I would like to pause for a moment and just share some notes that I made while I was attending a function in the South Pacific just a couple of weeks ago. The counsel received from the prophet should never be taken lightly. The Nuku‘alofa Tonga Stake followed President Kimball’s counsel to organize choirs in every ward and branch and then to invite their neighbors to join with them in these choirs. Just last month Sister Simpson and I thrilled at this stake’s choir festival. Every unit participated. One small branch came with a choir almost as large as the total branch membership. Each choir had a significant number of nonmembers. At least one choir consisted of one-third investigators. All choirs had recently baptized members singing with them. Almost all of them had been baptized as a direct result of choir participation. They were all dressed in white; they were well trained. It was an outstanding evening of spiritual uplift; it was an outstanding example of the blessings that can come by following the direction of a prophet. Does your ward or branch have a choir? Do you invite nonmembers to participate with you? Let’s DO IT! And then this little thought—you know, we have more than 7,000 wards and branches in this church. What if every one of those wards and branches set out to bring in just one family in the next year—twelve months to do it. We could invite a man and his wife and maybe they will have two or three children. If this family of five could be invited to sing with us, and if they could be converted, we could take five times 7,000, and you know we would have 35,000 new converts in addition to all else we are doing. This is significant! And these are the rewards that come from doing what a prophet has asked us to do.
According to scripture, after the Savior instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with the Apostles, they sang a hymn and “went out into the mount of Olives.” From this scripture it is evident that the singing of hymns was a part of the religious services at that time. Today, one of the important parts of our worship services is the congregational singing of hymns, in addition to the beautiful choir music. As each of our religious services is opened by a hymn and a prayer, the spirit of worship is established and a beautiful feeling of fellowship is felt. Today I would like to emphasize the importance and value of participating in congregational singing. In our Latter-day Saint hymns, we sing praises to the Lord, pray unto the Lord, recite great religious truths—in effect sermons—and our minds and spirits are elevated and spiritually stimulated.
Through the miracle of sacred music, the Spirit of the Lord descended upon us, and we were made ready for gospel instruction and worship. The First Presidency has said: “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. “Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end” (Hymns, 1985, p. ix). The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to put ourselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. I wonder if we are making enough use of this heaven-sent resource in our meetings, in our classes, and in our homes. Last July I visited the Church’s Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. Before the evening show of dancing and music from various island cultures, I went backstage to thank the performers. I arrived during those frantic moments before the show began. Scores of performers were hurrying through the last-minute tasks required to coordinate their efforts in a fast-moving performance. I wondered how the director would bring this turmoil to order in preparation for my brief remarks. It happened as if by miracle. On signal, one strong voice began, and the strains of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” quickly swelled into a beautiful chorus as the uniquely talented young people brought their thoughts into harmony with the Lord.
Because singing the hymns invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we become more receptive to gospel truths as we participate. Both the messages and the music of the hymns invite us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him”. As we sing, the Spirit testifies of the Savior’s divinity and other eternal principles. And no matter how well they are sung or by whom, the hymns have power to strengthen and inspire us as we use them, lifting us to higher spiritual ground. The hymns also help us live the gospel by inspiring righteous actions. In the preface to the hymnbook, the First Presidency wrote that the hymns “can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.” In addition, they wrote that “hymns can also help us withstand the temptations of the adversary.” If our minds are filled with the tunes and words of hymns, less room remains for Satan’s influence. Singing hymns dismisses unworthy thoughts, deepens spiritual sensitivity, and quiets and lifts our spirits. When counseling Church members to memorize hymns as a way to keep out evil thoughts, President Boyd K. Packer said, “Because the music is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will slip shamefully away.”As we sing the hymns and fill our hearts and minds with their heavenly influence, we will find ourselves drawing closer to the Lord and striving to keep His commandments.