The Lord Is My Light

Because our life is characterized by “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11), our days are sometimes overshadowed by discouraging thoughts and feelings. Boyd K. Packer, a modern apostle, recognized that reality and shared encouraging counsel, saying, “Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration…. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind.” Thus, when discouragement has settled over me, I’ve made an effort to invite hope by singing to myself the words of James Nicholson’s hymn “The Lord Is My Light,” a musical reminder that Jesus Christ lives and that His light can overpower any sorrow:

The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?

To a gathering in Jerusalem, Jesus taught, “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). I’ve written before about the confidence we can have and ought to have in the presence of the Lord: He knows us and our circumstances perfectly, and He knows how to help us. Surely, because of His love and power, we ought to be able to feel secure and confident in His care. Speaking of Jesus’ desire to help us in our trials, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands.” Admittedly, it can be difficult to put my trust in His power when the storms of life rage about me, but I know that I’ve found peace and confidence when I’ve turned my heart to Him and left my troubles at His feet. Indeed, with Him as our light, what have we to fear?

Jesus Christ is the Light and the Life of the world. (Image credit: lds.org)

Jesus Christ is the Light and the Life of the world. (Image credit: lds.org)

He is my salvation from sorrow and sin

Prophesying of the life and mission of the Savior, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma said:

[H]e shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me. (Alma 7:11-13)

In these magnificent verses, we see first that Jesus Christ endured death in order to free us from death. With his resurrection, He won the victory—a victory He shares freely with us all—so that we may live again after this life. Further, we see that Christ suffered for our infirmities. He bore the pains and struggles of weakness, sickness, and despair. We cannot, therefore, suffer any sorrow that He hasn’t already experienced. He knows what bothers us, He knows what discourages us, and He knows how we feel. Having suffered the weight of our sorrows, He is full of a loving desire to relieve us so long as we will turn to Him and allow Him to help. Countless times, He has helped me—even if only to encourage me—and I have felt relief; however, He has never forced me to be comforted. Comfort has only come as I’ve turned to Him and asked for His help. Finally, the above verses teach that Christ not only suffered and overcame death and our sorrows—He also paid the price of our sins, redeeming us from the errors we have made. What a great blessing that is: when we see the standard of heaven and compare it to our shortcomings, that comparison can, at times, be disheartening enough. However, thanks to Christ’s atoning grace, we can rest in the knowledge that He is our salvation from sorrow and sin: our mistakes will not condemn us as long as we turn to Him and commit to improve.

In all things, Jesus lived and lives to lighten our loads and brighten our lives (Image credit: lds.org).

In all things, Jesus lived and lives to lighten our loads and brighten our lives (Image credit: lds.org).

Tho clouds may arise, faith stronger than sight looks up through the skies

One of the reasons that I love this hymn is for the way that it encourages me to look up through the dark clouds to see “Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign.” When troubles abound, it can be difficult to find a reason to rejoice, difficult to see anything good in the midst of sorrows great and small. When I pause to reflect on the words of this hymn, it gives me a fresh perspective—a better vantage from which to see my troubles. Knowing, as the song teaches, that Jesus is always over us, reigning in love and glory, I can see that strife is temporary and that my Advocate and Friend is over all things. As I’ve paused to reflect on the fact that Jesus Christ truly does reign, even when things seems dark and difficult, I’ve recognized the truth of what Elder Carl B. Cook taught when he said:

Experience has taught me that if we…exercise our faith and look to God for help, we will not be overwhelmed with the burdens of life. We will not feel incapable of doing what we are called to do or need to do. We will be strengthened, and our lives will be filled with peace and joy. We will come to realize that most of what we worry about is not of eternal significance—and if it is, the Lord will help us.

Though clouds of darkness arise in our lives, we can know that our Savior reigns, that nothing will go permanently wrong, and that He won’t expect us to face any challenge alone.

"[T]ho clouds may arise, / Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies / Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign" (Image credit: lds.org).

“[T]ho clouds may arise, / Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies / Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign” (Image credit: lds.org).

I know in His might, I’ll conquer at length. My weakness in mercy he covers with pow’r

Occasionally, our sorrows come because of our own inability to live up to heaven’s standards or to our own expectations. I think one of the great joys of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it not only shows us the way to distance ourselves from our shortcomings but also empowers us to become our best selves. Jesus isn’t just interested in helping us to stop being bad—He also wants to help us to become great. David O. McKay, who served as a prophet of God and as President of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, explained, “The purpose of the gospel is…to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.” That is, Christ isn’t satisfied with just removing the bad from us and our lives. Instead, He wants to enrich us with goodness, joy, and hope. He wants not only us but also our lives to be filled with light—light that only He can give. Sometimes, overcoming trouble and reaching success takes time, but we can be confident that, with Christ as our partner, we can overcome weakness and develop strength. He wants to help us to succeed gloriously.

