Tag Archives: Service

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.

Hymn #310: A Key Was Turned in Latter Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn #230: Scatter Sunshine

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew 25:37-40)

This passage from the New Testament is oft-quoted, but also oft-ignored. As disciples of Christ, we have the opportunity to emulate him, to do as he would do. It’s fairly easy for us to take care of those immediately around us—members of our own family, for example—the truth is that we are surrounded by so many more people.

When Christ encouraged us to serve “the least of these my brethren,” he did not mean simply “the least of these who you see every day.” In a simple trip to the grocery store, a ride on the bus, or a walk in the park, we interact with dozens of God’s children. Surely among them is someone in need.

Of course, we cannot know the needs of every person around us. The Spirit may occasionally prompt us to reach out to a stranger in a specific way, but often we have no particular guidance. How can we lift the burdens of those around us when we know nothing about them?

This question, I would suggest, is at the heart of today’s hymn.

In a world where sorrow
Ever will be known,
Where are found the needy
And the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort
You can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine
Ev’rywhere you go.

Needy, sad, and lonely people are all around us, as are the disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated. Some people only have a hard day once in a while, while others seem to be constantly beset. We cannot solve all of their problems, but we can work to lighten the load.

Scatter Sunshine,” this hymn encourages. Scatter sunshine everywhere you go. Sunshine is not heavy. It is not complex. It is simply a ray of light from afar. We do not need to carry the entire burden of every person we see; that is the realm of Christ alone. But through simple actions, we can make someone’s life a little easier, make their world a happier place.

Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.

“Little kindly deeds,” we sing. A smile as you pass in the library, or patience as you wait in the grocery store. Picking up someone else’s litter. A friendly wave to a neighbor. An encouraging remark to someone learning a new skill. Our days are full of opportunities for service that take only seconds, if we can only seek them out.

There are, of course, big things we can do to help others. There are many in dire need, the type of need that a simple smile will not solve. We have many opportunities for large acts of service—we certainly should not ignore those. But as we follow Christ in the large things, let’s not forget to follow him in the small things too, for in lifting others, you may just find that some of that sunshine scatters right back into your own life.

Hymn #138: Bless Our Fast, We Pray

We fast every first Sunday of each month as a church, and more often as the occasion calls for it. We go without food for two meals, and we offer the money we would spend on that food to the church, which is spent on those who are less fortunate. We all do this, and while we do our best to make sure we have a reason to fast, we often remember a little too late and just go hungry for a day. Just like with prayer, we participate with varying degrees of intent and faithfulness.

But why is it that we fast? Isn’t prayer enough? Why do we add the element of hunger to our supplication to God?

Feed thou our souls, fill thou our hearts,
And bless our fast, we pray,
That we may feel thy presence here
And feast with thee today.

We forego filling our bellies so that the Lord can fill our hearts and souls as we fast. It’s symbolic, like so many other parts of the gospel. There’s nothing inherently sacred about going without food, We do it because we are asked, and because the Lord has promised that if we do, we can feel our commitment to Him deepened and our faith strengthened. It’s prayer, coupled with action to increase its effect.

We act not only by abstaining from food, but by giving that food (or its monetary equivalent) to those who need it more than we do. We sing about this in the hymn’s second verse:

We’ve shared our bread with those in need,
Relieved the suff’ring poor.
The stranger we have welcomed in–
Wilt thou impart thy store?

We do our part. We do the things that we are asked, and we do as the Savior would (and asked us to do) in giving to the poor. And as we do so, we remember that we are entitled to the Lord’s blessing as a result. We approach Him with confidence, knowing that we have acted in accordance with His will.

This is the fast the Lord has chosen. We make sacrifices to help others in their difficult times. We take action to show the Lord the extent of our dedication to Him. And it’s no accident that our fast Sundays are the times we are asked to share our testimonies. We take action by giving up our food and giving it to others, and we take similar action by sharing with others our knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We make our fast a meaningful exercise (as best as we can, anyway), and the Lord in turn blesses and sanctifies our fast as He has promised.

