Tag Archives: God the Father

Hymn #150: O Thou Kind and Gracious Father

I love the simplicity of this prayer, for that is what this particular hymn is: a prayer to our Father in Heaven. The soaring first lines acknowledges His greatness and goodness and our comparative insignificance:

O thou kind and gracious Father,
Reigning in the heav’ns above,
Look on us, thy humble children;
Fill us with thy holy love.
Fill us with thy holy love.

I leave that repetition because that is the phrase I’d like to address. The remaining two verses continue the prayer–we ask our Father to instruct us in how to better serve and revere Him, to resist temptation, to do His will–but it’s that “holy love” in the first verse which stands out to me.

It brings to my mind the word “charity”, which we generally (and sometimes glibly) define as “the pure love of Christ” (see Moroni 7:47). That preposition “of” is a tricky one; it holds a surprising number of different meanings, depending on context, for such a short word.

“The pure love of Christ” could mean “pure love from Christ”, i.e. the love he has for all mankind. This is the love that prompted him to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, to suffer beyond human capability, and to die that we might live again.

“The pure love of Christ” could also mean “pure love for Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our Savior because of his Atonement in our behalf.

“The pure love of Christ” also means–and this is one of the most common interpretations I come across–”pure love like Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our brothers and sisters in mortality. This is the love that prompts us to reach out in service and lift others in kindness.

And here’s how they all tie together:

  • God loves us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
  • Jesus Christ loves us: “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” 1 Nephi 19:9
  • We love Jesus: “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
  • Because we love him, we are obedient to him: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
  • He asks us to love one another: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

So when we ask to be filled with God’s holy love, we are praying to be reminded of His love for us, to take advantage of the Atonement offered by His Son, and to have His help in loving those around us.

It is still a simple request, but sometimes a difficult one to fulfill. We are, after all, human. Sometimes we’re not especially loveable. Fortunately, God loves all of us and He answers all of our prayers. We can be filled with the pure love of Christ. We can learn to do His will, to love and serve His children, and to gain eventual salvation.

We simply have to ask for and accept His help.

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Hymn #142: Sweet Hour of Prayer

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The simple double long meter and the pounding rhythm of bum BUM, bum BUM, bum BUM, bum BUM make this an instantly recognizable hymn, as well as an easy one to learn to play. It’s not uncommon to enter a Latter-day Saint home and hear a child plunking this tune out on the piano. There’s nothing too tricky about it, which is fitting, because when you get down to it, there’s really nothing too tricky about prayer. We address the Father, we offer thanks for blessings received, we ask for further blessings, and we do so in the name of the Son. Amen.

It’s simple, and perhaps because it’s so simple, it’s easy to overlook. A child can pray, and sometimes after a lifetime of prayer, our prayers can feel rote and facile, like a child’s. “Thank you for this day. Bless us to be happy. Bless us to be nice.” We may catch our minds wandering during a prayer, and often, we may catch ourselves nodding off. Sometimes it’s difficult to make something we repeat so often into a meaningful act.

And make no mistake–our prayers are intended to be meaningful acts. When we pray, we address our Father and are called “from a world of care and bid… to [our] Father’s throne [to] make all [our] wants and wishes known.” Prayer allows us to remove ourselves from the world and stand before a loving Father who wants nothing more than to hear from us. He doesn’t want us to hold back. He wants to know all of our wants and wishes. He wants to hear from each of us, and often. We are to pray in good times as well as in “seasons of distress and grief.”

But if He is so anxious to hear from us, why doesn’t He begin the conversation, we may wonder. We may wonder why we never hear an audible answer to our heartfelt prayers. We may wonder why we bother with the futility of it all when it seems so meaningless and solitary. It’s an easy question to ask ourselves, and an easy challenge to our faith until we remember that it’s our faith itself that powers the interaction. Our faith is tested by being required to address a being that we cannot see or hear, but who is real nonetheless. As we exercise faith in Him, our faith is strengthened as we receive our answers through the confirming presence of the Holy Ghost. Our asking for blessings can often unlock favors the Father is only too willing to bestow on us but that are made conditional on our asking. “Thy wings shall my petition bear,” we sing in the second verse, “to him whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless.” We are waiting for the promised blessings of prayer, yes, but He is also waiting for our prayers so that He can provide those promised blessings.

