Tag Archives: Prophets

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 #23: We Ever Pray for Thee

In the first few years after the restoration of the Church, it was quite possible that every member of the Church had at least occasional personal interaction with the prophet himself. Joseph Smith was even known to get down in the dirt and play games with the children.  The people knew the prophet, for they talked to him regularly.

These days, the vast majority of Church members have never met the prophet personally. We support and sustain him, of course, but our trust is based upon our faith in God, not personal experience. At a distance, it’s easy to make our modern prophets and apostles into idealized role models, practically perfect in every way.

As I listened to one of the apostles speak at a Stake Conference recently, I was struck by how false this idealism is. These are great men, of course, who have sought the Gifts of the Spirit and the blessings of revelation, but they are still just men. They have the same emotions that we do, the same long days and restless nights that we have. They get the same sicknesses, stub the same toes, and occasionally spill their drinks the same way we do. They are simply children of God who have learned to hearken to the voice of the Spirit, something we should all aspire to.

Today’s hymn is “We Ever Pray for Thee“. It’s message is simple—an acknowledgement of heavy burden borne by our prophetic leaders, and a prayer that they will be strengthened and empowered to handle the burdens placed upon them.

We ever pray for thee, our prophet dear,
That God will give to thee comfort and cheer;
As the advancing years furrow thy brow,
Still may the light within shine bright as now,
Still may the light within shine bright as now.

If advancing years “furrowing the brow” isn’t an acknowledgement of prophetic human-ness, I don’t know what is. Note that the sustaining blessing we seek for the prophet here is “comfort and cheer,” something we can all relate to. The prophetic calling does not remove the basic emotional needs all of us have.

We ever pray for thee with all our hearts,
That strength be given thee to do thy part,
To guide and counsel us from day to day,
To shed a holy light around our way,
To shed a holy light around our way.

As General Conference approaches in only a few weeks, it is appropriate to pray that our leaders will be given both spiritual and physical strength necessary to prepare for those duties—to be able to “shed a holy light around our way.” But this prayer alone is not enough; I hope we’ll also pray for willingness to follow that counsel.

We are truly blessed to have modern prophets to lead us—prophets authorized by God to direct his work and his ordinances throughout the world. But the Gifts of the Spirit are not limited to those who might address us at General Conference. We all have the same access to those gifts if we will earnestly seek them. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given.” (D&C 46:8) As we learn to receive and act upon revelation for ourselves, the burden borne by our leaders will be lightened.

So yes, let’s pray for the prophet, and let’s pray for the apostles, presidents, bishops, counselors, and other leaders who have been called to guide us. But in doing so, let’s not neglect our own spiritual growth. Let’s listen to the prophet, but let’s also listen to the Lord.

Hymn #27: Praise to the Man

Today marks 170 years since Joseph Smith was martyred at Carthage Jail in Illinois. It’s been a long time. To put it into perspective, the United States has only been a country for 238 years, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence seems like it was forever ago.

What has happened in 170 years? Did Joe Smith’s little band of followers–those darn Mormons–just fall apart and disappear without him, as I assume his assassins hoped might happen?

We all know the answer to that is a big fat NO.

According the 2013 statistical report given in last April’s General Conference, there are now over fifteen million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Over 100,000 missionaries–including full-time and church service missionaries–are currently preaching the gospel and serving communities in need. 141 temples dot the globe with several more in various stages of completion.

The stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” of which Daniel once spoke continues to fill the earth. “The God of heaven” has “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed.” Indeed “it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

Joseph Smith restored God’s kingdom to the earth. With his First Vision and subsequent visits from divine messengers, he opened the last dispensation. He received the necessary priesthood keys to provide each of us with the ordinances of salvation. What a great responsibility! What a sacred and honored duty! “Hail to the Prophet” indeed!

