Tag Archives: Worthiness

wheat

Hymn #216: We Are Sowing

wheat

Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:3-9)

The parable of the sower is an easy one to understand, even if only because the Savior himself laid the symbolism bare shortly after teaching it. The seed is the word of God, which is given to all of the world. Some do not receive it, others receive it but with no depth, and some receive it only to be overcome with adversity and difficulties. But others receive it gladly, and bring forth good works and faith. Simple enough.

Who is the sower?

It’s easy enough to think that the Savior Himself is the Sower, as He’s the One telling the story and is the source of the gospel light. But as we sing in this hymn, we are the sowers, called to spread the word daily to all we meet. “We are sowing, daily sowing countless seeds of good and ill,” we sing at the start of the hymn, and it’s worth considering that despite our intentions and our constant scattering of the seeds, not all of those seeds are good. We want to be good examples, and we want others to see us and be inspired to draw unto their Savior. The sad truth, though, is that all of our actions are seeds. We can just as easily sow a good seed with a kind deed as we can a bad one with an unkind deed. We are daily, hourly, and moment by moment sowing. If you’ve been baptized, you’ve taken upon yourself the name of Christ, and as such, you are always sowing seeds in His name.

That’s a lot to take in, once you think about it. Spreading His gospel in His name is a daunting task, especially when you consider the magnitude of that calling. All of the sheaves must be gathered in, not just the ones that are especially ripe or especially close to the silo. There’s an awful lot of work to do. Fortunately, we aren’t asked to do it alone. In fact, we’re only asked to do a relatively small portion of the work. If you read through the lyrics of this hymn, you’ll notice that while we do an awful lot of sowing, we don’t cultivate the crops, plow the fields, uproot the weeds, or gather in the sheaves. We just sow. Our job is to spread the seed far and wide, let it fall where it may. Stony ground? That’s fine. Amid thorns? Sure, sow away. Good ground? Of course, put it there, too. We are asked to cover the earth in seed. The Savior will take responsibility for nurturing those tender plants, helping them to grow in whatsoever ground they may find themselves. We are to sow, and we do not do so alone. We have the companionship of “[He] who knowest all our weakness.” He walks the fields with us, helping us to scatter seed far and wide, until the whole earth is “filled with mellow, ripened ears, filled with fruit of life eternal.” We don’t judge any plot of land to be better or worse. We don’t tell our Gardener where He should plant His crops. We simply sow them, far and wide, here and there, as He asks us, and we leave the cultivation of the crops in His hands.

Image credit: “Wheat field / Weizenfeld II,” flickr user Christian Schnettelker (http://manoftaste.de)

nashville

Hymn #287: Rise, Ye Saints, and Temples Enter

nashville

Rise, ye Saints, and temples enter;
Seek the path that leads ahead.
Seal in everlasting circles
All our loved ones, quick and dead.

Maybe you’re a faithful, diligent Latter-day Saint who attends the temple regularly and who needs no introduction to the institution, but if you’re not, suffice it to say that temples are sacred buildings where members of the LDS Church meet to perform essential ordinances on behalf of the dead. Each of us needs these ordinances (baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost for starters, and later ordination to the priesthood for men, the endowment, and marriage and sealing) in order to receive all that the Father has to offer us. It doesn’t matter if we’re alive or dead, or whether or not the gospel was freely available when we were on the earth. Each of us needs these ordinances to qualify for all the Father’s blessings. None of us is exempt, and none of the ordinances are optional.

In order to make those ordinances available to all, we are counseled to go to the temple (and to go often) and receive those ordinances on behalf of those who are dead so that, should they choose, they will have the chance to receive those blessings. We search out our ancestors and bind them together through these ordinances, particularly through the sealing ordinance, which binds husband and wife as much as it binds parents and children. But that’s not to say that we can only perform these ordinances on behalf of our own family members who have gone before. As we uncover more and more names, we may find ourselves unable to manage all of those ordinances on our own, and so we help each other through frequent temple attendance. We act as a great army, carrying the blessings of the gospel to every one of the Father’s children.

Learn the plan of exaltation;
With His sacred laws comply.
Live to earn in binding cov’nant
Blessings of our God most high.

