Tag Archives: Guidance

fear

Hymn #97: Lead, Kindly Light

fear

Like many other Latter-day Saint men, I served as a missionary from the ages of nineteen to twenty-one. I packed my bags, put on a suit, and did my best to teach the gospel to everyone I saw in northern Japan for two years. It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you haven’t served as a missionary yourself or if you aren’t familiar with the process, then it’s worth understanding that missionaries stay in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for a bit before they’re sent to their appointed mission. Those being sent to an area with a language they already speak usually only get a couple of weeks; those who don’t (like me) get a little longer so they can get a crash course in the language. But whether you’re there for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the experience is mostly the same for everyone. You see young men and women walking around carrying books, reading scriptures, practicing teaching techniques, and big bright smiles on their faces. And while those smiles are wonderful to look at, if you look just a bit higher, you’ll usually see terrified eyes.

For many young missionaries, this is the first time they’ve been away from home for this long, and it’s certainly the most consequential thing they’ve ever been asked to do. It’s daunting, and it’s downright scary at times. I was ready to pack up and go home after my first night, but I gathered myself and promised that I’d stick it out. Just look at that picture of me at the top. That’s the picture they took of me my first day in Japan, and you can see the fear in my eyes. I suspect I wasn’t the only one that was scared, though. And I suspect that’s true because of how often I heard other missionaries tell me that today’s hymn became their favorite while in the MTC.

This is a hymn about faith in the face of fear. “The night is dark, and I am far from home,” we sing, and for many young missionaries, it was the first time. It’s still true for many of us. Despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves trapped in the dark night, surrounded by the encircling gloom. The world is scary, and the things we are asked to do are daunting. But through the darkness we catch a glimpse of the light, and even if it only lights one step in front of us rather than the “distant scene,” that’s enough. We can take a single step toward the light, trusting that more will be illuminated for us.

The tune of the hymn is a gentle one, and the modest tempo and 3/2 time make it feel like a lullaby. The lyrics are comforting, but so is the music itself. I’m sure that contributed to my humming it while the horrors of life in a foreign country far away from my family and friends bore down on me. It’s soothing and peaceful, and it always calmed me down when I felt especially panicky. It also helped to strengthen my faith when it wasn’t particularly strong. When I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry on, or when I found doubts creeping into my mind about whether or not I was doing the right thing with my life, the lilting refrains of “lead thou me on” gave me strength.

Being a young missionary filled with fear is no different than being a young parent with wide eyes, or stepping into any new phase of life with that look of excitement and terror on your face. Life is scary sometimes. Life is scary a lot of times, but, well, let’s listen to the final verse and see why it’s not so bad, after all:

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

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.

Hymn #79: With All the Power of Heart and Tongue

With all the pow’r of heart and tongue,
I’ll praise my Maker in my song.
Angels shall hear the notes I’ll raise,
Approve the song, and join the praise.

The closing hymn in my ward’s sacrament meeting last Sunday was “The Lord Is My Light”. That’s a hymn which, unlike this one, I know well enough to leave my hymnbook closed, well enough to pack up my bag and tend to my children while singing every word. Which is exactly what I did. But as I sang, I felt the power of that hymn move through me.

While sometimes I sing quietly, trying to blend in with the congregation, this time I couldn’t help belting out, “The Looooord is my liiiiiight! He is my joooooy and my so-ong!” It felt magnificent to sing praises to hymn with all the power my heart and tongue possessed.

I can think of a few times when I’ve felt certain that angels were joining the chorus, most of them surrounding sacred events such as temple dedications. But this was just sacrament meeting. Nothing special, right?

Except that our meeting houses are sacred spaces, dedicated as a house of worship to the Almighty God. Sacrament meeting is a time of renewing sacred covenants, of teaching and learning Christs doctrine, and of communing with the Spirit and with our brothers and sisters. Why shouldn’t it feel special each week? Why shouldn’t angels attend and sing along with us?

I’ll sing thy truth and mercy, Lord;
I’ll sing the wonders of thy word.
Not all thy works and names below
So much thy pow’r and glory show.

I think it’s easy for us to focus on the dramatic church stuff. Capital letter events like The Restoration or The Pioneer Exodus or The Day the Priesthood Was Made Available to All Worthy Men. Well-known names like Eliza Snow and Hugh Nibley and Gladys Knight. Epic conversion stories like that of Alma the Younger and grand miracles like the crickets and the seagulls. It is good to remember these things and to talk–and even sing–about them.

