Tag Archives: Hope

Hymn #141: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Jesus, the very thought of thee
with sweetness fills my breast

Does the very thought of Jesus fill my breast with sweetness? Honestly, those probably aren’t the words I would choose. I’m prone to forget, prone to wander. Prone to get distracted by the things around me, and prone to neglect the things of God. I recognize these things, and know I could and should do better, but acknowledgement alone does not bring a change of heart.

When I think of Christ’s Atonement, though, it does fill me with hope. Hope that even in my imperfection, Christ still extends his arms out to me, inviting me to come with him. He does not excuse my weakness, but he does patiently wait for me to accept his blessings. When I fall, he does not condemn me; he simply offers the hope of forgiveness.

O hope of ev’ry contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

Like you, I am imperfect. Christ’s mission to rescue the sinners comforts me, because it’s all too easy to feel lost. I’ve been given so much spiritual help—I have easy access to scriptures, frequent messages from prophets and apostles, the Gift of the Holy Ghost,  good friends and supportive family, and so much more. The easy excuses for spiritual negligence are all used up. And yet, even with all these opportunities, I often find myself distracted by other things. I don’t study the scriptures as often as I should. My prayers are frequently more rote and hollow than sincere and seeking.

I should do better, of course. I know I should. Obedience to God’s commandments isn’t simply obedience for its own sake—rather, every choice of obedience brings blessings. “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” When I make time to study the scriptures, I feel knowledge flowing into me. I recognize the revelation, the spiritual strength it gives me. When I focus on real prayer, I’m filled with peace.

But so often, I fail to do what I know I should. I’m imperfect. I’m trying to do better—I’m trying to be like Jesus—but I’m not there yet.

And it’s precisely for this reason that the Atonement of Christ fills me with peace. He came not to save the perfect but the imperfect, the flawed, and the failing. He suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross to save me and to lift me. And you, and our neighbors, our friends, and people we don’t even know. Christ is the way, the only way back to an eternal home our perfect and exalted Heavenly Father. Because of him, we who repeatedly fall short are not cast off eternally. Even when we fail again and again, His way is still open to us. Every step we take along His path brings us greater strength, knowledge, peace, and comfort. He’d love for us to all be further along this path, of course—he wants to bless us immeasurably. But even when we fall short again and again, his patience endures.

I’m not yet at the point where the simple thought of Jesus fills my heart with sweetness and peace. I still have to ponder for a moment, to remember all that he’s done for me. But because of him, I have hope that someday I’ll reach that point.

To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

Hymn #129: Where Can I Turn for Peace?

This is a favorite hymn of many, probably because we all have this feeling from time to time. Things are hard, things are difficult, and despite our best efforts, things don’t go our way. And we wonder, when nothing seems to be going right, where we can turn for a little comfort. Where can we find peace, especially when it seems like everything in the world is conspiring to make us feel so miserable?

We can always turn to our Savior. He is always there for us, the quiet hand to calm our anguish. What’s interesting about this hymn, though, is not the sentiment that the Lord will always  be there to comfort us. That’s hardly surprising. What’s interesting about this hymn is the notion that it’s never He who turns away from us. We are the ones who must turn to find peace, which suggests that at some point, we were the ones who turned away from peace. We are the ones who “with a wounded heart, anger, or malice… draw [ourselves] apart.” We are hurt, we are wronged, and we withdraw ourselves to be miserable. And then we cast about, wondering why it is that we can’t find peace.

This is not, of course, to diminish the struggles of those who find themselves turned from peace at every moment through no fault of their own. I’m not suggesting that the darkness of life can always be swept away with nothing more than a positive outlook. I’m not suggesting that the reason things are hard in your life is because you haven’t bothered to want to feel peace. But I am suggesting that more often than not, we are the ones who remove ourselves from the Lord and from the peace that He brings. And I am suggesting that we can turn back to Him to feel that peace once again.

