Tag Archives: Holy Ghost

Hymn #77: Great Is the Lord

Great Is the Lord was one of the hymns written by Eliza R. Snow for the original LDS hymnbook in 1835. Its lyrics praise the Lord for the restoration of the Gospel and its attendant blessings.

The four verses found in our modern hymnbook are just a portion of the original eight. Take a moment to read it, straight from the 1835 LDS hymnbook (hymn #70):

1 Great is the Lord: ’tis good to praise His high and holy name:
Well may the saints in latter days His wondrous love proclaim.

2 To praise him let us all engage, That unto us is giv’n:
To live in this momentous age, And share the light of heav’n.

3 We’ll praise him for our happy lot, On this much favored land;
Where truth, and righteousness are taught, By his divine command.

4 We’ll praise him for more glorious things, Than language can express,
The “everlasting gospel” brings, The humble souls to bless.

5 The Comforter is sent again, His pow’r the church attends;
And with the faithful will remain Till Jesus Christ descends.

6 We’ll praise him for a prophet’s voice, His people’s steps to guide:
In this, we do and will rejoice, Tho’ all the world deride.

7 Praise him, the time, the chosen time, To favor Zion’s come:
And all the saints, from ev’ry clime, Will soon be gather’d home.

8 The op’ning seals announce the day, By prophets long declar’d;
When all, in one triumphant lay, Will join to praise the Lord.

If I had to pick only four verses to keep, I’d likely choose the same ones we have in the current hymnbook (v. 1, 2, 5, 6), but it’s enlightening to read them in their original context. The saints were excited to live “in this momentous age”, an age when the everlasting gospel was restored, when priesthood power existed to confer the Gift of the Holy Ghost, when a prophet’s voice again spoke His word! They looked forward to the restoration of the ancient City of Zion and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In short, they praised God because they saw the power of God acting around them. They were part of the nascent “marvelous work and a wonder,” bringing the restored Gospel again to the world. They believed in a living, active God, not one trapped in an ancient book.

Do you have that same faith? Do you believe in a God who “speaks, not spake”? Certainly, the doctrinal revelations announced by the prophet today today are not of the magnitude or frequency that they were in Joseph Smith’s day. We rejoice that God has sent prophets, of course, and are eager to hear their words. But what happened to the frequent doctrinal revelations of the early years of the Restoration?

I believe that God does still speak, in glory and magnitude and frequency. His goal, though, is not simply to build a kingdom of prophet-followers, but rather a kingdom of spiritual adults, saints who can have learned to recognize the voice of the Spirit and to hear to the words of God. He wants all of us to come unto him, not just unto his prophets. He wants us all to receive revelation.

This message is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. Nephi asked his brothers why they had not asked God for understanding of their father’s visions. Alma the Younger’s life was changed forever when he learned for himself of the power of Christ’s Atonement. Shortly before the birth of Christ, the prophets Nephi and Lehi recorded that there were many who received “many revelations daily.”

The message of the restored Gospel is not simply that we should Follow the Prophet. That is a foundation—a good first step, and an important one—but if we stop there we have missed the point. If all we needed were a prophet, we would not need the Gift of the Holy Ghost, nor scriptures nor prayer. We could just let the prophet receive all the revelation.

But that’s not what God wants. He is a god who speaks, who speaks to all who will listen, all who are capable of hearing. We determine that capacity by our willingness to follow his laws. So when we sing “Great Is the Lord,” we praise a God who still acts, who still guides this marvelous work and wonder. We praise a God guides his prophets but also guides his people. We praise a God who has gathered and is gathering Zion throughout the world. We praise a God who is preparing the world for the Second Coming of his son Jesus Christ.

There is one change in this hymn from the 1835 original that I find enlightening:

To praise him let us all engage, That For unto us is giv’n:
To live in this momentous age, And share the light of heav’n.

To praise him, let us all engage. Praise is not merely a matter of words and song, but of action and participation. Unto us it has been given to live in this momentous age, and to share the light of heaven. Let us not merely drift by, waiting for leaders to guide and instruct us. Let us instead actively seek revelation, actively repent and improve and more closely emulate Jesus Christ. Let us be a part of this work.

Let us engage.

Hymn #139: In Fasting We Approach Thee

Why do we fast?

The essential answer is simply “we fast because God has commanded us to fast.” If God asked us to burn sacrifices, we would burn sacrifices. If God asked us to run ten miles at least once a month, we’d all take up running. It’s just what we do.

And yet, obedience without understanding is never the goal. God often teaches us through symbols, and the rituals and ordinances we carry out are often full of them. So, why do we fast? This hymn provides a few suggestions.

