Tag Archives: Sacrifice

pioneers

Hymn #36: They, the Builders of the Nation

pioneers

They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.

This hymn is, on the surface of it, an ode to the Mormon Pioneers, a group with a hallowed place in Latter-day Saint lore. This first (or second, depending on how you want to look at it) generation of saints in the latter days heard the gospel message, embraced it and converted, and gave up everything to be with their fellow saints, often having to start anew several times. They were run out of Ohio, out of Missouri, and out of Illinois. They journeyed across the prairie to build a home in the mountains where they could be safe from persecution. It cost them dearly; many of the saints were buried along the trail.

Stories abound in the Church about brave souls who walked across frozen soil barefoot, or who waded through icy water to carry others across a river, or those who felt the supporting hands of angels as they pushed handcarts across the plains. They’re dramatic stories, and they’re inspiring. They remind us the importance of sacrificing for the kingdom. They gave up comforts in order to help build the foundation of the Church for the generations that would follow. They blazed trails for their descendants; literal trails into the Rocky Mountains of course, but trails of faith and courage for their children and grandchildren to follow as well. We tell stories about the Pioneers not just for their drama, but for their ability to promote faith in us.

But setting aside the refrains of “blessed, honored Pioneer!” and “pushing on the wild frontier,” this could just as easily be about you and I. We are builders of the nation, too. The Pioneers helped to lay the groundwork for the kingdom, but it is by no means finished. It’s certainly an impressive feat that a church that first appeared in 1830 (in its modern incarnation, anyway) currently has over fifteen million members across the globe. The thousands of stakes and tens of thousands of wards sprawled across the nations is a testament to how far the Church has come. The nearly seven billion people alive on the earth who are not currently members of the Church is a testament to how far we still have to go.

The Lord’s stated mission for mankind is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Nowhere in that phrase does it indicate that ten or fifteen million is a pretty good number and that we can stop and take a break. We are to continue to build the kingdom, both from within and without. We are to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes, bringing more and more into the fold, and we are also to help to build each other up into fellowcitizens, being of the household of God. There’s a lot to be done.

It’s easy, then, to let those echoes of the Pioneers lull us into sleepiness, thinking that the hardest work is behind us. Listen to these words from the second verse and ask yourself if these can’t apply to you and I as much as they did to the early saints:

Service ever was their watchcry;
Love became their guiding star;
Courage, their unfailing beacon,
Radiating near and far.
Ev’ry day some burden lifted,
Ev’ry day some heart to cheer,
Ev’ry day some hope the brighter,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!

Those aren’t attributes only found in the mid-19th century. Lifting others burdens and cheering others hearts aren’t deeds limited to Pioneers; they’re deeds asked of everyone who has taken upon themselves the name of Christ through baptism. We are all fueled by service, love, and courage.

The Pioneers laid the foundation for the kingdom in their day, but when you stop to think about the magnitude of what lies ahead of us, we’re still laying the foundation ourselves. There are still “hosts of waiting youth” ahead of us just as there were ahead of the Pioneers. They blazed trails and showed us their faith. We, too, blaze trails for those that will come ahead of us, clearing a path for those to come so that they can walk in faith and righteousness. We are forging onward, ever onward, each of us a blessed, honored Pioneer.

Image credit: “Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice,” C.C.A. Christensen.

warriors

Hymn #84: Faith of our Fathers

warriors 

Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death!

The word “fathers” is mentioned three times in this hymn (and once in each chorus), while “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” the presumptive objects of our faith, and so on appear a grand total of once (“thru the truth that comes from God mankind shall then be truly free”). It might seem like the hymn is buriyng the lede a little, then. Shouldn’t we focus more on the Lord, who is the author and finisher of our faith, rather than those who taught us to love and follow Him? Aren’t we confusing the message with the messenger?

Perhaps, but for many of us, this is where we get our start. Whether we have the gospel taught to us from birth or later in life, at some point we found ourselves novices to the teachings of the Savior. Someone had to show us the way. That might have been a friend who wanted to share something with us that brought them joy, or a missionary spending years in the service of the Lord, or yes, a parent trying to raise their child in the gospel. We sit at their knee, whether literally or figuratively, learning precious truths line upon line. It’s only natural that in our formative phases, our understanding of the truth of the gospel is less an intrinsic one and more a reliance on our mentor. “I know God lives because my mom told me so,” we might say, and at first, that’s enough.  In time, we will develop our own convictions as we draw nearer to the Savior, and as He draws nearer to us in turn.

There’s nothing wrong with that reliance. Sometimes our faith is shaky, and it’s good for us to have someone else’s faith to fall back on. One of the more famous stories from the Book of Mormon is that of the 2,000 stripling warriors, who, though young, marched into battle secure in the knowledge that the Lord would protect them if they remained true to Him. Listen to Helaman, their prophet and commander, describe their faith:

Now they had never before fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it. (Alma 56:47-48)

These young men surely had their own witness of the Lord, but here they tell us that they were willing to march into battle and face death because of the sureness of the knowledge of their mothers. Their mothers told them that God would protect them if they had faith. I imagine they also taught that even if they were to be taken by death, that was not the end, and that they could be reunited someday, if they would not doubt. And they did not doubt, and the Lord saw them through their war without a single one of them falling in battle.

