Just weeks ago, I finished up a church leadership assignment that spanned the last six years. For context, this role comprised leading about 4,000 members of our church locally and serving a long side several other wonderful leaders. In short, I served in a Stake Presidency of the Riverside, California Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This role required a significant consecration of time and effort often stretching my capacity and abilities.
The most joyous experiences were the individual one-on-one interactions with church members in interviews and counseling situations. In six years, it appears this totaled more than 2,000 individual one-on-one sessions. Yes, I am surprised by that as well… With this frequency of interactions, I began to identify certain patterns and themes which has sparked increased reflection and learning.
So much in life surrounds learning. We know from scripture that we came from a pre-mortal world to have an experience, to learn and to grow. We knew it would be difficult and that there would be challenges and struggles, but nonetheless we came. As William Wadsworth said, “but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”
So, what have you learned? “From what?” you might ask. From whatever you are in the middle of right now! We all are in the middle of something, aren’t we? There is power in reflecting and pondering upon our experiences.
Other than strengthening my testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and gaining a deeper relationship and faith in the Master Jesus Christ, the lessons from my recent years of service are too numerous to count. Notwithstanding, as I reflect, three specific topics or themes have come to the forefront of my mind and heart. Given the volume of one-on-one interactions, I found these recurring themes to be significant and insightful. With these thoughts I hope to challenge your agency and invite you to act rather than being acted upon. If you do, I trust you will find increased joy beyond measure.
These three themes are as follows: daily personal religious behavior, understanding the power of godliness that emanates from keeping covenants and how ministering can be the laboratory of Godhood. I pray you are edified as you review these thoughts.
Daily Personal Religious Behavior
If you want to hear the voice of the Lord in your life, there is no substitute for daily personal religious behavior. I have learned that great strength and personal power comes when we apply a simple recipe of personal prayer, scripture study, dedicated time pondering and serving others. These daily habits can provide a measure of peace, comfort and divine direction in a wicked world. These are not just my words, but the promise of prophets since the world began.
We may say to ourselves, it can’t be that easy, it must be more complicated than this. No, it’s not! The Savior said, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (D&C 88:63, James 4:8) We either exercise our faith to this end or not!
It is this simple! In a turbulent world, these habits matter. Passively engaging in personal religious behavior will not produce the faith necessary unto salvation. We must be anxiously engaged.
What does this mean?
It means, not just reading, but feasting on the scriptures and the words of the prophets and apostles. It means, not just simply praying, but sincerely seeking and supplicating your Heavenly Father for answers and direction in your life. It means, not just serving, but ministering to others in a holier way. It means, not just attending our church meetings, but worshiping faithfully with the saints.
Unfortunately, in countless circumstances when I would ask, “How are you doing spiritually?” many would readily acknowledge a lack of religious behavior in their lives. They recognized the need for more spiritual nourishment, but somehow lacked the faith to make it so. Like being swept down a fast moving stream, worldly priorities and currents can pull us away. Exercise a particle of faith and put first things first! A whole new world will open unto you as you drink deeply of the doctrines of Christ.
I love this quote from Elder James E. Faust,
“What is the greatest need in the world? Is not the greatest need in all the world for every person to have a personal, ongoing, daily, continuing relationship with the Savior? Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity within us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God.” (That We Might Know Thee, Ensign, January 1999)
Faithful religious habits re-charge our spiritual batteries and allow us to draw upon the strength of both the redemptive and enabling powers of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
I bear witness that this is true. Personal spiritual habits are the key to fortifying ourselves against the evil one. I know you will experience a great gathering of spiritual strength as you commit to these behaviors in your life.
The Power of Godliness is Manifest in Priesthood Ordinances
With priesthood authority restored to the earth, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have the opportunity to receive sacred ordinances and thereby make sacred covenants with their Heavenly Father. These covenants comprise an array of amazing blessings, if we are faithful.