He wants us to pray. He implores us. We are asked over and over to pray, whether in our church meetings, in scriptures, in counsel from our leaders, in teachings from our parents and family, and so on. And we are counseled to do so not merely on occasion, but to do so as a way of life. We pray always, hoping that by drawing nearer to the Lord, He will draw nearer to us. And He does so, just as He has promised. When we feel His love come as an answer to prayer, even if we don’t see His face, hear His voice, or feel His presence, our faith is strengthened, and our desire to pray increased a day at a time.

And since he bids me seek his face,
Believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my ev’ry care
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Image credit: “cold prayer,” flickr user Keith Riley-Whittingham. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Hymn #287: Rise, Ye Saints, and Temples Enter

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Rise, ye Saints, and temples enter;
Seek the path that leads ahead.
Seal in everlasting circles
All our loved ones, quick and dead.

Maybe you’re a faithful, diligent Latter-day Saint who attends the temple regularly and who needs no introduction to the institution, but if you’re not, suffice it to say that temples are sacred buildings where members of the LDS Church meet to perform essential ordinances on behalf of the dead. Each of us needs these ordinances (baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost for starters, and later ordination to the priesthood for men, the endowment, and marriage and sealing) in order to receive all that the Father has to offer us. It doesn’t matter if we’re alive or dead, or whether or not the gospel was freely available when we were on the earth. Each of us needs these ordinances to qualify for all the Father’s blessings. None of us is exempt, and none of the ordinances are optional.

In order to make those ordinances available to all, we are counseled to go to the temple (and to go often) and receive those ordinances on behalf of those who are dead so that, should they choose, they will have the chance to receive those blessings. We search out our ancestors and bind them together through these ordinances, particularly through the sealing ordinance, which binds husband and wife as much as it binds parents and children. But that’s not to say that we can only perform these ordinances on behalf of our own family members who have gone before. As we uncover more and more names, we may find ourselves unable to manage all of those ordinances on our own, and so we help each other through frequent temple attendance. We act as a great army, carrying the blessings of the gospel to every one of the Father’s children.

Learn the plan of exaltation;
With His sacred laws comply.
Live to earn in binding cov’nant
Blessings of our God most high.

I had the chance to attend the temple with some of the youth of our local congregation last weekend. Our nearest temple is in Nashville (yes, it’s the picture above), and while it’s close to us, it’s still nearly an hour away, so it takes time and effort to get there. In order to make our 8:00 appointment, we had to meet up at our church at about 6:15, which seemed much, much too early for the 12-18 year-olds that were there. (One young man was falling asleep on his feet while waiting, slept the entire drive to the temple, then slept in the waiting room as others arrived.) They were sacrificing their Saturday, for many the only day of the week they get to sleep in, so they could spend the day in the temple serving those who had gone before.

It was a lovely experience. The Spirit was there as we performed baptisms that morning, witnessing that, even if those whose names we read didn’t choose to accept the ordinances, the doctrine we were practicing was nonetheless true. We were helping to tie families together, one ordinance at a time, and we were helping others to fully qualify to receive all that the Father has and is willing to offer to us.

Elohim, thou great designer,
Wilt thou heaven’s pow’rs bestow,
As thy faithful sons and daughters
Serve in temples here below.

I don’t know many of these youth personally, and if you’d asked me on Saturday what I thought they made of the trip, I would have told you that I thought many of them treated it as a social trip. They got a chance to spend time together, laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company. It was fun, if not spiritual.

The next day, however, some of them had a chance to share their experiences in front of the congregation, and it was clear that their hearts were touched. They felt the Spirit witness to them that they had been engaged in the Lord’s work that day. They knew that they were helping along the path those that could no longer help themselves. And they could feel of the Lord’s love for those dead and for themselves as well.

As we attend the temple and serve others, we not only provide blessings for our kindred dead, but also for ourselves. We feel the blessings of heaven come upon us and renew us spiritually. We are energized and are more able to face the challenges of life. The Father wants us to attend the temple not only to help others along the path to salvation, but to help us as well. As we turn our hearts to our ancestors, they are purified and become more in tune with the Lord, allowing the Spirit to more easily whisper to us and inspire us. And with more and more temples being built every year, it’s never been easier to attend, even if it requires a sleepy 75 minute drive to get there on a summer Saturday morning.

So rise, saints, and temples enter. Set aside some time to serve those who have gone before, and you will find that you will be blessed every bit as much.

