Tag Archives: Commitment

warriors

Hymn #84: Faith of our Fathers

warriors 

Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death!

The word “fathers” is mentioned three times in this hymn (and once in each chorus), while “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” the presumptive objects of our faith, and so on appear a grand total of once (“thru the truth that comes from God mankind shall then be truly free”). It might seem like the hymn is buriyng the lede a little, then. Shouldn’t we focus more on the Lord, who is the author and finisher of our faith, rather than those who taught us to love and follow Him? Aren’t we confusing the message with the messenger?

Perhaps, but for many of us, this is where we get our start. Whether we have the gospel taught to us from birth or later in life, at some point we found ourselves novices to the teachings of the Savior. Someone had to show us the way. That might have been a friend who wanted to share something with us that brought them joy, or a missionary spending years in the service of the Lord, or yes, a parent trying to raise their child in the gospel. We sit at their knee, whether literally or figuratively, learning precious truths line upon line. It’s only natural that in our formative phases, our understanding of the truth of the gospel is less an intrinsic one and more a reliance on our mentor. “I know God lives because my mom told me so,” we might say, and at first, that’s enough.  In time, we will develop our own convictions as we draw nearer to the Savior, and as He draws nearer to us in turn.

There’s nothing wrong with that reliance. Sometimes our faith is shaky, and it’s good for us to have someone else’s faith to fall back on. One of the more famous stories from the Book of Mormon is that of the 2,000 stripling warriors, who, though young, marched into battle secure in the knowledge that the Lord would protect them if they remained true to Him. Listen to Helaman, their prophet and commander, describe their faith:

Now they had never before fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it. (Alma 56:47-48)

These young men surely had their own witness of the Lord, but here they tell us that they were willing to march into battle and face death because of the sureness of the knowledge of their mothers. Their mothers told them that God would protect them if they had faith. I imagine they also taught that even if they were to be taken by death, that was not the end, and that they could be reunited someday, if they would not doubt. And they did not doubt, and the Lord saw them through their war without a single one of them falling in battle.

They did not doubt their mothers knew it, and neither do we. Our mothers know it, as do our fathers, our friends, our missionaries, our church teachers and leaders, and anyone else on whom we rely for a more unshakable witness when ours is not so stable. Our faith is centered in our Lord and Savior, but it is held up by those who helped us to shape and build it. So it’s not that strange that we should sing about the faith of our fathers, nor that we should sing that “in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword… our hearts [will] beat high with joy whene’er we hear that glorious word.” The word is “faith,” but the word is just as much “fathers” that causes our hearts to beat with joy.

Hymn #258: O Thou Rock of Our Salvation

Foot of the Christus Statue

Today’s hymn is “O Thou Rock of Our Salvation.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, follow that link and listen to a verse—you’ll probably recognize the tune. It was the chorus that triggered my memory:

Gather round the standard bearer;
Gather round in strength of youth.
Ev’ry day the prospect’s fairer
While we’re battling for the truth.

Military imagery is hardly uncommon in hymns. We sing about Christian soldiers and royal armies, ten thousand enlisted legions marching until the conflict is o’er. We even see it in Primary, for “we are as the armies of Helaman.”

It’s curious, though, that military imagery is so common in hymns. Relatively few modern church members will participate in a military battle; why not use a metaphor that will be familiar to more people? Why don’t we sing more about gardening, long journeys through the wilderness, or wrangling disobedient children?

Really, I don’t know the answer. I suspect that wonderful hymns could be made using any of those as a metaphor. And maybe they do exist and I just haven’t heard about them. But what I do know is that military themes aren’t limited to hymns; good portions of both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon cover military operations. Why, then? What are we to learn from these messages of battle?

Perhaps the warfare theme serves to remind us that this is a battle. In the relative comfort that many of us enjoy, it’s easy to become complacent and simply drift along with the flow of society. If our life ever feels like a battle, it’s a battle with cranky children or frustrating co-workers, not a battle for our lives, our families, or our freedom. We may have some rough days, but they rarely have the gravity of a real battle.