He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and King. With Saints and with angels his praises I’ll sing.

In my continuing efforts to follow the Savior, I have learned that a Christian life does not mean a life without difficulty. In fact, it may sometimes feel as though it means quite the opposite. However, I have learned that solutions and relief come through Jesus Christ. He is my Redeemer, paying the price for my errors; He is my Savior, lifting me above the sorrows and difficulties of life; He is my King, reigning over the world and ensuring that all things will work together for my good. Most importantly, He is Redeemer, Savior, and King to us all, paying us personal and tender heed. He loves us, and He works tirelessly to help us. I know peace and confidence come in looking to Christ and allowing Him to bear our burdens and to lead us on our way. In conclusion, I add my gratitude for His goodness to the words of the Psalmist who wrote:

O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. (Psalm 98: 1-4)

O Love That Glorifies the Son

Seated with His disciples shortly before the end of His mortal ministry, Jesus charged, “[L]ove one another; as I have loved you,” saying, “By this shall man know that ye are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). Christ’s life was an unparalleled demonstration of transcendent love. His love defined Him during His mortal life, and it continues to define Him and all that He does. In the end, He expects that same love to define each of us as we take steps to follow His example and teachings. In my own continuing efforts to develop and to feel that Christlike love, I have often found that I have more success at some times than at others; nevertheless, I’ve often kept the words of Lorin F. Wheelwright’s hymn, “O Love That Glorifies the Son,” in mind as I strive to understand and develop that love which the Apostle Paul called “a more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31).

O love that glorifies the Son, O love that says, “Thy will be done!”

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained that, in order for the Savior to accomplish His saving mission, He suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” (Alma 7:11). The prophet Isaiah taught, “[H]e was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). While He went about healing and lifting, teaching and blessing, Jesus confronted those who rather injured and depressed, deceived and condemned. He was prosecuted and persecuted by religious officials who challenged His authority to teach and His right to heal. They denied His claim to divinity and charged Him with blasphemy, ultimately taking Him to Calvary’s cross. At one point, pressed by the awful weight of the sorrows and sins of all creation, Christ called out, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” Without a moment’s hesitation, though, He added, “[N]evertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-wallpaper

In such agony that His “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44), Christ endured the horrors of His suffering willingly out of the infinite love that He has for each and all of us. He uttered that sublime nevertheless because He knew that He had come into the world so “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). He loved us enough to suffer whatever was necessary so that we could one day have a place at His side in His Father’s “many mansions” (John 14:2). Surely, greater love hath no man than this (John 15:13)!

O love that binds our family…Pure love that lasts eternally…

In 1995, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement entitled “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in which they explained that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”  Even—or especially—in family life, the Savior’s incomparable love is central to harmony and happiness. Jesus’ life was given to teaching all who would hear the truths and principles that ensure peace and joy for the individual as well as for the family, which is central to the Creator’s plan. The Proclamation explains: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” When each member of a family strives to develop Christlike love for others and seeks to be near to the Lord, all the members of that family cannot help but grow closer to one another. Because of the great blessings made possible through Christ’s loving sacrifice, “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave,” allowing the love we begin to develop now to continue and to grow forever in God’s presence.

O love that overcomes defeat, O love that turns the bitter sweet…

Of course, to say that Christ’s love has paved the way for our salvation is not to say that we will not encounter bumps and upsets along the way, whether they come as a result of our own foolish actions or the actions of others. However, Christ’s love is the power whereby we can overcome frustrations and defeats, the power whereby our most exquisite and bitter pains can be replaced with sweet, exquisite joy (Alma 36:21). In few places is this truth more readily apparent than in the Biblical account of Jesus’ treatment of a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery by the religious authorities of the day. The priests and scribes stood before the Savior and said of the woman, “Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:5). With the terrified woman and the terrible authorities before Him, Jesus said simply, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Like frost beneath the morning sun, the authorities left the scene of their supposed justice. Then, Jesus approached the woman:

[H]e said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:10-11)

Because His love allowed Him to see the worth of the woman beneath the tarnish of her sin, the Savior was able to defuse the deadly self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and to give the woman a second chance—a chance to go and to sin no more.

