Hymn text by Frank I. Kooyman, 1880-1963. View the full text of this hymn.

fork-in-the-road

In this common Sacrament hymn, we sing of the Savior deferring His will to that of the Father. First it is in the Council in Heaven, where our elder brother volunteers to come to Earth as our Savior; in a later verse it is Jesus Christ again submitting to the Father’s will as He suffers crucifixion and infinite pain. As you read through the text of this hymn, pay special attention to the parallelism—the same line ends each verse.

When in the wondrous realms above
Our Savior had been called upon
To save our world of sin by love,
He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

The King of Kings left worlds of light,
Became the meek and lowly One;
In brightest day or darkest night,
He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

No crown of thorns, no cruel cross
Could make our great Redeemer shun.
He counted his own will but naught,
And said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

We take the bread and cup this day
In mem’ry of the sinless One,
And pray for strength, that we may say,
As he, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

What makes the repetition interesting and more powerful is how the meaning of this repeated line changes in the different verses, especially in the last verse. This rhetorical device—repetition with different meaning—is called antanaclasis or antistasis, and it isn’t uncommon in music. Interestingly, it seems to show up particularly frequently in country music, with the chorus taking on new meaning following different verses (see Watching You by Rodney Atkins, All-American Girl by Carrie Underwood, or Down the Road by Kenny Chesney, among many other examples).

In this case, the Savior says “Thy will, O Lord, be done” in the first three verses, and in the last verse we aspire to say the same thing. Could be there be a greater goal than to submit our will to what the Lord would have us do? And if that’s what we all try so hard to do, why is it so difficult?

I often find that lessons at Church and elsewhere are designed to try to convince me of something, whether or not the teacher has a vested interest in me doing it. It may be a call-to-action to share the gospel with my neighbors, or the all-too-common call to do my home teaching. But in a few decades of hearing these lessons I’ve found them to generally be ineffective; e.g., if lessons about home teaching were so effective, why do we have to keep having them?

We each have a stability, an inertia, that—despite our best efforts—permits us to sit idly by even when the Lord’s will would push us to act. Honestly, I’ve found that nobody can push me out of it. It’s my own tiny false god I worship. The scriptures verify that we should act for ourselves, but that as natural men we tend to wait to be acted upon.

The only way to align our will with the Father’s, then, is to act for ourselves. Harvard business professor and management guru Clayton Christensen, in his outstanding book The Power of Everyday Missionaries, suggest the way to do this that has been the most meaningful to me:

Under license given to each of us in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I ‘called myself’ on a mission. I love my life as a missionary, keeping myself on the front lines. The image in my mind is that God, my general, stands at the door when I go out every morning; and, knowing what the war is like, day after day he gives me his most powerful weapon: his Spirit.

Whether in missionary work, home teaching, or something entirely different altogether, the principle holds true—we simply can’t align our will with the Lord’s until we act. It may be inconvenient, and it will likely push us out of our respective, inert comfort zones. But the motivation to act in this way can not come externally; we must call ourselves. It must come from within.

Then—and only then—can we say, as our Savior said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

One comment on “Hymn #188: Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done”

    What a great project. Thanks for sharing! I am practicing this hymn right now and this really helps me focus on the meaning of the lyrics and not just the mechanics of playing the music.

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