We a war ‘gainst sin are waging;
We’re contending for the right.
Ev’ry day the battle’s raging;
Help us, Lord, to win the fight.

When we sing about a war against sin (a “battle raging”), perhaps it’s a reminder that this really is serious business. The war against sin is not just something to be lightly brushed aside—we should constantly be alert and attentive against sin.

What does it really mean, though, to wage war against sin?

Certainly we should resist temptation and avoid sin, but I don’t believe that’s enough. We all have the responsibility to make our homes a safe refuge, a sacred place where the spirit can dwell, whether we are parents, children, or living on our own. The war against sin may also include our neighborhoods and our communities, and even social media. Wherever we are, we have taken a covenant to be a witness of Christ. This is not discarded lightly.

However, this war against sin is not fought like other wars. In the scriptural Armor of God, we find that there is only one weapon used for attacking: the Sword of the Spirit. And what are the fruits of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

As we battle against sin, let us do it with love and joy, gentleness and temperance. We struggle against sin, not against sinners. Indeed, the banner we bear is that of Jesus Christ, he who redeems sinners from their sins. We come with an invitation, not a condemnation. “Come unto Him,” we say. “Learn of him. Partake of his peace.” Christ is the foundation upon whom all must build if they seek peace.

Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

The Lord has assembled a unique army, one bearing not swords but salvation. We battle against sin not so much by striking down evil as by raising up women and men, inviting all to come unto Christ. The antidote to sin is redemption.

Always, always remember Christ. He is the foundation. He is the way. He is the light.

Hymn #246: Onward, Christian Soldiers

This is just about the most militaristic, jingoistic hymn we have available. There are soldiers right there in the title, and we sing about “marching as to war” and going “forward into battle.” It has a sharp, crisp cadence to it, making you feel like you want to stand up and march. You want to strap on a helmet, grab a sword and shield, and do battle with the adversary. It’s a pump-up song at its finest.

Only despite all the military zeal drummed up by the hymn, at no time do we sing about weaponry, injury, or even attacking at all. We gather behind Christ, the royal Master, we march into battle… and that’s it, right? Why are we marching into battle if we’re not even armed? How do we expect to come off conqueror against the enemy?

Well, it’s not as though we’re completely unarmed. We remember hearing Paul describe the armor of God as he taught that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’re waging a war against an enemy that can’t simply be cut into little pieces. We’re battling an enemy composed of ideas, temptations, and allurement. So we protect ourselves with truth, righteousness, preparation, and faith. We take up the sword of the Spirit–not to take the offensive, but to defend ourselves against the enemy’s parries and thrusts.

We do have one weapon in our arsenal, though. In the second verse, we sing that “hell’s foundations quiver at the sound of praise.” We’ve heard that in the scriptures before, too. The children of Israel circled Jericho over and over, doing nothing but walking. But when they circled the city that seventh time, Joshua called out to them, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city,” and while the scriptures don’t explicitly say that they were shouts of praise, I imagine the knowledge that the Lord had given them the victory without having to raise so much as a hand couldn’t help but make those shouts of praise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God, but it’s not up to us to do the fighting. The Lord can fight His own battles, and He, in fact, does just that. We’re all too willing to leap into the fray, but more often than that, it’s not what He asks of us. He wants us to remain with the group and assume a defensive position. “We are not divided,” we sing of our united army. “One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” While the Lord fights our battles, we defend one another, building up faith, watching out for temptation, and looking after our fellow saints. The Savior leads out against the foe, and we follow, singing shouts and anthems of praise, causing the enemy to flee before us.

So we sing with military zest and precision. The snappy beat and meter fills us with pep and zeal. We stand up and begin marching as to war, but not to the actual war itself. We form ranks, fill lines, and assume our positions, ready to defend the kingdom of God and its citizens. Our job isn’t to take the offensive and deliver the crushing, finishing blow to Satan; that job has already been completed, as we remind ourselves by the fact that we are led by the “cross of Jesus going on before.”