It’s more than going hungry, and it can be more deeply meaningful than simply skipping a meal or two. But then again, so much of the gospel is deeper than it appears on the surface. Prayer is more than kneeling and closing our eyes. The sacrament is more than bread and water. Tithing is more than cutting a check. We offer our actions and our hearts, and the Lord blesses both as we offer them to Him.

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.

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 #157: Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls

Thy Spirit, Lord, has stirred our souls
And by its inward shining glow
We see anew our sacred goals
And feel thy nearness here below.
No burning bush near Sinai
Could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh.

The first topic listed for this hymn is “closing,” and it’s not difficult to see why. We sing that we have felt the Spirit of the Lord, and while that’s often something we can feel at the start of a meeting, it’s generally a sentiment we express after we’ve heard inspiring words and music. The Spirit inspires our brothers and sisters to speak the words of Christ in our meetings (in accordance with their faith and preparedness, of course), and that same spirit softens our hearts to accept and ponder the truth of the things they share. A good meeting, whether it be a sacrament meeting, a Primary class, or anything else, will invite the Spirit into the hearts of its participants, allowing both teacher and student to be edified.

We often speak of the Spirit softening our hearts. The metaphor is an apt one. Our hearts represent the most core aspects of our personality. They symbolize our most cherished beliefs, as well as our emotional sense of self. We can choose whether or not we want to let anyone else (or any other ideas) in. If we choose to reject other ideas, we harden our hearts, determined to keep everything out that isn’t already in. And when our hearts are softened, we are more willing to listen to other ideas and influences, possibly even adopting them as our own. The Spirit can soften our hearts if we allow Him to do so. When we invite the Spirit into our lives, He testifies to us of Christ, causing those words to sink deep into our hearts. When we give ourselves over to the Spirit, we offer no resistance to the teachings of the Savior. Our hearts are soft.

When our hearts are softened, we can, as we sing in this hymn, “by its inward shining glow see anew our sacred goals.” Each of us has goals in our lives. We may strive for a better job, a nicer car, to complete our education. We have spiritual goals, too; we may be working toward being kinder to others or removing bad habits from our lives. As we allow the Spirit to influence our lives, we see these goals in a new light. Our priorities shift as we see our lives the way the Father sees them. Perhaps our goal of earning enough money to afford a better TV package isn’t as worthy of our time as our goal to be worthy to attend the temple, or to become a missionary. We see our goals anew, and we are filled (or re-filled) with a desire to achieve those goals that will have a lasting spiritual impact.

The last couplet of the first verse goes hand in hand with the first line of the second: “Did not our hearts within us burn?” This song recalls the story of the road to Emmaus, in which the resurrected Lord appeared to two of His disciples, and, unknown to their eyes, opened the scriptures to them. When they finally realized who He was, He vanished, leaving them to say to each other that they should have known Him for the burning in their hearts. The Holy Ghost testified to them that it was the risen Lord who spoke to them, had they only realized it. Though the Lord does not appear to us at our meetings, our hearts will often within us burn. The Holy Ghost testifies to us that this is the Lord’s church, and that His teachings and gospel are true.

The couplet “no burning bush near Sinai could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh” places us in the shoes of those disciples. It was not the presence of the Lord Himself that testified to their hearts that He was risen. He stood before them, walked with them, talked with them, and ate with them, and they never for a moment suspected who He was. To be fair, His crucifixion was fresh in their minds, and they could be forgiven for not expecting Him to be alive (in fact, they mention that Mary and others claimed that He had risen, but they themselves seem skeptical), but the fact is that the prompting of the Holy Ghost is what convinced them that it was the Savior who was in their midst. The burning bush itself could have born no stronger witness to them than did the Spirit of the Lord.

So it is in our meetings. The presence of the Lord Himself would bear no more powerful a witness of the truth of His gospel as it is taught by inspired men and women in our meetings than does the Holy Ghost, whose presence and influence we feel as we hear those inspired words and prepare ourselves to receive them. This is by design. The Holy Ghost’s mission is to testify of the Father and the Son. When we allow Him into our hearts and allow Him to soften them, that mission can be fulfilled. As we sing, “it makes our souls for service yearn, it makes the path of duty clear,” and it can do so every week, so long as we prepare ourselves to receive that Spirit.