Image credit: “Nashville Temple,” Wikipedia user Antipus.

Hymn #187: God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son

Jesus Christ teaching

Today’s hymn, “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son” is a commemoration of the great Atonement, when Jesus Christ offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. For all sin. It emphasizes the perfection of Christ, his role as our Savior and exemplar, and the covenant we make in partaking of the bread and water that we will always remember him.

This Atonement is the key part of God’s plan to save and exalt us, his children. It provides a way for us to learn from our mistakes instead of being condemned by them. It makes divine forgiveness possible. To the believing soul, it is easily identified as the most important event in the history of the world.

It’s critical, though, that while the Atonement itself is given to us freely, the greatest blessings it makes available to us are only available if we take action ourselves. Each of the following phrases reminds us of our own role in receiving this divine gift:

To show us by the path he trod
The one and only way to God. (verse 1)

That in his off’ring I have part (verse 3)

In word and deed he doth require
My will to his, like son to sire, (verse 4)

Learn conduct from the Holy One. (verse 4)

Partaking now is deed for word
That I remember him, my Lord. (verse 5)

To receive true forgiveness, we must enter into an agreement with Christ: He shows us the way and we follow him. We are trained by Christ—we enter into a sort of apprenticeship with him. Though we may be weak and imperfect, as we “learn conduct from the Holy One” we will find the “one and only way to God.”

This is a beautiful, contemplative hymn. If we ponder the lyrics as we sing, it will guide us toward a more sacred experience as we partake of the sacrament.

And yet, despite all this, the line that stands out to me the most is the very first one: “God loved us, so he sent his Son.” In October 2003, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a conference talk that I’ve never forgotten titled “The Grandeur of God.” He suggested that everything Christ did, up to and especially including the Atonement, was intended to demonstrate to us not just his own love, but the love of our Heavenly Father. Take a moment to read (slowly, please!) what Elder Holland said:

Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.

So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness.” In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” In the perfect Son’s manifestation of the perfect Father’s care, in Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Indeed, God loved us, so he sent his Son. I hope we’ll follow him.

Hymn #301: I Am a Child of God

This is one of the first hymns LDS children learn. The melody is simple, the words straightforward. It’s difficult to find anything to say about it because the message is so clear: I am a child of God and my goal in life is to learn and do all that is necessary to return to live with Him again. Every Latter-Day Saint believes this to some degree or another. This hymn is part of our core identity and explains why we do all the things we do.

However, this line has often troubled my mind: [He] has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

I grew up in a home with kind and dear parents. They are some of the best people I know. But not every family looks like mine did, with parents and children who respect each other and live together in love.

Many children have only one parent, or none at all. Many parents are neglectful or abusive. So many families are broken in one way or another. For these people, singing about “parents kind and dear” might feel hollow and false. It might trigger painful memories or feelings of bitterness, loneliness, or worthlessness.

Whatever your background, please know that you are not alone. You have worth.

Although our earthly parents might not always be what we wish they were, our Heavenly Parents are perfect. They love us. Always. Whether we are loveable or not. They want what is best for us, and even when our present circumstances are not ideal, they are constantly watching over us. Chastening us when we are rebellious. Blessing us when we obey. Gently encouraging us when all hope seems lost.

Because They love us, our Heavenly Mother and Father send people to lighten our loads and lead us by their examples. Neighbors, teachers, friends, coworkers…so many people can act as a “parent” when needed. I know I am grateful for the influence of non-traditional parent-figures in my own life.

No matter how broken your “real” family is, undoubtedly there is someone out there who will love you like family. If you don’t know who it might be, pray. Ask your loving Parents to help you find a person who can lead, guide, and walk beside you. Let them help you learn and do what you must in order to “live with Him someday.”

Because you, my friend, are a child of God. He has sent you here and you can live with Him once more. He loves you. I hope you know that.

Hymn #26: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer

Sacred Grove

Is there a God?

If so, how can we know about him? Does he care about us enough to communicate with us? Do any churches teach true doctrine? Is there any way we can discover truth about God, if he even exists? How can we know what he wants of us?

Questions like these may have been on the mind of Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. They are certainly on the minds of many, many people today. The faith of millions rests on their answers. When fourteen-year-old Joseph walked into a grove of trees near his home, he didn’t expect to change the world. He simply had questions, and believed that God would answer them.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

What an answer he received! In response to Joseph’s simple prayer, a light descended from heaven and rested upon Joseph. God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith. They answered his questions. He knew, then, that there is a God. He knew that God can and does communicate with us. And he knew that at that time, no true church existed on the earth.

