Dear Elders and Sisters, a letter from home(ish) #7: We Get “Nearer to God” Through the Crosses We Carry!
AN MTC UPDATE
This week’s Tuesday night devotional was amazing. Elder Christofferson spoke to the MTC missionaries about preaching repentance and baptizing converts. His presentation focused on the “why” of repentance and the blessings of baptism. He asked the missionaries to spend some time thinking about those two ideas.
If you ever wonder about your place and importance in the work consider what Elder Christofferson told the missionaries, “We look at you as our companions. We are thankful that you stand with us.” Wow. That should elevate your feelings about what you are doing!
NEARER MY GOD TO THEE…A LESSON IN MISSIONARY WORK
This week the MTC Choir has been rehearsing “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Some of you in the field might remember singing that song in the MTC Choir. If you did sing it with us, I hope that we had the time to discuss the story behind it. For those who haven’t heard the backstory, it really begins in the Old Testament.
The prophet Isaac and his wife Rebekah were going to have twins. An angel visited Rebekah and informed her of the situation and further explained that the younger would “rule” over the older. The first child born was covered in hair, so they appropriately name him Esau—meaning hairy. When the second son was born, Jacob, he reached out and grabbed onto Esau’s heel. This marked the beginning of the conflict between these two families that continues to this day. Esau grew to be a hunter; Jacob, a tender of the fields and flocks.
On a certain day Esau returned from the hunt famished. He found Jacob preparing a meal, and the two make a deal. Esau would give up his birthright, which meant the power, rights and responsibilities of the priesthood, for a “mess of pottage.” The fact that Esau was willing to give up so much for so little tells us something of his character and disinterest in the things of God.
Through a carefully laid plan, and the assistance of his mother, Jacob did receive the birthright blessing from his father, Isaac. Even though the blessing was rightfully Jacob’s, Esau was furious and conspired to kill his younger sibling. At the urging of his mother (who somehow knows everything—like most moms), Jacob fled into the wilderness–leaving everything he ever knew and loved behind.
That first night, alone and certainly in discouragement and despair, Jacob placed a rock under his head as a pillow and drifted off to sleep. As he slept he was visited by heavenly messengers, angels to be exact. He saw a great ladder descend from heaven and the angels taught him how to climb that ladder and into the presence of God. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said that Jacob obviously had received his temple endowment. Arising in the morning, Jacob recognized the significance of what had transpired in the night and consecrated the ground as a “House of God” or in Hebrew Bethel. “Beth” (meaning house) and “El” (meaning God).
Now, the lesson and the song! I wonder what Jacob was thinking that evening as he lay under the stars, without tent or pillow? He might have wondered how and why God had apparently abandoned him, when he had lived a life of obedience and piety. How could his smooth life have suddenly turned so rough and rocky? From the outside looking in, we can see that Heavenly Father was preparing Jacob for something much greater than the meager family fortune that he would have received back home. He was preparing him to become a King and a Priest himself. Out of his seemingly impossible “burden” or “cross,” Jacob was becoming a man of God. The farther Jacob was getting from his life of ease, the closer he was getting to the Lord.
Some three thousand years after this story unfolded, a minister approached a sister in his congregation, Sarah Adams, and explained that he wanted to teach Jacob’s ladder in a powerful way. He enlisted her assistance in writing some verses to accompany his sermon. The verses she wrote have touched hearts and minds from that day forward. I have added some hints to the story in parenthesis.
1. Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
E’en though it be a cross (or trial)
That raiseth me. (that perfects me)
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
2. Though like the wanderer, (Jacob)
The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone, (the rock he used as a pillow)
Yet in my dreams I’d be
3. There let the way appear,
Steps unto heav’n; (Jacob’s ladder)
All that thou sendest me,
In mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me
4. Then with my waking thoughts
Bright with thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs
Bethel I’ll raise; (Paul
said that we are “temples to God”)
So by my woes to be
To the missionary these words have special meaning. We may feel the part of the wanderer. Much of what we know and love has been left behind for a season. The “cross” may seem heavy at times. But, we must remember that Heavenly Father has more in store for us than the meager fortunes we left at home. He is in the process us making us Holy and worthy of His presence. Don’t be surprised to find that only minimal growth will come from the “success” you find as a missionary, and that the real growth will come from your moments of “stony grief.”
God intends to make us his jewels in his crown, both of which tarnish when left at normal humidity and room temperature. It generally requires the heat, the cold, and the pounding of extremes to harden the metal and polish the Jewels. But, if we do as the chorus teaches, and seek to be “Nearer to God” regardless of what method he chooses to work us, we will become “Beth-el” ourselves.
Be safe and follow the Spirit. He will lead you right.
Brother Ryan Eggett