Consider the covenants you have made. Baptism, the oath & covenant of the priesthood, and temple covenants comprise the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If your mind immediately drifts to a burdensome feeling of all that you’re supposed to do, may I suggest you pause and consider the eternal blessings promised to the faithful. It is common to feel overwhelmed with what is expected of us, but if we focus more on, “The Why” rather than, “The How” we can find increased joy in the journey.
Central to our experience in mortality is one of eternal progression. For example, consider the progressional nature of the doctrine of faith. The Book of Mormon references a broad range of applied faith.
- Alma 32:27 – Particle of faith
- Mosiah 27:14 – Much faith
- Mosiah 4:3 – Exceeding faith
- Moroni 10:11 / 3 Nephi 19:35 – Exceedingly great faith
- Jacob 4:6 / 2 Nephi 31:19 – Unshakable faith
It’s not whether we have faith, it’s how much faith we exhibit in our lives. The Lectures on Faith describe faith as a “principle of action” versus faith as a “principle of power.” Put The Lectures on Faith on your future reading list. It was part of the Doctrine & Covenants until 1921.
The same is true as we can be, “progressively faithful” to eternal covenants. Certainly D&C 82:10 is alive and well, but if we see our relationship with God as merely transactional as opposed to transformational, we may miss the joy and happiness that can come from an intimate relationship with Him.
The scriptures say, “the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45) So, timeout! How does dew form? Gradually and silently over time. This gradual sanctification process can be ours as we cleave to sacred covenants. Therefore, in the ordinances, the power of godliness is manifest. (DC 84:20)
I bear witness that this is true. As we lay hold upon our covenants, our natures change and we slowly become like Him. Not in an instance, but over time, we can feel the pull of the Master and find ourselves wrapped in the arms of His love. I invite you to reflect on your personal covenants and strengthen your commitment to discipleship.
Ministering is the Laboratory of Godhood
One of God’s most fundamental commandments is, “that ye love one another...” But, the next sentence is often omitted. It continues, “…as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Jesus said to the Nephites following his resurrection in Jerusalem, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”
Striving in mortality to become like Him is the ultimate objective of a life of discipleship. We can’t become like Him unless we learn to develop His attributes. His attributes include faith, hope, kindness, charity, love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence and obedience.
Here is the key question: Is it possible to fully develop these attributes, without the interaction of others?
The answer is a resounding, “No!” Within our relational lives we have the opportunity to learn, practice and ultimately refine Christ-like attributes. This is true in our casual acquaintances, friendships, family interactions and of course marriage relationships, etc.
- Can one truly learn kindness without showing kindness to others?
- Can one learn charity without someone being the object of this quality?
- Can patience be perfected without this virtue being practiced over and over again on an impatient heart?
Accordingly, I have learned that ministering is the laboratory of Godhood. Could it be that this is why the Savior said to love one another as I have loved you? Do we see our opportunity to minister one-on-one as a burdensome task or an opportunity to become like the Master?
Unfortunately, throughout my service I have observed a reluctance to engage, a preponderance for apathy, a shrinking of one’s duty to connect with others at the most personal level. We simply must be our brother’s keeper and not allow our love to wax cold. We must care enough to ask the uncomfortable questions and to seek to know one’s heart. Why? There are lives in the balance! We need each other like never before! I have felt my own reluctance at times. May we identify the natural man for what it is and pray for strength to change.
I bear witness that this is true. As we seek to progress on the covenant path may we recognize that ministering in “a more holier way” is how the Savior loves us. If we can endeavor to love this way, then we can have a credible claim on the path of discipleship, the greatest journey of all. I affirm that the fruit Lehi partook is the most desirous of all, the Love of God. May we experience this joy as we minister to others one-on-one.
To all those who have penned such kind emails, text messages and personal notes to Susan and I following my release, we convey our sincerest thank you. We love you and express our gratitude for the opportunity to serve you these past six years. These were certainly days never to be forgotten.
May God bless you in all of your righteous endeavors.