But it is the Lord’s words, truth, and mercy which should have the bulk of our attention. He gave His Only Begotten Son so that we might not be forever shut out of His presence. His gospel, plain and simple, is written out in the scriptures for us to study daily. Our job is to seek His truth and accept the mercy He extends to us.

Amidst a thousand snares I stand,
Upheld and guided by thy hand.
Thy words my fainting soul revive
And keep my dying faith alive.

In recent months I’ve seen many people walk away from the Church for various reasons. What astonishes me, though, is the people who have stayed. These are people who even I would have said had good reason to leave, much as it would have saddened me to see them go. And I think these last two lines are the key to why some stand firm when others just cannot: “Thy words my fainting soul revive and keep my dying faith alive.”

It’s the little things we do–reading our scriptures, praying, attending sacrament meeting every week–that keep us close to our Father in Heaven. The little things help us fortify our foundation in the gospel by reminding us daily of God’s truth and mercy. When we turn our attention away from His words and toward the thousand snares around us, we lose sight of His power and glory, and we falter.

So let’s use all the power of heart and tongue–and I would add “might, mind, and strength“–to remember Him, serve Him, and praise 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 #83: Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah

No matter what your personal views on morality are, it’s clear that there are a lot of different voices competing for attention. We hear some people telling us that something is good and right and others telling us that it’s evil. These voices seem to surround us and shout so loudly that it’s difficult to hear ourselves think. It can be confusing and disorienting. What are we to believe?

When it’s hard to know what to cling to, it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one source out there that we can count on to be constant and unchanging. We can count on the Lord to teach us truth, no matter what. It doesn’t matter what we hear, or what circumstances the world finds itself in. He is the source of truth and light. And since we know that He will always tell us the truth, we can count on Him to guide our way forward.

Guide us, O thou great Jehovah,
Guide us to the promised land.
We are weak, but thou art able;
Hold us with thy pow’rful hand.
Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit,
Feed us till the Savior comes,
Feed us till the Savior comes.

We will struggle in the face of so many competing influences. We can’t help it, being human. But while we are weak, He is able to withstand those temptations, and He can help us to proceed forward. And we can count on the Holy Ghost to be a positive influence on us, helping to steer us back to Him. He is not here on earth with us, and we don’t know when He will be, but we can rely on the Spirit to nourish us spiritually and keep us well-fed until His triumphant return.

He guides us in the same way he guided the children of Israel during their flight from Egypt, although perhaps not as visually impressively. As Israel left Egypt, the Lord went before them as a cloud by day, serving not only to keep the hot desert sun off of them, but also showing them clearly which direction they needed to travel. At night, He stood before them as a tremendous pillar of fire, not only providing them light, but also keeping the Egyptians at bay. While we don’t see a pillar of fire before us today, he can still be a “fiery, cloudy pillar” for us. We have His words that show us the direction we need to take, and that can also act as a cover from trials and temptations. His Spirit can light our way as we trust in Him just as clearly as can a pillar of fire. He is there to guide us the same as He did the Israelites, provided we are willing to accept His guidance.

It’s when we don’t listen to His counsel and instead let the din of the world drown it out that we fall into trouble. That’s an easy enough trap to fall into. And by the same token, it’s an easy trap to avoid. We just have to find the one voice, the one influence in our life that never changes.

When the earth begins to tremble,
Bid our fearful thoughts be still;
When thy judgments spread destruction,
Keep us safe on Zion’s hill.

When we are confused, scared, or fearful, we can take courage in what the Lord tells us. We can trust that He is constant and unchanging, and that He will always lead us in the right. And as we place our trust in Him, we can know that He will keep us safe on Zion’s hill, singing praises and glory unto Him.

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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 #85: How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

This is a hymn that gets a lot of play time, and rightfully so. It’s upbeat. It’s uplifting. It’s got a whole bunch of verses so a ward chorister can easily add or subtract them to fill the time as needed.

And since it is so familiar, I’m not sure what new light I can shed on it. Undoubtedly you’ve noticed that most (and arguably all) of the verses were written from the Lord’s point of view. “I am thy God,” we sing in verse three, reminding ourselves exactly who it is we worship and what He has taught us.

