Tag Archives: Worship

Hymn #150: O Thou Kind and Gracious Father

I love the simplicity of this prayer, for that is what this particular hymn is: a prayer to our Father in Heaven. The soaring first lines acknowledges His greatness and goodness and our comparative insignificance:

O thou kind and gracious Father,
Reigning in the heav’ns above,
Look on us, thy humble children;
Fill us with thy holy love.
Fill us with thy holy love.

I leave that repetition because that is the phrase I’d like to address. The remaining two verses continue the prayer–we ask our Father to instruct us in how to better serve and revere Him, to resist temptation, to do His will–but it’s that “holy love” in the first verse which stands out to me.

It brings to my mind the word “charity”, which we generally (and sometimes glibly) define as “the pure love of Christ” (see Moroni 7:47). That preposition “of” is a tricky one; it holds a surprising number of different meanings, depending on context, for such a short word.

“The pure love of Christ” could mean “pure love from Christ”, i.e. the love he has for all mankind. This is the love that prompted him to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, to suffer beyond human capability, and to die that we might live again.

“The pure love of Christ” could also mean “pure love for Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our Savior because of his Atonement in our behalf.

“The pure love of Christ” also means–and this is one of the most common interpretations I come across–”pure love like Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our brothers and sisters in mortality. This is the love that prompts us to reach out in service and lift others in kindness.

And here’s how they all tie together:

  • God loves us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
  • Jesus Christ loves us: “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” 1 Nephi 19:9
  • We love Jesus: “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
  • Because we love him, we are obedient to him: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
  • He asks us to love one another: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

So when we ask to be filled with God’s holy love, we are praying to be reminded of His love for us, to take advantage of the Atonement offered by His Son, and to have His help in loving those around us.

It is still a simple request, but sometimes a difficult one to fulfill. We are, after all, human. Sometimes we’re not especially loveable. Fortunately, God loves all of us and He answers all of our prayers. We can be filled with the pure love of Christ. We can learn to do His will, to love and serve His children, and to gain eventual salvation.

We simply have to ask for and accept His help.

Hymn #57: We’re Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

There are some things that seem obvious in hindsight, but that go unnoticed until someone points them out. I recently had a realization along those lines:

You will develop skills and attributes only to the extent that you spend time on them.

A few applications of this law:

If you say you want to develop faith, but never spend time building your faith, then your faith will not grow.

If you say you want to better understand the scriptures, but never spend time reading the scriptures, then you will not understand the scriptures better.

If you say you want to be more like Christ, but spend little or no time doing the things Christ did, then you will not be more like Christ.

Most church members, if asked, could probably give a reasonable 10 minute talk on “How to be more Christlike” or “How to build your faith.” Prayer, scripture study, service—it’s not hard to come up with the right answers. But no matter how much we claim to want them, nothing will change unless we actually do them.

If you never seem to have time for scripture study, then you’ll never seem to get the blessings scripture study brings. If you never spend time pondering the teachings of Christ, you’ll never gain new insights.

The hymn ”We’re Not Ashamed To Own Our Lord” opens with its titular phrase:

We’re not ashamed to own our Lord
And worship him on earth.

The rest of the hymn lists blessings that come from “owning the Lord,” from openly and transparently following him throughout our lives. It especially talks about the glories of Christ’s millennial reign for the righteous on either side of death. These are great blessings, awesome and marvelous.

But they only apply to the extent that we actually follow Christ. Are we ashamed to talk about gospel topics with our friends, regardless of the day of the week? Are we too tired to get up early and read our scriptures? Do our secular interests crowd out our spiritual needs?

Before creation’s second birth,
We hope with him to stand.

We do indeed hope to stand with Christ. But hope is not enough—we must take action. If that hope is to be fulfilled, we need to spend time on it. We need to prepare ourselves for that day, just as He is preparing the world at large.

What do you spend your time on?

Hymn #132: God Is in His Holy Temple

Mount Timpanogos Temple

A few weeks ago my wife and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. We decided to do something different this year—we celebrated it as our family’s birthday!

We first took our children to the temple where we were married. The oldest is only 5, so they’ve never been inside the temple. We walked around the temple grounds, looking at the flowers, the trees, and the beautiful stained glass windows. I pointed out the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars on the exterior of the building. We talked about the Angel Moroni on top.

After we’d walked around for a while, we took our kids briefly into the lobby of the temple, the small waiting room before the recommend desk. We taught our children about the sacred nature of the temple. When the oldest asked why everyone was so quiet there, we taught them that reverence helps us to hear the Holy Spirit and understand what our Heavenly Father wants us to do.

We didn’t stay there too long; perhaps only 5 minutes. Then we went out, took some pictures, then went and got some ice cream as a family. But those brief moments in the temple stuck with our children; they’ve brought it up a few times since.

Today’s hymn, God Is in His Holy Temple, speaks of the reverence that prevails in the temple.

