Tag Archives: Repentance

fear

Hymn #97: Lead, Kindly Light

fear

Like many other Latter-day Saint men, I served as a missionary from the ages of nineteen to twenty-one. I packed my bags, put on a suit, and did my best to teach the gospel to everyone I saw in northern Japan for two years. It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you haven’t served as a missionary yourself or if you aren’t familiar with the process, then it’s worth understanding that missionaries stay in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for a bit before they’re sent to their appointed mission. Those being sent to an area with a language they already speak usually only get a couple of weeks; those who don’t (like me) get a little longer so they can get a crash course in the language. But whether you’re there for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the experience is mostly the same for everyone. You see young men and women walking around carrying books, reading scriptures, practicing teaching techniques, and big bright smiles on their faces. And while those smiles are wonderful to look at, if you look just a bit higher, you’ll usually see terrified eyes.

For many young missionaries, this is the first time they’ve been away from home for this long, and it’s certainly the most consequential thing they’ve ever been asked to do. It’s daunting, and it’s downright scary at times. I was ready to pack up and go home after my first night, but I gathered myself and promised that I’d stick it out. Just look at that picture of me at the top. That’s the picture they took of me my first day in Japan, and you can see the fear in my eyes. I suspect I wasn’t the only one that was scared, though. And I suspect that’s true because of how often I heard other missionaries tell me that today’s hymn became their favorite while in the MTC.

This is a hymn about faith in the face of fear. “The night is dark, and I am far from home,” we sing, and for many young missionaries, it was the first time. It’s still true for many of us. Despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves trapped in the dark night, surrounded by the encircling gloom. The world is scary, and the things we are asked to do are daunting. But through the darkness we catch a glimpse of the light, and even if it only lights one step in front of us rather than the “distant scene,” that’s enough. We can take a single step toward the light, trusting that more will be illuminated for us.

The tune of the hymn is a gentle one, and the modest tempo and 3/2 time make it feel like a lullaby. The lyrics are comforting, but so is the music itself. I’m sure that contributed to my humming it while the horrors of life in a foreign country far away from my family and friends bore down on me. It’s soothing and peaceful, and it always calmed me down when I felt especially panicky. It also helped to strengthen my faith when it wasn’t particularly strong. When I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry on, or when I found doubts creeping into my mind about whether or not I was doing the right thing with my life, the lilting refrains of “lead thou me on” gave me strength.

Being a young missionary filled with fear is no different than being a young parent with wide eyes, or stepping into any new phase of life with that look of excitement and terror on your face. Life is scary sometimes. Life is scary a lot of times, but, well, let’s listen to the final verse and see why it’s not so bad, after all:

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Hymn #146: Gently Raise the Sacred Strain

Gently raise the sacred strain,
For the Sabbath’s come again
That man may rest,
And return his thanks to God
For his blessings to the blest.

Why do we worship?

Why do we take a day off each week and spend it in church, singing hymns, listening to sermons, engaging in prayer, and doing any of a number of things that take the place of something much more fun? We could be watching football with friends, taking a drive through the country, or going to the movies. Surely anything would beat sitting through church, right? Worse yet, once church is over, we’re not supposed to come home, peel off our Sunday clothes, and run out and catch up with all of those fun things we set aside for a few hours. We’re supposed to stay home and spend the day with family. Ugh, right? Sundays are so restrictive!

Well, while it may feel that way sometimes, we might do well to remember that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” Sundays aren’t designed to punish us, or to make us feel constrained or miserable. The Sabbath is designed for us, and specifically “that [we] may rest.” It’s a day for us to rest from our labor, but also from the hustle and bustle of our lives. We spend the day in quiet contemplation, thinking about the ways we have been blessed and returning our thanks unto Him who gave us those blessings. That’s not to say, of course, that we are to sit at home all day ticking off blessings until it’s time to go to bed. We can find plenty of good ways to fill our time and still keep the Sabbath a holy day. But we are to rest, not only as a way of rejuvenating ourselves for the coming week, but also as a way of taking time out of our lives to remember the Lord. That might mean sacrificing things that others enjoy on Sundays, whether that’s playing golf with friends, going to brunch at a nice restaurant, or anything else.