And really, “what more can he say than to you he hath said?” Nothing in this hymn is new information. It’s in every book of the scriptural canon, in every General Conference report, in everything we do, for this is His church. He is our foundation.

A good portion of the lyrics here are either paraphrased or almost directly quoted from Isaiah (see chapters 41 and 43), so we get a hint of the Old Testament fire-and-brimstone Jehovah. “Fear not,” He commands His people, “Be not dismayed.” He will call them through deep water, rivers of sorrow, and deepest distress. There will be foes to face and even “all hell [may] endeavor to shake” them.

But, as a counterpoint to all these daunting demands, we are reminded that He is not only a just God who demands sacrifice and strict obedience. He is also a merciful and loving Savior–the Good Shepherd–who will succor, uphold, and sanctify His children. “In ev’ry condition,” He reminds us, “I am with thee…and will still give thee aid.”

Which isn’t to say things won’t be tremendously difficult. When Joseph Smith was confined for months in Liberty Jail with no reprieve in sight,  he begged in prayer to know why God seemed to have forgotten his people in their suffering. The reply, found in section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants, shares the same message of this hymn in its entirety:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)

He freely admits there will be “fiery trials.” In fact, He knows exactly what they will be for each one of us. But, He instructs us, if we put our trust in Him, “The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design / Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

And that’s really the crux of it all. The last verse tells us with repetitive finality that if we build our lives with Jesus Christ as our foundation, we will never be alone and we will never fall. (see Helaman 5:12)

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Hymn #121: I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger

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I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger
Cast upon the rocky shore
Of a land where deathly danger
Surges with a sullen roar,
Oft despairing, oft despairing,
Lest I reach my home no more.

A pilgrimage is a journey, often a long one, to a sacred or holy place. Often the financial burden of a pilgrimage is great, or the journey itself is difficult, or the pilgrim chooses to abstain from food for a period of time…sacrifice is usually involved in one way or another. Generally speaking, the purpose of any pilgrimage is to demonstrate faith and religious devotion.

In the context of this hymn, mortal life is the pilgrimage that each of us must take. We left our premortal home with our Father in Heaven to come to earth where exist both temporally and spiritually “deathly danger”. Verse two is anxiety-ridden, for life is treacherous and too many of our brothers and sisters never find their way home.

Misty vapors rise before me.
Scarcely can I see the way.
Clouds of darkest hue hang o’er me,
And I’m apt to go astray
With the many, with the many
That are now the vulture’s prey.

But let us not forget that a pilgrimage is not just a miserable experience designed to frighten and discourage us. It is a journey to a holy place that results in spiritual growth and enlightenment. Is that not why we came to earth? To have our faith and obedience tested? To see if we would do all things whatsoever the Father commands? (see Abraham 3:25)

We journeyed here to mortality on an earth created specifically for us. It has its problems, yes, but God himself declared it to be good (see Genesis 1). Even when the world is at its worst, this “rocky shore” upon which we have been cast is full of sacred spaces. The Wikipedia entry on pilgrimages is (surprisingly) eloquent on this point:

“Such sites [i.e. those visited by pilgrims] may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit.”

There are places and experiences like this for us throughout mortality. The baptismal font is a sacred place, as is the chapel where baptismal covenants are renewed each week. Temples are being built all over the world to provide refuge, revelation, and a source of spiritual strength. A father giving a priesthood blessing to a sick child, a young woman searching the scriptures for answers to a troubling question, any time the miracle of birth occurs…each of these are “shrines” of a sort that mark the path of our pilgrimage.

Every time we have a sacred experience, the place or moment where it occurs is sanctified, and the Holy Ghost reminds us that we are headed toward our heavenly home. When we go through stretches of life with few of these holy milestones, we can still draw strength from those we have passed and look forward with hope for the next one. And always, always, our Father is there to help us find the way.

O my Father, I entreat thee,
Let me see thy beck’ning hand;
And when straying, may I meet thee
Ere I join the silent band.
Guide me, Father, guide me, Father,
Safely to the promised land.

Eventually, if we continue in the strait and narrow way, each of us will complete our personal pilgrimage here and return to live with our Father in Heaven. We will make many sacrifices along the way, and we will face many hardships, it is true. But if we watch for them along the way, we will find many sacred reminders of where we are headed, and each holy encounter brings us ever closer to the promised land.