"Go and sin no more" (lds.org).

“Go, and sin no more” (lds.org).

Speaking of such love, Thomas S. Monson, God’s prophet on the earth today, said:

I consider charity—or “the pure love of Christ”—to be the opposite of criticism and judging. In speaking of charity, I do not at this moment have in mind the relief of the suffering through the giving of our substance. That, of course, is necessary and proper. Tonight, however, I have in mind the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient.

I have in mind the charity that impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful, not only in times of sickness and affliction and distress but also in times of weakness or error on the part of others.

How encouraging it is to know that the Lord will, rather than condemn us for our mistakes, help us to overcome them and to become better! What a serious responsibility it is, too, to treat others with that same care and tolerance. True charity, President Monson explained, “is having patience with someone who has let us down…. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time.” It is the love that sees a person’s potential and not their current weakness, the love that  motivates us to encourage others to be their best selves because we know what they can be. It is the love by which Christ shows us who we truly are.

O Lord, give me the will to mend…O Lord, change me from foe to friend…

Ultimately, Christ sacrificed His life in love not just for the right to comfort us when we’re blue, but to make it possible for us to change and to become holier beings. He paid the price of our sins so that we could overcome them and become qualified to return to dwell in heaven forever. It is that love which makes forgiveness possible and which makes it sweet. To illustrate, the Book of Mormon tells of a people that was characterized by violence and war. When they were acquainted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they felt the love of God and recognized the ennobling truths of the gospel, and they did all they could to abandon their earlier tendencies to violence. After they embraced the gospel and the missionaries who had brought it to them, their king stood before the people and said:

I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts through the merits of his Son…. Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day…that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby. (Alma 24:10, 15)

By embracing the gospel, they opened themselves to the love of Christ, and it changed them, purging from them their warlike nature and filling them with an unyielding desire to do good continually. Their change was so great that they became close friends and allies as much to the enemies they had once fought in war as to the God they had once rejected and ignored. As a result, they enjoyed the love and mercy of the Lord as unfailing blessings for the rest of their days.

Come, fill my soul today; Come, fill my soul today.

Thus knowing of the eternal blessings, comfort, and transformation that can come about when we seek and emulate the love of Christ in our lives, it falls to us to do everything we can to act on what we know. President Monson taught, “There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.” Without confirming action, our love is so much empty feeling, but, when we act on the love we feel, it becomes a power for good as much in our lives as in the lives of those we love. As the late President Howard W. Hunter taught:

The Savior has commanded us to love one another as he has loved us; to clothe ourselves “with the bond of charity,” as he so clothed himself. We are called upon to purify our inner feelings, to change our hearts, to make our outward actions and appearance conform to what we say we believe and feel inside. We are to be true disciples of Christ…. We need to extend the hand of friendship. We need to be kinder, more gentle, more forgiving, and slower to anger. We need to love one another with the pure love of Christ.

I know that Jesus Christ’s love for us is real, and I know that He expects us to learn to love as He loves. Through His infinite love, He saved the world from sin and death; through our efforts to emulate His infinite love, we can surely save our worlds from sorrow and despair. As we strive to love and to demonstrate that love in selfless acts of service, we will know that we are loved. We will know that we can succeed. “Charity,” the Apostle Paul taught, “never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8); thus, we, possessed of charity, can be confident that we will, ultimately, triumph in Christ over all our failures. That is the great promise of Christ’s enduring love.

Hark, All Ye Nations!

Some time after joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Louis F. Moench wrote about the excitement he felt in his renewed faith and about the importance of sharing that faith with the world. Later set to music and translated to English, his verse became the hymn “Hark, All Ye Nations!” an anthem that echoes the zeal of all those who have learned and preached the reality of God and of His love for His children since ancient times. Moses stood before Pharaoh and testified of the the great “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:15) who had prepared a way to deliver His people from Egypt; Isaiah gloried in the Lord’s “marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14) that would bring the people’s hearts back to the Lord; Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” but declared it boldly, for he knew it to be “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16); the Book of Mormon prophet Alma wished that he “were an angel” so that he could persuade everyone everywhere to “repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:2). Indeed, it is such a great joy to know that God lives and that He speaks to us. As a result, those who have that faith and testimony are eager to share it with all who will listen.

