Tag Archives: Youth

Hymn #258: O Thou Rock of Our Salvation

Foot of the Christus Statue

Today’s hymn is “O Thou Rock of Our Salvation.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, follow that link and listen to a verse—you’ll probably recognize the tune. It was the chorus that triggered my memory:

Gather round the standard bearer;
Gather round in strength of youth.
Ev’ry day the prospect’s fairer
While we’re battling for the truth.

Military imagery is hardly uncommon in hymns. We sing about Christian soldiers and royal armies, ten thousand enlisted legions marching until the conflict is o’er. We even see it in Primary, for “we are as the armies of Helaman.”

It’s curious, though, that military imagery is so common in hymns. Relatively few modern church members will participate in a military battle; why not use a metaphor that will be familiar to more people? Why don’t we sing more about gardening, long journeys through the wilderness, or wrangling disobedient children?

Really, I don’t know the answer. I suspect that wonderful hymns could be made using any of those as a metaphor. And maybe they do exist and I just haven’t heard about them. But what I do know is that military themes aren’t limited to hymns; good portions of both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon cover military operations. Why, then? What are we to learn from these messages of battle?

Perhaps the warfare theme serves to remind us that this is a battle. In the relative comfort that many of us enjoy, it’s easy to become complacent and simply drift along with the flow of society. If our life ever feels like a battle, it’s a battle with cranky children or frustrating co-workers, not a battle for our lives, our families, or our freedom. We may have some rough days, but they rarely have the gravity of a real battle.

We a war ‘gainst sin are waging;
We’re contending for the right.
Ev’ry day the battle’s raging;
Help us, Lord, to win the fight.

When we sing about a war against sin (a “battle raging”), perhaps it’s a reminder that this really is serious business. The war against sin is not just something to be lightly brushed aside—we should constantly be alert and attentive against sin.

What does it really mean, though, to wage war against sin?

Certainly we should resist temptation and avoid sin, but I don’t believe that’s enough. We all have the responsibility to make our homes a safe refuge, a sacred place where the spirit can dwell, whether we are parents, children, or living on our own. The war against sin may also include our neighborhoods and our communities, and even social media. Wherever we are, we have taken a covenant to be a witness of Christ. This is not discarded lightly.

However, this war against sin is not fought like other wars. In the scriptural Armor of God, we find that there is only one weapon used for attacking: the Sword of the Spirit. And what are the fruits of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

As we battle against sin, let us do it with love and joy, gentleness and temperance. We struggle against sin, not against sinners. Indeed, the banner we bear is that of Jesus Christ, he who redeems sinners from their sins. We come with an invitation, not a condemnation. “Come unto Him,” we say. “Learn of him. Partake of his peace.” Christ is the foundation upon whom all must build if they seek peace.

Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

The Lord has assembled a unique army, one bearing not swords but salvation. We battle against sin not so much by striking down evil as by raising up women and men, inviting all to come unto Christ. The antidote to sin is redemption.

Always, always remember Christ. He is the foundation. He is the way. He is the light.

Hymn #129: Where Can I Turn for Peace?

This is a favorite hymn of many, probably because we all have this feeling from time to time. Things are hard, things are difficult, and despite our best efforts, things don’t go our way. And we wonder, when nothing seems to be going right, where we can turn for a little comfort. Where can we find peace, especially when it seems like everything in the world is conspiring to make us feel so miserable?

We can always turn to our Savior. He is always there for us, the quiet hand to calm our anguish. What’s interesting about this hymn, though, is not the sentiment that the Lord will always  be there to comfort us. That’s hardly surprising. What’s interesting about this hymn is the notion that it’s never He who turns away from us. We are the ones who must turn to find peace, which suggests that at some point, we were the ones who turned away from peace. We are the ones who “with a wounded heart, anger, or malice… draw [ourselves] apart.” We are hurt, we are wronged, and we withdraw ourselves to be miserable. And then we cast about, wondering why it is that we can’t find peace.

This is not, of course, to diminish the struggles of those who find themselves turned from peace at every moment through no fault of their own. I’m not suggesting that the darkness of life can always be swept away with nothing more than a positive outlook. I’m not suggesting that the reason things are hard in your life is because you haven’t bothered to want to feel peace. But I am suggesting that more often than not, we are the ones who remove ourselves from the Lord and from the peace that He brings. And I am suggesting that we can turn back to Him to feel that peace once again.