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.)

Red sunset

Hymn #243: Let Us All Press On

800px-Red_sunset

Ages ago, the king of Syria was troubled. He was at war with Israel, and despite his best efforts to kill the king of Israel, he was consistently able to sneak away from his assassination attempts. Convinced someone was leaking secrets to the enemy, the king of Syria asked his servants which of them was the mole. One answered and said that Elisha, “the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.” Convinced he knew how to gain the upper hand in the war, the king sent a huge military force to kill Elisha.

The prophet, for his part, seemed unconcerned about the massive army descending upon him, although his servant, arising early and seeing his city surrounded by Syrian soldiers, asked his master what they were going to do. Elisha said, simply, “Fear not: they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few
When compared with the opposite host in view;
But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you
In the glorious cause of truth.

Life is scary sometimes. We may feel overwhelmed and alone in our cause. It’s especially frustrating when the Lord, who has told us time and again that we can always depend on Him, isn’t plainly visible to our eyes. We do our best to trust and to believe, but faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us, we doubt, and we ask, as did Elisha’s servant, how the Lord expects us to cope.

And like this servant, we have wise people placed in our lives whose faith is stronger in the moment. (At other times, we may be the ones called upon to strengthen their faith. Sometimes our wounds are bound, and sometimes we do the binding.) Elisha, having told his disbelieving servant that the powers of heaven were close at hand, prayed that the Lord would “open his eyes, that he may see.” His eyes were opened, and he saw legions of heavenly defenders, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

We have our eyes opened from time to time as well. We get so wrapped up in a trial that we miss the fact that we have a loving family around us, or that we’re receiving financial, physical, or emotional blessings that prop us up during our struggles. The old story about the single set of footprints during the hardest times of life is a tired cliche, but there’s merit to the story. The Lord bears our burdens, and He’s always there for us, if we’ll but open our eyes.

And so, armed with that knowledge, we press on. The chorus of this hymn is particularly fun, as the soprano part diverges from the other three. I don’t often sing the melody at church, so I usually sing the counter part, which really enjoy. Listen:

Fear not, courage, though the enemy deride;
We must be victorious, for the Lord is on our side.
We’ll not fear the wicked nor give heed to what they say,
But the Lord, our Heav’nly Father, him alone we will obey.

It stuffs in quite a few more syllables, providing a nice contrast to the held-out notes of the soaring soprano part. Most of the words are the same, if in a different order, but last two lines have slightly different messages. The soprano part says that we won’t heed the wicked, but the counter part specifically says that we won’t fear them. That’s tricky when faced with the “opposite host in view.” We trust in our Lord, though, and that gives us hope, which drives out our fear.

If we do what’s right, we have no need to fear. We may be faced with difficult, and yes, frightening challenges in our lives, but we know that the Lord will ever be near. His angels surround us, ready to leap in and give their aid. “In the days of trial his Saints he will cheer,” we sing in the final verse. Not only is He ready to bear us up, but He knows when we’re struggling, and those are the days He is most ready to lend a hand. We need only to open our eyes to see the unseen power that aids us.

Image credit: “Red sunset,” Wikipedia user Fir0002, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Hymn #281: Help Me Teach with Inspiration

I hope the other Beesley Project contributors will forgive me for speaking for them in this post, but this hymn? This is what our little project is all about. It’s our aim and our prayer with every post we write.

Help me teach with inspiration;
Grant this blessing, Lord, I pray.
Help me lift a soul’s ambition
To a higher, nobler way.

Until a few months ago, I was a gospel doctrine teacher in my ward. During my tenure in that calling, I gained a very strong testimony that all the lesson plans and teaching methods in the world are worthless when it comes to things of God unless His Spirit is present. Generally speaking, my lessons were dramatically better when I moved away from my meticulous notes and just went where the Holy Ghost prompted me.

Sometimes our posts require some research about a hymn or its author. Other times we delve into the scriptural references included in the hymn book. We put thought and effort into our posts, but at the end of the day we hope the Spirit will help us write something true and meaningful. We pray to teach with inspiration.

