Tag Archives: Enduring to the End

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Hymn #127: Does the Journey Seem Long?

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Chances are that if you’ve been alive for virtually any length of time, you’ve found that life is hard. Things go wrong, and they do so often. Personally speaking, I’m sitting here with a mild headache caused by corn stuck in my teeth, my daughter is screaming and won’t go to sleep, I’m hot and sweaty, and I know I get to get up early to go try to resolve a whole snarl of problems at work. And compared to many people, my day was absolutely charmed. Sometimes, things just don’t go the way we’d like. That’s life.

And even if we recognize that suffering and unpleasantness is part of being alive, sometimes those minor bumps and scrapes can add up and begin to feel overwhelming.

Is your heart faint and sad,
Your soul weary within,
As you toil ‘neath your burden of care?
Does the load heavy seem
You are forced now to lift?
Is there no one your burden to share?

That last line cuts deepest. Each of us has our own burden to carry through life. My challenge is that I’m shy, and that makes going through everyday tasks difficult sometimes. For you, it might be a struggle with depression, or the too-early loss of a loved one. Everyone struggles, and that’s part of why we covenant at baptism to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We do our best, and we’re able to help each other soldier on down the path of life. And yet sometimes, despite all that, we still feel alone during our trials. We feel as though no one can understand our pain, and that we don’t have a friend willing to lend a hand to help us back up.

This all feels like a buildup to a hackneyed poem about footsteps in the sand, but it feels cliche because it’s true. We may feel alone, but it’s at those times most especially that the hand of the Lord is stretched out to us:

Let your heart not be faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
So look upward in joy
And take hold of his hand;
He will lead you to paths that are new.

His hand is always reaching out to us. He doesn’t take days off, and He doesn’t let His hand down when He doesn’t feel like making the effort. He is always there to aid us in our struggles, whether it’s through the comfort of the Holy Ghost, through the kindness of a stranger, the closeness of a friend, or even the tender mercy of your baby finally drifting off to sleep.

His hand is stretched out still. He is always there for us. And He is always there, yearning for us to come away from the paths we’ve wandered down and return to Him so that He can lead us to “paths that are new.” He wants us to come and be like Him. He wants to bring us to a place where we can, well, listen to the fourth verse and see:

A land holy and pure,
Where all trouble doth end,
And your life shall be free from all sin,
Where no tears shall be shed,
For no sorrows remain.
Take his hand and with him enter in.

If the journey seems long, and you and I can both attest to the fact that it often does, it’s only because the destination is worth struggling to reach. There will be no more suffering. There will be no more pain. There will be no more death, and we will live with our God and be His people. He himself shall wipe the tears from our eyes, for the former things are passed away. Yes, the journey seems long, but we don’t have to make it alone. There is One who is reaching out His hand to us; we can take it, and the path will be easy and our burdens feel light.

Image credit: “Lone tree north of the Island Thorns Inclosure, New Forest,” Jim Champion.

Hymn #225: We Are Marching On to Glory

 

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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 #40: Arise, O Glorious Zion

Like most of the hymns about Zion, this one is bright, strong, and uptempo. We sing brightly, and we sing with conviction. We sing with power, and it’s because when we sing about Zion, we sing about the kingdom of God. Other hymns focus on the God’s attributes, like His kindness and mercy, but this is less about Him and more about the organization of His kingdom. We’re singing less about the Master and more about the walls of His city.

It’s not surprising, then, that the hymn has a distinctly military feel to it. There’s a strong quarter time beat driving the melody, which moves quickly with cascading eighth notes. The soprano and tenor parts go all the way up to E, which is pretty high for a hymn intended for a mass audience. Those high notes give the hymn a soaring feeling, which adds to the sense of disciplined precision that comes with the quick pace. The tune is even titled “Victory.”

Military imagery abounds in this hymn. We begin by describing the Lord as our “sure defender.” He protects us from sin and death through His atonement, but here, the image is not so much a gentle shepherd as an armor-clad warrior. He is strong, and He is capable of beating back the forces of evil. He is our captain in the war against sin, and His victory (and ours, if we ally ourselves with Him) is sure.

We take part in the war too, of course. The victory is His, and it was hard-fought, but we have our skirmishes to come through as well. The third verse details our role in the struggle:

Thru painful tribulation
We walk the narrow road
And battle with temptation
To gain the blest abode.
But patient, firm endurance,
With glory in our view,
The Spirit’s bright assurance
Will bring us conq’rors through.

The gospel message of enduring to the end is just as apparent as is the imagery of military discipline. We are soldiers, trained in the duty of the Lord. Like soldiers, we are to give total loyalty and obedience to Him. We walk a narrow road, following our orders with exactness, turning neither to the right nor to the left. We do battle with temptation, and we do so not only because we have been so commanded, but because we know there is a reward in store. And as we follow those commands with “patient, firm endurance,” we help to earn the victory over evil. We don’t simply survive the struggle, as is often our sense of enduring to the end. This hymn tells us that we will be conquerors. We will be victorious, and just as there is no question who is the conqueror and who is the conquered in the aftermath of a war, there will be no question which side has won the victory in the end.