God is in his holy temple.
Earthly thoughts, be silent now,

One of the defining characteristics of the temple is how removed it is from our everyday cares. When we visit the temple, we are often able to let go of the pressures and concerns of everyday life and simply bask in the reverence that exists there. With nothing to distract us, we are able to recognize the guidance of the Spirit more easily. We can be taught from on high as we recognize this Spirit.

And yet, our constructed and dedicated temples are not the only temples of God here on the earth. Paul wrote: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth within you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)  While the first verse of this hymn focuses more on temples where we gather together in worship, the second verse opens with this phrase:

God is in his holy temple,
In the pure and holy mind,

One of the great blessings we receive upon joining Christ’s church is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This gives us the opportunity to have the Spirit with us always… if we live in a way conducive to His presence. The same closeness to the Spirit that exists in the temple can be ours outside it too. But in this temple, there is nobody else checking temple recommends for us. Each of us is responsible for choosing what enters our own mind.

Let our souls, in pure devotion,
Temples for thy worship be.

Is my soul a temple for the worship of God? Is yours? What could you change to make your soul a more temple-like place? How can you invite the Spirit to be with you more constantly?

Hymn #147: Sweet Is the Work

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

But the text of this hymn brings me hope.

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

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

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

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

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

And oh, how sweet it will be.

river

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

river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn #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?

Hymn #71: With Songs of Praise

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

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

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

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

Then the ward choir director invited me to come sing.

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

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

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

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

-

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

Hymn #133: Father in Heaven

gloomy

I didn’t immediately recognize this hymn from its title. You may not either. If you don’t, you might consider taking a minute to click on the link at the top of the page and listen to the first verse. In fact, it won’t even take you a minute. Go on, give it a listen.

Did you listen to it? Did you hear the dip to a minor key there in the second phrase? Go back and listen again if you didn’t.

Hear these thy children thru the world resounding.

I imagine most hymns could be considered prayers, but the lyrics to this one sound as though they could literally be the words of a prayer. Father in Heaven, we pray, hear Thy children. The hymn goes on to ask the Father specifically to hear His children as they praise Him and give thanks for the peace He has given them, but the minor fall heightens that phrase. When viewed this way, the hymn takes on a new meaning. It’s about that moment of doubt, where we have faith sufficient to pray to the Father, but maybe not as much confidence that He’ll answer us.

It’s a familiar feeling, because we’ve all had that experience. We encounter difficult times, harder than we feel we can bear. We do our best to soldier on, trusting in the Lord that things will get better, only they seem to get worse. It could be a challenge with our health, or our family, or our work, or schooling, or any of a number of things. We feel low, and we get down on our knees, asking God if He is truly there, and where our aid is.

This isn’t something that only happens to those of us (the majority of us, I’m sure) whose faith is weak. No less a man than the prophet Joseph Smith had this experience. We read about it in the Doctrine and Covenants, which records his time in Liberty Jail, one of the lowest points of his life. “O God, where art thou?” he cried, and you can feel his anguish. It’s your anguish too, that night that you asked Him the same question. And at that dark hour, the Lord spoke to Joseph, just as He speaks to you and me. “My son,” He said, “peace be unto thy soul.” And it was comforted, just as ours were.

We know that our trials will be for a small moment in the grand scheme of things. We know that most of our lives will be spent in relative happiness, just as most of this hymn is spent in the relatively happier major key. But in those dark moments, the trials seem to last forever. Doubt can poke through, but if we exercise faith enough to still trust in Him, even if only enough to ask if He is there, we can see that peace shine through all the brighter by comparison with that darkness.

Filled be our hearts with peace beyond comparing,
Peace in thy world, and joy to hearts despairing.
Firm is our trust in thee for peace enduring,
Ever enduring.

Image credit: “Gloomy Weather 3,” deviantART user lamogios. CC BY-SA 3.0

Hymn #68: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

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

God is strong, never failing

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

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

God helps us overcome ills and trials

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

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

God has opened the path for us to return to Him

He overcometh all.
He saveth from the Fall.

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

God is powerful, as evidenced by Creation

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

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

God will reign eternally

And he shall reign for evermore.

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

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

Hymn #164: Great God, to Thee My Evening Song

Candles

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard this hymn. The lyrics suggest that it would be most appropriately sung at the end of day, as one is preparing for sleep. Since we rarely have church meetings right before bed, it comes as no surprise that it’s not in the devotional Top 40. If you, like me, are not familiar with this song, you can hear it in the LDS Music Library.

When I find an unfamiliar hymn like this, I like to read it through a couple times and look for the phrases that draw me in. I find that often, there’s something that resonates (or should resonate) with my own life. As I wrote this article, I found myself asking lots of questions. I hope you’ll take the time to consider some of them. Let’s examine a few phrases.

Oh, let thy mercy tune my tongue
And fill my heart with lively praise.

