognized as one of the foremost hymnists, alongside Fanny Crosby, of the century. “I Need Thee Every Hour” answers the question of when we need the Lord. This is a song of recognition that we need the Lord always. We need His presence, His guidance, His promises, His deliverance, and His steadfast love.
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to thee.
When do we need the Lord? We need him always. The phrase “I need Thee every hour” is repeated in every stanza and in the refrain for one good reason: we often forget that we do always need Christ. He is our Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Lord, and Savior. Without Him we could make great achievements about as well as we could draw breath. Moreover, we need His presence and peace (Isa. 26:3, Jhn. 16:33). Where else would we want to be but in the presence of the Lord? (Psa. 73:27-28, 84:2) What other voice can give us peace? So we ask Him to be near to us as we declare our need for Him! (Psa. 28:6-9, 86:1-10, Phil. 4:6, Heb. 4:16) And as we come to Him, He will come near to us, as He promised to always be with us (Psa. 86:15, Matt. 28:20, Jas. 4:8).
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou near by;
temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
So we know that we need the Lord, but why ask for Him to be near to us? In the case of this stanza, we ask for Him to be near to us not only for His peace but also for His strength that we might be able to stand against whatever temptations come our way (2 Cor. 12:9, Eph. 6:10-18). After all, the Psalms remind us often that the Lord is our Rock, Shield, Defender, and Strong Tower (Psa. 31:1-5). Whom else could we turn to besides Him? (2 Sam. 22:32) Thus, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for our Lord to be near to us so that temptation can lose its power over us (Heb. 2:14-3:1, 4:14-16).
I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly, and abide, or life is vain.
Not only, though, do we need the Lord during trying times but also during times of pain and joy. This in essence makes up the hymn. Why repeat that phrase “I need Thee every hour” if not to mean during times of good along with the times of bad? Perhaps it is said often, but we must remember that the Lord is the one who gives us good things. So we rejoice during trials and rejoice during pain and rejoice during blessings (Psa. 16:5-8, Jas. 5:13, Phil. 4:4-7). We give thanks in all circumstances and ask that the Lord be nearer to us still, every hour (Psa. 22:19, 141:1-2, 1 Thes. 5:16-18). For without Him, our life is vain (1 Cor. 15:32, Mar. 8:36).
I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will,
and Thy rich promises in me fulfill.
While we ask the Lord to be near us, for we know as a child knows that we need our Father for all things, we also ask that He might teach us what He desires for us (Psa. 25:4-5, 143:8-10). We ask Him to teach us, which He does through His Word, that we might please Him (Psa. 119:9-11). And why should we not strive to do so? He has promised us a rich reward – to live life eternal with Him – so serving Him should be our response to such a gift of salvation (Jhn. 3:16, Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:9-14, 2 Cor. 1:20, 2 Pet. 1:3-8).
I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessèd Son
Finally, we ask again that God would be our Father and make us His sons (Jhn. 14:6). And thanks be to God: He has adopted us as His sons (Gal. 4:4-7)! Thus, because He has promised to be with us, we can have confidence in His presence, trusting in our Creator and Father in heaven who cares for us (Psa. 71:5-6, 1 Jhn. 5:13-15, Psa. 145:18, Matt. 28:20). We need Him every hour, not only because He is our Protector, Provider, and Creator, but because He is our Father and Savior. This hymn may sound repetitive, but it is not without meaning: apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jhn. 15:1-14). Thus, we ask for Him to be near us just as we declare, “God, I need You!”
Blessings to you and yours,