Hark, All Ye Nations! Hear heaven’s voice

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken” (Isaiah 1:2). While the revelations of Isaiah often seem to be characterized by prophecies of destruction and harsh condemnations, they are balanced and filled by the tender messages of God’s mercy and love for all of His children in every nation. Though He soundly rebukes them in earlier prophecies, the Lord promises ultimate peace to Egypt and Assyria, the enemies of His chosen people Israel, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (Isaiah 19:25). In the end, He makes no difference between Israel and their antagonizers: all will be blessed by His mercy. Indeed, God is not the God of a chosen few: He is the Father of all the inhabitants of the earth, and, while our own choices may lead us into strife, His work is to bless and prosper all of His children—without exception. When God speaks, He does so to show us all how to live in order to find happiness. “Learn to do well,” He taught through Isaiah, “seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). After inviting the people to live to a higher moral standard, God, through His prophet, promised, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19). If our Father in Heaven was so determined to bless His obedient children anciently, why would He not want to teach us the way of happiness today?

Thru ev’ry land that all may rejoice!

After teaching the Philippians their duty, the Apostle Paul reminded them, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Sometimes, the commandments may look like interminable lists of shalt not’s, restrictions designed to hold people back. It’s a natural impulse to push back when we are told what to do. I think Paul was aware of that when he reminded the Philippians to rejoice: though he had sent them a catalogue of corrections and commandments, he wanted them to remember that his counsel was based in God’s plan for their happiness. Even today, I know that I feel happier and more secure when I am doing my best to follow the teachings of Christ, to pray, to be kind to others, and to live according to God’s will. There are times when it feels like more than I can do, but, when I get lax, things don’t go as well. I know that God desires our happiness, and I know that His word comes to teach us how to achieve great joy—not just some far-off joy in the next life, but real joy today.

Angels of glory shout the refrain: Truth is restored again!

All over the world, thousands of missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are teaching those who receive them about God’s plan for our happiness. The great message of the Church of Jesus Christ is that God still speaks to His children and that He still calls prophets who transmit God’s word to us and who point us to our Savior Jesus Christ so that, through Him, we can rise above the woes and stresses of life. We, as members of the Church, believe that God has restored the authority to direct His affairs on the earth and to perform the great work of salvation so that all of His children might believe and “enter into his rest” (Hebrews 3:18).

Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations (lds.org)

Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations (lds.org)

Searching in darkness, nations have wept

Of course, to say that something has been restored is to say that it was, at some point, lost. After Jesus Christ’s resurrection, He commissioned the apostles, whom He had called and authorized, to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). They obeyed, and the church that Christ organized grew as His gospel spread. The apostles maintained the order of the Church and the purity of the revelations and often sent out letters to far-flung congregations in order to prevent human fallibility from corrupting the early saints’ understanding of God’s eternal truth. However, amidst persecution, the apostles were martyred, and the Church began to splinter. Paul remarked that he was surprised to see how the church in Galatia was “so soon removed from…the grace of Christ unto another gospel” by those who “would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). Before long, those who held God’s authority were gone, leaving nobody through whom the word of God to His church could be revealed. In time, even humanity’s understanding of the nature of God went from being a matter of clear and simple revelation to being a matter of scholarly debate and theological controversy. The fulness of God’s plan was gradually lost through accumulated human errors. The time came, as foreseen by Amos, when there came “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thrist for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Said Amos of that time, the people of the earth“shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). Of course, Father in Heaven was not content to let His children languish in confusion. He preserved key fragments of the truth, and He inspired good men and women to defend faith and virtue while He prepared the way to bring about the restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All now rejoice; the long night is o’er.

The time of restoration came in 1820 when Joseph Smith, then fourteen years old, was caught up in the confusion that came with having countless Christian churches all professing to have the truth. Joseph wanted to find the truth in its fulness, and he fully expected to find it in one of the churches where he lived in western New York. He later wrote, “I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit,” but he added that “it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” While he listened to preachers and searched the Bible for some clue that would show him where to find the true church of Christ, Joseph Smith came upon the Epistle of James and these simple words: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Joseph decided then that he would go to the source of truth for the answer he sought, supposing that, if anybody could point him in the right direction, it would be God. He went to a grove near his home and offered his question to God in prayer, and God answered in a miraculous way. Joseph wrote:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling my name and said, pointing the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared in response to a humble prayer. They answered Joseph’s question, saying of the competing churches Joseph was to “join none of them, for they were all wrong.” Joseph was then called to be prophet, a tool in the Lord’s hands to bring about the restoration of Christ’s gospel as it had existed before the centuries of confusion following the deaths of the apostles.

"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (lds.org)

“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (lds.org)

Truth is on earth once more!

