Spiritual Preparedness is More Than You Might Think
I and my family members were asked to speak in our LDS ward sacrament meeting this past Sunday on the topic of "Spiritual Preparedness". Here are the thoughts that I conveyed in my talk.
The Spiritually Prepared Don’t Let the Wisdom of the World Destroy Their Testimonies
As we continually develop our testimonies—our conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ—we become spiritually prepared to withstand the things that can challenge our knowledge of spiritual truth.
Elder Heber C. Kimball once said:
“Let me say to you, that many of you will see the time when you will have all the trouble, trial and persecution that you can stand, and plenty of opportunities to show that you are true to God and his work. This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. …
“The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?”
A person who is spiritually prepared expects that his or her testimony will be challenged from time to time. Nowadays , as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints becomes more well known, those challenges will become more and more frequent, even in Utah. When I think of how often my testimony is challenged, I am reminded of the visions of Lehi and Nephi of the people in the great and spacious building who taunted those who were simply trying to pattern their lives after the Savior:
35 And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious abuilding, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to bfight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the apride of the world; and it bfell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
We have to deal with many in the world think that they are smarter and wiser than God. But the solution for us who belong to the Church of God is not to claim that we are smarter and wiser than the world. Scientists and academicians often frown on those who have faith. But that shouldn’t cause those of us who believe in God to smugly think that they don’t know what they are talking about. Because scientists and academicians discover truth as well.
One of the most important things we can remember in our day, especially when science sometimes seems to contradict religion (hint—it doesn’t) is that just because there are things we don’t know, it shouldn’t stop us from losing sight of the things that we do know. In D&C 6, The Lord taught Oliver Cowdery an important truth that applies to all of us, especially when we are spiritually down:
22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might aknow concerning the truth of these things.
23 Did I not speak apeace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater bwitness can you have than from God?
Science and religion do not contradict each other. They may seem to be in contradiction, but in reality all truth comes from God. God created the heavens and the earth. He watched the things that he created until they obeyed the eternal laws that he set forth. When we think of it this way, we realize that God is the greatest scientist in the universe. Ezra Taft Benson told us
Religion and science have sometimes been in apparent conflict. Yet the conflict should only be apparent, not real, for science should seek truth, and true religion is truth. There can never be conflict between revealed religion and scientific fact. Truth is truth, whether labeled science or religion. There can be no conflict. Time is on the side of truth -- for truth is eternal.
Similarly, Brigham Young taught:
Our religion embraces all truth and every fact in existence, no matter whether in heaven, earth, or hell. A fact is a fact, all truth issues forth from the Fountain of truth
The More We Are Temporally and Spiritually Prepared, the More Often We Find Ourselves Caring for Others
Showing the love he had for everyone, Joseph Smith said,
“The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race”
In order to provide spiritually for the needs of others, we must be not only spiritually prepared, but also temporally prepared. In April 2009, Elder Robert D Hales gave what was to me one of the most memorable General Conference talks ever, entitled “Becoming Provident Providers”. Elder Hales said:
All of us are responsible to provide for ourselves and our families in both temporal and spiritual ways. To provide providently, we must practice the principles of provident living: joyfully living within our means, being content with what we have, avoiding excessive debt, and diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies. When we live providently, we can provide for ourselves and our families and also follow the Savior’s example to serve and bless others.Our world is fraught with feelings of entitlement. Some of us feel embarrassed, ashamed, less worthwhile if our family does not have everything the neighbors have. As a result, we go into debt to buy things we can’t afford—and things we do not really need. Whenever we do this, we become poor temporally and spiritually. We give away some of our precious, priceless agency and put ourselves in self-imposed servitude.
One of the best ways to be spiritually prepared is to get ourselves out of debt so that we can experiencing the joy of blessing others. We’ve gone without some of the more enjoyable things in life, simply because we could not afford them. Early in our marriage, I was glad to discover that Kara understood the concept of budgeting and staying out of debt.
Over the years, one of the ways that Kara and I have been blessed temporally and spiritually is to always pay our tithes and offerings.
Our stake presidency has mentioned in recent months that with the economic downturn across the country and across the world, our stake no longer has been able to take care of itself with regard to those who need the help of the fast offering program. They have asked us to exercise great faith and to increase the amount of fast offerings that we donate to the church. I can testify to you that blessings do accrue as we follow the counsel of our stake leaders.
President Dieter Uchtdorf said so masterfully that
With this in mind, let our hearts and hands be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn. We are commanded “to mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”5
It is unworthy of us as Christians to think that those who suffer deserve their suffering. Easter Sunday is a good day to remember that our Savior willingly took upon Himself the pain and sickness and suffering of us all—even those of us who appear to deserve our suffering.6
In the book of Proverbs we read that “a friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”7 Let us love at all times. And let us especially be there for our brothers and sisters during times of adversity.
Increased Patience is a Sign of Spiritual Preparedness
Along these lines, I remember well the story told recently by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf about kids and marshmallows:
In the 1960s, a professor at Stanford University began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed before them a large marshmallow and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.
He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.
It was a mildly interesting experiment, and the professor moved on to other areas of research, for, in his own words, “there are only so many things you can do with kids trying not to eat marshmallows.” But as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive and better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.
What started as a simple experiment with children and marshmallows became a landmark study suggesting that the ability to wait—to be patient—was a key character trait that might predict later success in life
It is very likely that certain things have not yet been revealed in order simply to try our patience. Brigham Young once said that when he didn’t understand something he would first pray that God would give him the patience to wait until he understood the thing that he earnestly desired. But he would also pray with continual faith that God would eventually help him to understand it.
Continuous Learning Helps Us to Be Spiritually Prepared
I love to read books. Sometimes I get so deep into a good book, I forget to read my scriptures. We’re counseled to read our scriptures every day, and fairly often I repent of missing a day or two by picking up my scriptures and trying to do better. Besides the scriptures, we are counseled to learn all kinds of other things. In D&C 88 it says:
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall ateach one another the bdoctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my agrace shall attend you, that you may be binstructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in aheaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must bshortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the cnations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a dknowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
As the Church grows larger and larger and becomes a worldwide church, it becomes important for us to learn about other peoples and cultures, so that we can help people with different languages, different customs, and different skin colors feel comfortable as they investigate and join the Church.
Spiritual Preparedness Includes Remembering the Importance of God’s Atonement in Our Lives
So often we are counseled to do what is right and to not let our guard down and to keep our bodies—our temples—clean and pure , that we often forget that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is there to catch us when we fall. In 2 Nephi 25 verse 23 it says
23 For we labor diligently to write, to apersuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by bgrace that we are saved, after all we can cdo.
A different way to state that scripture is that it is by grace that we are saved, DESPITE all we can do. In other words, we need to remember that no matter how many times we do good—if we remember to have family home evening every week, go to the temple regularly, attend church each Sabbath day, pay a generous fast offering, take food to everyone who just got back from the hospital, read our scriptures every day, and never say a single swear word at bad drivers on I-15 between Santaquin and Provo, it is still only through the atonement that we can possibly hope to achieve exaltation.
A mentor of mine who converted to the LDS church taught me that born again Christians focus too much on grace, while Latter-day Saints focus too much on works, almost forgetting the atonement and thinking we have to achieve exaltation all by ourselves.
When we sin, we are commanded to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit, NOT a broken heart and a broken spirit. We should feel bad about the sins we commit, but we should not feel bad about ourselves for having committed those sins. Contrition does not wallow in self-loathing. Rather, contrition is optimistic. Contrition is realizing that humans make mistakes, and it simply strives to do better. Contrition realizes that it's always okay to love other people when they make mistakes, especially when they make mistakes that we ourselves are notorious for making.
Serving in the temple gives us a very small idea of the love Christ felt for us as he redeemed us in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross at Calvary. Just as Christ and his atonement did something for us that would couldn’t possibly do for ourselves, as we serve our dead in the temple we do something for them that they can’t do for us.
Section 128 of the doctrine and covenants explains why work for the dead in our temples is essential to our salvation:
15 And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their asalvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made bperfect.
It’s clear that they cannot be made perfect without our performing sacred ordinances on their behalf. But how is it that we cannot become perfect without them? I think that lies largely in the fact that ultimate perfection involves perfect love, and one of the greatest places to develop greater love for our fellow brothers and sisters is in the temple.
Millions and millions of God’s children never had a chance to hear the gospel in this life, but because of our work in Family History and in God’s temples, they, like us, can still achieve their exaltation. Imagine what a peaceful feeling that will be. It reminds me of this scripture in Mosiah chapter 15:
14 And these are athey who have published peace, who have brought good btidings of good, who have cpublished salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
16 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
17 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!
18 And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the afeet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of bpeace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people;
19 For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the afoundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have bperished.