Joseph would eventually receive many other revelations. He would be taught true doctrine and directed to reestablish Christ’s church, with the same divine authority it held anciently. He would translate the Book of Mormon, a second witness of the divinity of Christ alongside the Bible. He would become the first divinely appointed prophet in this era. This vision was the beginning of a marvelous work, a pivotal moment in history.

But none of that had happened yet. After Joseph’s vision, he did not immediately establish a church. He did not yet have knowledge or the authority to do so. He had much yet to learn. After his vision, he just had a few more answers. He wrote this about that time:

I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned—that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but to continue as I was until further directed. I had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided. (Joseph Smith: History v26)

The primary lesson we should earn from Joseph’s first vision is not that all the churches were wrong, or that a Restoration was necessary. These are true, but they’re not the main point. The main point is this:

We can learn truth from God, through revelation.

We do not need to rely on the word of others to vouch for the truth. Yes, we have prophets, priesthood leaders, parents; yes, we have scriptures, seminaries, and sunday school. All of these things can guide us toward truth. But ultimately, our Heavenly Father expects us to come to him with questions. He wants to teach through revelation. He wants to enlarge and clarify our understanding of the things we have been taught. This is true for all people, but especially true for those who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism. If we expect to participate in God’s work, we must learn to receive guidance directly from God if we expect to do his work.

We must learn to receive revelation, just as Joseph did.

Hymn #133: Father in Heaven

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I didn’t immediately recognize this hymn from its title. You may not either. If you don’t, you might consider taking a minute to click on the link at the top of the page and listen to the first verse. In fact, it won’t even take you a minute. Go on, give it a listen.

Did you listen to it? Did you hear the dip to a minor key there in the second phrase? Go back and listen again if you didn’t.

Hear these thy children thru the world resounding.

I imagine most hymns could be considered prayers, but the lyrics to this one sound as though they could literally be the words of a prayer. Father in Heaven, we pray, hear Thy children. The hymn goes on to ask the Father specifically to hear His children as they praise Him and give thanks for the peace He has given them, but the minor fall heightens that phrase. When viewed this way, the hymn takes on a new meaning. It’s about that moment of doubt, where we have faith sufficient to pray to the Father, but maybe not as much confidence that He’ll answer us.

It’s a familiar feeling, because we’ve all had that experience. We encounter difficult times, harder than we feel we can bear. We do our best to soldier on, trusting in the Lord that things will get better, only they seem to get worse. It could be a challenge with our health, or our family, or our work, or schooling, or any of a number of things. We feel low, and we get down on our knees, asking God if He is truly there, and where our aid is.

This isn’t something that only happens to those of us (the majority of us, I’m sure) whose faith is weak. No less a man than the prophet Joseph Smith had this experience. We read about it in the Doctrine and Covenants, which records his time in Liberty Jail, one of the lowest points of his life. “O God, where art thou?” he cried, and you can feel his anguish. It’s your anguish too, that night that you asked Him the same question. And at that dark hour, the Lord spoke to Joseph, just as He speaks to you and me. “My son,” He said, “peace be unto thy soul.” And it was comforted, just as ours were.

We know that our trials will be for a small moment in the grand scheme of things. We know that most of our lives will be spent in relative happiness, just as most of this hymn is spent in the relatively happier major key. But in those dark moments, the trials seem to last forever. Doubt can poke through, but if we exercise faith enough to still trust in Him, even if only enough to ask if He is there, we can see that peace shine through all the brighter by comparison with that darkness.

Filled be our hearts with peace beyond comparing,
Peace in thy world, and joy to hearts despairing.
Firm is our trust in thee for peace enduring,
Ever enduring.

Image credit: “Gloomy Weather 3,” deviantART user lamogios. CC BY-SA 3.0

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Hymn #14: Sweet Is the Peace the Gospel Brings

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Fun fact, albeit one that adds little to our understanding of the hymn: The lyrics were written by Mary Ann Morton Durham, and the tune was written by Alfred M. Durham, her nephew.