They did not doubt their mothers knew it, and neither do we. Our mothers know it, as do our fathers, our friends, our missionaries, our church teachers and leaders, and anyone else on whom we rely for a more unshakable witness when ours is not so stable. Our faith is centered in our Lord and Savior, but it is held up by those who helped us to shape and build it. So it’s not that strange that we should sing about the faith of our fathers, nor that we should sing that “in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword… our hearts [will] beat high with joy whene’er we hear that glorious word.” The word is “faith,” but the word is just as much “fathers” that causes our hearts to beat with joy.

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 #139: In Fasting We Approach Thee

Why do we fast?

The essential answer is simply “we fast because God has commanded us to fast.” If God asked us to burn sacrifices, we would burn sacrifices. If God asked us to run ten miles at least once a month, we’d all take up running. It’s just what we do.

And yet, obedience without understanding is never the goal. God often teaches us through symbols, and the rituals and ordinances we carry out are often full of them. So, why do we fast? This hymn provides a few suggestions.

[We] pray thy Spirit from above
Will cleanse our hearts, cast out our fear,
And fill our hunger with thy love. (verse 1)

The concept of filling our hunger with His love is an interesting one to me. Fasting definitely introduces a “hole” in us. It not only induces physical weakness, but it often feels as if there’s a pit in our stomach.  The natural man’s remedy to fasting is to fill that hole with food, but God invites us to instead seek to fill it with divine blessings.

Thru this small sacrifice, may we
Recall that strength and life each day
Are sacred blessings sent from thee (verse 2)

Fasting reminds us of our own dependence. Within just a few hours of skipping a meal, we are weak, humbled, and very aware of our own needy-ness. Fasting can serve as a reminder of our own dependence on God, for his blessings and continued sustenance. It can also symbolically remind us of our own spiritual dependence. How much are we spiritually weakened when we go just a day or two without scripture study, or a few hours without prayer?

And may our fast fill us with care
For all thy children now in need. (verse 3)

In our own fast, we are also more able to sympathize with those who are in physical need. Many of God’s children barely have enough to survive. We who have so much, who can skip a couple meals without any lasting consequences—surely fasting reminds us of our responsibility to care for those who fast because they have no choice, or who worry every day how they’ll make ends meet.

This fast, dear Father, sanctify (verse 4)

Because fasting has been commanded by God, obedience brings additional blessings. Our simple choice to obey increases our faith, and gives us access to spiritual blessings God is ready to pour out upon us.  Our fasting can be sanctified, made holy, if we do it in faith. It can bring an added measure of the Spirit, with the accompanying blessings that brings.

There’s a beautiful passage in Isaiah about the power that can accompany a humble and faithful fast. Take some time to really read it:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
(Isaiah 58:6-8)

And then comes verse 9:

Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

What a beautiful promise.

So next time you’re fasting, make it a true fast, a sanctified one. Seek the blessings God has already promised to those who fast in humility and faith. The blessings are great.

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.

Hymn #270: I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

david & camelIn 2002 my husband was called to serve in the Ivory Coast Abidjan mission. He packed his bags, got dozens of immunizations, and headed to the Missionary Training Center where he diligently began learning how to teach the gospel in French.

Not long after he entered the MTC, civil war broke out in Ivory Coast.

His parents frantically called the  mission office to find out whether he would actually be sent into a war zone. Members of his home ward wrote letters that said they were praying he wouldn’t have to go. Weeks went by, but since nobody could give them a definitive answer about what would happen, he and his fellow missionaries continued to study, attend the temple, and wait for the day they would ship out.

Faced with the very real possibility that he could die in the mission field, my husband experienced a deep crisis of faith during that time. Why had he been called to a place of such violence and unrest? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ivory Coast?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to risk his life for them?

*

My youngest brother was called to serve in the Utah Ogden mission. It was a far cry from the exotic calls some of his friends had received, and he was admittedly a little disappointed. Why should he be called to Utah–land of the Mormons–to preach the good word of Christ? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ogden?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to put his life on hold to go to a place that seemed not to need his service?

*

Sometimes we are called to the “mountain height,” or the “stormy sea,” or the “battle front”. Sometimes the Lord asks us to risk everything, give everything, to walk in “paths [we] do not know”. The way is “dark and rugged”, and we may wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Other times we are asked to labor in a more “lowly place”. Our calling is not prestigious or exotic or adventurous. It might be a blow to our ego that our talents are not being used to their fullest, or that our efforts go unnoticed because we are not in a high-profile position.

Either way, we must ask ourselves: do we believe?

And if we do, the answer is simple. “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll say what you want me to say. I’ll be what you want me to be.”

*

(Eventually my husband was reassigned to to the Kenya Nairobi mission where he served faithfully for the remainder of his two years. My brother also finished a faithful mission, eventually moving to the North Salt Lake mission when boundaries changed and more missionaries were needed. Both men developed strong testimonies of going wherever the Lord calls them, and I know the Lord is pleased with their efforts.)