Ten years after Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. During that intervening decade, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, an ancient record and witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ that restored the truths that had been lost from the Bible. The Lord called twelve apostles and commissioned them once again to go forth and preach the gospel to every creature as directed by Him through the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ, God opened the way for all of His children to hear His voice again, to learn His ways, and to discover His joy.

To ev’ry land and people we’ll go, teaching his holy word.

An invitation from a member of the Church to Jesus Christ to learn about the Church is an invitation to share the truths that form the foundation of that member’s happiness and faith. I know that God lives and that He speaks through a prophet today because living by His counsel has brought me greater joy and understanding. As I mentioned before, God is not the God of a select few, but is, rather, the Father of us all. He loves us all and wants us all to enjoy the happiness and blessings that a life of faith will bring us. It is my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ, the place where we can find all the truths that will lead us to happiness now and forever. I also know that there is no finer way to spark a similar conviction than to do as James suggests, to “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” Surely God will hear your prayer and lead you in the right way: He has heard mine.

Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd

While serving as a missionary in the Northeast of Brazil, my missionary companion and I occasionally visited the home of a dear woman who, years after a divorce, struggled with poverty and loneliness. Despite those challenges, she had remained committed to her faith and was stalwart in doing what was right. One night in her small apartment, we sang together Mary B. Wingate and William J. Kirkpatrick’s hymn, “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd.” We all felt the sweet reality of the Lord’s love and of His devoted efforts to help and save all of His children. Since that evening, I have often returned to the inspired words of that hymn for comfort and encouragement in the face of trial.

God's love for us is manifest in the life and service of the Savior (lds.org)

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd  (lds.org)

Dear are the Sheep of His Fold

Jesus Christ declared, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep” (John 10:14). He is the Savior of the World—of each of us—and He knows us. His love for us is individual and personal, not coolly collective. Illustrating His personal concern for us, He asked, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4).

Often, we, as sheep in Christ’s fold, stray. We may be lost in difficult circumstances of life, foolish decisions, or other unsettling trials that leave us, as the hymn says, “hungry and helpless and cold.” As we wander those deserts of life, however, the Savior does not content Himself with the ninety-nine sheep that are safe at home; rather, “He hastens” to bring us back to the safety and peace He offers.

See, the Good Shepherd…Bringing Them in with Rejoicing

Jesus explained that, when the shepherd finds his missing sheep, “he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5). Surely, the Savior has no reservations about welcoming us to His fold, to his grace and loving protection. The late Elder Marvin J. Ashton once said, “We do not have to worry about the patience of God, because he is the personification of patience, no matter where we have been, what we have done, or what we, to this moment, have allowed ourselves to think of ourselves.…God will not forsake [us].” The Lord is very much like the father in a New Testament parable, who, overjoyed, ran to meet his returning son—a son who had wasted his inheritance on things with no lasting value (Luke 15:11-20). Christ will always have us back, no matter where we have wandered.

Saved at Such Infinite Cost

Of course, Jesus did not become our Shepherd and Savior without cost. The New Testament teaches that He endured the pain of betrayal and the agony of death in order to claim the power to redeem us from sin, mortality, and weakness. A Book of Mormon prophecy echoes that truth, saying, “[H]e will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). His unfailing compassion and solid determination to rescue us from sorrow and sin came through His own experience of our pains and miseries, enduring all so that, according to God’s plan, we might all have a safe escape from the deserts of life.

“Make Us Thy True Under-Shepherds; Give Us a Love that is Deep”

Reflecting on the love and mercy that the Savior offers me fires my own desire to do more good to those around me. Jesus suffered death for each of us—all one hundred percent. He didn’t suffer to save just the top-performing third; He suffered and triumphed to save each one of us. Speaking of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God. I believe our Heavenly Father’s everlasting purpose for His children is generally achieved by the small and simple things we do for one another. At the heart of the English word atonement is the word one. If all mankind understood this, there would never be anyone with whom we would not be concerned, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or social or economic standing. We would strive to emulate the Savior and would never be unkind, indifferent, disrespectful, or insensitive to others.

After His resurrection, Jesus explained the duty of those who would follow Him, saying, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16). As we strive to come unto Christ and follow where He leads, we should remember those around us. No one of us is beneath the notice of the Savior, and nobody, therefore, should be beneath our own. I know that when I have focused on doing good to others, I have felt greater peace and confidence. I have found greater love and more lasting joy. I know that as we do our best to emulate, in our own small way, the Savior’s infinite, redeeming love, we will find great joy and security. As we turn outward, helping and lifting those around us, our own burdens will be lifted, and our hearts will be comforted.

