Tag Archives: Mercy

Hymn #265: Arise, O God, and Shine

Arise, O God, and shine
In all thy saving might,
And prosper each design
To spread thy glorious light;
Let healing streams of mercy flow,
That all the earth thy truth may know.

We ask the Lord in this hymn, and in fact, through much of our lives, to arise and spread His saving grace through the world. We know that He is capable of redeeming us. We know that He can, and is eager to, bring us home. He can comfort us, heal us, and bring us joy. We know that He can do this, and we know that He wants to.

So why do we have to ask?

Saving each of us on an individual level and helping us to reach our potential as immortal beings is nothing short of the Father’s stated goal for His interaction with the human race. “For behold,” He said, “this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” This is what He wants of us. He wants us to return to His presence and live as He does. He doesn’t want a single one of us, His children, to be left behind. He wants us to be like Him. So why do we need to invite Him to do so? What is He waiting for? Surely He doesn’t need an invitation from us to do what He intends to do anyway?

Well, in a way, He does. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock,” He told us. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” He won’t knock down the door, order us to let Him in, or make any demands of us. He will simply knock, giving us the chance to choose for ourselves. We may choose to let Him enter, and we may not. The important thing is that we are the ones doing the choosing. No one forces us.

The Lord’s promised blessings are made conditional on our asking for them. He stands at the door, eager and waiting for us to open to give them to us, but He can’t and won’t do so until we choose to let Him in. And it’s often not enough for us to ask casually or in passing for those blessings. If we want to be blessed richly, we need to ask with fervor and feeling. The Book of Mormon prophet Enos said that his soul “hungered,” and he described his ensuing prayer as a “wrestle… before God.” And after he struggled, a voice came to him saying that his sins were forgiven. No small effort for no small blessing. Joseph Smith, during his imprisonment in Liberty Jail and during one of the darkest periods of his life, cried out in anguish, “O God, where art thou? … How long shall thy hand be stayed… and thine ear be penetrated with [thy saints'] cries?” He poured his soul out to God, and as an answer, was told that he would be “[exalted]… on high.” Again, no small effort for no small reward.

So should it be any wonder that if we want the Lord to “put forth [His] glorious pow’r that Gentiles all may see,” or to “fill the world with righteousness,” that we would need to put forth effort on our part? He is willing, so, so willing, to deliver these blessings. He promised to do so, and He has not forgotten. But it’s incumbent on us to fulfill the terms of that promise by pleading with Him to do so. He stands knocking at the door, waiting for us to act so that He can arise and shine. Let’s not wait, but instead open the door to Him, allowing Him to spread His glorious light over all the world.

Hymn #310: A Key Was Turned in Latter Days

In the spring of 1842, some women in Nauvoo had gathered to organize a sewing society intended to help with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Though Joseph Smith spoke highly of their proposed charter, he had told them that God had something greater in store for them. He invited them to meet with him again a few days later, and on March 17, the Relief Society was formed.

At that first meeting of the Relief Society, Joseph told the sisters that their society lead to better days for the poor and needy:

I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads. (History of the Church vol. 4 pg. 607)

Eliza R. Snow, second president of the Relief Society, later said “Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently.”

Today’s hymn is A Key Was Turned in Latter Days, and it references this founding of the Relief Society. From the very beginning, it has been a charitable organization, seeking to relieve the suffering of those in need. Though the motto wasn’t officially chosen until 1913, the phrase “Charity Never Faileth” seems to describe the society well from its very beginning.

Though it may sometimes seem that Relief Society is simply another class in church with some visiting teaching mixed in, it seems that the Lord’s vision for it is much greater. The Relief Society cares for those in need, both locally and throughout the world. Their mission is Christ-like compassion and service. Sometimes that simply involves taking care of someone who just moved into the ward, or someone who just had a baby. Other times, it means organizing blood drives or collecting supplies for survival kits. In some areas, the Relief Society has a literacy program to help adults learn to read.

