Tag Archives: Jesus Christ – Friend

Hymn #166: Abide with Me!

My little sister spent a couple years at one college before deciding to transfer elsewhere and take her studies in a different direction. She moved to a new city where she didn’t know anyone. She shared a dorm room with a girl who was rarely there. For someone as social as my sister, it was an extremely difficult transition.

She once told me that, especially on lonely evenings when her roommate was away, she would sing hymns to comfort herself. I can’t help picturing her as she was when we shared a room as kids: curled into a tiny ball against the wall with heaps of blankets all around her in her twin bed. It breaks my heart a little to think of her alone and singing into the darkness.

There have been times in my life when I’ve curled myself into a metaphorical ball, barricaded myself in with pillows, and turned my face to the wall to endure the night. I felt alone in the world and it seemed the morning would never come. I suppose that’s why this hymn stirs my heart in ways few others can.

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

It’s such a desperate prayer! “Abide with me!” we cry three times in four lines. “It is dark! I am alone!” And yet we cannot truly alone, because we know we are praying to the One who is ever at our side.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

The faith shown in this hymn is so pure and simple. We know things change. People come in and out of our lives. Mortality seems long, but it is so fleeting. Our faith, however, is not placed in mortal things, but in the one “who changest not”. And as we learn from Helaman:

“It is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)

When our faith is placed on our Savior, we can endure the dark, lonely nights. We may not enjoy them, but we know they will pass, and we know He will be with us until they do.

I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

What can protect us from temptation? Who can guide us to safety and security? The clear (though unstated) answer is Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6). His reassuring love remains “thru cloud and sunshine”. His doctrine is unchanging. His Atonement is eternal.

If we look to Him, He will abide with us always. All we have to do is ask.

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 #111: Rock of Ages

My great-grandmother passed away when I was nine. Hers was the first funeral I remember attending. Any sadness I felt was mostly borrowed; I was too young to really grasp the situation, and she had been old and sick as long as I could remember. My memories of that day are few: my mother comforting her mother, my dad’s hand sitting heavy on the nape of my neck, and everyone singing the unfamiliar hymn “Rock of Ages”.

It’s an appropriate piece for a funeral. In the final verse we contemplate our mortality, our “fleeting breath” and the inevitable closing of our eyes in death. Indeed, when we at last rise to worlds unknown and behold our Lord and Savior on His throne, our dearest hope is that He will not turn us away. It’s a song about human inadequacy and the hope that we’ll be saved in spite of it.

When my brother turned eight and chose to be baptized a year or so later, he asked that “Rock of Ages” be one of the songs on the program. We thought it was a bizarre request—why wouldn’t he want a Primary song instead?–but my parents didn’t argue. And so it came to pass that we sang what to my young mind was a funeral dirge at my brother’s baptism.

Looking at the lyrics now, I feel bad for ever having questioned his choice. Here is the first verse:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Is this not a song about baptism and repentance? Of seeking the cleansing power of the atonement and having faith that it will make us whole?

The footnotes for this hymn reference the book of Moses, where God Himself explains better than I ever could what is meant by a “double cure”:

…Ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye may be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by water ye keep the commandment; by Spirit ye are justified, and by blood ye are sanctified. (Moses 6: 59-60, emphasis added)

Baptism by immersion is necessary, and along with it, the Gift of the Holy Ghost. But it is the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what sanctifies us and makes us worthy of eternal life and immortal glory.

The second verse is a simple sermon on this doctrine. We cannot be righteous enough; all are sinners no matter how hard we try. We cannot feel enough remorse for our sin; sorrow does not satisfy the demands of justice. Even participating in saving ordinances such as baptism is not enough to earn us exaltation. We freely acknowledge our deficiency and dependency on the Savior. We plead with Him to have mercy on us.

Thou, O Lord, art the rock upon which we try to build our lives, the rock cleft for us in Gethsemane and on the cross. Whether we are children just trying to do what is right, nearing the end of a long and full life, or muddling along somewhere in the middle, “thou must save, and thou alone.”

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 #116: Come, Follow Me

“Come, follow me,” the Savior said.
Then let us in his footsteps tread,
For thus alone can we be one
With God’s own loved, begotten Son.

This hymn is so familiar. Just having read those words, you’ll probably have the tune stuck in your head for a while.

And it is such a simple phrase: “Come, follow me.” A command, but a gentle one. Compelling enough for Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets straightaway (see Matthew 4). Not compelling enough for a rich young man to give up everything he had to obey it (see Matthew 19).

Maybe his unwillingness was due to the commitment involved. It’s not enough to follow Jesus Christ for a little while. It’s not even enough to follow him throughout mortality; “no,” we realize, “this extends to holier spheres.” If we are going to be true disciples of Christ, we must give him our life, our soul, our eternity.

Not only shall we emulate
His course while in this earthly state,
But when we’re freed from present cares,
If with our Lord we would be heirs.