Hymn #157: Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls

Thy Spirit, Lord, has stirred our souls
And by its inward shining glow
We see anew our sacred goals
And feel thy nearness here below.
No burning bush near Sinai
Could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh.

The first topic listed for this hymn is “closing,” and it’s not difficult to see why. We sing that we have felt the Spirit of the Lord, and while that’s often something we can feel at the start of a meeting, it’s generally a sentiment we express after we’ve heard inspiring words and music. The Spirit inspires our brothers and sisters to speak the words of Christ in our meetings (in accordance with their faith and preparedness, of course), and that same spirit softens our hearts to accept and ponder the truth of the things they share. A good meeting, whether it be a sacrament meeting, a Primary class, or anything else, will invite the Spirit into the hearts of its participants, allowing both teacher and student to be edified.

We often speak of the Spirit softening our hearts. The metaphor is an apt one. Our hearts represent the most core aspects of our personality. They symbolize our most cherished beliefs, as well as our emotional sense of self. We can choose whether or not we want to let anyone else (or any other ideas) in. If we choose to reject other ideas, we harden our hearts, determined to keep everything out that isn’t already in. And when our hearts are softened, we are more willing to listen to other ideas and influences, possibly even adopting them as our own. The Spirit can soften our hearts if we allow Him to do so. When we invite the Spirit into our lives, He testifies to us of Christ, causing those words to sink deep into our hearts. When we give ourselves over to the Spirit, we offer no resistance to the teachings of the Savior. Our hearts are soft.

When our hearts are softened, we can, as we sing in this hymn, “by its inward shining glow see anew our sacred goals.” Each of us has goals in our lives. We may strive for a better job, a nicer car, to complete our education. We have spiritual goals, too; we may be working toward being kinder to others or removing bad habits from our lives. As we allow the Spirit to influence our lives, we see these goals in a new light. Our priorities shift as we see our lives the way the Father sees them. Perhaps our goal of earning enough money to afford a better TV package isn’t as worthy of our time as our goal to be worthy to attend the temple, or to become a missionary. We see our goals anew, and we are filled (or re-filled) with a desire to achieve those goals that will have a lasting spiritual impact.

The last couplet of the first verse goes hand in hand with the first line of the second: “Did not our hearts within us burn?” This song recalls the story of the road to Emmaus, in which the resurrected Lord appeared to two of His disciples, and, unknown to their eyes, opened the scriptures to them. When they finally realized who He was, He vanished, leaving them to say to each other that they should have known Him for the burning in their hearts. The Holy Ghost testified to them that it was the risen Lord who spoke to them, had they only realized it. Though the Lord does not appear to us at our meetings, our hearts will often within us burn. The Holy Ghost testifies to us that this is the Lord’s church, and that His teachings and gospel are true.

The couplet “no burning bush near Sinai could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh” places us in the shoes of those disciples. It was not the presence of the Lord Himself that testified to their hearts that He was risen. He stood before them, walked with them, talked with them, and ate with them, and they never for a moment suspected who He was. To be fair, His crucifixion was fresh in their minds, and they could be forgiven for not expecting Him to be alive (in fact, they mention that Mary and others claimed that He had risen, but they themselves seem skeptical), but the fact is that the prompting of the Holy Ghost is what convinced them that it was the Savior who was in their midst. The burning bush itself could have born no stronger witness to them than did the Spirit of the Lord.

So it is in our meetings. The presence of the Lord Himself would bear no more powerful a witness of the truth of His gospel as it is taught by inspired men and women in our meetings than does the Holy Ghost, whose presence and influence we feel as we hear those inspired words and prepare ourselves to receive them. This is by design. The Holy Ghost’s mission is to testify of the Father and the Son. When we allow Him into our hearts and allow Him to soften them, that mission can be fulfilled. As we sing, “it makes our souls for service yearn, it makes the path of duty clear,” and it can do so every week, so long as we prepare ourselves to receive that Spirit.