He answers privately. When we turn back to the Lord, we often do so in prayer and yearning. We pour out our hearts to Him, desperate to feel some measure of comfort during a trying time. And He answers us, “reaching [our] reaching in [our] Gethsemane.” We don’t bleed from every pore, and we don’t take upon ourselves the sins of others in our dark times, but it’s no stretch to compare these moments of agony and straining to feel the love of our Savior to the moments when the Lord Himself felt most removed from His Father. We stretch out our hands to Him, hoping to feel something, anything in return. And He, having endured such trials Himself (and then some), cannot help but reach back. In fact, He is always reaching to us. It’s when we reach in our Gethsemane that we can feel His hand in ours. “Constant he is and kind,” we sing, and that constancy is reflected in the fact that He ever reaches out to us, wanting nothing more than to comfort us and bear us up.

We all suffer from time to time. Life is difficult. I know that, and you know that, and yet we still flounder during these times, struggling in vain to feel peace in our own lives. And in those times, the Spirit refreshes our memory, whispering to us, “Who, who can understand? He, only One.”

And so it is, and so we turn to Him in our dark times, the One who can make them light again. He is gentle, He is kind, and He will bring us peace, because He is filled with “love without end.”

Hymn #135: My Redeemer Lives

This hymn is probably best known for two reasons; first, it’s frequently mistaken for much better-known “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (it’s the next hymn in the book, and they even share the same first line), and its lyrics were written by Gordon B. Hinckley.

Like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” we declare our witness that the Savior lives. We sing about all the wonderful reasons we have to rejoice in His life. He is “victorious over pain and death,” and He paved the way for us to be free from them as well. He is the “one bright hope of men on earth.” It is only through the path He teaches that we can return to Him and become like Him. That path is the “beacon to a better way, the light beyond the veil of death.” We sing joyfully, and there’s a lot to rejoice about.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but how do we know it?

I haven’t seen the Savior in person, and I very much doubt that I ever will during my stay here on earth. I suspect the same from virtually every other person on the planet. There’s speculation that the Twelve have seen Him, since they’re called to be special witnesses of Christ, but that’s all it is, speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them haven’t seen Him, either. Seeing Him in the flesh removes our need for faith, the bedrock principle of the gospel. We trust that He lives, and as we place our faith in Him, we are blessed and supported in our lives.

That’s not to say that we’re left to trust blindly that He lives, though. We are given every opportunity to know that He lives, loves us, and is eager to take an active role in our lives if we will but let Him. The third verse of this hymn begins, “Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,” and therein lies the key. Relatively few of us are given the chance to see the Savior face to face, but all of us have the opportunity to receive the Holy Ghost. The Spirit testifies to us of the Father and the Son. He does so gently and quietly, inviting rather than compelling us to listen. When we hear truth, more often than not the Spirit confirms that truth to us softly, saying (although usually not audibly) something simple like, “Yes, that’s true, and you know it because you remember it, don’t you?”

The Holy Ghost brings all things to our remembrance. He doesn’t teach truth so much as confirm it. When it comes down to it, each of us already knows in some corner of our mind that Jesus is the Christ; after all, we lived with him before we came here, and chose the Father’s plan for our lives, knowing that He would be our Savior and Redeemer. We already know that He lives. We’ve seen Him and known Him. Our minds are covered with the veil that makes faith and obedience meaningful here on earth (there’s no need to have faith in a being you can constantly see before your face), but the Spirit can pull that veil back from time to time, giving us a dazzling glimpse of knowledge we once had.

That powerful feeling manifests itself differently for everyone. For some, it’s a rush of emotion, leading them to tear up. For others, like myself, it’s a powerful flash of insight and clarity. In any case, the word “sweet” is well-chosen to describe those feelings. The Spirit touches our hearts and helps to reconcile us to God. We can know that He lives, and that He loves us. And as we receive that sweet witness, reminding us of truths laying dormant in our hearts, we receive courage to carry on. We receive, as we sing in the conclusion of this hymn, “the faith to walk the lonely road that leads to thine eternity.”