Nor is enough to wait until we are “freed from present cares” to make this commitment. If we hear the Savior’s call in this life, we can’t say, “Sounds good, Lord. I’m gonna have some fun now, though, and I’ll see you in the hereafter. Save me a place in your kingdom, will ya?” Alma explains:

Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:34-35, emphasis added)

If we spend our lives cultivating a spirit that is stubborn and rebellious, or lazy and indifferent, or more concerned with exploring doubt than building faith, death is not going to change us. Why should it? The veil will be removed from our minds, yes, but it takes time to learn humility, dedication, and trust. Time that our Father has graciously given us here on earth to practice those attributes. Time that we should not waste.

We must the onward path pursue
As wider fields expand to view,
And follow him unceasingly,
Whate’er our lot or sphere may be.

We will be presented with opportunities to choose again and again in this life: will we continue in the path the Savior set for us, or will we explore other options? Will we follow him when he is not here personally to direct us, but delegates that responsibility to imperfect mortals like ourselves? Will we follow him when our lives are filled with trials, doubts, fears, and sorrows? Will we follow him when our lives are easy and filled with joy and success?

“Whate’er our lot or sphere may be,” will we follow him?

That is the one question that matters in this life. And he has already given us the answer that leads to “thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow’rs, and glory great and bliss”.

“Come,” he bids us. “Follow me.”

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?

Enchanted Path

Hymn #165: Abide with me, ‘Tis Eventide

Enchanted Path

This hymn, like its cousin “Abide with Me!”, recalls the story of the road to Emmaus. Two men are walking toward Emmaus, when they are joined by a stranger, who is, unbeknownst to them, the Savior. They walk with Him and describe the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They also talk of His empty tomb, but they don’t seem to be sure that He was actually resurrected. The Savior gently rebukes them, laying out the scriptures for them and showing them the prophecies about events that were happening before their very eyes.

They arrive at Emmaus at dusk. The Savior makes as if to continue on His journey, but the two men, clearly intrigued by what He had to say, invite Him to stay with them, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” He stays with them, and breaks and blesses bread, which jolts their memory; they’ve seen this before. And at that moment, He vanishes from their sight, leaving only the Spirit, burning within them, to testify of who He was.

In this hymn, we too invite the Savior to stay with us, but our experience is a little different. The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t know who He was, although they felt the Spirit as He spoke. Here, we know who He is. We call Him by name. We beg Him to stay with us and bring light into our home. Our experience, then, is more like that of the Nephites as He was about to leave them. Having spent a day with them, allowing thousands to come and feel the wounds in his hands and feet and delivering sermon after sermon, He announces that He must return to the Father. The Nephites react by, well, see for yourself:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them. (3 Nephi 17:5)

They knew who He was. The Spirit confirmed it to them, certainly, but they could see Him with their own eyes, and having done so, they wanted Him to stay. And so He did, healing and blessing them before at last returning to the Father.

We may not see Him with our own eyes, but we know Him. The Spirit testifies it to us, and our hearts too are filled with longing for Him to stay with us a little longer as we sing:

Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

We spend our lives preparing ourselves to meet Him. We obey His law and keep His commandments. We try to act and do as He did so that we can reach our goal of becoming more like Him. And once we meet Him, it’s no surprise that we wouldn’t want the encounter to end so quickly. “Lone will be the night,” we sing, “if [we] cannot commune with thee nor find in thee [our] light.”

I don’t know if you’ve felt that degree of longing for the companionship of the Savior. I know it’s a rare feeling for me. But as I sing this hymn, with its gentle ups and downs, soothing melody, and the soaring Ds and Es on the word “Savior,” I can’t help but feel that pull. I want to be with Him, to feel His embrace, and to stay and talk with Him as the shadows of the evening fall.

It fades as the song ends and the Spirit no longer testifies to me as strongly, but then, I think that’s why we sing these hymns so many times. Just as we wouldn’t want our visit from the Savior to end after just an hour on the road, why would we want the confirmation of the Spirit to end after just three verses?

Image credit: “Enchanted Path,” deviantART user thiselectricheart.

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.

 

night

Hymn #159: Now the Day Is Over

night

 

I’ve never heard this hymn sung in church before. The topics indicate that it’s a hymn of closing, but the topic “evening” seems a better fit to me. It’s less a hymn to sing at the close of a meeting and more one to sing before heading to bed. Since I’m rarely at church just before bed, I’ve never really been in a situation where I’d expect to hear it at church.

At just four lines and sixteen bars (and a scant 44 syllables), this is one of the shortest hymns in the book. In fact, it’s short enough that I’m going to quote it to you in full below. Listen:

Now the day is over;
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With thy tend’rest blessing
May our eyelids close.

That’s it. It’s getting dark, we’re getting tired, and we’d like His blessing as we go to sleep. We ask Him to watch over us as we sleep. We’re the ones singing to Him, but with just a bit of tweaking, it wouldn’t be hard to see this as a lullaby He sings softly to us as we drift off.

The image of a protective Savior keeping watch over us is a tender one. I have a little girl we’re training to go to sleep by herself, and while she’s getting better at it, she’s still resistant. One of us will set her down in her crib, and she’ll stay calm as long as she can see us. But the moment we step away and turn off the light, she starts to cry. She wants someone to be there with her. She wants to know that someone is there to protect her.