Hymn #225: We Are Marching On to Glory

 

southern cross

When we talk about enduring to the end, we often talk about staying in the strait and narrow path. The idea is that we have a clear path to follow that the gospel has laid out for us, and that we have little room for variation from that path. If our goal is eternal life and everything that the Father has, then we can’t make up our own route to get there. He’s set the goal for us, and He dictates the path. It is strait, and it is narrow.

We have guides to get us there, of course; it would be unfair to demand that we follow such a rigid course without also telling us how to walk that path. We are given the scriptures, prophets, local and general leaders, families, and of course, the gift of the Holy Ghost. We talk about the scriptures in particular as an iron rod, but we could just as easily describe all of those guides as an iron rod, built on the side of the path to help guide us along the way.

One image that isn’t used as frequently, though, is that of a guiding star. The wise men followed a star to see the infant Jesus, but I can’t think of any other scriptural imagery that references the guiding power of stars. The chorus of this hymn mentions it, however. Listen:

We are marching, marching homeward
To that bright land afar.
We work for life eternal;
It is our guiding star.

“That bright land afar” is described earlier as eternal life. We are marching on to be with our Father, and to be like Him. That goal serves as our guiding star. You may not be familiar with celestial navigation; I know I certainly haven’t had to chart a course using the stars. It can be difficult to an inexperienced person like you or me, since as the earth rotates on its axis, the stars also rotate through the sky. A constellation may start the night in the east and end up in the west before long. Navigation can only work by orientating to a fixed point. In the northern hemisphere, that’s the North Star; in the southern hemisphere, there’s no star that occupies a fixed position, but the Southern Cross points the way. The starry sky spins through the night, but those two fixed positions never change. If you know where Polaris is, you can always at least be sure which direction north is; if you can find Crux, you can also find south.

We hear many different messages in our lives, and they often contradict each other. We may be told to get with the times, or to be on the right side of history. But we know that if we want to get to our goal, we need to orient ourselves using those fixed points. Just as the location of the North Star never changes, so too can we count on the fact that the things we learn from the gospel will never change. Jesus will always be our Savior. He will always have suffered for our sins, and we will always need to exercise faith and repent if we want to make use of that gift in our lives. The gospel is a fixed point, and we can always use it to chart our course through life as everything else changes around us. We need not be “driven with the wind and tossed,” as James warned. We can plot a steady course and safely arrive at our destination.

Image credit: “Southern Cross,” flickr user rplzzz. CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Hymn #270: I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

david & camelIn 2002 my husband was called to serve in the Ivory Coast Abidjan mission. He packed his bags, got dozens of immunizations, and headed to the Missionary Training Center where he diligently began learning how to teach the gospel in French.

Not long after he entered the MTC, civil war broke out in Ivory Coast.

His parents frantically called the  mission office to find out whether he would actually be sent into a war zone. Members of his home ward wrote letters that said they were praying he wouldn’t have to go. Weeks went by, but since nobody could give them a definitive answer about what would happen, he and his fellow missionaries continued to study, attend the temple, and wait for the day they would ship out.

Faced with the very real possibility that he could die in the mission field, my husband experienced a deep crisis of faith during that time. Why had he been called to a place of such violence and unrest? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ivory Coast?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to risk his life for them?

*

My youngest brother was called to serve in the Utah Ogden mission. It was a far cry from the exotic calls some of his friends had received, and he was admittedly a little disappointed. Why should he be called to Utah–land of the Mormons–to preach the good word of Christ? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ogden?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to put his life on hold to go to a place that seemed not to need his service?