A key was turned in latter days,
A blessing to restore—
A gift of charity and peace—
To earth forevermore.
Our Father, we would turn our hearts
To those who seek thy face,
Give hope and comfort to the poor
In mem’ry of thy grace.

In their Christ-like service, members of the Relief Society set an example for all of God’s children. Sons and daughters see the example of a mother’s compassionate service and faithful visiting. Men and women alike are reminded of the importance of charity in our discipleship. As sisters reach out and serve in the name of Christ, the effects of Christ’s love are scattered throughout the world, lifting everyone a little bit closer to Him. The Relief Society indeed does many small and simple things, but by small and simple things great things are brought to pass.

Hymn #219: Because I Have Been Given Much

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With every brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me.

This is a beloved hymn in the LDS Church. If you’ve spent much time with us at all, chances are excellent you’ve heard it at least once, and if you’ve been a member for most of your life, chances are excellent you’ve sung it a couple hundred times. It’s the song about gratitude. I’m not going to try to be tricky here and argue that it’s secretly about something else (although take a look at those topics at the bottom; missionary work? reactivation? fasting? there’s more than meets the eye here), although I do want to explore the depth of the gratitude we express in this hymn. Let’s consider a few words from that first verse.

1. How much is “much?”

We sing that we have been given “much” from the Lord, but how much are we talking about? I think we all understand that He created the heavens and earth, as well as the animal and plant life thereon. Certainly we should be thankful for those gifts. But surely this doesn’t include things that man has created, right? We should be thankful for our lives, of course, but should we give thanks to the Lord for, say, television, or smartphones? Do I need to be grateful for the database that I built at work?

We have been given much, but a more accurate word might be “all.” The Lord has given us everything, from the earth we stand on and the air we breathe to our wit, intelligence, and creativity. If we build anything, it’s only because He gave us the ability to do so in the first place. King Benjamin, in his wonderful valedictory address to his people in the Book of Mormon, taught that even if we were to “render all the thanks and praise which [our] whole soul has power to possess,” we would yet be unprofitable servants. He has given us so much that we can never come out ahead, particularly since as we extend our gratitude to Him through our obedience, He gives us further blessings. There’s no way for us to catch up.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to catch up. All He asks is that we keep His commandments, and one of those is to be grateful. So we offer our gratitude to Him for all that we have, and we certainly have much.

2. How many days is “each?”

We pledge in this hymn to express gratitude and share our gifts with others each day we live. That doesn’t mean that we do those things only on Sundays, or only when it’s convenient for us. It’s easy to be grateful and share at those times. We’re good at offering gratitude when we’re recognized for it, or when everyone else is also doing so. It’s a breeze to offer what we have to others when we’re confident they will be too polite to accept. But it’s something else when we see someone in need and we know it would cost us more than a trifle to stop and help. We may be driving somewhere and see someone stopped on the side of the road. We may justify not stopping because we’re in a rush, and think to ourselves, “Someone else will probably stop,” or, “I’m sure they’ll take care of it.” We may hear that an acquaintance needs help fixing their house, and think “I don’t know them that well,” or, “I just got home from work, and I’m too tired to go out.”

We’re good at finding ways to justify inaction and ingratitude, but the hymn makes it clear that we are to be grateful and giving each day we live. We don’t get days off. There aren’t times when it’s optional to give thanks or aid. We are to be grateful always, even (and perhaps especially) when it’s difficult. And in those times that it’s difficult to be grateful, we can take comfort in the fact that others have made the same pledge, and they will be there for us when we need help.

3. How many people is “every?”

We declare that we will share our blessings with “every” brother (or sister, of course) that we see. As we mentioned before, it’s very easy to share our blessings with friends and family. These are people that we know and love, and of course we would share with them. They would share with us. It’s less easy to offer our blessings to those we don’t know as well, or who don’t seem to be able (or willing) to repay us.