We’re much the same. We go through our adult lives having to take responsibility for ourselves, and in time, for others, but we all have moments where we want someone to protect us, and more often than not, those moments come when it’s dark. I think it’s no accident that we are counseled to pray before we go to bed for the night. It not only serves as a benediction on the day, but also as a safeguard against the time when our fears and anxieties often come out most powerfully.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma counseled as much to his son Helaman:

Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

We are to pray always, but praying just before bed is mentioned explicitly as an ideal time to pray. (It’s also mentioned in Proverbs.) As we sleep, we entrust ourselves to His gentle care.

The catch, though, and what makes me different from the Lord (among many other things), is that while I love my daughter, I also don’t want to have to maintain unbroken eye contact with her all night, every night. I’d like to get some rest, too. My goal is to get her to a point where she feels secure enough that she can go to sleep without seeing someone standing over her. He, however, has no difficulty standing watch for the entire night, and for all of the nights. His love is all-encompassing. He can be, and is, there for us every time a bad dream wakes us in a cold sweat. He’s there for us when worries and doubt keep our rest fitful and fleeting. He’s there to pull the blanket back over us so that we can sleep soundly. And when we pray at night, we invite Him to keep that watch and trust ourselves to His care. Our eyelids close, knowing that we will surely enjoy His “tend’rest blessing.”

 

Image credit: “Starry Night,” Flickr user KΛ13, 2005, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0

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

Hymn #99: Nearer, Dear Savior, to Thee

Nearer, dear Savior, to thee,
Nearer, nearer to thee–
Ever I’m striving to be
Nearer, yet nearer to thee!

A few years ago, I sat next to a new father on a flight to California. He was feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility fatherhood brings. He worried he did not know how to raise a child to be a good, moral person. With so many perils and distractions in the world today, how could he teach his son to know what was right? How could he even know what was right himself?

We were flying out of Salt Lake City, so I wasn’t surprised when he asked if I was a Mormon. I replied that I was, indeed. He then asked me something I’ve considered numerous times since:

What are the principles that guide your religion? What tenets does your religion provide?

My initial inclination was to share the Articles of Faith; I’ve heard of similar situations since I was in Primary, and that always seemed to be the appropriate response. I started down that path, but quickly saw that these were not the answers he was looking for. He didn’t want to know how my religion was different from other religions, and he didn’t really want to know what I believed—he wanted to know how my religion guides my life.

I wasn’t sure how to give him a succinct answer at the time. There is so much we are counseled to do, so much that we believe. How should I shrink it down into one or two guiding principles? Is service the key? Charity? Scripture study? Prayer? Family Home Evening?

Honestly, I don’t think I gave him a very useful answer. I bounced between a few topics, hoping to find one that resonated with him, but I never really struck the right chord. It bothered me; I felt like I should have a solid answer to a question as fundamental as this one.

As I’ve considered this topic since, I would now give a different answer:

My religion teaches me to be like Jesus Christ. I study his life and his teachings, and I try to do what he would do. I try to live so that every day I am a little closer to Him.

When I read the words to this hymn, this conversation I had years ago kept coming to mind. Fully half the lines in each verse are some variation of the phrase “Nearer, dear Savior, to thee.” There is something important to this topic, one we should not pass over lightly.

What does it mean to be near to the Savior? Perhaps it means that we quickly and consistently turn to him, and rely on him in times of need. When temptations arise, when frustration, disappointment, or tragedy come upon us, do we turn away from the Savior and rely on our own strength? Or do we choose to draw nearer to him, seeking his peace and comfort?

Perhaps, nearness to the Savior refers to our emulation of him, however imperfect. Do we do what he would do? When others observe our actions and behavior, do they see an approximation of Christ to some degree? Do we try to do what he would do? Do we think what he would think? Are we, as the Primary song suggests, “following in his ways?”

Maybe nearness to the Savior is about our relationship with Christ. The scriptures refer to him as our Savior, our father, our teacher, our guide, our brother, our King, our friend, and numerous other titles. As you consider your own relationship with Jesus Christ, what words or titles come to mind? Are you comfortable calling him your friend? Do any of these titles seem out of reach?

The verses of this hymn suggest all of these interpretations. We can draw near to the Savior in a variety of ways, and they’re all important. This isn’t a buffet; it’s a wide-ranging invitation that covers every facet of our lives.

The chorus of each verse is a simple two-line refrain:

Take, oh, take, and cherish me,
Nearer, dear Savior, to thee.

When I read prophetic accounts of meetings with the Savior, I’m struck by how often they mention the power of his embrace. Jesus Christ loves us, powerfully and completely, and he invites us to come unto him—”Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (D&C 88:63.) He wants to lift us and warm us and strengthen us and empower us. He wants to heal our wounds and take away our sorrows. He wants to give us everything he has, and wants us to become like he is.

He loves us. He loves you. Accept his invitation. Each day, nearer, yet nearer, to Him.