He answers privately. When we turn back to the Lord, we often do so in prayer and yearning. We pour out our hearts to Him, desperate to feel some measure of comfort during a trying time. And He answers us, “reaching [our] reaching in [our] Gethsemane.” We don’t bleed from every pore, and we don’t take upon ourselves the sins of others in our dark times, but it’s no stretch to compare these moments of agony and straining to feel the love of our Savior to the moments when the Lord Himself felt most removed from His Father. We stretch out our hands to Him, hoping to feel something, anything in return. And He, having endured such trials Himself (and then some), cannot help but reach back. In fact, He is always reaching to us. It’s when we reach in our Gethsemane that we can feel His hand in ours. “Constant he is and kind,” we sing, and that constancy is reflected in the fact that He ever reaches out to us, wanting nothing more than to comfort us and bear us up.

We all suffer from time to time. Life is difficult. I know that, and you know that, and yet we still flounder during these times, struggling in vain to feel peace in our own lives. And in those times, the Spirit refreshes our memory, whispering to us, “Who, who can understand? He, only One.”

And so it is, and so we turn to Him in our dark times, the One who can make them light again. He is gentle, He is kind, and He will bring us peace, because He is filled with “love without end.”

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 #261: Thy Servants Are Prepared

Image Credit:  "Men Missionaries Mormon Man", More Good Foundation, 2007, via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moregoodfoundation/5135123539. CC BY-NC 2.0

Thy Servants Are Prepared is, at first glance, a hymn about young missionaries prepared to go forth and preach the Gospel to the world. Their preaching will fill the world with the light of truth, and build Zion both abroad and at home. It also speaks of the preparation these missionaries must have, for one cannot preach the truth unless he has first received and understood it himself.

The preparation and service of our young missionary force is an exciting and important topic, one that is more prominent than ever in context of the recent surge in departing missionaries. But this is not the topic I want to discuss here.

The truth is that 18- and 19-year old missionaries are not the only servants of God. We are all servants of God, all called from the moment of our baptism to carry forward his work and proclaim his Gospel. While we may not all be called to serve in foreign lands, the recent instructions to “Hasten the Work of Salvation” make it clear that we are all part of this work, whether called as full-time missionaries or not.

Just as full-time missionaries, we all must be prepared to share the Gospel. We should be studying the scriptures daily, “feasting upon the words of Christ.” We should be praying often. More importantly, we should be developing a real and meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father, and should be growing ever more able to understand and act upon the promptings of the Spirit.

Preparation to share the Gospel of Christ is not completed simply by memorizing Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision and a few Scripture Mastery scriptures. The Gospel is not simply about learning scriptural facts—in fact, Christ often rebuked the Pharisees and Scribes for doing just that. Rather, we must learn to listen to our Father directly, to follow the guidance he sends through the Holy Spirit.

We must learn to receive revelation.

This should not be a surprising statement. Missionaries invite people  in their very first meetings to pray about the Book of Mormon, to receive an answer from God himself whether it is true or not. When we are baptized we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, a gift that does us no good unless we actually learn to listen to the Spirit. Prophets throughout the Book of Mormon taught this same lesson: we must learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as we preach that “God speaks, not spake,” we must learn to listen.

I believe we all understand this, and yet our day-to-day tasks can so easily distract us from this preparation. Learning to accurately recognize the Spirit is not a simple task; it takes practice and effort. When we brush aside frequent scripture study, or when our prayers start fading into rote repetitions, we lose the opportunity to commune with the Holy Spirit in the very settings most conducive to his presence.

Sharing the light of the Gospel with the world is God’s work. He can and will direct us as we carry it out, but only if we are capable of listening to his instructions and following his direction. As we do so, we will truly see “the darkness draw away from [His] revealing light.”

So when we sing “Thy Servants Are Prepared,” let’s remember that it’s us we’re singing about. Let’s make sure that we’re always ready.


Image Credit:
“Men Missionaries Mormon Man”, More Good Foundation, 2007, via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moregoodfoundation/5135123539. CC BY-NC 2.0

Hymn #20: God of Power, God of Right

After spending some time with this hymn, I think it’s a pity that it isn’t sung more often. It’s of a handful that takes up less than a page in the hymnbook, but it contains a profound lesson about God’s process of turning ordinary people like you and me into celestial beings.

The hymn begins with an image of God’s strength:

God of power, God of right,
Guide us with thy priesthood’s might.
Forge our souls in living fire;
Shape them to thy great desire.