Help me reach a friend in darkness;
Help me guide him thru the night.
Help me show thy path to glory
By the Spirit’s holy light.

One of the perks of contributing to this project is reading all the posts somebody else wrote. In less than two months, my co-contributors have shared thoughts that have led me to a change of heart, or shed new light on gospel principles, or strengthened my resolve to be better, or brought me comfort when I needed it.

Even if I am the only one who has been affected in this way, their efforts have been worthwhile. As we are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants, “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15) That said, I pray that I am not the only one benefiting from these posts, and that we are reaching other friends who could use a little extra light in their lives.

Fill my mind with understanding;
Tune my voice to echo thine.
Touch my hand with gentle friendship;
Warm my heart with love divine.

As much as we want to teach others about the hymns we love, we also appreciate an opportunity to become more familiar with them ourselves. It’s like everyone says: when you have to teach about something, you end up learning a lot. We are gaining greater understanding and a deeper love of our brothers and sisters. God is blessing us for our efforts, for which we are enormously grateful.

Help me find thy lambs who wander;
Help me bring them to thy keep.
Teach me, Lord, to be a shepherd;
Father, help me feed thy sheep.

Ultimately our goal–in this project as in our lives–is to become more like the Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ is our Savior and Exemplar; we want to be like him and help others draw near to him. These hymns and this website are one small way for us to obey his commandment to feed our Father’s sheep.

And now I turn it to you, dear readers. How are we doing? Has the Beesley Project inspired you in any way? Has a particular post been a blessing in your life? We’d love to hear your feedback.

Hymn #309: As Sisters In Zion

As Sisters In Zion is written specifically for the women of the church, and it includes language to that effect. Nevertheless, the message found here is applicable to all of us. If you’ve never had opportunity to sing this hymn, I encourage you to read the lyrics before we start.

The text of this hymn praises qualities and actives often associated with the women of the church: gentleness, comforting the weary, strengthening the weak, cheering the downtrodden. These are, of course, not exclusively feminine traits; they could also be used to appropriately describe the great exemplar, Jesus Christ himself. They can apply to us all.

As I’ve studied these lyrics, the collaboration between the sisters in Zion and divine helpers, guiding their work, really stands out to me. It’s right there in the first verse:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.

The work of building God’s kingdom is not one we undertake alone. God has not requested this effort of us as some sort of “price of admission,” before we can receive his blessings. Rather, it is something he takes active interest in. God wants us to build Zion, and he seeks to help us.

The first couplet in the second verse also strikes me:

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim

Our mission is framed in exalted terms— it is “the errand of angels.” This is both an ennobling and wearying phrase. If this errand were simple or easy, it probably wouldn’t require angelic intervention, would it? But the opportunity to participate in the work of God is a privilege to be claimed, not a burden to be borne. We each have talents and gifts that enable us to serve with the angels in God’s work, and it is a privilege to exercise those talents in their intended way.

I wonder, how often do we view our callings and religious duties as burdens that weigh us down, rather than gifts that bring us in association with angels?

Perhaps what stands out most to me is that these lyrics make no attempt to promise blessings for our service. We are not serving because it will make us happier, or lift our own burdens (though it will). Rather, the implied reward is the work itself: the building up of Zion. This is a wholly selfless view—we lift others because we share God’s vision for mankind and rejoice in bringing it about.

With this in mind, the opening lines of the third verse seem appropriate:

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.

There are no small dreams here; God invites us to participate in his work to exalt all of mankind—every soul that will accept it. The cooperation of mortals, angels, and the Holy Spirit are all essential to bring it about. Only through divine help can we adequately meet this great call.

As brothers and sisters in Zion, we have a dual relationship with deity. We are currently working out our own relationship with God, seeking to come back into his presence as we learn to keep our covenants. And yet, at the same time we actively work at his side, serving as companions in the great work of bringing salvation to all mankind.

My fellow companions of God, let us serve well.

