Tag Archives: Praise

Hymn #61: Raise Your Voices to the Lord

Raise your voices to the Lord,
Ye who here have heard his word.
As we part, his praise proclaim,
Shout thanksgiving to his name.

Shout thanksgiving! Let our song
Still our joy and praise prolong,
Until here we meet again
To renew the glad refrain.

It’s a short hymn with just eight short lines, and since it’s so short, it’s a fine choice to close a meeting. Sometimes, when we’ve had a particularly fine meeting in which we’ve felt the Spirit’s influence and been inspired, the last thing we want to hear is something long and droning that diminishes what we’ve already heard. Sometimes the most welcome sight in a meeting is someone offering a short benediction to bring an edifying experience to a close.

The theme of thanksgiving is also apt. A brief closing hymn goes well with a particularly uplifting meeting so as not to try to upstage what has already been shared. We are thankful for the fine messages we have heard. We are thankful for the blessing of meeting together with our fellow saints, or for being able to hear the gospel message. We are thankful for a loving Father who has brought these blessings into our lives, and for the chance we have had to draw nearer to Him.

So with such a short hymn, I’ll get out of the way of the message, too. Thanksgiving is over and past, but that’s no reason for gratitude to be behind us as well. What are you grateful for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s use all the power of heart and tongue–and I would add “might, mind, and strength“–to remember Him, serve Him, and praise Him.

Hymn #246: Onward, Christian Soldiers

This is just about the most militaristic, jingoistic hymn we have available. There are soldiers right there in the title, and we sing about “marching as to war” and going “forward into battle.” It has a sharp, crisp cadence to it, making you feel like you want to stand up and march. You want to strap on a helmet, grab a sword and shield, and do battle with the adversary. It’s a pump-up song at its finest.

Only despite all the military zeal drummed up by the hymn, at no time do we sing about weaponry, injury, or even attacking at all. We gather behind Christ, the royal Master, we march into battle… and that’s it, right? Why are we marching into battle if we’re not even armed? How do we expect to come off conqueror against the enemy?

Well, it’s not as though we’re completely unarmed. We remember hearing Paul describe the armor of God as he taught that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’re waging a war against an enemy that can’t simply be cut into little pieces. We’re battling an enemy composed of ideas, temptations, and allurement. So we protect ourselves with truth, righteousness, preparation, and faith. We take up the sword of the Spirit–not to take the offensive, but to defend ourselves against the enemy’s parries and thrusts.

We do have one weapon in our arsenal, though. In the second verse, we sing that “hell’s foundations quiver at the sound of praise.” We’ve heard that in the scriptures before, too. The children of Israel circled Jericho over and over, doing nothing but walking. But when they circled the city that seventh time, Joshua called out to them, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city,” and while the scriptures don’t explicitly say that they were shouts of praise, I imagine the knowledge that the Lord had given them the victory without having to raise so much as a hand couldn’t help but make those shouts of praise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God, but it’s not up to us to do the fighting. The Lord can fight His own battles, and He, in fact, does just that. We’re all too willing to leap into the fray, but more often than that, it’s not what He asks of us. He wants us to remain with the group and assume a defensive position. “We are not divided,” we sing of our united army. “One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” While the Lord fights our battles, we defend one another, building up faith, watching out for temptation, and looking after our fellow saints. The Savior leads out against the foe, and we follow, singing shouts and anthems of praise, causing the enemy to flee before us.

So we sing with military zest and precision. The snappy beat and meter fills us with pep and zeal. We stand up and begin marching as to war, but not to the actual war itself. We form ranks, fill lines, and assume our positions, ready to defend the kingdom of God and its citizens. Our job isn’t to take the offensive and deliver the crushing, finishing blow to Satan; that job has already been completed, as we remind ourselves by the fact that we are led by the “cross of Jesus going on before.”

sparrow

Hymn #75: In Hymns of Praise

sparrow

We sing praise to the Lord for a lot of different things in the hymnal. We sing about His mercy, His grace and goodness, and His love. We sing about His power and might, and we sing about His righteousness. There’s a lot to praise, certainly. Here, we sing about his strength, as we hear in the chorus. Listen:

Exalt his name in loud acclaim;
His mighty pow’r adore!
And humbly bow before him now,
Our King forevermore.

We sing of His strength, and we do so with strong voices. This is the One who “ruleth earth and sky” and commands the “shining planets.” He is the Ruler and the Creator of the universe, and it is His to command. He tells mountains to move, and they move. He tells the ocean to draw back, and it draws back. Nature recognizes its Master, and it obeys. We do our best to obey as well, but we’re nowhere near the perfect servants that nature is. Which is fine, of course; it’s our free will that makes us disobedient at times, but also what makes us worth fighting for and redeeming. When we freely give our will over to our Lord, we are of infinitely more worth than nature, and have so much further that we can progress.