Hymn #136: I Know That My Redeemer Lives

 

He lives, he lives, who once was dead.

This statement is, perhaps, the very foundation of Christianity. Jesus Christ, crucified between thieves and buried in a tomb, lives. None other ever had power to rise from death of his own accord. The resurrection stands as a testament to the divinity of Christ.

More than simply a witness of Christ, though, his Resurrection offers us hope. Because he lives, we will live again. More, because he lives he continues to bless us. Christ is not simply a great prophet who lived and died—he lives. He continues to act. Though his greatest work is complete in the Atonement, his mission is not yet complete because we are not yet complete.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives speaks directly of our relationship with Christ. He is not simply an unknowable force for good working in the background. Rather, he is our “kind, wise heavenly friend.” He comforts us when faint. He blesses us in time of need. He silences all our fears and calms our troubled hearts.  Christ is our guide and our companion.

Over the course of four verses, this hymn expresses four verses full of blessings we receive because He Lives. Four verses full of reasons to rejoice. This outpouring of simple gratitude makes this one of my favorite hymns.

I often quietly sing this hymn to myself, when I find myself alone. I did so just a few nights ago, on my back porch late at night while everyone else was asleep. Gazing up into the starry night and singing quietly, I watched as the Earth’s shadow passed over the moon, producing a beautiful lunar eclipse. I thought about the greatness of God, about the vastness of the Earth, the moon, and the Sun which he created. I thought about how amazing that the same being who was instrumental in creating such a beautiful scene also ”pleads for me above,” seeking to prepare a mansion for me there. I reflected on my own relationship with Christ—my own faith and willingness to follow him.

Perhaps on such occasions, I am not truly singing to myself. I am not singing to entertain, nor to pass the time. Rather, I sing to express my gratitude to our Father for his Son. I sing to orient my soul to Him.  When I sing this song, I sing to God himself, offering gratitude and awe for the resurrection and atonement of Christ. I sing to offer testimony. Scripture teaches that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God;” when I sing I Know That My Redeemer Lives, that prayer seems to draw me in.

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Knowledge that Christ lives brings joy. When we sing this hymn, we express four verses full of reasons for that joy, but there are many, many more. Our relationship with Christ is personal, is intended to be personal. As we grow to know him, we will find more and more reasons to rejoice in his life.

So, as we conclude the Easter season, take a moment and read this hymn. Consider your own relationship with Christ. If you were to add a verse, what would it say? When you reflect upon his atonement and his resurrection, what thoughts bring you joy?

Hymn #19: We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet

This is the hymn that we, more than any other, associate with the leader of our church. We sing it at General Conference after he speaks to us. We sing it when he visits our local congregation (if we’re lucky enough to have him visit). I had a missionary companion who would listen to the song every morning. He would turn it on, look at me with an excited look on his face, and say, “Prophet song!”

I was set to write an essay about prophets for today. I was ready to tell you about the unique role prophets play in the gospel as watchmen, and about the sustaining power of continuing revelation. I read through the lyrics of the hymn, excited to find quotes that told us about the incredible gift of a living prophet.

A close reading of those lyrics, however, shows that the hymn is much less about prophets than we might be led to think. Listen to the first verse, excluding the first two lines:

We thank thee for sending the gospel
To lighten our minds with its rays.
We thank thee for every blessing
Bestowed by thy bounteous hand.
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee
And love to obey thy command.

I see themes of gratitude, obedience, truth and light, but not much about prophets. Adding the phrase “we thank thee, O God, for a prophet” certainly sheds a different light on the verse, but it seems to me in this hymn, we’re grateful for the entirety of the gospel, of which a living prophet is just one part. It’s not that we’re not grateful for him–after all, our gratitude for him is in the title–it’s that we’re not only grateful for him.