Hymn #311: We Meet Again as Sisters

I have to confess: I’ve agonized over this hymn all week. Every time I read the title, I am reminded of all the jokes I’ve heard about the sisters of the church having meetings to plan their upcoming meetings. The sarcasm isn’t unwarranted. When I think about all the things women are involved in or in charge of–Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, compassionate service, visiting teaching, girls’ camp, various committees, etc.–it’s no wonder we seem to meet again and again and, oh yes, yet again.

This hymn simplifies all that busyness, though, and meetings take on a significance beyond all the cookies and crafting. The first two verses give us the two main reasons women of the church should meet at all: to observe the Sabbath and to “plan our service.”

The first verse lays out an ideal Sunday. We go to church to “worship God together, [we] testify and pray.” Through our worship, we invite the Spirit to be present, to “enlarge our minds with knowledge and fill our hearts with love.” And while we may not experience a perfect Sabbath every week, the goal is always to show that we “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The hymn’s second verse, unsurprisingly, hints at the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (vs 39) In our non-Sabbath meetings, we should plan to give service, help those in need, “show charity and kindness,” develop our talents and use them to bless others. It’s a good rubric to keep in mind; one or both of these commandments should be addressed every time we hold a meeting.

In my adult life, I’ve been in many different wards, and each Relief Society has functioned differently. Some women place a strong emphasis on rituals and culture, while others have broken dramatically from tradition. Some value elaborate centerpieces and homemade handouts, and others really couldn’t care less. From what I have seen, though, every successful Relief Society–wherein sisters feel loved and great things are accomplished–is centered on the actual purposes of the organization, which we find in the third verse.

We meet to sing together
The praises of our Lord,
To seek our exaltation
According to his word.
To ev’ry gospel blessing
The Lord has turned the key,
That we, with heav’nly parents,
May sing eternally.

As the Church Handbook states, “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life.” The saving ordinances of the gospel are available to everyone, and Relief Society provides whatever assistance women need as they work out their salvation. Whether that means addressing temporal needs or spiritual ones, the goal is the same: to “seek our exaltation.” Together. As sisters.

Hymn #249: Called to Serve

249-CalledToServe

Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.

(Doctrine and Covenants 4:1-3)

When I read the opening verses of D&C 4, I am always drawn back to memories of my own missionary service. I remember the weeks in the Missionary Training Center, surrounded by thousands of missionaries all preparing to preach the Gospel and to enter a new culture, a new world. I remember teaching and loving the people of Spain, with all their endearing and maddening ways. I remember the missionaries I served with, Sunday meetings, training conferences, transfers, testifying, studying, praying, and working. I remember service projects, frustrations, long rainy days, rewarding lessons, and so many other things. It truly brings back a flood of memories.

And, I remember singing Called To Serve. If there’s an anthem for the church missionary effort, this is surely it. Missionaries around the world sing it in dozens of languages, all united by a desire and a call to serve Him, the Heavenly King of Glory. With an energetic tune and triumphant chorus, it invigorates us as we commit to “ever witness for His name.”

Far and wide, we tell the Father’s story. There are currently over 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the globe. They preach in over fifty languages, inviting all to learn of the Father’s plan of salvation and Christ’s Atonement. Ever since the church was organized, missionaries have been sent around the world to preach that truth and priesthood authority have been restored to the earth, inviting all to come and partake.

Far and wide, his love proclaim. The joyous news of the Gospel is not just that truth has been restored. It is that through the Gospel, we can live a better life. We can feel more joy, find more meaning, and share more love with our spiritual brothers and sisters all around us. Our Father loves all of his children, and he wants all of us to receive the blessings he is ready to give.

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing.
God our strength will be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

God our strength will be. The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly that there is a special strength that comes from the Lord. Elder David A. Bednar spoke about this in his 2004 General Conference address. He said:

Can we sense the grace and strengthening power of Christ in the testimony of Ammon? “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12). Truly, brothers and sisters, in the strength of the Lord we can do and endure and overcome all things. (In the Strength of the Lord, October 2004)

The work of preaching the gospel is a glorious, happy work. It is work, have no doubt. It is hard work. Missionaries around the world will attest to that. But we do “glory in his name,” and a “triumph song” we do sing. We rejoice when someone finds their way to the understanding and joy that comes from the Gospel, when someone enters the waters of baptism and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost. There is joy and happiness in this work.