We are the purpose of all of this. “This is my work and my glory,” the Lord said to Moses, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” We exist so that we can have what He has. We are of infinite worth to Him. He knows us, He loves us, and He wants us to grow and progress.

It doesn’t always feel like that, of course. We have difficulty hearing His voice or feeling His presence sometimes, whether it’s because we’ve strayed from Him, or simply because we need time alone to grow. I’ve felt that loneliness, just as you have. It’s difficult to feel like no one is there for you, and that no one understands your sorrow and pain.

Verse three gives us hope:

The little flow’r that lasts an hour,
The sparrow in its fall,
They, too, shall share his tender care;
He made and loves them all.

We stop and consider the lilies of the field. These little flowers, small, insignificant, and utterly common, one of thousands and millions, do not fall without the Lord knowing. He is aware of each of His flowers. He created them, each of them. He knows their petals, their stems, their pistils and stamens. He knows the contour of their stalks and the number of their seeds. They are His.

He knows the sparrows, each as they flit through the air, peck at the ground, and gather twigs for their nests. He knows their feathers, their toes, and their eyes, each unique, even though they are one of millions of seemingly-identical birds. They are not unremarkable to Him. He knows them, because He created them.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

“Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” The Lord knows His sparrows, and He loves each of them; how much more so will He not love us, in whose image we are created? We are His work and His glory. We are the reason He suffered, bled, and died, and we are the reason He rose again. I can promise you that He who loves His lilies and sparrows loves us so, so much more.

And so we sing in the fourth verse, which ties together the seeming dichotomy between the all-powerful ruler of the universe and the gentle Lord who knows the details of that universe:

Then sing again in lofty strain
To him who dwells on high;
To prayers you raise, and songs of praise,
He sweetly will reply.

Image credit: “Sparrow Tree Branch Bird,” pixabay.com user gabicuz.

Hymn #147: Sweet Is the Work

The work doesn’t feel very sweet today. It feels heavy and sad and a little bit futile. Many things are weighing on my mind and my spirit, and a hymn of triumph and joy is not exactly fitting for my mood.

But the text of this hymn brings me hope.

I love the Lord. I love to “praise [his] name, give thanks and sing.” I see his hand in my life and know that he is mindful of me. His truths–even the ones I don’t fully comprehend–are beautiful, and I love to learn about and discuss them. Writing about the hymns here brings joy and an added measure of the Spirit into my life.

But I know that there are many who do not feel that way. I have brothers and sisters whose hearts are seized by mortal cares, who are unsure of his divine counsels and wonder whether they shine brightly enough to cut through the darkness of doubt.

This is my prayer: that my heart may be found in tune with God’s will. That “my inward foes shall all be slain nor Satan break my peace again.” That I can live in such a way that “when in the realms of joy I see [God's] face” it will be in full felicity, because I will know that despite my weaknesses I have done my best.

It’s my prayer for all of you as well. Because while we may not know everything now, someday we will. When we return to our heavenly home, “then shall [we] see and hear and know all [we] desired and wished below.”

Our knowledge will be complete. Everything will make sense and wrongs will be made right.

And oh, how sweet it will be.

river

Hymn #242: Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow

river

It’s literally four phrases long, so let’s just go ahead and listen to all of the words right now:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

There’s only one verse, and even if you sing it at 58 beats per minute (the slowest recommended tempo) and hold out each fermata for three counts, the hymn only lasts about 48 seconds. If you space out for a moment, you could miss it, and that would be a shame, because there’s plenty to consider here.

The exhortation for all creatures above and below to praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is lovely. No one is exempt from the call. All of us here on earth, no matter our situation, no matter who, where, or what we are, are to offer our praise. We can be black or white, male or female, rich or poor, righteous or sinners, but we are all to praise God, our Father and Creator. The heavenly host joins us in singing those praises, and while your mileage may vary on this, I feel that animals, plants, and even the earth itself joins as well. All creation unites in singing praise to its Maker.

And it’s fitting that everything is to offer praise, because it’s for everything that we offer that praise. As we sing, we praise God, from whom “all blessings flow.” He is not the source of some blessings, many blessings, or even most blessings. He is the source of all blessings. There is nothing good but that He has made it. He is the source of the grand blessings we see, such as life-saving miracles, parting of seas, and the moving of mountains, but He is also the source of small mercies, like a call from a friend, a problem solved at work, or even just the gentle reassurance that He is there and aware of you.