[We] pray thy Spirit from above
Will cleanse our hearts, cast out our fear,
And fill our hunger with thy love. (verse 1)

The concept of filling our hunger with His love is an interesting one to me. Fasting definitely introduces a “hole” in us. It not only induces physical weakness, but it often feels as if there’s a pit in our stomach.  The natural man’s remedy to fasting is to fill that hole with food, but God invites us to instead seek to fill it with divine blessings.

Thru this small sacrifice, may we
Recall that strength and life each day
Are sacred blessings sent from thee (verse 2)

Fasting reminds us of our own dependence. Within just a few hours of skipping a meal, we are weak, humbled, and very aware of our own needy-ness. Fasting can serve as a reminder of our own dependence on God, for his blessings and continued sustenance. It can also symbolically remind us of our own spiritual dependence. How much are we spiritually weakened when we go just a day or two without scripture study, or a few hours without prayer?

And may our fast fill us with care
For all thy children now in need. (verse 3)

In our own fast, we are also more able to sympathize with those who are in physical need. Many of God’s children barely have enough to survive. We who have so much, who can skip a couple meals without any lasting consequences—surely fasting reminds us of our responsibility to care for those who fast because they have no choice, or who worry every day how they’ll make ends meet.

This fast, dear Father, sanctify (verse 4)

Because fasting has been commanded by God, obedience brings additional blessings. Our simple choice to obey increases our faith, and gives us access to spiritual blessings God is ready to pour out upon us.  Our fasting can be sanctified, made holy, if we do it in faith. It can bring an added measure of the Spirit, with the accompanying blessings that brings.

There’s a beautiful passage in Isaiah about the power that can accompany a humble and faithful fast. Take some time to really read it:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
(Isaiah 58:6-8)

And then comes verse 9:

Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

What a beautiful promise.

So next time you’re fasting, make it a true fast, a sanctified one. Seek the blessings God has already promised to those who fast in humility and faith. The blessings are great.

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 #238: Behold Thy Sons and Daughters, Lord

We see two topics attached to this hymn in the Holy Ghost and obedience. I was more than a little surprised not to find a third. Listen to the first verse and see if you can tell what the missing topic is:

Behold thy sons and daughters, Lord
On whom we lay our hands.
They have fulfilled the gospel word
And bowed at thy commands.

Obedience? Check. The Holy Ghost, too, as we lay our hands on our brothers and sisters to receive that gift. But when do we do that? Either at, or shortly after, our baptism.

I can understand why someone would choose not to categorize this hymn under “baptism,” since the ordinance is never mentioned in the lyrics. But we (or I, at least) so strongly associate receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost with baptism that I’m a little surprised it wasn’t mentioned. Doesn’t this seem like the sort of hymn you’d expect to hear at a baptism? Much of what we sing has to do not only with receiving the Holy Ghost, but with encouragement and exhortation to someone who has just come into the fold. In fact, that’s exactly the imagery used in the second verse:

Oh, now send down the heav’nly dove
And overwhelm their souls
With peace and joy and perfect love,
As lambs within thy fold.

Joining a new church is a significant change in anyone’s life. Not only are you pledging to live your life differently, but you’re  choosing to join a new community and associate with new people. It’s daunting, particularly if you don’t know anyone already. The Holy Ghost helps with that, not only giving us gentle guidance on how to stay in line with the Lord’s teachings, but also in helping us to feel His love. This can take the form of peace in prayer, but it can also be felt as a reassurance that the handshake and words, “We’re really glad to have you here,” from a man you’ve never met do, in fact, come from the heart.

It’s easy to assume that those sorts of words and actions are empty, especially coming from a stranger. The Spirit can help us there, not only by softening our hearts and clearing our minds, but also by purifying us, making us more able to feel the love of God. The third verse tells us that when we do that, we will find ourselves “adopted in” to the fold. He seals us His as we allow His spirit to purify and cleanse us.

That’s a choice we have to make as much as anything else. The gift of the Holy Ghost is given to us, but when it is, we are commanded to receive it. There’s nothing passive about the process. We choose to receive the gift, allowing the Spirit access to our heart so that it can be purified. We show that we receive that gift from the Father by obeying His laws and keeping His commandments. We humble ourselves and submit ourselves to His will, which allows Him to work with us more easily and lessens any resistance to the purifying power of the Spirit.

It’s hard work. Being obedient is more than simply avoiding evil, it’s choosing to do (and be) good. We look for opportunities to serve others. We mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We all commit to do this when we are baptized, but the fact that we’ve all made that commitment doesn’t make it any easier. The Holy Ghost helps, though, by comforting us as we try to comfort others:

Increase their faith, confirm their hope,
And guide them in the way.
With comfort bear their spirits up
Until the perfect day.

Once we choose to be baptized and to receive the Holy Ghost, we are all on the same path toward eternal life and a reunion with our Father in heaven. It’s a long path, and a difficult one. We’re all going to struggle, get exhausted, and occasionally wish we hadn’t chosen such a difficult journey. When we get tired, the Holy Ghost is there for us, bearing our spirits up. At some point, we will reach our destination and rejoice in that perfect day, but it’s still a long way off. Until that time, we have the Holy Ghost to walk the path with us, holding our hands each step of the way.