I had the chance to attend the temple with some of the youth of our local congregation last weekend. Our nearest temple is in Nashville (yes, it’s the picture above), and while it’s close to us, it’s still nearly an hour away, so it takes time and effort to get there. In order to make our 8:00 appointment, we had to meet up at our church at about 6:15, which seemed much, much too early for the 12-18 year-olds that were there. (One young man was falling asleep on his feet while waiting, slept the entire drive to the temple, then slept in the waiting room as others arrived.) They were sacrificing their Saturday, for many the only day of the week they get to sleep in, so they could spend the day in the temple serving those who had gone before.

It was a lovely experience. The Spirit was there as we performed baptisms that morning, witnessing that, even if those whose names we read didn’t choose to accept the ordinances, the doctrine we were practicing was nonetheless true. We were helping to tie families together, one ordinance at a time, and we were helping others to fully qualify to receive all that the Father has and is willing to offer to us.

Elohim, thou great designer,
Wilt thou heaven’s pow’rs bestow,
As thy faithful sons and daughters
Serve in temples here below.

I don’t know many of these youth personally, and if you’d asked me on Saturday what I thought they made of the trip, I would have told you that I thought many of them treated it as a social trip. They got a chance to spend time together, laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company. It was fun, if not spiritual.

The next day, however, some of them had a chance to share their experiences in front of the congregation, and it was clear that their hearts were touched. They felt the Spirit witness to them that they had been engaged in the Lord’s work that day. They knew that they were helping along the path those that could no longer help themselves. And they could feel of the Lord’s love for those dead and for themselves as well.

As we attend the temple and serve others, we not only provide blessings for our kindred dead, but also for ourselves. We feel the blessings of heaven come upon us and renew us spiritually. We are energized and are more able to face the challenges of life. The Father wants us to attend the temple not only to help others along the path to salvation, but to help us as well. As we turn our hearts to our ancestors, they are purified and become more in tune with the Lord, allowing the Spirit to more easily whisper to us and inspire us. And with more and more temples being built every year, it’s never been easier to attend, even if it requires a sleepy 75 minute drive to get there on a summer Saturday morning.

So rise, saints, and temples enter. Set aside some time to serve those who have gone before, and you will find that you will be blessed every bit as much.

Image credit: “Nashville Temple,” Wikipedia user Antipus.

Hymn #131: More Holiness Give Me

Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am. (3 Nephi 27:27)

This is the commandment, and the goal each of us is striving for. We are to become perfect, even as our Savior is perfect. It’s impossible, of course, which is why the Savior sacrificed himself for us in order to pay for our misdeeds. We do our best to follow his law and keep his commandments, but when we stumble, His sacrifice makes it possible for us to return home.

That’s an incredible thing for Him to have taken upon Himself, and it’s something we feel acutely, I’m sure. We are to be like Him, One who loved His brothers and sisters so dearly that he was willing to sacrifice Himself for us all. No big deal, right? Just become like that and you’re set.

It’s a daunting task, and one that none of us is equal to. So we plead with the Father, begging Him to at least help us along that path. Even if we can’t be perfected all at once, at least let us take a single step toward that goal. Help me to overcome this one sin, we pray. Help me to make at least this aspect of my life perfect so I can move on to tackle another area. Help me to be more patient. Help me to be a little kinder. Help me to be more willing to serve.

We’ve all offered prayers like this, and they probably sound a little like today’s hymn. “More holiness give me,” we ask. We’re trying our best, honestly, but we’re just not quire there. We aren’t asking for everything right now, but at the moment, we need just a little more “patience in suff’ring,” or “joy in his service.”

There’s a lot to ask about, and there’s a lot we ask in this hymn. We plead for patience, for faith, prayerfulness, gratitude, hope, meekness, and strength, to name just a few. By the third verse, it starts to feel repetitive and even demanding. Every line starts with “more,” and it begins to feel like a child asking for more, more, more. Maybe we feel a little guilty asking for so much. Perhaps we could do without the patience today, Lord, if only we could feel “more longing for home.” Maybe today all that is needed is “more tears for his sorrows,” or “more sense of his care.” Just a little will do today. We don’t mean to ask for so much.

Then again, perhaps we’re right to ask so much of Him, and maybe it would do us well to ask for even more. He is so, so willing to give to us, if only we’ll ask. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you,” He once told us. “Seek me diligently and ye shall find me.” When we ask, He will answer. Even the least of us will give to each other when asked; how much more so will He, the Lord of all, be willing to give to us if we will but ask?