Usually we speak of “tuning” a musical instrument, yet here it is applied more broadly. I don’t believe that the author was pleading that God would help us sing in tune with the organ, much though she might appreciate it. Rather, the text imagines our every word as music, a hymn unto God. This extends beyond the duration of this hymn; in every word and deed, we strive to act as Christ would do. If God were to “tune your tongue,” how would your speech change? Would you be more kind and patient? Would you be quicker to express gratitude? How could your day-to-day speech be brought more in tune with God?

[...] And ev’ry onward rolling hour
Are monuments of wondrous grace
And witness to thy love and pow’r.

Is “every onward rolling hour” of your day a testament to God’s grace? Does your life constantly witness of God’s love and power? I’m reminded of Alma 37:36, where Alma counsels his son:

Let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord

We’ve probably all known a child (or an adult) with an obsession. I have a two-year-old daughter who loves hats. Everything she sees is evaluated based on its potential to be a hat. Crocheted hats are wonderful. Baby blankets work just fine. Even dirty dishrags work pretty well as a hat, it turns out. Pants can be hats. Shirts can be hats. If it’s made of cloth and is not too heavy, it can probably be a hat.

In the same way, our thoughts can be centered around the Lord. We can evaluate everything we do against the Light of Christ. We can consider how our words and our actions reflect the covenants we have made. This need not be a paralyzing over-evaluation, but simply a constant acknowledgement of our eternal purpose. As we strive to center our thoughts around Him, we will find that it becomes easier with time—eventually, such thoughts can become habit.

With hope in thee mine eyelids close;
[...] And wake with praises to thy name.

We’ve been counseled to begin and end each day with prayer. If “all our thoughts” are to be directed unto the Lord, there’s no point in waiting until we roll out of bed for our morning prayer to start. What do you think about when you wake up? What is the “natural state” of your thoughts, the place where they go when you don’t have anything else to think about? I hope that someday, my thoughts will naturally turn to Him of their own accord. Our thoughts can be trained; that which we think about most will continue to fill our thoughts, but we can choose to redirect them and to build habits of thought.

This hymn reminds us that when our priorities are in order, our thoughts will naturally turn to God. Have we not covenanted to “stand as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in?” What better way to fulfill that promise than to make our every thought centered around Him?

Image Credit: magnuscanis, Candles, 2003 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hymn #134: I Believe in Christ

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

It’s like a manifesto of our Christianity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hymn #31: O God, Our Help in Ages Past

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We hear a lot about the goodness, grace, and mercy of the Lord from the hymns. We sing about His kindness, and we rejoice in His endless love. The hymns are, after all, hymns of praise, or else what are we doing singing them? But for whatever reason, I don’t feel as much that the hymns emphasize the strength and stability of the Lord. Oh, we have those hymns, certainly (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” comes to mind, as well as almost any hymn that mentions the word “mountain”), but I imagine for every mention of the word “strong” in the hymns, you hear words like “good” and “joy” many times over.

This is a strong hymn. We are directed to sing “with dignity,” befitting the resolute strength and majesty of the Lord we sing about. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics in the 1700s. This was a time when God was not a figure to be loved so much as revered and feared. He inspired awe, not joy. That’s not to say that those gentler aspects weren’t understood, but they weren’t emphasized. The period was much more Johann Sebastian Bach than Janice Kapp Perry.

The Lord is strong and unmoving. When all other things are changing and unsteady, we can always depend on the Lord to be reliable. And so we begin our hymn by singing about His unchanging nature. He is our help in ages past as well as our hope for years to come. He has ever been there for us. He ever will be. It is never He who departs from us. He is always there, protecting and defending us, so long as we allow Him to.

This is how it’s always been, says verse three:

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

And so it ever will be. He is our shelter and our home. He is four walls and a roof that will never shake or crumble. The image is a vivid one, and maybe especially now that it’s winter. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I am, it’s cold and windy. The rain is hitting the windows hard enough that it sounds like sand. The walls creak and groan under the gusts of wind, but they never give. Of course, they might, but then again, mine isn’t the house we’re talking about. If your house is the Lord, then you can be sure that it won’t collapse, no matter how strong the stormy blast. We can count on Him, and always count on Him, no matter what we’re up against. In the second verse, we sing that “sufficient is [His] arm alone, and our defense is sure.” If God is for us, who can be against us?

And as if several paragraphs of me making the same point over and over again wasn’t enough to convince you that the theme of this hymn is “unchanging,” we arrive at the fourth and final verse, which is nearly identical to the first:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home
.

The first and fourth verses almost serve as a chorus. In the verses, we get specifics, but in the chorus, we return to the general theme of the song, echoing the constancy of the Lord. And it’s fitting that in a hymn about constancy, the hymn itself is bookended with the same message. God always was our hope. He always will be. He is our refuge, and He will never fail us. He is our home.