That’s difficult for us to comprehend and appreciate sometimes. We often think of miracles and blessings being things that happen to other people. We hear stories of someone’s aunt laying sick in a hospital, dying of some lingering disease, praying and exercising faith that the prophet will come and heal her. And he does come, she is healed, and she says something along the lines of, “I knew the Lord would send you to me.” They’re incredible stories, and they do much to strengthen our faith in general. but sometimes they can leave our faith specific to our own situations wanting. We trust that the prophet can call down the powers of heaven, but will that help us find our car keys when we’re already late? Will it help us when we’re faced with choosing between paying our tithing and paying the electric bill?

When those smaller problems are resolved and the promised blessings come, it’s much easier for us to give the credit elsewhere. If we pray to find our missing keys and then find them buried under a pile of mail, it’s tempting to say something like, “Never mind, Lord! They were right here. I meant to look here, but just hadn’t gotten to it yet.” When we pay our tithing and the electric bill turns out to be a little less than we expected, it’s easy to chalk that up to a miscalculation on our part. “Don’t worry about this one, Lord! It turns out we didn’t need your help, after all.” But those are blessings, small though they may be, and their source is our God, the same as it is with grander, more impressive blessings.

When we open our eyes and ascribe the praise for all blessings to God, we find that there are many, many more blessings in our lives than we ever realized. And as we recognize just how richly blessed we are, we join our voices with “all creatures here below” and the “heav’nly host.” Ours is a generous God, if only we’d stop and take notice of just how willing to bless us He is.

Image credit: “River Stone Water Cold Murmur Roaring Wild,” Pixabay user Hans Braxmeier.

Hymn #73: Praise the Lord with Heart and Voice

On its surface, this seems to be a pretty typical hymn of praise. God is good, and we’re here to sing about it. We sing about the gifts that He has given us (“life and light,” “truth revealed, “grace,” and “wondrous love,” to name a few), and we sing about our adoration for Him for those gifts. But it’s not really a hymn about any of those things. We aren’t singing about the restoration, or about the Atonement, or anything else like that. We’re not even expressing gratitude, particularly. We’re simply offering praise to the One who gave all of that to us.

If we were to leave the hymn there, there wouldn’t be much to dissect. There’s not much under the surface of praise. But it’s when we look at the title that we find a little more to consider. Yes, this is a hymn of praise–it’s the first word of the title, after all. But consider how it is that we praise our Lord. We praise Him with not only our voice, but also with our heart. We tell Him and others about His goodness and mercy, but we feel it in our hearts as well. Our praise isn’t limited to only our words, but it lives in our actions, too.

We talked about our hearts last week. They represent the most central parts of our being. When we speak of something being near to our heart, we mean that it is very dear to us. And so when we say that we praise the Lord not only with our voices, but with our hearts, we mean that our praise comes from our very cores. These are not idle words. We feel this praise deeply. When we “sing with joy for grace made known,” we’re not simply saying that this grace is good. We feel it. That praise permeates us and is a key part of who we are.

Offering praise from our heart is more than a one-time event. Unlike a song of praise, a heart of praise can be constant. Everything about our lives offers glory to the Lord. It is evident in our actions, our words, and our thoughts. Others can see it when they talk with us.  The Book of Mormon prophet Amaleki touches on this idea, describing it as “[offering] your whole souls as an offering unto him.” Every part of us, starting from our hearts and radiating outward, is filled with praise for our Lord. It begins to encompass every part of our being.

That’s a state of mind that takes some time to reach. For many of us, it can be fleeting. We can feel that fullness of praise sometimes, but as we are caught up in other parts of our lives, it fades, slipping through our fingers. For those times that we can’t offer our whole hearts to the Lord, we do our best by offering our voices. Sometimes, rather than feeling that praise from inside out, we work to feel it from the outside in. As we offer our praise “in loud acclaim,” our hearts can be softened. We invite the Spirit to testify of the truth of what we are singing (and invite Him to offer praise of His own), which helps us to offer our hearts as praise as well. We work to offer praise with both our hearts and voices, “[singing] the wonders of his name.”

Hymn #71: With Songs of Praise

For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. (D&C 25:12)

Music is a huge part of Latter-Day Saint culture. Our first hymnal was published only five years after the church was organized. It is standard to sing at least three hymns (sometimes four or more) at any sacrament meeting, plus more during the other two hours at church and at any other meetings that we may attend. We have our own award-winning, internationally recognized choir, for heaven’s sake! Throw in Gladys Knight, the Osmonds, David Archuleta, Alex Boye, Lindsey Stirling, The Piano Guys…the number of musically talented Mormons is astounding, and I’m not surprised.