So we ask, even when it feels like too much. We ask for “hope in his word” and “meekness in trial.” We ask for so, so much, because we have been asked to do so, so much. We are tasked with becoming like Him in every aspect of our lives, and so we pray for improvement in every aspect as well. We pray, as the last two lines so simply state, to be “more blessed and holy– more, Savior, like thee.”

And He, He who asked us to be more like Him, is ready and waiting to grant that request, if we will be ask.

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 #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 #96: Dearest Children, God Is Near You

I don’t believe in using scare tactics on children. They always seem to backfire. Either you wind up with a nervous kiddo who is paranoid about the tiniest things, or one who no longer believes anything you say because they proved you wrong by not wetting the bed after playing with the campfire.

I have heard people use God or Jesus to scare children into behaving, saying things like, “Jesus saw what you did and he is not happy about it.” This becomes problematic in the same way as any other scare tactic: either the kid winds up terrified of God’s disapproval or he stops believing because of a lack of immediate Heavenly consequences.

When we sing this hymn, though, it’s hardly, “You better watch out, you better not cry”…or else! The first verse nicely illustrates this point:

Dearest children, God is near you,
Watching o’er you day and night,
And delights to own and bless you,
If you strive to do what’s right.
He will bless you, He will bless you,
If you put your trust in him.

Not a threat or warning to be seen. Yes, God is near us and watching all the time, but not to punish. Three times we are told He will bless us, and that He delights to do so. What’s more, He delights to own us. His pleasure in recognizing us as His children speaks of His unconditional love for us.

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Savior reminds us how much concern our Father has for our well-being:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

He watches us “day and night” because He wants to take care of us. He sets His angels to “keep a faithful record of the good and bad [we] say” so He will know how best to attend our needs.

In all that watching He is bound to see us make mistakes. Fortunately for us He also “delights to teach us”, as the third verse says. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to encourage us to keep the commandments, to prick our conscience when we rebel, to comfort us as we repent, and to rejoice with us when we do what is right. This kind of guidance is, to me, far more helpful than constant fear of chastisement.

Our Father in Heaven is ever-vigilant for He is, like any loving parent, protective and proud of His children. What does He ask in return? That we try our best. That we trust Him. That we heed the Spirit’s promptings. That we cherish virtue. Above all, that we prove faithful to Him.

And even if we aren’t, He will be faithful. Whatever we do, God is near us.

Hymn #173/174: While of These Emblems We Partake

This is one of two hymns (along with “Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love” in the hymnbook with two different tunes. Samuel McBurney wrote “Saul” (hymn #173) and Alexander Schreiner wrote “Aeolian” (hymn #174), but in either case, the lyrics are the same.

So why include two versions of the same song? When was the last time you even sang the other one in church? And for that matter, which one is the other one? Personally, I most closely associate “Aeolian” with this hymn; when I saw that this was next on the schedule for me, that was the tune I hummed while I thought about the lyrics. I don’t have any evidence to back it up, but I think “Aeolian” is the tune I hear with this hymn most often in church, too. And if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that’s because of the two, “Aeolian” is the more somber and reserved. (“Aeolian” is to be sung “fervently,” while “Saul” is to be sung “reverently,” for what it’s worth.)

The sacramental hymns tend to be serious and almost dark. Many incorporate minor elements to give us a sense of the Savior’s suffering. Each of these tunes uses those elements, and they’re not hard to pick out–just look for accidentals. “Saul” has them in the second phrase (“for us on Calvary’s cross he bled” in the second verse), while “Aeolian” has them in the third (“and thus dispelled the awful gloom” in that same verse). The choice of where to place those accidentals is, well, no accident; the following phrase relieves us of the tension caused by those accidentals by returning us to a major key.

So when you hear that transition from a temporary minor key back into a major, you know that the composer is trying to give you a sense of relief, and that the lyrics those transitions coincide with are also supposed to give you relief, hope, inspiration, you name it. And so it’s interesting that while “Aeolian” (which, again, is the one I feel we sing most often in church) resolves on the final phrase of each verse, “Saul” provides resolution for both the third and fourth phrases. This might be picking at nits somewhat, but I feel there’s a difference between taking hope from the phrase “our hearts and hands are clean and pure” and the phrase “let us remember and be sure/our hearts and hands are clean and pure.” A subtle difference, to be sure, but a difference nonetheless.

If you want to take a larger view of the hymn, it’s worth considering the third verse to see whether it provides tension or release, just as the third phrase in each verse does. The “Aeolian” model would place tension on the third verse, which reads:

The law was broken; Jesus died
That justice might be satisfied,
That man might not remain a slave
Of death, of hell, or of the grave.