I’m struck by the fact that we raise the sacred strain “gently.” So much of what we do in the gospel is with kindness and softness. There’s no need to declare our Sabbath activities from the rooftops. We go about our days quietly, gently, and with meekness. We “partake the sacrament in remembrance of our Lord.” We do our best to keep Sunday a “holy day, devoid of strife.” And perhaps most importantly, we make our day emblematic of our lives by making it an offering to the Lord. He asks for one day out of seven to be His, and we offer it to Him willingly. So too do we offer our lives to Him, and on the Sabbath we rededicate ourselves to that offering by partaking of the sacrament. “We bring our gifts around of broken hearts as a willing sacrifice,” we sing in the third verse, “showing what his grace imparts.” We submit our hearts and our wills to Him, and when we meet on Sundays, we have the chance to see that sacrifice in others, and we can see the blessings that dedication to the Savior brings. That inspires us to redouble our efforts in His service, knowing what we can become as we give ourselves to Him.

We learn of Him on the Sabbath, and we learn how to become more like Him. By partaking of the sacrament–the only ordinance we take part in more than once in our lifetime–we remember the magnitude of the sacrifice He made for us, and we remember that we have taken upon us His name, and that through that name and sacrifice, we can be made clean again. We worship the Lord because He made it possible for us to return to that purified state, and we dedicate our Sundays each week to give ourselves the chance to contemplate that fact. It’s something that can take more than a couple of hours each week, and it’s why worship isn’t something that is restricted to a meetinghouse, but is constantly before us.

Holy, holy is the Lord.
Precious, precious is his word:
Repent and live,
Repent and live;
Tho your sins be crimson red,
Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.

Hymn #114: Come unto Him

I wander through the still of night,
When solitude is ev’rywhere–
Alone, beneath the starry light,
And yet I know that God is there.

This hymn starts off (to me at least) with imagery that reminds us of the story of Enos, the Book of Mormon prophet who went into the woods to hunt, recognized that “[his] soul hungered,” and knelt in prayer, looking for his own experience to mirror those of his father, which had sunk deep into his heart. An answer came to him, an audible voice that told him that his sins were forgiven him. He prayed on, engaging in conversation with the Lord. It’s a powerful story, one that teaches us of the importance of deep, meaningful prayer.

I’ve offered prayers like that. My soul has hungered, and I’ve turned to the Lord, hoping to have a significant spiritual experience. And those experiences have come, although not in such a grand or profound way as Enos’ was. Most people don’t see visions, hear voices, or encounter angels as a result of prayer, no matter how meaningful or heartfelt. That doesn’t make our spiritual experiences any less powerful to us, though. “I kneel upon the grass and pray,” we sing in the first verse of this hymn, and we are met with “an answer… without a voice.”

The Holy Ghost touches our hearts as we give them to the Savior. He testifies of the Father and the Son, helping us to remember why it is that we believe in Him and trust Him. We are filled with His love. Our hearts are purified. We don’t need to see an angel to feel that love, nor do we need to engage in an audible conversation with the Lord to have our sins cleansed from us.

“When I am filled with strong desire and ask a boon of him,” we sing in the second verse, “I see no miracle of living fire, but what I ask flows into me.” When we offer our sincere prayers to the Lord, we can feel the promised blessings come into our lives. Those blessings are confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost, which is that “miracle of living fire” we feel, but do not see.  Two other Book of Mormon prophets, the brothers Nephi and Lehi, felt that living fire manifest to themselves powerfully, as did the people they taught. They felt the words of Christ sink deep into their hearts, as did Enos, and their lives were changed for it. Our lives are changed too, when we do the same.

The central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are to come unto Him. We are to give our lives to Him, our hearts, and everything else that makes us who we are. As we do so, we are filled with His love, and we know that the Holy Ghost will testify of that love to us. He will always be there for us. It’s up to us to draw ourselves near to Him. We remind ourselves of that every time we sing this hymn.

Come unto him all ye depressed,
Ye erring souls whose eyes are dim,
Ye weary ones who long for rest.
Come unto him! Come unto him!

Hymn #115: Come, Ye Disconsolate

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish.
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

I’ve got a firm testimony that sorrow and anguish are part of the mortality package deal. Between disease, aging, injury, and constant physical needs, living in these bodies of ours is a challenge. Then there’s agency, both ours and that of every single other person on earth, which creates the potential for so many people to make so many choices that negatively affect so many other people. Eventually, almost inevitably, life happens, and at some point each of us find ourselves wounded, weak, and weary.

Which means at some point in our lives, every one of us is the individual addressed in this beautiful, repetitive hymn. “Come,” we are told four times in three short verses. Come to the mercy seat, to the feast of love.