As BJ pointed out on Monday, many LDS hymns additional verses that aren’t traditionally sung, and in order to get a full understanding of the hymn, we ought to look at the full text. This hymn has seven verses, only three of which are usually sung in our meetings. Those three verses are nice, but having read the last four over, it feels a shame that we miss them most of the time.

As the title suggests, this hymn is about the comfort the gospel brings us. The teachings and counsel we’re given, though they seem restrictive, are actually for our protection and “show a Father’s care.” They aren’t fences built to prevent us from getting out; they’re fences built to keep destructive forces at bay. We see the Father’s love in the gospel, and it brings us sweet peace.

Those fences, however, are only as effective as we let them be. A fence doesn’t do you much good when you leave the gate open, nor is it much use if you’re standing on the wrong side. The fourth verse reminds us that while the gospel brings us peace, it’s at least partially up to us to ensure that it stays with us:

May we who know the sacred Name
From every sin depart.
Then will the Spirit’s constant flame
Preserve us pure in heart.

The “sacred Name” isn’t a big secret only known to a select few. It’s the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is less an issue of knowing His name and more one of choosing to take it upon ourselves. When we do that at baptism, we promise to be obedient to His teachings, and as we do so, we can have His spirit to be with us to guide us in the right way. We are reminded of that promise every week as we take the sacrament. As we do our best to avoid making mistakes and to live up to our promise, in time, our desire to sin is taken from us, as we hear in the fifth and sixth verses:

Ere long the tempter’s power will cease,
And sin no more annoy,
No wrangling sects disturb our peace,
Or mar our heartfelt joy.

That which we have in part received
Will be in part no more,
For he in whom we all believe
To us will all restore.

The goal, in the long run, is a reunion with our Savior as we are welcomed back into His presence. Sin will have no power over us in that day, as we feel the “heartfelt joy” of being reunited not only with our Lord, but also with friends and family who have gone before. We won’t have a partial, indirect relationship with our Redeemer, but a direct one, where we can speak with Him face to face. All will be restored to us: health, relationships, purity, and joy.

And yet, there’s that phrase “ere long.” How long? I don’t get the sense that this is a day that will come any time soon. We’re to look forward to that day, preparing ourselves through righteous living, but it probably won’t be next week. It probably won’t be within the next fifty years. We work our hardest to remove things from our lives that keep us from feeling that gospel peace. We try to avoid sin, doubt, and apathy. We fall short, and we pick ourselves up again. And we fall short, and we pick ourselves up again.

The road is long. We push forward, trying our best to endure to the end. And as we do, we could sing the seventh verse to help us keep pushing:

In patience, then, let us possess
Our souls till he appear.
On to our mark of calling press;
Redemption draweth near.

In our patience we possess our souls. We remember that the journey is long, and that there are no shortcuts. As we stick to the path, we are secure in the knowledge that we’re headed to an end in which God Himself shall wipe our tears away. We possess our souls as we stay within the bounds He has set for us, standing behind the fence and feeling the sweet peace of knowing that even if the journey is long, we are in the right way.

Hymn #304: Teach Me to Walk in the Light

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This is one of the few hymns included in both the LDS hymnal and the Children’s Songbook. Its melody is simple, its message sweet. Its words are straightforward enough for a small child to understand, and it is from a child’s perspective that we begin to sing.

Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.

The second verse is a response to the first, as someone–we’ll talk about who in a moment–agrees to do what the child has asked. The perspective has shifted, though, so that we are no longer the child but the teacher. Together, we reply, we will study God’s word, learn what He would have us do, because we hope to eventually live with Him again.

Based on the fact the this song is listed under the topics of “Home” and “Motherhood” in the hymn book, I think we often assume that the dialogue is between a parent and child. The only parent named, however, is our Heavenly Father. This leaves the hymn open to include many “children” and their teachers. A young woman and her youth adviser. An investigator and a missionary. An aging patriarch and his home teacher. The possibilities really are endless.

Ours is a gospel of learning.  The Lord instructs:

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 109:7)

And so we do. We attend Sabbath services to teach and be taught by one another. We read the same books of scripture over and over, seeking new insights and personal revelation. We strive constantly to gain a better understanding of the gospel and what is expected of us so that we can return “home to his presence to live in his sight.”

Frequently we find ourselves in a position where we can mentor others, but even the prophets seek regular instruction in the House of the Lord.

And so we pray to our Father and thank him “for loving guidance to show us the way.” We’re all learning together so we can walk gladly in the light.