Gospel Song – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

Gospel Song – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

Gospel – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.

This classic gospel song was originally performed by one of the great bluesman of all time, Blind Willie Johnson, in 1928. Blues musicians in the early days had a tradition of borrowing music and lyrics from each other, so it’s not clear who originally wrote the song. It looks like the legendary blues guitarist and singer Rev. Gary Davis had a hand in the lyrics later on. We have at least three different sets of lyrics for the song, all  of them included below. This gospel song alludes to the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. As you read about the parable in this article, you’ll see the clear intent of the lyrics. Please read the parable in the Gospel of Matthew.


Refrain: Keep your lamps trimmed and burning (3X), O see what the Lord has done.

  1. Sister don’t get worried (3x), For the work is almost done.
  2. Brother don’t get worried (3x), For the work is almost done.
  3. Elder don’t get worried (3x), For the work is almost done.
  4. Heaven’s journey is almost over (3x), See what the Lord has done.


Refrain: Keep your lamps trimmed and burning (3x), For this old world is almost done.

  1. Well mother don’t you stop prayin’, Father keep right on prayin’, Don’t you stop prayin’, For this old world is almost done.
  2. Brother don’t you stop prayin’, Sister keep right on prayin’, Don’t you stop prayin’, For this old world is almost done.
  3. Preacher don’t you stop preaching (3x), For this old world is almost done.
  4. Got my lamp trimmed and burning (3x), For this old world is almost done.


Refrain: Children, don’t you grow weary (3x), For the time is drawing nigh.

  1. Keep your lamps trimmed and a-burning (3x), For the time is drawing nigh.
  2. Darker midnight lies before us (3x), For the time is drawing nigh.
  3. Lo, the morning soon is breaking (3x), For the time is drawing nigh.
  4. Christian, journey soon be over (3x), For the time is drawing nigh.

The reader of these lyrics can clearly see that the song is meant to be an encouragement to be strong and endure suffering just a little bit longer, to be ready for the Lord to return, that the time for the end may be soon. Don’t quit now despite life’s difficulties, keep following Jesus, keep praying, and don’t worry about the current problems. The Lord’s work is almost done, the world is coming to an end in due time. Hang in there and wait for the Lord, prepared and aware, ready to welcome Him in good faith.

Experiencing the song through the parable. 

The End is Near. a. In Matthew 24 just before Jesus told the parable, He was seated at the Mount of Olives, teaching His disciples. They asked about the consummation of the Age, when will the End come, when will they see Jesus usher in the New Kingdom at last? Jesus proceeded to give one teaching after another about the End of the Age, that it will come unexpectedly, quickly, decisively, and that no one knows when it will occur. Even Jesus the Son and all the angels don’t know, only the Father knows. And there’s nothing anyone can do to make it happen. So Jesus gave many warnings to His disciples, and told them to be ready for its coming, to be prepared, plan ahead, be watchful, careful and expectant. It is in this conversation that Jesus gave His disciples this parable, which is basically an illustration of what He has just told them.

b. To understand the parable better, here is what a first century wedding in a Jewish village would have looked like. On the day of the wedding, the groom would go to the home of the bride with family and friends, in order to take her to the groom’s house for the wedding and banquet. He would place her on a donkey or other riding animal at her house, and they would parade through the village so that everyone could take part in the celebration. When they approached the groom’s house, the bridesmaids were to be ready at the entrance to the house with lamps a-burning, to escort the wedding party to the feast. The bridesmaids were the official welcoming party, a very important part of the whole wedding process. It would be highly embarrassing if there were no lamps burning at the groom’s house.

The Bridesmaids. a. They are often called young women, or virgins, in this parable. They are an important part of the wedding experience, and need to be ready for the return of the bridegroom with the bride, if they want to take part in the banquet. The bridesmaids who do not welcome the bride and groom are not worthy to celebrate in the banquet.

b. The Church, the group of faithful believers, are always feminine in the Gospels… The Bride of Christ, with Jesus the bridegroom. These young women represent the Church, the disciples and followers of Christ. These maidens are the believers waiting for the return of the Groom, all of them with lamps, all in the original wedding party.

c. Five of the bridesmaids brought extra oil, and five did not. The wise and prudent maidens were ready for the delayed wedding party to arrive. The five foolish maidens (the unfaithful disciples) were not ready. At midnight, when they least expected it, the groom arrived with his party. The wise bridesmaids were able to light their lamps and escort the group to the feast. The foolish were not able to light their lamps, having run out of fuel, and so were not a part of the welcome and celebration.