It’s not difficult to picture the Creator of all things sweating and pounding diligently to produce something useful and worthwhile out of raw material. Great effort, constant vigilance, and perfect timing are vital to this process; one misstep and the metal can be ruined. Lucky for us, the One forging our souls is a master blacksmith.

Likening souls to metal naturally brings to mind the ubiquitous metaphor of the refiner’s fire. I especially like this verse in Proverbs: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer” (25:4). Once the impurities are removed, the precious metal is not just left as a shiny lump, but it is shaped into a vessel–through “priesthood might”, as the verse says–to be filled as its Maker sees fit.

And with what does He fill us? With knowledge.

God of wisdom, God of truth,
Take us in our eager youth;
Lift us step by step to thee
Thru an endless ministry.

When we are ready and willing, He will teach us what we need to know to be like Him. We learn from the scriptures, the words of living prophets, our patriarchal blessings, instruction in the temple, Sunday School classes, personal revelation…as I’ve mentioned before, this is a gospel of learning. And, as the goal is to progress eternally, it will be an eternal process for us to gain the wisdom our Father has.

With all that earlier talk of power and might, though, it would be easy to see this as a forceful process. Fortunately for us this is not the case. God does not pound us into shape and cram us full of whatever is necessary for us to be saved. He doesn’t work like that, as the third verse reminds us.

God of mercy, God of love,
Let thy Spirit, like the dove,
Touch and humble, teach and bless,
As we serve in holiness.

His mercy and love are the reason He blessed us with the ability to choose for ourselves. If we will accept His mercy and allow the Holy Ghost to “touch and humble, teach and bless” us, we can be “shape[d] to [His] great desire”.

God is omnipotent; He can perfect even the most flawed among us. God is omniscient; He knows exactly what we need to be sanctified. God loves us; He lets us choose whether or not to let Him make us something great. It is our decisions that will ultimately determine our destiny (see this talk by President Monson).

Notice that the hymn is written as a prayer, though. We are acknowledging His attributes and asking Him to use them to guide us and lift us. We’ve already made our choice: to “serve in holiness.”

Hymn #257: Rejoice! A Glorious Sound Is Heard

shout, by Krista Baltroka

shout, by Krista Baltroka

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve sung this song in church. It’s not one that I’m very familiar with. Maybe you are. Whether you are or not, though, it’s a hymn that has a familiar feel to it. We’ve sung similar hymns with similar feelings. Some have a strong cadence to them, like the hymns of Zion. Others have soaring crescendos, like the hymns of praise. It’s the meter that makes this hymn feel so familiar. The meter is called Common Meter Doubled (CMD), and it falls into four neat couples of eight and six beats. You probably recognize it from many of the hymns you’re familiar with: it has mostly quarter notes, with the occasional syncopated eighth note thrown in here and there, and each couplet ends with a dotted half note held out to mark the end of a phrase. It’s simple, which is why it’s used frequently enough to be called common meter.

The simplicity of the hymn ties in well with the message. We sing praise to the Father, and we rejoice in His Son. We glory that His cause is found in triumph. We are glad to hear that Zion’s youth–our youth–go forth in “wondrous might” and are found “in league with truth.” These are simple things, though that’s not to say that we don’t find joy in things that are more complicated and nuanced as well. We glory in our Lord. We do as much at the end of the first verse when we sing these words:

Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts,
All hail thee, King most high.

The message is simple when you get down to it. God lives, and we worship Him. The rest of the lyrics explain more about why we worship Him (His perfection, grace, and sacrifice of His Son), but the main thrust of the hymn is found in those two lines. God lives, and that’s a thing to shout about.

When compared to some other Christian churches, the music of the LDS Church is pretty tame. We don’t have robed choirs swaying and shimmying as they sing. We don’t have electric guitars or brass. In fact, we’re encouraged not to stray beyond the hymnal when performing in church. Our music is more reserved than one might expect out of gospel music. But that’s not to say that we don’t (or shouldn’t) shout with praise. Even if we don’t literally shout while singing this hymn, we are encouraged to sing vigorously, and there’s even an exclamation point in the title to give it a little extra oomph. When we sing this hymn, we are not simply to rejoice. We are to rejoice! The Lord has triumphed over sin and strife, and we will, with Him, in glory reign.

So give a shout today. As the third verse encourages us, arise and sing to His great name. Send forth a joyous strain. Feel the joy of the gospel, and let out that great exultant cry from the first verse: Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts, all hail thee, king most high.

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!