But here’s the thing. Even as we praise him, we acknowledge that Joseph Smith was just a man. We often hear him referred to as “the boy Joseph”; he was so very young, after all. Even this hymn of praise does not paint him as anything but what he was: a hero, a martyr, a prophet, yes, but at the end of the day still just “Brother Joseph.”

He was a man like any other man. He made mistakes and struggled under the weight of his calling and wondered, as we all sometimes do, “O God, where art thou?” (see D&C 121). This makes it easy for skeptics to find fault with him, claiming that such a flawed mortal could never have done what he claimed to do. Why would a perfect God use an imperfect man to restore His gospel? How can the church be true if Joseph Smith himself was not above reproach? Why do we believe in a prophet who is just so…human?

To anyone who asks such questions, I respond as Alma does:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37:6-7)

God does great things with imperfect people like Brother Joseph. Like you. Like me. Those statistics I cited above are not the result of wishful thinking or magic powers. A great deal of sacrifice from so many of God’s children has gone into building His kingdom in these last days.

Joseph Smith’s legacy gives me hope that I too can play a role in this great work. I may never commune with Jehovah in this life, and I certainly wasn’t “blessed to open the last dispensation.” But I do have a purpose here. I believe I was foreordained to accomplish amazing things. I believe you were too. If we can fight in the “conflict of justice” with the same faithfulness Joseph Smith showed, we too can “mingl[e] with Gods” and be “crowned in the midst of the prophets of old” someday.

Each of us has divine potential. Each of us has a place in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming the dead. Each of us has something to contribute, however small or simple.

After all, a 14-year-old boy who was willing to ask the right question at the right time has helped bring about the salvation of millions.

So what small and simple things will you do today?

Hymn #21: Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice

Often when I read scriptural accounts of past ages, I tend to imagine the events as I would the events of a fictional novel. Conceptually I know it’s true, but in some ways scripture seems more like a fairy tale. Prophetic leaders with divine authority parting oceans, calling down fire, or raising the dead is all well and good in the ancient past, but that time seems so distant from today.

As a life-long member of the Church, I sometimes forget just how remarkable our message really is. We proclaim that God speaks now, both to prophets and to his people. We proclaim that prophets long dead returned in angelic form to give authority and direction to Joseph Smith. We proclaim that the Father and the Son literally appeared to a boy, instigating the literal Restoration of an ancient Gospel. We proclaim healing blessings through priesthood power, and sealing power in holy temples. We preach repentance to a wicked people who know not God.

It’s like we’ve been thrust right into the middle of a scripture story.

And really, I think that’s the point. God’s interaction with humanity is no different today than it was anciently. The same priesthood power, the same blessings, and the same covenants are again available on the Earth. This feels like a scripture story because it is a scripture story—it’s the continued story of the Father teaching and preparing  and tutoring his children.

So yes! Come! Listen to a prophet’s voice! Leave behind the erring schemes of days now past, and follow in the straight and narrow way. If the very God of the all creation is truly directing prophets in our day, how grand a message we carry!

Of course, prophets aren’t always popular in their own time… even among those who profess the same religion as the prophet. The Israelites murmured against Moses. The Nephites sought after riches instead of righteousness. The Jews crucified Christ himself. What heed do we give to God’s prophets today?

Just a few weeks ago, we had a spectacular General Conference, in which prophets, seers, and revelators addressed the entire world in a way inconceivable to ancient prophets. Modern technology brings them closer than ever to Alma’s wish to “cry repentance unto every people.”

Do we listen? Or does the message come in one ear and out the other?

We are told to search the scriptures, to read them repeatedly and ponder their message. I would suggest that the same direction applies to the messages of modern prophets. We have more access than ever before to the words of God’s chosen messengers. Should we not treasure up those words just as we do other scripture?