But why? What–or who–is there that beckons us to bring wounded hearts and anguish?

Here speaks the Comforter.

When first we “came unto Christ” in baptism, we were blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost. He reminds us of truths we know and restores our hope in Christ. He brings us peace amidst chaos and guidance in times of confusion. He, unsurprisingly, comforts us when we need it most.

Here see the Bread of Life.

As we listen to the Holy Ghost, we draw nearer to our Savior. We learn that He truly is the Bread of Life, as He once told His disciples: “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve felt disconsolate. I’ve often described how I felt in those moments as hollow or even dead inside. At the time I knew something was lacking; in hindsight I can easily identify the missing pieces. Hope. Joy. Love. All the things that Jesus Christ promises with which to fill us if we come unto Him.

Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

When the doctor tells you it’s cancer. When the ultrasound shows something is not quite right with the baby. When the phone call comes because there has been an accident. When your husband tells you his love for you is gone. When you wake up every day alone in an empty house.

Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.

When you struggle against the stigma of physical disability or mental illness. When you encounter injustice in the workforce because of your race, gender, religion, size, or age. When you are bullied and belittled by people who should know better, who should treat you as a brother or sister. When you start to believe that this is how it is supposed to be.

Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.

While so many limitations may not be removed from our bodies and minds right away, the Holy Ghost can guide us to medical professionals who can best help us endure them well. While unkind and even downright evil people may not be removed from our paths, we can trust in a Savior who loves us and believed us worthy of the greatest sacrifice ever given.

We may not see a single hardship removed from our mortal lives. However, someday–some blessed day–we will fervently kneel at the throne of God and know, as we have ever known, that He will show us mercy and grace and love.

And we will be healed.

Hymn #112: Savior, Redeemer of My Soul

Like we do in many hymns, we sing about our Savior in this hymn, and as we often do when we sing about the Lord, we sing particularly about His atoning sacrifice. His “mighty hand hath made [us] whole, [His] wondrous pow’r hath raised [us] up and filled with sweet [our] bitter cup.” He, and He alone, has purified us when we had strayed from His presence. He has redeemed us, and it’s that role in particular that we sing about.

Isaiah wrote about the bitter cup, giving us an image that I’ve always found powerful. Listen:

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.

[But] thus saith thy Lord the Lord, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again. (Isaiah 51:17, 22)

Sometimes, in our lives, it’s not enough that we drink out of the cup of His fury. Not only do we stray, we seem to insist on drinking the dregs of the cup. We return to the sin that separates us from Him again and again, refusing to return to Him and refusing to let Him help us. The Lord sees us, and He, our God who pleads our cause, gently takes the cup out of our hands. “Let me,” He says, and does what we cannot by drinking the bitter cup to the uttermost. The juxtaposition between the cup of fury and the kindness and softness he treats us with has always been striking to me.

We cannot drink the bitter cup ourselves. We cannot pay the price for our own sins, no matter how willing we are, or insistent that we drink the dregs of the cup of trembling. We’re simply not capable of it, and if we can’t settle our own spiritual debts, there’s no chance that we could do so on behalf of anyone else, let alone everyone else. The price is simply too high. But the Savior could, and He did. We are bought with a price, Paul wrote, and as we discussed earlier, the cost was dear. And so we must love Him too. Listen to the second verse:

Never can I repay thee, Lord,
But I can love thee. Thy pure word,
Hath it not been my one delight,
My joy by day, my dream by night?
Then let my lips proclaim it still,
And all my life reflect thy will.

“Never can I repay thee, Lord, but I can love thee.” Those few words sum up our relationship with the Master. He has suffered too greatly, too deeply for us to ever hope to balance the ledger. His pains were sore, how sore and exquisite, we know not. But he doesn’t ask us to repay Him. He asks only that we love Him, and do His will. And so we do. We do the things He asks us to do. We learn of Him, and do our best to emulate Him and follow His example. In all things we let our lips proclaim His gospel, and let all our lives reflect His will.

He has given us more than we can possibly comprehend, and He asks for so little in return. But as we offer what little we have, He pours out His redemptive gifts on us, helping to change “frowning foes to smiling friends” and making us “more worthy of [His] love.” He can change us, making us both in “perfect harmony with [Him]” and making us more “fit… for the life above.”

He has redeemed each of us. What tongue our gratitude can tell?