*

Sometimes we are called to the “mountain height,” or the “stormy sea,” or the “battle front”. Sometimes the Lord asks us to risk everything, give everything, to walk in “paths [we] do not know”. The way is “dark and rugged”, and we may wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Other times we are asked to labor in a more “lowly place”. Our calling is not prestigious or exotic or adventurous. It might be a blow to our ego that our talents are not being used to their fullest, or that our efforts go unnoticed because we are not in a high-profile position.

Either way, we must ask ourselves: do we believe?

And if we do, the answer is simple. “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll say what you want me to say. I’ll be what you want me to be.”

*

(Eventually my husband was reassigned to to the Kenya Nairobi mission where he served faithfully for the remainder of his two years. My brother also finished a faithful mission, eventually moving to the North Salt Lake mission when boundaries changed and more missionaries were needed. Both men developed strong testimonies of going wherever the Lord calls them, and I know the Lord is pleased with their efforts.)

Red sunset

Hymn #243: Let Us All Press On

800px-Red_sunset

Ages ago, the king of Syria was troubled. He was at war with Israel, and despite his best efforts to kill the king of Israel, he was consistently able to sneak away from his assassination attempts. Convinced someone was leaking secrets to the enemy, the king of Syria asked his servants which of them was the mole. One answered and said that Elisha, “the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.” Convinced he knew how to gain the upper hand in the war, the king sent a huge military force to kill Elisha.

The prophet, for his part, seemed unconcerned about the massive army descending upon him, although his servant, arising early and seeing his city surrounded by Syrian soldiers, asked his master what they were going to do. Elisha said, simply, “Fear not: they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few
When compared with the opposite host in view;
But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you
In the glorious cause of truth.

Life is scary sometimes. We may feel overwhelmed and alone in our cause. It’s especially frustrating when the Lord, who has told us time and again that we can always depend on Him, isn’t plainly visible to our eyes. We do our best to trust and to believe, but faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us, we doubt, and we ask, as did Elisha’s servant, how the Lord expects us to cope.

And like this servant, we have wise people placed in our lives whose faith is stronger in the moment. (At other times, we may be the ones called upon to strengthen their faith. Sometimes our wounds are bound, and sometimes we do the binding.) Elisha, having told his disbelieving servant that the powers of heaven were close at hand, prayed that the Lord would “open his eyes, that he may see.” His eyes were opened, and he saw legions of heavenly defenders, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

We have our eyes opened from time to time as well. We get so wrapped up in a trial that we miss the fact that we have a loving family around us, or that we’re receiving financial, physical, or emotional blessings that prop us up during our struggles. The old story about the single set of footprints during the hardest times of life is a tired cliche, but there’s merit to the story. The Lord bears our burdens, and He’s always there for us, if we’ll but open our eyes.

And so, armed with that knowledge, we press on. The chorus of this hymn is particularly fun, as the soprano part diverges from the other three. I don’t often sing the melody at church, so I usually sing the counter part, which really enjoy. Listen:

Fear not, courage, though the enemy deride;
We must be victorious, for the Lord is on our side.
We’ll not fear the wicked nor give heed to what they say,
But the Lord, our Heav’nly Father, him alone we will obey.

It stuffs in quite a few more syllables, providing a nice contrast to the held-out notes of the soaring soprano part. Most of the words are the same, if in a different order, but last two lines have slightly different messages. The soprano part says that we won’t heed the wicked, but the counter part specifically says that we won’t fear them. That’s tricky when faced with the “opposite host in view.” We trust in our Lord, though, and that gives us hope, which drives out our fear.

If we do what’s right, we have no need to fear. We may be faced with difficult, and yes, frightening challenges in our lives, but we know that the Lord will ever be near. His angels surround us, ready to leap in and give their aid. “In the days of trial his Saints he will cheer,” we sing in the final verse. Not only is He ready to bear us up, but He knows when we’re struggling, and those are the days He is most ready to lend a hand. We need only to open our eyes to see the unseen power that aids us.