In the fourth verse, we return to the familiar theme of singing praise to our King. We join with the “hosts of heaven,” singing glory to our Redeemer. Having already sung three verses with military fervor, it’s not hard to imagine those hosts of heaven lined up in neat rows, standing at attention. We unite our voices in perfect unison, singing as one the “immortal theme” of praise.

This is the goal, and the end of our faith and devotion. We aim to arrive here, capable of making our hearts and voices one with the saints. Zion is the pure in heart. We give our hearts fully to the Lord and without reservation. That’s not to say that there’s no room for individualism in Zion, and it’s not to say that we’ll act as a hive mind, but it does imply to me that we will have purified ourselves (or, rather, have been purified through the cleansing power of the atonement) to the point where we can act and love as the Savior does. John told us that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We will see Him through His own redeeming love. When we can do that, we will be numbered among the pure in heart.

That’s the end goal, anyway. It’s still a long way off, and we have a lot of steps yet to cover in that journey. But this fourth verse reminds us of the end we’re striving for, and gives us a glimpse of the time when we can join with the hosts of heaven and sing glory to him “whose blood did us redeem.”

Hymn #65: Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth

Ah, enduring to the end. It’s a common theme in LDS doctrine and will undoubtedly be revisited time and time again as we examine the hymn book this year. It can feel tiresome after a while. “Again?” you roll your eyes. “Do we have to talk about enduring to the end again?”

Yes. And here’s why: because we haven’t done it yet.

How easy it would be to check off the right boxes and say the right words and then call it a day. How many more hours we’d have to do whatever we want! How much fun we could have on Sunday! Yet for all the necessity of saving ordinances and sacred covenants, they aren’t worth anything if we don’t live up to them.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 31: 19-21)

Sure, we made it this far, but there is so much farther to go. We can always be learning and improving, strengthening our faith and repenting.

His love is great; he died for us.
Shall we ungrateful be,
Since he has marked a road to bliss
And said, “Come, follow me”?

The words of the hymn are simple, but the implications are heavy. The Savior endured all our pain, fear, disappointment, guilt, grief, shame, and despair to provide us a way back to our Heavenly Father. Are we so selfish that we would reject this gift because “it’s just too hard” to keep trying? I certainly hope not.

“The straight and narrow way we’ve found!” And when we let go of the iron rod and wander off the path, he offers us a chance to come back and hold onto it again. Shall we ungrateful be? No. “Let us travel on” until we are “perfected by his love.”

Which will only happen if we endure to the end.

Hymn #3: Now Let Us Rejoice

Now Let Us Rejoice was included in the original LDS hymnbook, only five years after the church was organized. It was a time of great excitement within the church; significant new doctrines were being revealed frequently, and many had great spiritual manifestations. If you were a member of the Church at that time, you likely had a fairly strong belief that God was actively working in the world, and that revelation, visions, miracles, and so forth were not just things out of scripture. These were things happening last week, and happening now, and happening again soon.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost some of that faith today. It may seem easier to just focus on the things that affect us today, and let the future take care of itself. There are many wonderful things we teach and preach and discuss, of course—things that can help us become better people and draw closer to Christ. These are all very appropriate to discuss, and important for our salvation. We talk about how Christ’s Atonement can bring peace and healing to us now. We talk about service to others, and how we should strive to become Christ-like people. These are wonderful topics, and I’m glad we discuss them often. These are the things that will change us into the people God wants us to become. They will lighten our burdens and enrich our lives, and those are things we all need.

I wonder, though, if we get so caught up in the potter’s wheel or the refiner’s fire that we forget to have hope in the promises God has made. We are living in the long-prophesied last days before Christ’s return! His millennial reign, full of peace and happiness and glory, is close at hand! Shouldn’t that get us at least a little bit excited?

This hymn is excited about the millennium, and has no qualms about it. Here’s the chorus of the first two verses:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home.”

Considering the persecution that early church members endured, the notion that “none will molest them” must have seemed pretty nice. We generally don’t face the same opposition they did, but it’s still not always easy to stand for faith and revealed truth in a world that has largely abandoned both.  Further, the millennium will be a time when “Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and the Earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Article of Faith 10)  How could we not be excited for that?

And yet, sometimes it seems so distant. It’s easy to believe that God has acted in the past, and that he will probably act sometime in the future, but it’s sometimes hard to believe that it could actually happen now, during our own lives. I don’t know if Christ’s second coming will be in my lifetime. I hope that it is—I look forward to it. But whether it is or not, I have hope in these and all the other blessings promised in the revelations. God has exciting things planned for the Saints, and it is appropriate to anticipate them and to be excited about them. The third verse has a different chorus, one that applies not just to those who live to see the millennium, but to every one who will accept the covenants God offers us:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And they will be crown’d with the angels of heav’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Christ and his people will ever be one.

Let’s keep hope in the promised blessings. When life is hard, let’s rely with faith on the arm of Jehovah, and trust that the end will be glorious. Whether in the millennium or after this life, there is a wonderful world in store for us. Now let us rejoice!