Part of our psalmodic culture has us sing about death in a hushed, mourning way. There’s a subconscious fear of death reflected in our music. Think about the last time you sang or heard “Come, Come Ye Saints.” How was the phrase “and should we die before our journey’s through” handled? It’s common for arrangements of the hymn to dip to a minor key on that phrase to reflect sadness and struggle, even though, paradoxically, the following phrase is, “Happy day! All is well!” Death is not to be feared. Death, as Paul tells us, has no sting, and the grave no victory. It is the last enemy that shall be destroyed, yes, but it shall be destroyed. The Savior has won the victory.

The “Saul” model would have this be the release. Yes, Jesus died, but He did so that justice might be satisfied. We are no longer slaves to death thanks to His sacrifice. It’s not His death we sing about, but His sacrifice and the freedom that comes from it. We sing about his victory and conquest of death, even if we aren’t as exultant as we are during, say, hymns about Zion.

And if you don’t believe me, well, just listen to this final verse, which provides release for us in both “Saul” and “Aeolian,” and try to tell me you don’t hear anything about victory:

But rise triumphant from the tomb,
And in eternal splendor bloom,
Freed from the pow’r of death and pain,
With Christ, the Lord, to rule and reign.

reverentlyandmeeklynow

Hymn #185: Reverently and Meekly Now

reverentlyandmeeklynow

The lyrics were written by Joseph Townsend, but this is the first of the hymns we’ll cover this year whose tune was written by our site’s namesake, Ebenezer Beesley. The tune, fittingly named “Meekness,” adds an extra layer to the hymn that isn’t present in the lyrics. The lyrics, as are common with sacramental hymns, are about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, the emblems of the sacrament itself, forgiveness, and redemption, and the tune, as is also common with sacramental hymns, lingers in a minor key through much of the hymn, providing a discordant, unsettling feeling, which reminds us of the Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane.

The tune doesn’t stay in a minor key forever, though. Phrases like “sweat in agony of pain” and “oh, remember what was done” are in a minor key to highlight that suffering, but the phrase that follows each of them resolves to a major key, and fittingly, each of those final phrases is about us. The Savior suffered all those things that we might not suffer, provided we repent and turn our hearts to him. Those four phrases (“I have ransomed even thee,” “I have suffered death for thee,” “like a fountain unto thee,” and “that thy Savior I may be”) give us hope and remind us that His suffering was not for nothing, and the peace they bring is only amplified by the resolution of the key on those closing chords.

But take a closer look at those phrases.”I have ransomed even thee.” “That thy Savior I may be.” In this hymn, it is not we who sing to or about our Savior, but our Savior who sings to us. He tells us all that He has done for us, reminds us of the significance of the bread and water to be presented to us after the song concludes, and very gently asks us to “let [our] head most humbly bow” in reverence of the magnitude of His sacrifice. It’s not often that we’re permitted to put ourselves in the Savior’s place when we sing. We get the chance to see ourselves as He sees us. We realize that each of us can be addressed as “thou ransomed one.” We learn that He has no greater desire for us than we should “with [our] brethren be at peace.” And in the fourth verse, we get a sense of the depth of His love for us:

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

We know that He loves us. We learn it from the time we are very small, and we are reminded, at the very least, every Sunday as we sing to Him. But His description of us as His friends is awe-inspiring to me. We are not projects to Him, nor are we inconveniences He is forced to endure. We are dear to Him. The word “friend,” to me, implies not only love, but genuine interest in our lives. He redeemed us because He wants to be with us, and wants us to be able to return to where He is. It is His life’s sole mission to bring us home, and so He ever pleads before the Father’s throne for us. We fall short time and time again, and each time He makes the intercession for us. He stays the hand of justice, promising that we’ll do better this time. And He does it because we are His friends.

He asks nothing more than that we be obedient, prayerful, watchful, and constant, and we promise as much to Him as we take the sacrament of which we sing. We renew the covenant we made at baptism to do those things, and we resolve to try a little harder in the coming week. And as we do those things, we allow Him to become our Savior. We accept His sacrifice for us. We allow Him to take our hands in His and heal us. We allow, as we sing in the second verse, His Spirit to be a fountain to us, cleansing and purifying us.

And we fall short, again and again. But we remember He is our friend, and that His hand is always outstretched to us to help us up so that we can try again.