Image credit: “Red sunset,” Wikipedia user Fir0002, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Hymn #134: I Believe in Christ

If ever there was a hymn written to confirm that Mormons are indeed Christians, it’s this one. Just as the Articles of Faith lay out the basics of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, this hymn explains in fairly simple terms what we believe about Jesus Christ.

It’s like a manifesto of our Christianity.

Eight times we sing, “I believe in Christ,” then follow each affirmation with what precisely we believe about him.

“He is God’s Son.” Literally. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father. As such, he inherited traits from his Immortal Father that enabled him to perform miracles, to suffer the Atonement, and to be resurrected after his crucifixion.

“As Mary’s Son he came to reign.” He was born to a mortal mother in humble circumstances. The traits he inherited from her–the ability to experience pain, sickness, and ultimately death–were also necessary for him to fulfill his mission on earth.

“He healed the sick; the dead he raised.” He spent his ministry in service to others: relieving suffering, showing mercy, healing the broken-hearted, bringing hope to those who had none. He called upon the power of God and gave people a chance to exercise faith they didn’t know they had.

He “marked the path.” By his example–not just his teachings but also his actions– we know what we need to do to obtain eternal life: love God, love others, keep the commandments, and endure to the end.

“He is the source of truth and light.” The Savior himself said it better than I can: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Furthermore, he told the Brother of Jared, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. … I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.” (Ether 4:12)

“He ransoms me.”  By paying the price demanded by justice and offering mercy to the sinner, he defeated both death and hell. That Atonement makes it possible for us to gain eternal life and exaltation. Put in terms a Christian of any denomination would recognize: it is by his grace that we are saved.

“He is my King! … My Lord, My God … He stands supreme.” It isn’t called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nothing. He stands at its head and we acknowledge him as our divine King.

“He [will come] again to rule among the sons of men.” He lived, he died, he lived again, and he will return to earth in all his glory, might, and majesty. We look forward not with fear but with hope for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the Lord God. (see Philippians 2:10-11 and Mosiah 27:31)

Say what you will about any other point of LDS doctrine, we believe in Christ.

Hymn #309: As Sisters In Zion

As Sisters In Zion is written specifically for the women of the church, and it includes language to that effect. Nevertheless, the message found here is applicable to all of us. If you’ve never had opportunity to sing this hymn, I encourage you to read the lyrics before we start.

The text of this hymn praises qualities and actives often associated with the women of the church: gentleness, comforting the weary, strengthening the weak, cheering the downtrodden. These are, of course, not exclusively feminine traits; they could also be used to appropriately describe the great exemplar, Jesus Christ himself. They can apply to us all.

As I’ve studied these lyrics, the collaboration between the sisters in Zion and divine helpers, guiding their work, really stands out to me. It’s right there in the first verse:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.

The work of building God’s kingdom is not one we undertake alone. God has not requested this effort of us as some sort of “price of admission,” before we can receive his blessings. Rather, it is something he takes active interest in. God wants us to build Zion, and he seeks to help us.

The first couplet in the second verse also strikes me:

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim

Our mission is framed in exalted terms— it is “the errand of angels.” This is both an ennobling and wearying phrase. If this errand were simple or easy, it probably wouldn’t require angelic intervention, would it? But the opportunity to participate in the work of God is a privilege to be claimed, not a burden to be borne. We each have talents and gifts that enable us to serve with the angels in God’s work, and it is a privilege to exercise those talents in their intended way.

I wonder, how often do we view our callings and religious duties as burdens that weigh us down, rather than gifts that bring us in association with angels?

Perhaps what stands out most to me is that these lyrics make no attempt to promise blessings for our service. We are not serving because it will make us happier, or lift our own burdens (though it will). Rather, the implied reward is the work itself: the building up of Zion. This is a wholly selfless view—we lift others because we share God’s vision for mankind and rejoice in bringing it about.

With this in mind, the opening lines of the third verse seem appropriate:

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.

There are no small dreams here; God invites us to participate in his work to exalt all of mankind—every soul that will accept it. The cooperation of mortals, angels, and the Holy Spirit are all essential to bring it about. Only through divine help can we adequately meet this great call.