But perhaps you do. Perhaps you do take the time to read and re-read the messages of General Conference, along with your other scriptures. Lest we get complacent, let’s read the fourth verse of this hymn:

Then heed the words of truth and light
That flow from fountains pure.
Yea, keep His law with all thy might
Till thine election’s sure,
Till thou shalt hear the holy voice
Assure eternal reign,
While joy and cheer attend thy choice,
As one who shall obtain.

Our goal is not merely to do “well enough” or to be “pretty righteous.” God’s invitation to us is to keep His law with all our might, to seek the assurance of having our calling and election made sure. (It may not surprise you to learn that the fourth verse was written by Bruce R. McConkie, who was known for addressing this topic often.) Joseph Smith taught this:

“I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.”

This may seem a lofty goal to some—and assuredly, it is. But God has grand plans for his children, and he lets us participate in them just as fast as we are able. He does not seek to withhold blessings from us; rather, he seeks to draw us ever closer to him, seeking to pour out blessings beyond what we can even receive. There is no room for complacency in God’s plan of salvation; no matter how much we learn and how much we emulate his Son, we still have so much more to learn.

The Gospel has been restored, and we are in the middle of a “marvelous work and a wonder.” Let’s participate fully in that work, not skimming lightly on the surface, touching only where it suits us. Prophets have been sent. Christ’s gospel is spreading throughout the world, as is the authority to administer its attendant covenants. The world is being prepared for Christ’s second coming. This is a momentous time.

So, please. Come, listen to a prophet’s voice. Listen, and heed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn #47: We Will Sing of Zion

The title says it all, really. We spend three verses singing of Zion. It’s a simple sentiment, and its simplicity speaks volumes. Each line only has from five to seven syllables (6 5 7 7 6, to be precise), and not a syllable is wasted in telling us what Zion is, who makes it up, and where it will go.

So what is Zion, exactly? We find out right off the bat: Zion is the pure in heart, those who seek the Savior’s part. The phrase “the pure in heart” is a stock answer in LDS culture to define Zion, but it’s a stock answer for a reason. The pure in heart are those without any, well, impurities in their hearts. They don’t have anything that distracts them or prevents them from giving themselves fully to their Savior. They are filled with His love, and as we sing, they seek the Savior’s part. They keep Him in their hearts and minds as best as they can.

As we purify our hearts and listen to the “revelations giv’n by God to men,” we learn one of Zion’s main functions. Zion readies us to see the Savior come again. It certainly helps us to prepare to meet Him at His second coming. We learn the signs, we learn His teachings, and we learn how to become more like Him. The prophets teach us by revelation, and we can receive those revelations, too, as we follow those teachings and keep ourselves pure. But I think Zion also helps us prepare for the second coming by getting us excited to see Him when He comes again. We look forward to that day. We are directed to sing resolutely. There is nothing holding us back, no lingering doubts, no unresolved spiritual hangups, no impurities (there’s that word again) preventing us from looking forward to that day with joy. And when we see Him again, we will feel that joy together with our fellow citizens in Zion.

We don’t know when that day will come. We won’t know until it happens. But in the meantime, we can help to build a community that looks forward to it right now, where we stand. We can keep His law in truth, and when we do so, the hymn promises that “hate and war and strife will cease; men will live in love and peace.” It reminds me of the beautiful passage in Revelation where John describes, well, I’ll let him tell you what he describes:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

This is where Zion is headed. We look forward not only to the day when our Savior will come again, but to the day when we will live with Him and the Father, and when they will wipe the tears from our eyes, removing all of our sorrows and burdens, just as we are commanded to do in building Zion here. We look forward to seeing the Zion in heaven joined with our Zion on earth and made one, both in borders and in heart. And this is why at the end of the hymn, we sing (resolutely!), “Heav’nly Zion, come once more and cover all the earth,” because we want this not only for our friends, not only for our neighbors, but for everyone. We want to see everyone accept the outstretched arms and hands of our Savior, not just those we know.

We’ll get there, as we start building Zion here. And as we build it, we will sing of Zion, the kingdom of our God.