The gospel provides an anchor for us. We receive conflicting and changing messages in life, and having something constant to cling to helps us to stay pointed in the right direction. There’s a reason the gospel, the word of God, is described in scripture as an iron rod. It is strong, unshakable, and provided for us to hold to. It doesn’t just help us to stay put, either; it leads us to our final destination of God’s presence.

When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.

We are grateful for the gospel in its entirety because we know that obedience to it will bring us through the challenges of life. We can look those trials in the face with a smile, knowing that God will bring us through to the other side. We know He can be counted on to fulfill His end of the bargain, so long as we keep up our end. We can count on Him because, as we sing, “we’ve proved him in days that are past.” He has always, in every case, been there to support us (though perhaps not in obvious or expected ways), and we know that He always will be.

Prophets are an important part of this protective aspect of the gospel, of course. The Lord protects us by warning us of dangers ahead, and He does that through a prophet. While the gospel gives us general counsel, a prophet can give us specific counsel relevant to our unique situations. Ancient scripture can warn us about the dangers of dishonesty and theft. A modern prophet can counsel us against online piracy and copyright violations.

So we’re grateful for our prophet, but grateful for him as a part of the gospel as a whole. We are blessed to have that truth in our lives to guide us in the right way. We rejoice in that gospel, and “bask in its life-giving light.” We know that as we are obedient to the principles we’ve been taught (by a prophet, no less!), we can go on to eternal perfection and the happiness that will accompany it.

We’re grateful for the gospel, and we’re grateful for all of it.

Sunlight and Dogwoods

Hymn #89: The Lord Is My Light

Sunlight and Dogwoods

 

I used to think this was a song of joy. The tune is happy and lilting, we sing about light, and the chorus explicitly refers to the Lord as “[our] joy and [our] song.” So why, then, when we review the topics listed for this hymn, do we not find “joy”?

A quick look at the first verse can illuminate the situation for us. Listen:

The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?
By day and by night his presence is near.
He is my salvation from sorrow and sin;
This blessed assurance the Spirit doth bring.

The chorus is about joy and light, but the verses are all about faith and trust. We sing about assurance, and we sing about power. We are directed to sing not “joyfully,” not ” brightly,” but “resolutely.” We are filled with faith and knowledge that even when the Lord isn’t visibly near is, we can feel Him near and draw strength from that.

It’s one thing to believe in God when it’s easy to do so. On days where your life is easy, sunshine is streaming in, and you aren’t encountering any challenges to your faith, it’s a snap to remember to pray always and keep Him in your heart. But on days where you’re feeling tested, whether spiritually, emotionally, or physically, it’s much harder, and sometimes, singing or thinking about light and joy doesn’t cut it for you.

The second verse asks us what we do on those days when the sunlight seems blocked from our view:

The Lord is my light, tho clouds may arise,
Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies
Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign.
Then how can I ever in darkness remain?

We’ve all had days where, in despair, grief, or whatever else, we look to the heavens for comfort. And on some of those days, we look up expecting rays of sunshine, but see only dark clouds. What do we do when no comfort seems to be forthcoming? This hymn reminds us not to look with our eyes, but with our faith, “stronger than sight.” The eye of faith cuts through those clouds and lets us see the Lord where He is.

Faith is, as we know, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We can’t see the Savior standing next to us, especially not with life’s stormy clouds blocking our view. Faith provides substance to things things we hope for. When we exercise our faith, we can see the Lord as though He’s standing right there. His light, which fuels our faith, penetrates through those clouds and allows us to see. As real and crushing as our trials can feel, when we have faith to buoy us up, we too can ask how we could ever remain in darkness.

That’s not to say that exercising our faith is a walk in the park. The third verse gives us a sense of the timeframe we’re looking at:

The Lord is my light; the Lord is my strength.
I know in his might I’ll conquer at length.
My weakness in mercy he covers with pow’r,
And, walking by faith, I am blest ev’ry hour.