As brothers and sisters in Zion, we have a dual relationship with deity. We are currently working out our own relationship with God, seeking to come back into his presence as we learn to keep our covenants. And yet, at the same time we actively work at his side, serving as companions in the great work of bringing salvation to all mankind.

My fellow companions of God, let us serve well.

Hymn #249: Called to Serve

249-CalledToServe

Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.

(Doctrine and Covenants 4:1-3)

When I read the opening verses of D&C 4, I am always drawn back to memories of my own missionary service. I remember the weeks in the Missionary Training Center, surrounded by thousands of missionaries all preparing to preach the Gospel and to enter a new culture, a new world. I remember teaching and loving the people of Spain, with all their endearing and maddening ways. I remember the missionaries I served with, Sunday meetings, training conferences, transfers, testifying, studying, praying, and working. I remember service projects, frustrations, long rainy days, rewarding lessons, and so many other things. It truly brings back a flood of memories.

And, I remember singing Called To Serve. If there’s an anthem for the church missionary effort, this is surely it. Missionaries around the world sing it in dozens of languages, all united by a desire and a call to serve Him, the Heavenly King of Glory. With an energetic tune and triumphant chorus, it invigorates us as we commit to “ever witness for His name.”

Far and wide, we tell the Father’s story. There are currently over 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the globe. They preach in over fifty languages, inviting all to learn of the Father’s plan of salvation and Christ’s Atonement. Ever since the church was organized, missionaries have been sent around the world to preach that truth and priesthood authority have been restored to the earth, inviting all to come and partake.

Far and wide, his love proclaim. The joyous news of the Gospel is not just that truth has been restored. It is that through the Gospel, we can live a better life. We can feel more joy, find more meaning, and share more love with our spiritual brothers and sisters all around us. Our Father loves all of his children, and he wants all of us to receive the blessings he is ready to give.

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing.
God our strength will be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

God our strength will be. The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly that there is a special strength that comes from the Lord. Elder David A. Bednar spoke about this in his 2004 General Conference address. He said:

Can we sense the grace and strengthening power of Christ in the testimony of Ammon? “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12). Truly, brothers and sisters, in the strength of the Lord we can do and endure and overcome all things. (In the Strength of the Lord, October 2004)

The work of preaching the gospel is a glorious, happy work. It is work, have no doubt. It is hard work. Missionaries around the world will attest to that. But we do “glory in his name,” and a “triumph song” we do sing. We rejoice when someone finds their way to the understanding and joy that comes from the Gospel, when someone enters the waters of baptism and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost. There is joy and happiness in this work.

Called to Serve, though, is not a song about missionaries. It is a song about missionary work. As we have been taught repeatedly, missionary work is not just for missionaries. It is not even mostly for missionaries. It is a work for every member of Christ’s living church. President David O. McKay urged “every member a missionary” in 1959. More recently, we’ve heard a lot about “Hastening the Work of Salvation,” encouraging all church members to join in this work, bringing the Gospel message to our Father’s children.

Indeed, let’s look at the second verse:

Called to know the richness of his blessing—
Sons and daughters, children of a King—
Glad of heart, his holy name confessing,
Praises unto him we bring.

Every member of his Church has cause to know the richness of his blessings. We are all children of a King. We don’t just sing Called to Serve in the MTC, or in missionary training meetings. We also sing it in our ordinary Sunday meetings in wards and branches around the world. The Gospel brings blessings of peace, understanding, joy, and purpose to all of us.

We are all called to serve him. Missionaries are called to do it full-time for a certain number of months and in a specific place, but we are all called to share the blessings we receive from our Father. However far and however wide we go, we are to tell the Father’s story. However far and wide we go, his love we are to proclaim. Whether that’s the school yard or the water cooler, Facebook or the grocery store, wherever we go we should be “standing as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:9)

“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” Onward, ever onward!