With songs of praise and gratitude
We worship God above,
In words and music give our thanks
For his redeeming love.

After moving into a new ward, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. The first was not yet old enough for nursery, and I worried that my already strained ability to worship would take another hit when baby #2 arrived. As things stood, my Sundays were largely taken up by cheerios and diaper changes and whisking a loud baby out of yet another meeting, and I missed being able to sit still and soak in the spirit.

Then the ward choir director invited me to come sing.

Against my usual inclination, I handed the baby off to my husband and nervously went to practice. I was welcomed with smiles and a folder of music and then we sang! And sang and sang and sang until I thought I might burst from the joy of it all. This was what I had been missing! This was the renewal and reconciliation with God that I needed to desperately.

If “a heartfelt song by righteous ones is prayer” then I am certainly praying when I practice those choir songs. The music we perform truly “unites us and invites the Spirit to be there.” Even when my almost-but-not-quite-a-true-soprano voice can’t quite reach that high G. Even when there aren’t enough tenors to balance out the basses. Even when nobody really likes the arrangement we’re singing. The Spirit is present and we sing together as one.

As this hymn indicates, the seed of Abraham sang their praises to God so many years ago. In years to come the Saints will sing “the new song of the Lamb.” Meanwhile I will be belting out my part as best I can. Sure, my Sabbath is still occupied largely with my babies and their accoutrements, but when I make my way up to the stand with the rest of the choir, this chorus fills my heart:

Then come before God’s presence!
With singing worship him!
Express the heart too full to speak,
In one exultant hymn.

-

(On a related note, the most recent comic from The Garden of Enid made me laugh. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?)

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 #68: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

In our LDS hymnal, the text for A Mighty Fortress is credited “Martin Luther, adapted.” There is undeniably quite a bit of adaptation here. The original German text contains four verses, which are interesting in their own right but not the focus of this analysis. Here, I wish to examine the doctrine taught in the lyrics we have in the LDS hymnal.

God is strong, never failing

A mighty fortress is our God,
A tower of strength ne’er failing.

The Book of Mormon speaks of the “Strength of the Lord,” often referencing increased strength and ability given to the righteous in battle. Other scriptures speak of the word of God as a sword. Yet here, the strength of God is represented not as a dynamic, offensive force but rather a sure and immovable one. Both symbols are instructive, but this one is surely appropriate in our day, when values and morals are changing so rapidly. The truth does not shift or change; true doctrine stands firm and powerful against all attempts to sway it.

God helps us overcome ills and trials

A helper mighty is our God,
O’er ills of life prevailing.

In the middle of a song about the strength and majesty of God, this phrase is unique. It teaches that God uses this great power and stability to help us. His goal is not simply to gain power for the sake of power, but rather to enable and bless all of his children. When the “ills of life” strike, whatever they may be, we can always turn to our God.

God has opened the path for us to return to Him

He overcometh all.
He saveth from the Fall.

“He overcometh all” is an understated phrase with profound implications. Christ has overcome death, sin, sorrow, and separation. All the pains and injustices we observe here on Earth are overcome through Christ, and will be resolved to our complete satisfaction when we return to our eternal home. Of specific note is that Christ has overcome the Fall. Of all the victories of Christ, this one is perhaps the greatest, as it is the one that most directly impacts the work of God. If the Fall had not been overcome, we would all be left without hope of reunification with our Father, and would eventually become spiritually dead.

God is powerful, as evidenced by Creation

His might and pow’r are great.
He all things did create.

The creation of all things gives support to our faith. Our God is not simply one who loves us and encourages us to be nice. He is not simply the God of Friendly Interactions™, though some today would cast Christ in that role. As we examine the vast creations of God, we instead gain a sense that he is far greater and far more powerful. In the book of Moses we read “Worlds without number have I created.” As we step back and view the enormity of God’s creation, we cannot help but be awed by scope of it. And yet, he is not only a god of broad strokes, but also a god of intimate detail. I enjoy examining individual leaves in our garden, or individual blades of grass. Truly, the life all around us testifies of the skill and power of God.  At even finer detail, internal cellular structures and microscopic interactions testify to the intelligence and capacity of God. From the unfathomable to the minuscule, God’s creation draws our minds and our hearts unto him.

God will reign eternally

And he shall reign for evermore.