As he gives us the ability to overcome our trials through our faith in Him, we can come off conqueror–but notice the words “at length.” We are not always delivered immediately. We often aren’t delivered until we’ve had to endure those trials for some time. We’re given the chance to learn patience and longsuffering through our trials, and also to learn gratitude as those trials are removed from us after we’ve learned patience. But don’t think that the Lord simply allows us to suffer, only finally choosing to intervene after an arbitrary number of days, weeks, or years. His power can (and does) compensate for our weakness. When we rely on Him through our faith, we are, as we sing here, “blest ev’ry hour.” We don’t have occasional moments of deliverance sprinkled through the gloom. The rays of sunshine are always there. It’s only when we walk in faith that we can see them piercing the cloud cover.

The Lord is my light, my all and in all.
There is in his sight no darkness at all.
He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and King.
With Saints and with angels his praises I’ll sing.

“There is in his sight no darkness at all.” He is the rays of light that reach us through the clouds. He will unceasingly brighten our lives and give us hope. And when we walk in faith, we are always entitled to see those rays of light. The clouds are dark, and they may feel overwhelming at times, but faith helps us to see that there’s more to the world than those clouds.

Image credit: “Sunshine and Dogwoods,” Duane Tate, 2005, via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

800px-Spring_Shelter,_Pokagon_Park

Hymn #31: O God, Our Help in Ages Past

800px-Spring_Shelter,_Pokagon_Park

We hear a lot about the goodness, grace, and mercy of the Lord from the hymns. We sing about His kindness, and we rejoice in His endless love. The hymns are, after all, hymns of praise, or else what are we doing singing them? But for whatever reason, I don’t feel as much that the hymns emphasize the strength and stability of the Lord. Oh, we have those hymns, certainly (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” comes to mind, as well as almost any hymn that mentions the word “mountain”), but I imagine for every mention of the word “strong” in the hymns, you hear words like “good” and “joy” many times over.

This is a strong hymn. We are directed to sing “with dignity,” befitting the resolute strength and majesty of the Lord we sing about. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics in the 1700s. This was a time when God was not a figure to be loved so much as revered and feared. He inspired awe, not joy. That’s not to say that those gentler aspects weren’t understood, but they weren’t emphasized. The period was much more Johann Sebastian Bach than Janice Kapp Perry.

The Lord is strong and unmoving. When all other things are changing and unsteady, we can always depend on the Lord to be reliable. And so we begin our hymn by singing about His unchanging nature. He is our help in ages past as well as our hope for years to come. He has ever been there for us. He ever will be. It is never He who departs from us. He is always there, protecting and defending us, so long as we allow Him to.

This is how it’s always been, says verse three:

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

And so it ever will be. He is our shelter and our home. He is four walls and a roof that will never shake or crumble. The image is a vivid one, and maybe especially now that it’s winter. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I am, it’s cold and windy. The rain is hitting the windows hard enough that it sounds like sand. The walls creak and groan under the gusts of wind, but they never give. Of course, they might, but then again, mine isn’t the house we’re talking about. If your house is the Lord, then you can be sure that it won’t collapse, no matter how strong the stormy blast. We can count on Him, and always count on Him, no matter what we’re up against. In the second verse, we sing that “sufficient is [His] arm alone, and our defense is sure.” If God is for us, who can be against us?

And as if several paragraphs of me making the same point over and over again wasn’t enough to convince you that the theme of this hymn is “unchanging,” we arrive at the fourth and final verse, which is nearly identical to the first:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home
.

The first and fourth verses almost serve as a chorus. In the verses, we get specifics, but in the chorus, we return to the general theme of the song, echoing the constancy of the Lord. And it’s fitting that in a hymn about constancy, the hymn itself is bookended with the same message. God always was our hope. He always will be. He is our refuge, and He will never fail us. He is our home.