The commandment is simple: We are to share our bounty with everyone. We don’t distinguish based on intent, or appearance, or belief, or anything else. We have been blessed without reservation, and we spread those blessings similarly without reservation. The apostle John wrote that “we love [the Lord], because he first loved us.” We could just as well say that we love others because He first loved us, and we bless others’ lives because He first blessed ours.

I think we readily understand the message that we are to be grateful because we have been so richly blessed, but we might be slower to understand the breadth of that gratitude.  Our gratitude isn’t expressed in passing. There’s nothing shallow about it. It should be all-encompassing, and we’re probably slow to admit that because we know how difficult a task it is.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to do it all at once, or even to be able to do it all at once. He asks for our best effort, and as we give that, He blesses us more and more.

shepherd

Hymn #14: Sweet Is the Peace the Gospel Brings

shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

reverentlyandmeeklynow

Hymn #185: Reverently and Meekly Now

reverentlyandmeeklynow

The lyrics were written by Joseph Townsend, but this is the first of the hymns we’ll cover this year whose tune was written by our site’s namesake, Ebenezer Beesley. The tune, fittingly named “Meekness,” adds an extra layer to the hymn that isn’t present in the lyrics. The lyrics, as are common with sacramental hymns, are about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, the emblems of the sacrament itself, forgiveness, and redemption, and the tune, as is also common with sacramental hymns, lingers in a minor key through much of the hymn, providing a discordant, unsettling feeling, which reminds us of the Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane.

The tune doesn’t stay in a minor key forever, though. Phrases like “sweat in agony of pain” and “oh, remember what was done” are in a minor key to highlight that suffering, but the phrase that follows each of them resolves to a major key, and fittingly, each of those final phrases is about us. The Savior suffered all those things that we might not suffer, provided we repent and turn our hearts to him. Those four phrases (“I have ransomed even thee,” “I have suffered death for thee,” “like a fountain unto thee,” and “that thy Savior I may be”) give us hope and remind us that His suffering was not for nothing, and the peace they bring is only amplified by the resolution of the key on those closing chords.

But take a closer look at those phrases.”I have ransomed even thee.” “That thy Savior I may be.” In this hymn, it is not we who sing to or about our Savior, but our Savior who sings to us. He tells us all that He has done for us, reminds us of the significance of the bread and water to be presented to us after the song concludes, and very gently asks us to “let [our] head most humbly bow” in reverence of the magnitude of His sacrifice. It’s not often that we’re permitted to put ourselves in the Savior’s place when we sing. We get the chance to see ourselves as He sees us. We realize that each of us can be addressed as “thou ransomed one.” We learn that He has no greater desire for us than we should “with [our] brethren be at peace.” And in the fourth verse, we get a sense of the depth of His love for us:

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

We know that He loves us. We learn it from the time we are very small, and we are reminded, at the very least, every Sunday as we sing to Him. But His description of us as His friends is awe-inspiring to me. We are not projects to Him, nor are we inconveniences He is forced to endure. We are dear to Him. The word “friend,” to me, implies not only love, but genuine interest in our lives. He redeemed us because He wants to be with us, and wants us to be able to return to where He is. It is His life’s sole mission to bring us home, and so He ever pleads before the Father’s throne for us. We fall short time and time again, and each time He makes the intercession for us. He stays the hand of justice, promising that we’ll do better this time. And He does it because we are His friends.

He asks nothing more than that we be obedient, prayerful, watchful, and constant, and we promise as much to Him as we take the sacrament of which we sing. We renew the covenant we made at baptism to do those things, and we resolve to try a little harder in the coming week. And as we do those things, we allow Him to become our Savior. We accept His sacrifice for us. We allow Him to take our hands in His and heal us. We allow, as we sing in the second verse, His Spirit to be a fountain to us, cleansing and purifying us.

And we fall short, again and again. But we remember He is our friend, and that His hand is always outstretched to us to help us up so that we can try again.