It’s a comforting thought, and an appropriate one to share with someone as they take their first steps along that path at baptism. The Father watches over all of us, whether we’ve been faithful to His gospel for decades or whether we’re just starting out, and He provides the same tools and help to each of us.

Hymn #103: Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Jesus Christ I often focus on his power and majesty. He is the Son of God! He is the King of Kings! Sure, he loves us enough to die for us, but that fills me with more awe and wonder than anything else. To use words like “precious” and “dear” when referring to my Savior feels a little weird. I call my daughters precious. I call my husband dear. Why is it hard for me to think of my Elder Brother in those terms?

I keep my most precious things close. If they aren’t physically with me, I at least know where they are and have a reasonable assurance that they are safe and well. I check on them frequently. It makes sense that my relationship with Jesus Christ should be treated the same way. If I’m not consciously drawing near to him, I should at least feel confident that he is there, that he loves me, and that I am doing his will to the best of my ability. I should check in with him frequently. I am dear to him, and he should be precious to me.

The final lines of the first two verses–”May each soul in thee abide” and “Let us never from thee stray” respectively–reaffirm the need to keep precious things safe and close. But from what?

In this hymn the words “sin” and “tide” are closely linked not once but twice. There are times in our lives when we reach spiritual peaks; being good comes easily and the Holy Ghost truly is our constant companion. There are other times when we grow weary or complacent or bitter or confused or whatever the case me be. Sin and doubt creep into our lives, as a rising tide slowly advances up the shore.

The Savior can provide a bulwark against this rising tide, keeping us safe and dry in his protection. But we must continually maintain our relationship with him, lest any crack in the barrier allow the tide to break through and overwhelm us. We must have the “swift conviction” necessary to ask for his help in “turning back the sinful tide” as soon as we recognize its advance.

I know I’m not the only parent who insists that my daughter stays right by my side–preferably holding my hand–when we are in a parking lot. This, I think, is what is meant by the “narrow way”. Staying within the bounds prescribed by our Savior protects us from nearby dangers and potential distractions; if we were allowed to wander, we might get lost or injured or who knows what else. With Christ’s “loving arms around us” we are safe.

Even at our Savior’s side, we will experience trying times. I’ve written about this before. Life will be hard, but with his help we can endure. Our hearts may be broken, but he can bind them. We may know sorrow, but he will bear some of that burden so we are not overwhelmed. We will undoubtedly cry, but he will dry our tears. The storms will come but they will pass, and if we keep Christ close in our hearts, in the end we will know “everlasting peace” in our Father’s presence.

 

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 #311: We Meet Again as Sisters

I have to confess: I’ve agonized over this hymn all week. Every time I read the title, I am reminded of all the jokes I’ve heard about the sisters of the church having meetings to plan their upcoming meetings. The sarcasm isn’t unwarranted. When I think about all the things women are involved in or in charge of–Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, compassionate service, visiting teaching, girls’ camp, various committees, etc.–it’s no wonder we seem to meet again and again and, oh yes, yet again.

This hymn simplifies all that busyness, though, and meetings take on a significance beyond all the cookies and crafting. The first two verses give us the two main reasons women of the church should meet at all: to observe the Sabbath and to “plan our service.”

The first verse lays out an ideal Sunday. We go to church to “worship God together, [we] testify and pray.” Through our worship, we invite the Spirit to be present, to “enlarge our minds with knowledge and fill our hearts with love.” And while we may not experience a perfect Sabbath every week, the goal is always to show that we “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The hymn’s second verse, unsurprisingly, hints at the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (vs 39) In our non-Sabbath meetings, we should plan to give service, help those in need, “show charity and kindness,” develop our talents and use them to bless others. It’s a good rubric to keep in mind; one or both of these commandments should be addressed every time we hold a meeting.

In my adult life, I’ve been in many different wards, and each Relief Society has functioned differently. Some women place a strong emphasis on rituals and culture, while others have broken dramatically from tradition. Some value elaborate centerpieces and homemade handouts, and others really couldn’t care less. From what I have seen, though, every successful Relief Society–wherein sisters feel loved and great things are accomplished–is centered on the actual purposes of the organization, which we find in the third verse.

We meet to sing together
The praises of our Lord,
To seek our exaltation
According to his word.
To ev’ry gospel blessing
The Lord has turned the key,
That we, with heav’nly parents,
May sing eternally.

As the Church Handbook states, “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life.” The saving ordinances of the gospel are available to everyone, and Relief Society provides whatever assistance women need as they work out their salvation. Whether that means addressing temporal needs or spiritual ones, the goal is the same: to “seek our exaltation.” Together. As sisters.