Ours is not a fleeting God, one to be toppled by the next wind of doctrine or the next discovery of science. He will retain his power and ability forever. He will also retain his love for us, his children, eternally. He is a mighty fortress, never to fall or be swayed.

And we are his children. What a wonderful heritage is ours.

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 #257: Rejoice! A Glorious Sound Is Heard

shout, by Krista Baltroka

shout, by Krista Baltroka

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve sung this song in church. It’s not one that I’m very familiar with. Maybe you are. Whether you are or not, though, it’s a hymn that has a familiar feel to it. We’ve sung similar hymns with similar feelings. Some have a strong cadence to them, like the hymns of Zion. Others have soaring crescendos, like the hymns of praise. It’s the meter that makes this hymn feel so familiar. The meter is called Common Meter Doubled (CMD), and it falls into four neat couples of eight and six beats. You probably recognize it from many of the hymns you’re familiar with: it has mostly quarter notes, with the occasional syncopated eighth note thrown in here and there, and each couplet ends with a dotted half note held out to mark the end of a phrase. It’s simple, which is why it’s used frequently enough to be called common meter.

The simplicity of the hymn ties in well with the message. We sing praise to the Father, and we rejoice in His Son. We glory that His cause is found in triumph. We are glad to hear that Zion’s youth–our youth–go forth in “wondrous might” and are found “in league with truth.” These are simple things, though that’s not to say that we don’t find joy in things that are more complicated and nuanced as well. We glory in our Lord. We do as much at the end of the first verse when we sing these words:

Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts,
All hail thee, King most high.

The message is simple when you get down to it. God lives, and we worship Him. The rest of the lyrics explain more about why we worship Him (His perfection, grace, and sacrifice of His Son), but the main thrust of the hymn is found in those two lines. God lives, and that’s a thing to shout about.

When compared to some other Christian churches, the music of the LDS Church is pretty tame. We don’t have robed choirs swaying and shimmying as they sing. We don’t have electric guitars or brass. In fact, we’re encouraged not to stray beyond the hymnal when performing in church. Our music is more reserved than one might expect out of gospel music. But that’s not to say that we don’t (or shouldn’t) shout with praise. Even if we don’t literally shout while singing this hymn, we are encouraged to sing vigorously, and there’s even an exclamation point in the title to give it a little extra oomph. When we sing this hymn, we are not simply to rejoice. We are to rejoice! The Lord has triumphed over sin and strife, and we will, with Him, in glory reign.

So give a shout today. As the third verse encourages us, arise and sing to His great name. Send forth a joyous strain. Feel the joy of the gospel, and let out that great exultant cry from the first verse: Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts, all hail thee, king most high.

Hymn #134: I Believe in Christ

If ever there was a hymn written to confirm that Mormons are indeed Christians, it’s this one. Just as the Articles of Faith lay out the basics of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, this hymn explains in fairly simple terms what we believe about Jesus Christ.

It’s like a manifesto of our Christianity.

Eight times we sing, “I believe in Christ,” then follow each affirmation with what precisely we believe about him.

“He is God’s Son.” Literally. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father. As such, he inherited traits from his Immortal Father that enabled him to perform miracles, to suffer the Atonement, and to be resurrected after his crucifixion.

“As Mary’s Son he came to reign.” He was born to a mortal mother in humble circumstances. The traits he inherited from her–the ability to experience pain, sickness, and ultimately death–were also necessary for him to fulfill his mission on earth.

“He healed the sick; the dead he raised.” He spent his ministry in service to others: relieving suffering, showing mercy, healing the broken-hearted, bringing hope to those who had none. He called upon the power of God and gave people a chance to exercise faith they didn’t know they had.

He “marked the path.” By his example–not just his teachings but also his actions– we know what we need to do to obtain eternal life: love God, love others, keep the commandments, and endure to the end.

“He is the source of truth and light.” The Savior himself said it better than I can: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Furthermore, he told the Brother of Jared, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. … I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.” (Ether 4:12)

“He ransoms me.”  By paying the price demanded by justice and offering mercy to the sinner, he defeated both death and hell. That Atonement makes it possible for us to gain eternal life and exaltation. Put in terms a Christian of any denomination would recognize: it is by his grace that we are saved.

“He is my King! … My Lord, My God … He stands supreme.” It isn’t called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nothing. He stands at its head and we acknowledge him as our divine King.

“He [will come] again to rule among the sons of men.” He lived, he died, he lived again, and he will return to earth in all his glory, might, and majesty. We look forward not with fear but with hope for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the Lord God. (see Philippians 2:10-11 and Mosiah 27:31)

Say what you will about any other point of LDS doctrine, we believe in Christ.