Called to Serve, though, is not a song about missionaries. It is a song about missionary work. As we have been taught repeatedly, missionary work is not just for missionaries. It is not even mostly for missionaries. It is a work for every member of Christ’s living church. President David O. McKay urged “every member a missionary” in 1959. More recently, we’ve heard a lot about “Hastening the Work of Salvation,” encouraging all church members to join in this work, bringing the Gospel message to our Father’s children.

Indeed, let’s look at the second verse:

Called to know the richness of his blessing—
Sons and daughters, children of a King—
Glad of heart, his holy name confessing,
Praises unto him we bring.

Every member of his Church has cause to know the richness of his blessings. We are all children of a King. We don’t just sing Called to Serve in the MTC, or in missionary training meetings. We also sing it in our ordinary Sunday meetings in wards and branches around the world. The Gospel brings blessings of peace, understanding, joy, and purpose to all of us.

We are all called to serve him. Missionaries are called to do it full-time for a certain number of months and in a specific place, but we are all called to share the blessings we receive from our Father. However far and however wide we go, we are to tell the Father’s story. However far and wide we go, his love we are to proclaim. Whether that’s the school yard or the water cooler, Facebook or the grocery store, wherever we go we should be “standing as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:9)

“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” Onward, ever onward!

Hymn #29: A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief is well-known as a favorite of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He asked John Taylor to sing it in Carthage Jail shortly before his death, and then asked him to sing it again. The scene is moving—a psalm in preparation for death, a memorial of an impending martyrdom.

The lyrics are from the poem The Stranger and His Friend by James Montgomery, which in turn draws inspiration from Matthew 25. As we sing the song, we take the place of the narrator and meet the stranger ourselves, a poor wandering man, lost and humbly seeking aid.

I had not pow’r to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.

In each verse, the stranger is found in need. Taking the place of the narrator as we sing, we give the stranger bread, of our scanty meal. We raise him up and fetch him water. We take him in, out of the storm. There are only a few hymns written in the first person, and even fewer that place us inside an external narrative. This is not a song about how Christ cared for the needy. It’s about us, and our need to do what Christ does.

And yet, even as we seek to lift others, a blessing returns back to us. The stranger gives back a crust of bread and it becomes manna to [our] taste. He fills the cup and returns it, and we sing “I drank and never thirsted more.” As he sleeps in our own bed, the floor we sleep on becomes “as Eden’s garden.” The service we gave without thought of reward multiplies and blesses our own lives far beyond the original gift we gave. As King Benjamin taught:

ye should do as [God] hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you. (Mosiah 2:24)

Not only do we receive blessings as we serve others—our own wounds are healed as well. From the fifth verse:

… he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.

Service to others heals wounds, alleviates trials, and strengthens us. This is something I understand conceptually, but often forget to apply in the hour of need.

This hymn does not focus on Christ’s life, teachings, or atonement as many others do. Rather, it emphasizes the Christ-like ideals we hope to find in ourselves—charity, service, kindness, and selfless love. As I sing this song, I am led to ponder my own desires. Would I give so freely to a stranger? Would I recognize the needs of someone who “often crossed me on my way?” Would I invite someone in out of the storm? Or am I, perhaps, too absorbed in my own activities to take notice? Am I too busy being myself to be like Christ?

We could stop after the first five verses and have a wonderful song about service and the blessings that it brings. The last two verses, though, really drive home the divine mandate we have to serve our fellow man. I like to imagine them as heard by Joseph in Carthage Jail. Take a moment to really read them.

In prison I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him ‘mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”

Imagine Joseph, hearing these words shortly before his death. Imagine the comfort it gave to a man who had suffered so greatly in restoring the gospel of Christ. Then, consider what it can mean for us. Christ himself taught that when we care for God’s children, we are serving God himself. Service to others is not just something we do to be like Christ; it is an integral part of our relationship with Christ. Just as Joseph came to know his Savior, we can know him too.

The poor, wayfaring man reminds us that our goal is not just to become like him; in the end and along the way, we seek to know Him. What a wonderful blessing!