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Hymn #96: Dearest Children, God Is Near You

I don’t believe in using scare tactics on children. They always seem to backfire. Either you wind up with a nervous kiddo who is paranoid about the tiniest things, or one who no longer believes anything you say because they proved you wrong by not wetting the bed after playing with the campfire.

I have heard people use God or Jesus to scare children into behaving, saying things like, “Jesus saw what you did and he is not happy about it.” This becomes problematic in the same way as any other scare tactic: either the kid winds up terrified of God’s disapproval or he stops believing because of a lack of immediate Heavenly consequences.

When we sing this hymn, though, it’s hardly, “You better watch out, you better not cry”…or else! The first verse nicely illustrates this point:

Dearest children, God is near you,
Watching o’er you day and night,
And delights to own and bless you,
If you strive to do what’s right.
He will bless you, He will bless you,
If you put your trust in him.

Not a threat or warning to be seen. Yes, God is near us and watching all the time, but not to punish. Three times we are told He will bless us, and that He delights to do so. What’s more, He delights to own us. His pleasure in recognizing us as His children speaks of His unconditional love for us.

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Savior reminds us how much concern our Father has for our well-being:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

He watches us “day and night” because He wants to take care of us. He sets His angels to “keep a faithful record of the good and bad [we] say” so He will know how best to attend our needs.

In all that watching He is bound to see us make mistakes. Fortunately for us He also “delights to teach us”, as the third verse says. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to encourage us to keep the commandments, to prick our conscience when we rebel, to comfort us as we repent, and to rejoice with us when we do what is right. This kind of guidance is, to me, far more helpful than constant fear of chastisement.

Our Father in Heaven is ever-vigilant for He is, like any loving parent, protective and proud of His children. What does He ask in return? That we try our best. That we trust Him. That we heed the Spirit’s promptings. That we cherish virtue. Above all, that we prove faithful to Him.

And even if we aren’t, He will be faithful. Whatever we do, God is near us.

Hymn #20: God of Power, God of Right

After spending some time with this hymn, I think it’s a pity that it isn’t sung more often. It’s of a handful that takes up less than a page in the hymnbook, but it contains a profound lesson about God’s process of turning ordinary people like you and me into celestial beings.

The hymn begins with an image of God’s strength:

God of power, God of right,
Guide us with thy priesthood’s might.
Forge our souls in living fire;
Shape them to thy great desire.

It’s not difficult to picture the Creator of all things sweating and pounding diligently to produce something useful and worthwhile out of raw material. Great effort, constant vigilance, and perfect timing are vital to this process; one misstep and the metal can be ruined. Lucky for us, the One forging our souls is a master blacksmith.

Likening souls to metal naturally brings to mind the ubiquitous metaphor of the refiner’s fire. I especially like this verse in Proverbs: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer” (25:4). Once the impurities are removed, the precious metal is not just left as a shiny lump, but it is shaped into a vessel–through “priesthood might”, as the verse says–to be filled as its Maker sees fit.

And with what does He fill us? With knowledge.

God of wisdom, God of truth,
Take us in our eager youth;
Lift us step by step to thee
Thru an endless ministry.

When we are ready and willing, He will teach us what we need to know to be like Him. We learn from the scriptures, the words of living prophets, our patriarchal blessings, instruction in the temple, Sunday School classes, personal revelation…as I’ve mentioned before, this is a gospel of learning. And, as the goal is to progress eternally, it will be an eternal process for us to gain the wisdom our Father has.

With all that earlier talk of power and might, though, it would be easy to see this as a forceful process. Fortunately for us this is not the case. God does not pound us into shape and cram us full of whatever is necessary for us to be saved. He doesn’t work like that, as the third verse reminds us.

God of mercy, God of love,
Let thy Spirit, like the dove,
Touch and humble, teach and bless,
As we serve in holiness.

His mercy and love are the reason He blessed us with the ability to choose for ourselves. If we will accept His mercy and allow the Holy Ghost to “touch and humble, teach and bless” us, we can be “shape[d] to [His] great desire”.

God is omnipotent; He can perfect even the most flawed among us. God is omniscient; He knows exactly what we need to be sanctified. God loves us; He lets us choose whether or not to let Him make us something great. It is our decisions that will ultimately determine our destiny (see this talk by President Monson).

Notice that the hymn is written as a prayer, though. We are acknowledging His attributes and asking Him to use them to guide us and lift us. We’ve already made our choice: to “serve in holiness.”

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.