 

Consider the Lilies

Frozen February has passed, and March has come roaring in to take its place. February was a trying month for many, and, despite the warming temperatures, I still find myself shivering off last month’s final icy traces. Amidst the dreary, grey days, daily stresses, and mundane tasks, however, I can always find relief through good music—especially when that music points my mind and my heart heavenward. The pairing of inspired melody and sacred verse warms my soul. This week, then, I want to share one of my very favorite hymns, Roger Hoffman’s “Consider the Lilies.”

“Consider the lilies of the field…”

On the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Savior Jesus Christ invited His disciples to “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” (Matthew 6:28-29). I don’t think there is any designer, seamstress, or tailor who has ever matched the simple elegance and honest beauty of the Creator’s handiwork , for the world is full of beauty from the magnificent lilies in the field to the majestic mountains with their snowy peaks. Seeing that beauty, do we remember that the Being who “clothe[d] the grass of the field” is literally our Father? “Shall he not much more clothe you?” the Savior asked in the same way that He drew the multitude’s attention to the birds of the sky, saying “they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

I love the way the book of Genesis tells of the Creation. It says that God created the heaven and the earth, the land and the sea, plants, animals, fowls, and fishes. He hung the stars in the heavens and set the moon in orbit around the earth. After that work, He saw His creation, and “it was good” (Genesis 1:25). Then He created man and woman, finally putting His own children on the earth that had been created just for them. It was only then that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). If all of God’s creation only became “very good” in His sight once He put man and woman on it, doesn’t that illustrate just how much He values us—you and me—over the birds of the sky? Doesn’t it show just how willing He is to take care of our needs and address our righteous wants?

“Though the path may wind across the mountains, He knows the meadows where they feed…”

Often, it’s hard to see God’s wisdom at work in our trials, but that is more of a testament to our ignorance than to God’s indifference. One of my favorite passages of the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 55. It says:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Rain cannot fall to the earth without watering it and causing life to spring up where it falls; similarly, we cannot receive God’s word nor do His will without it being for our benefit. To tie it back to the verse of music, we may not see much beyond the winding mountain paths that we find ourselves on, but He knows the meadows where we feed. He knows where we need to be in order to find safety and happiness, and He knows how to get us there. As long as we follow Him in faith, He will get us there—even if it means we have to climb a mountain or two along the way.

“The pains of all of them He carried from the day of His birth…”

The most important thing to remember in all this is that we don’t walk those mountain paths alone. The Lord is not one to point out our destination and watch us recede into the distance, nor is He one to wait for us on the finish line, unconcerned with the upsets along the way. Rather, our Savior walks alongside us, and He knows perfectly what we think and feel as we struggle towards greener pastures. The Book of Mormon teaches:

He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…. And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

Jesus Christ understands perfectly what we suffer because He suffered it too, and, with His infinite love, He wants to help us to overcome the difficulties we face. Not only did He suffer our pains and infirmities, but He overcame them, and that means that He has not only the desire to help us to overcome, but the power necessary to make it happen.

“And He will heal those who trust Him and make their hearts as gold…”

“Come unto me,” the Savior says, “all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). There can be great comfort in knowing that, for however difficult things may seem, the Savior always has His hand outstretched to lift us when we struggle. I can think of several occasions in which the Lord has helped me to overcome challenges that I didn’t have the strength to overcome—and I know that, as long as I remember Him and trust Him enough to let Him help me, He will see me through many more. That is the wonderful thing—our Savior is not a passive one. In fact, He is actively engaged and invested in our well-being. When He was on the earth, He went about doing good, spreading joy, and easing burdens. Surely, now that He has ascended into heaven, resurrected and glorified, His character of love and service and His capacity to provide them have only increased. It can be hard sometimes for us to walk the mountain paths and believe that the grass really is greener on the other side. However, it gets easier when we remember that Christ is the Good Shepherd who will lead us, heal us, and show us the way to become better people. And it gets even easier when we remember that He has promised us rest and that He has the capacity to keep that promise perfectly. He can indeed purify us, heal us, and lift us to heaven where, as the Apostle John wrote, “They [or we] shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17).

I know great things await those who press on in faith. Trials will arise—there is no doubt of that—but if God cares enough to feed the birds of the sky, He will certainly care for us, His sons and daughters. So consider the lilies of the field and their silent promise that God will care for us with tenderness and love—for that is His greatest desire and joy.