Missionary work is a topic very much on the minds of our church leaders, and a key part of our identity as Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, the topic of “missionary work” all too often brings up feelings of guilt and anxiety for many members, myself included. I was surprised to find, however, that as I worked on this post and read through the lyrics of this hymn, I was always more cheerful by the time I was through. This hymn is filled with a buoyant optimism and it comes from focusing on the message we share as missionaries.
Throughout its three verses, we are told to “go forth” with four things:
“Go forth with faith” (verse 1)
“Go forth with hope” (verse 1)
“Go forth with love” (verse 2)
“Go forth with power” (verse 3)
I find that pattern quite interesting. Missionaries are to go forth armed with the main Christian virtues (“And faith, hope, charity … qualify him for the work,” as D&C 4:5 reminds us), but also “with power.” These are what it takes to succeed as a missionary, and it’s exactly how we prepare our youth: parents train them up in faith, hope, and charity throughout their lives, and then we send them through the temple to receive an endowment of power.
It’s also interesting to see which virtues are paired with which parts of the gospel message. Verse one opens like this:
Go forth with faith to tell the world
Of Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Bear witness he is God’s own Son;
Proclaim his wondrous word.
We need faith so that we can preach Jesus Christ. Why is faith paired with that message? In the bible, the words usually translated as “faith” connote an interpersonal relationship of trust and loyalty. Having “faith” is perhaps better thought of as “being faithful” in the same sense as fidelity to a spouse. It takes faith to preach Jesus because faith is a personal relationship, and unless we have that strong relationship with our Savior, how can we “bear witness” of him?
Verse one also contains the virtue of hope:
Go forth with hope and courage strong
To spread the word abroad
That people of all nations
Are children of our God
Any missionary can tell you that hope is absolutely vital to the work. Hope is a refusal to be beaten down by the enormity of the task or its slow progress or its difficulty. It takes strong hope, mixed with a healthy dose of “courage,” to ignore the many “no’s” and focus on the possibility of one “yes.” I think it’s no coincidence that we send out youth as our missionaries—young kids, at the most optimistic and energetic time in their lives. Our young men and women have a capacity for hope that the rest of us would do well to regain.
The next verse moves on to talk about charity:
Go forth with love to tell the world
The joy of families—
That we may be with those we love
Thru all eternity
Notice that “love” actually shows up twice in this stanza: “go forth with love,” and “those we love.” It takes love to preach families, because that’s the cardinal virtue for success in family life. We can’t testify to the “joy of families” unless we’ve felt it.
And finally the third verse tells us why we need power:
Go forth with pow’r to tell the world
The gospel is restored
That all may gain eternal life
Thru Jesus Christ, the Lord.
It takes power to preach the restoration, because it is one of the most ridiculed elements in Mormonism, but also one of its richest doctrines. The power of our missionary force is directly related to the conviction with which they can testify that “the gospel is restored,” and that “all may gain eternal life.”
Overall, I love this hymn because it’s about the message we bear. Other missionary hymns focus on the people we need to teach, or the impressive numbers of our missionary force. Focusing on the message helps me remain optimistic about the work. If I remember the joyful message that I have, and how much of a blessing it has been to me, I can find the faith, hope, love and power to share it.