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The meetinghouse was dark and empty as my mission companion and I headed down the hallway. But what was that noise? Music, voices singing. It was faint at first, but grew as we neared the chapel. We didn’t recognize the beautiful song, so we stepped quietly through the open chapel door and saw a small group of people in the choir seats, holding green songbooks. The choir director interrupted the singing briefly to correct a few notes, then instructed the choir to start again at the beginning of the piece:

“Our Savior’s love
Shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above
It breaks through clouds of strife.
Lighting our way,
It leads us back into His sight,
Where we may stay
To share eternal life.” (1)

My companion and I stood transfixed as the lovely music washed over us, realizing that the green books the choir sang from must be the new Church hymnals we had heard about. Over the next weeks and months, it was a pleasure to discover many new hymns published among old favorites:

Because I Have Been Given Much
Where Can I Turn for Peace?
As Now We Take the Sacrament
Each Life That Touches Ours for Good
Lord, I Would Follow Thee
As Sisters in Zion
I Believe in Christ

We also rejoiced to find some familiar pieces which had not previously been included in the Latter-day Saint hymnbook, such as:

How Great Thou Art
For the Beauty of the Earth
Be Still, My Soul
Angels We Have Heard on High

As a musician, searching that new green hymnal for the first time was like discovering a chest full of treasure. Now, nearly forty years later, we have that privilege again as the Church has published online the first batch of hymns and songs from the new hymnbook, Hymns–For Home and Church, with many more to come. The first of these hymns that my congregation sang together was Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, a familiar and much-loved piece. To hear those profound words in a Sacrament meeting setting was so powerful that I could not sing past the lump in my throat:

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.” (2) 

Many years ago, I heard a piece of music entitled Sing Me to Heaven. (3)  That phrase perfectly describes the feeling I experience when singing or listening to inspirational and sacred songs. They transport me to a higher spiritual plane, bring out my better nature, and draw me closer to God. Including spiritual music in my daily worship increases my desire to continually “sing the song of redeeming love.” (Alma 5:26)

My children are singers, and they have been fortunate to marry singers, so we have a strong choir when we’re all together. After our Sunday dinner this past week, I sat at the piano while most of the adults in the family gathered around, pulled out their phones, and began requesting new songs from the church website. I printed copies to play at the piano, and we spent a joyful hour sight-reading through eight of the pieces before people had to take their children home to bed.

I was caught off guard by the effect this music session had on me. As we finished singing When the Savior Comes Again, (4) I glanced up at my family and found that I was not the only person with tears in my eyes. What a wonderful, hopeful song for my grandchildren to learn, to teach them to prepare for and look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

My mother, who is a musician, has taught me that people with the gift of songwriting have a responsibility to translate human emotions into meaningful words and melodies, through which people can express their deepest longings and feelings. I experienced the effects of this as my family and I sang It is Well with My Soul. Though I’ve been familiar with the song for decades, I had never known the third verse. As we sang through the hymn, the repentant sinner in me felt these words to my core:

“My sin–oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!–
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.” (5)


Throughout the decades of my life, I have sung many hymns as a prayer:

“I need thee, oh I need thee,
every hour I need thee.” (6)
__

“I need thy presence
every passing hour.
What but thy grace
can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself,
my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine,
Lord, abide with me!” (7)

“More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin…” (8)

With the publishing of more hymns and spiritual songs, we will have a greater collection of exquisite phrases to give voice to our innermost desires as we pray. And as we learn new sacrament songs, we may receive fresh perspectives on the life-changing nature of that weekly ordinance.

Music is an essential part of our worship services. Hymns and other sacred music enhance worship by inviting the Spirit, unifying congregations, and facilitating spiritual experiences. These songs help us express our faith and devotion to God.

Hymn texts testify of Jesus Christ, teach principles of His gospel, and express gratitude and praise. Interestingly, spiritual songs can be highly therapeutic. Singing or reading the words can help us connect with God and find peace and comfort in times of trial. Sacred music is also a powerful teaching tool, helping us to internalize and remember spiritual truths.

As my family concluded our singing time last Sunday, I received a strong impression that the songs from the new hymnbook will be an important means of strengthening Latter-day Saints, as long-prophesied turbulence increases in the world leading up to the Second Coming of the Savior.

What powerful changes might happen in our lives and homes and minds if we replaced a significant portion of our screen and social media time with listening to or singing hymns and spiritual songs? As we daily worship Jesus Christ, may our use of inspirational music help sing us closer to heaven.

Notes:

  1. Our Savior’s Love, Hymns, #113, text: Edward L. Hart, music: Crawford Gates, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  2. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Hymns–For Home and Church #1001, text: Robert Robinson, music: American folk tune.
  3. Sing Me to Heaven, text and music: Jane Griner Gawthrop and Daniel Gawthrop, Dunstan House.
  4. When the Savior Comes Again, Hymns–For Home and Church #1002, text and music: Lane Johnson.
  5. It is Well with My Soul, Hymns–For Home and Church #1003, text: Horatio G. Spafford, music: Philip P. Bliss.
  6. I Need Thee Every Hour, Hymns, #98, text: Annie S. Hawks, music: Robert Lowry, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  7. Abide with Me! Hymns, #166, text: Henry F. Lyte, music: William H. Monk, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  8. More Holiness Give Me, Hymns #130, text and music: Philip Paul Bliss, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah.