Zion

Recently we were taught in a Stake Conference about the importance of ‘Zion’ and how we can see it realised in our lives around us. Leading on from my recent post on ‘Separation and Unification’ this led on very well and it inspired me to consider how to build Zion a little more around each of us.

Where did Zion come from?

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” (Psalms 50:2) We know that Zion is a unified body, who are perfected in Christ. The original Zion, who were led by the prophet Enoch and were taken up to be perfected and live with God, are found in the book of Moses. In there we read “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is Fled.” (Moses 7:69) These ancient inhabitants had achieved such a level of unity, peace and righteousness that the Lord removed them from the Earth, which itself was falling deeper and deeper into wickedness. What is interesting about this account is the origin of the city of Zion. We read in Moses 7:19 “And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.” Enoch worked to build this city. The level of perfection achieved in Zion was not accidental, coincidental or happened overnight. It took work. As unifying things does, it took effort.

The concept of Zion has come from ancient times, however it is an ideal that we are commanded to strive to build Zion where we live, in our Stake and Ward where we are.

Importance of the Temple in Zion

In D&C 97:10-18 we learn about the importance of having the Temple as the focus in Zion.
10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you.

11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people.

12 Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion—

13 For a place of thanksgiving for all saints, and for a place of instruction for all those who are called to the work of the ministry in all their several callings and offices;

14 That they may be perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, the keys of which kingdom have been conferred upon you.

15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;

16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.

17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.

18 And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.”

What inhibits the cause of Zion?

Anything could really. Pride, envy, jealousy or not being anxious in a good cause could all be things which inhibit the cause of Zion. Whenever we do not allow unification between ourselves, our families and those in our congregations, the cause of Zion is frustrated.

What are the Blessings of Zion?

Ultimately, we should desire to build Zion around where we live now. We read in 1 Nephi 13:37 “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.” Individually we will be given the greatest blessings that the Lord can bestow upon us. However, the blessings also come collectively. There are another group of people, apart from the original city of Zion, who were recorded in the scriptures as having reached this state of pure happiness. We find them in 4 Nephi 1:16-17 after having been visited by the Saviour Himself. This is part of their experience “And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” Now, I’m not sure whether we can be sure, but it seems to suggest in this verse that these people in the Americas after Christ’s visit were the happiest people that God had created – does that mean happier than the people of Zion that Enoch led? Possibly, but both were clearly in a Zion state. Something to aim for.

 

I Am A Child of God

The Debilitating Lie
In the Pearl of Great Price, we begin with reading about Moses and a glorious experience he has with the Father. Moses was carried away in the Spirit into a vision and he witnesses the glory of God – we read in Moses 1:3

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?”

What an amazing experience. Here is Moses, a mortal man, witnessing before him the very existence of a God and that He is all-powerful and endless. If you were in that moment, how would you feel? A little intimidated? Nervous? Even a little scared? Or, if you know the truth that Moses was to learn immediately after, maybe you would feel something else. God goes on to say in verse 4:

“And, behold, thou art my son;”

Why would the Lord, after proclaiming his never-ending nature, decide to proclaim his never-ending relationship with Moses? Why teach him so early on this profound truth? We find the answer very soon after this marvellous vision. Satan, the father of lies, deception and falsehoods, comes to Moses immediately after this life-changing experience. This cunning architect of doubt knew exactly what his best stratagem was after Moses had such a revealing vision of God. In verse 12 we read:

“And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

Here is the great, debilitating lie that Satan often uses with us today to seemingly demean our value, and it is what he tried with Moses. Moses had just witnessed a perfect Being, a glorified Man – one who Moses might have found difficult to relate to, had he not learnt the simple, glorious truth mentioned before. Was he not indeed insignificant, did he not tremble before the presence of this almighty God and see he, himself, was inadequate? In saying ‘Moses, son of man’ Satan is deliberately trying to cause feelings of doubt and unworthiness in Moses, implying that Moses is worth nothing to God, this Mighty, Immortal Being.

The Glorious Truth

But, we know different. Moses knew different. He had been taught the simple, profound truth – the truth that would enable him to overcome all Satan could throw at him, to overcome all feelings of doubt and inadequacy – and yet, Primary children in our Church at the age of three (even younger) sing this life-saving truth in an innocent, heartfelt song – ‘I am a Child of God’. Because this doctrine is learnt at such a young age in the Church I feel I have often overlooked its significance. Moses did indeed overcome Satan’s advances in this experience, we can do the same.

Often Understated, Can Never Be Overstated

These thoughts are based on a talk given by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy in a recent General Conference. He stated:

“This doctrine is so basic, so oft stated, and so instinctively simple that it can seem to be ordinary, when in reality it is among the most extraordinary knowledge we can obtain. A correct understanding of our heavenly heritage is essential to exaltation.”

It is indeed understated just how important this tremendous truth is. The reality is, it can never be overstated. Just imagine if you did not know there was a God? Would there be any purpose to our mortal lives? Would we be motivated if we did not have an ultimate, eternal goal to strive for? Now, imagine how you would feel if you felt there was a God, but you had no meaningful, loving connection with Him? Would this be any more comforting that not knowing there was a God at all? That there was some all-powerful Being observing our every action, with little care or unconditional love for us?

If we look in the Bible Dictionary under ‘God’ we read:

“Although God created all things and is the ruler of the universe, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (through His Spirit), mankind has a special relationship to Him that differentiates man from all other created things: man is literally God’s offspring, made in His image, whereas all other things are but the work of His hands.”

As mentioned, this special relationship can be a great support and comforting for us to know as we journey through this mortal life. It means a lot. Once we understand this eternal truth, we can know that God is indeed there, but not only that, that He loves us as a perfect Father does, He is guiding us, He knows what is best for us and He desires nothing more for us to return again to Him for eternity.

Eternal Implications

Such a monumental truth has a number of implications, things which we need to take into account. I will only mention a couple but there are many.

The first, as mentioned, is the way we view trials. Elder Hallstrom went on to say in his message:

“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are—that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”

The truth of ‘I am a child of God’ can have a profound impact on how we react to trials in our lives. Trials change from being irritable barriers which impede our progress to spiritual hurdles which, whilst challenging, will ultimately support our growth and progress.

The second thing we change is our view of each other. How much easier does it become to love those around us when we recognise and understand that, as we are all the children of God, we are all spiritually connected and related? In the weeks leading up to serving my Mission in the England Leeds Mission, I was having a personal struggle. Not one of desire to actually go on my mission – but one of concern with my level of charity. It’s not that I didn’t care for other people…it’s that I just didn’t like talking to people, much less people I had no connection with (and even less those from Yorkshire!) Joking aside, a couple of weeks before I was to leave, I begin to have a quiet concern – how could I begin to proclaim the Gospel if I didn’t have a love for the people I would be serving. I had a love of the Saviour and His Atonement – but I do not think I yet had a sufficient understanding that we are all children of God (despite, again, having sung that fact over a thousand times). Elder Hallstrom commented on this saying:

This beloved hymn is one of the most often sung in this Church. But the critical question is, do we really know it? Do we know it in our mind and in our heart and in our soul? Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?

I thought I did – but maybe I was wrong. As it was, this concern was eating away at me as I was sat on a bus travelling to a destination. It grew and grew in my mind until I couldn’t bear it. I looked around at all the unfamiliar people from my seat at the back of the bus (remember, I was on a public transport, so they were very unfamiliar) and I just couldn’t imagine myself ever having the confidence and the strength to talk to them. As the worry grew, I felt a profound feeling that I needed to pray…looking back this now reminds me of a scripture in Moroni 7:45 which says: 

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God;”

As I prayed, certainly trying as much as I could in my heart, something significant stirred within me. It can only be described as a prompting from the greatest teacher we have access to, the Holy Ghost. As I lifted my eyes from being bowed in prayer, something incredible happened. There was no heavenly music, no mystical voice heard in my ear – but there was a significant change in my heart. For that moment, I understood. I looked around again, at each individual on that bus, and I saw a glimpse of something that I hadn’t even yet seen in myself – potential. Every single soul on that bus had (and still have today) the potential to become as God is, their Heavenly Father. No matter who they were, where they were from, what life they had lived up until that point, they could become like Him. The only thing stopping them was not having the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and I had it!! The young, 18-year-old man at the back of that bus was sitting there with eternal truths that would bless their eternal lives forever…so why was he just sat there!? Unfortunately I cannot say that I jumped up and proclaimed restored truth to my first converts then, but I knew what was needed. Not for me to be perfect at teaching, or even be the most confident at talking to people. I needed to recognise that EVERYONE I spoke to had divine potential, they were offspring of God.

What do we need to do?

Now, in a world that is constantly pulling us in seemingly never-ending directions, the truth of ‘I Am a Child of God’ can take a backseat. It really can be a truth which, whilst it is glorious in principle, it can be ordinary in day-to-day living. Elder Hallstrom warned us of this, saying: 

“The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God.”

Elder Hallstrom said it is a truth which is vital to our exaltation. Whatever methods we take to internalise this truth and understand it more (and yes it is the usual, seemingly ‘ordinary and mundane’ answers of reading scriptures, engaging in consistent meaningful prayer, partaking the sacrament religiously and renewing our covenants made with the Father and so on), they simply cannot be glossed over. A 30 second prayer which we repeat every evening will not open our natural eyes to the glorious feeling that we have divine potential – we must WANT to find this truth.