The Groom. a. The time has finally come! The groom has returned! Some are ready, and some are not. There comes a time when the door to the banquet is shut. The door is not open forever. When the kingdom comes, there will be a door. All ten  bridesmaids were in the wedding party initially, but only five were ready for the groom to appear. Sadly, it appears that it’s possible to be too late to the festivities.

b. When the five foolish maidens knocked on the closed door, they demanded for the Lord to open it. The groom’s response is clear and unambiguous: “I do not know you!” In the Judeo-Christian faith, knowledge is not limited to head-knowledge. To know something or someone was experiential, personal, intimate, relational. Adam “knew” Eve. Knowledge implies a relationship, a deeply personal one, in which each partner truly knows and loves the other at the heart level. The five foolish bridesmaids were bumped from the wedding party as they looked for oil, so the groom didn’t know them personally, and the door was shut. If the maidens knew and loved the groom, they would have been ready.

The Oil. What does the oil represent in this story? It is certainly a central prop, and the whole story pivoted on whether or not the bridesmaids had oil for their lamps. I believe that the oil is whatever is life-giving in walking with Jesus. The oil is a personal relationship with God, the oil is what gives life to one’s faith… prayer, Scriptures, worship, confession, study, fellowship. If you have these things in your life, you have your spiritual oil. In other words, the oil is the Holy Spirit and whatever one does to feed the Spirit’s presence in one’s life and faith.

b. The light from the lamp, as Jesus has said elsewhere in the Gospels, is good works… fruitfulness, mercy, joy, hospitality, forgiveness. The light of good works shines from the lamp that has its oil in good supply.  The light is love of one’s neighbor. The light is fueled by the oil. The mercy is fueled by the Spirit. The fire of the lamp is given life by the oil of the Spirit.

Ready and Waiting. a. The wise bridesmaids knew how to wait properly, and the foolish ones didn’t. The wise were prepared as they waited for the groom to appear, and the foolish were not prepared. What does it mean to wait biblically? Waiting is an activity motivated and sustained by hope and readiness. Is waiting an empty, passive experience? No. Is it an ulcerating, thumb-twiddling act of idle impatience? No. Is it the listless art of simply biding one’s time? No. The root Hebrew word that Isaiah used for wait, for instance in Isaiah 40:28-31, actually means to combine, to bind together by twisting. So think of waiting as akin to twining rope or braiding hair. The patient waiter is one who prepares to braid something together by bringing together scattered fragments and fragile strands of life into a unified, durable wholeness. The waiter patiently is prepared with a single-minded focus, ready for anything at any time. The waiter is one blends together all the aspects of his life into a lifestyle of hope, persistence, and purpose. Active waiting is hopeful readiness, patient trust, unified focus, and watchful preparation. These qualities are alive and well in the wise bridesmaids. The foolish ones didn’t know how to wait, how to be ready and prepared with extra oil, braiding together what was needed to receive the groom whenever he came. The wise maidens truly waited, and were ready for the unexpected.

b. Is is important that in our active waiting, our braiding, we make the Lord one of the strands. Weave together Jesus with painful memories, and we can experience healing. Braid together God with present challenges, and we can find meaning. Tie together the Lord with our anxieties about the future, and we can live in hope. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccles. 4:12). One strand is our personal life. The central strand is Jesus. The third strand is whatever we are experiencing in our life… friends or enemies, school or career, difficulties or fulfillments. Weave the Faith in, and the braid is unbreakable. Active and faithful braiding, well-prepared, ready for anything. This is what the wise bridesmaids did, and they were able to enjoy the wedding feast.

Two Questions

  1. A classic Sunday School song goes like this: “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning. Keep me burning till the break of day.” How do we get this oil? How can we keep burning?
  2. The bridegroom is coming at midnight in the story, late, when he is least expected. Jesus is returning the same way. So we need to be alert, ready to follow Him to the banquet. How can we actively wait in a state of readiness, and not be caught in a state of distraction, impatience, carelessness or laziness? How can we keep our lamps trimmed and burning?

One Reply to “Gospel Song – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”

  1. This article is a powerful God-inspired, thought-provoking article, which helped to bring me into true focus and alignment with what truly is important as a Christian. The Bible says “keep them in remembrance”… I was reminded of the scripture “Behold, I come quickly…” and to live in a state of readiness avoiding distraction!