Independent Spiritual Learning

Today in sacrament meeting there was a focus on self-reliance, particularly on spiritual self-reliance. A few thoughts came to mind as I listened to the various messages and principles.

This story was shared from the June 2017 Ensign about seagulls who became dependent on being provided with their nourishment. It says:

“Years ago the seagulls in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, were starving. For generations the gulls had learned to depend on the shrimp fleets to feed them scraps from their nets. The shrimpers eventually moved from the area. The seagulls had not learned how to fish for themselves; nor did they teach their young how to fish. Consequently, the big, beautiful birds were dying even while there was plenty of fish all around them in the water.2

We cannot afford to become like the seagulls; nor can we let our children go through life dependent on us, or others, for their knowledge of the Lord. “Our efforts,” said President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, “must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.”3 When we become self-reliant gospel learners, we know how to feed ourselves spiritually and strengthen our relationship with God.”

We have to become self-reliant in developing our spiritual centre and also help our children and those we minister to become self-reliant in searching for their answers also. If the answers are always provided, or the things to study are only provided in a structured programme, then they will never learn to seek for answers and guidance to their own problems.

Spiritual self-reliance is something we can all aim for. It is a goal completely within our own choices and influence. Obviously it can be made more difficult from other factors but we have direct influence over whether we can strengthen our spiritual self-reliance or weaken it. It says in John 7:37-38 “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” We can come unto the Lord at any time to drink from living water through studying the scriptures, praying or many other ways – but the problem is that we need to do it as often as we can, rather than have ourselves thirst.

Of course, self-reliance doesn’t just include spiritual self-reliance, but other areas of our lives too. Elder L. Tom Perry gave an experience in the October 1991 of when he was younger and how his parents taught him a valuable lesson. Interestingly before he shared this experience he said this: “Never before in my life has the doctrine of self-reliance been more needed to be preached and encouraged for the benefit of the Saints. We live in a time of rapid change. Governments are rising and falling. Industries are blooming and then all too soon becoming obsolete. New discoveries in science are soon overshadowed by new findings. Unless we are continuously expanding our understanding and vision, we, too, will become out-of-date. Research tells us that individuals entering the labor market today will be forced to find three to five different career paths during their productive years.” This was 26 years ago! How much more relevant is this now! I heard a fact recently that of my generation (20-30 year olds), a third of us when we reach the age of 60 will still be renting accommodation rather than own our own home. Whilst this is not a direct indicator of “self-reliance”, it highlights the more and more challenging financial circumstances of the world we live in.

Anyway, Elder Perry shared this:

“My parents established a family tradition in our home which was fun for me in my early years and has become even more meaningful as I reflect back on it as the years have passed. On the first birthday of each child the family would gather in the living room. In the center of the living room floor, our parents would place articles for the one-year-old child to select. The selection to be made might indicate an interest the child would pursue in life. The articles were the Bible, a child’s bottle filled with milk, a toy, and a savings bank, filled with coins. The child was placed on one side of the room and the family on the other side. Family members would encourage the child to crawl toward the objects and make a selection. This was all in fun, of course…

Now I propose to you that in this entertaining family activity we can find the most fundamental principles of self-reliance. First, the scriptures represent our need for spiritual nourishment…

Second, the bottle filled with milk symbolizes the physical body’s need for nourishment…

Third, the toy I mentioned earlier represents the acquisition of things of the world…

Finally, the fourth item, the bank. It is a symbol of our financial well-being.”

As we consider how we can ensure we become more self-reliant, it is important that we think about these four areas. Are there any steps we can take to help us become more self-reliant in any of these areas? Some may be more challenging than others but we can make small steps in many ways.

Changes to Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings

On Friday 25th August 2017, the Church issued the news that it was to change it’s schedule and resources for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. This is the opening statement on “The Church has announced changes for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Sunday meetings in 2018 that affect not only what materials adults will study but also how they use the time they meet together to accomplish the Lord’s work.” This is quite significant news for Latter-day Saints who will find the content of a third of their Sabbath activities changed in 2018. It is also especially significant for people of my generation who have developed through these auxiliaries and quorums with the same format for the whole time they’ve been in it – the ‘Teachings of the Presidents of the Church’ curriculum has been used since 1998!

Below of the monthly schedule:



Led by

First Sunday

Counseling together about local needs

Presidency or group leadership

Second and Third Sundays

Recent general conference message

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fourth Sunday

Special topic chosen by general Church leaders (announced in May and November issues of the Liahona and Ensign magazines)

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fifth Sunday

Topic chosen by the bishopric

Bishopric or someone they assign

There are some significant changes here which I have noticed.

1. Change from ‘Teachings’ to General Conference talks

This is probably one of the more significant changes. Instead of studying the words of presidents of the Church from the past, members will be studying more from the recent General Conference addresses. This has been usually done on the 4th Sunday of the month but has now doubled to the 2nd and 3rd Sundays. There has been a clear reason for this. Elder LeGrand R Curtis who serves as a General Authority Seventy said ““One of the reasons for the new approach is to give increased emphasis to the words of the living prophets. We’re going to not just devote more time to the messages given by the senior leadership of the Church at general conference, but we are also going to provide some teaching tools to help the instruction and discussion of those messages be all the more rich and meaningful for the members of the Church.” This will provide more opportunities for a deeper discussion on more addresses from the recent General Conference and I for one am looking forward to this.

Another aspect of this change is that local Church leaders are to determine the talks that quorums and auxiliaries will focus on and not only this, Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society do not have to study the same message. Again, this provides another opportunity to personalise content for the individuals in the wards and stakes that this curriculum is meant to support.

2. Counseling together about local needs

A number of members may see this 1st Sunday content as virtually the same as previously. Before 2018, the 1st Sunday of the month was put aside for Instruction planned for by the quorum and auxiliary presidencies. Whilst it will be a discussion focused on local needs still, it seems to be more towards ministering to others rather than general instruction. Elder LeGrand R Curtis explained ““We want to extend the power that exists in counseling together—not just to the ward councils and presidencies but also into the Relief Societies and quorums of the Church,” We know that quorums and auxiliaries are potentially powerful groups when united and these 1st Sunday discussions can be a vital part of helping this happen.

3. Continuous revelation to guide the Church

Then, to finish all the changes, the 4th Sunday of the month (previously used for a message from the recent General Conference) is now set aside for a topic which is chosen specially from the general leaders of the Church. This I find particularly exciting. Once a month, we will have the opportunity to study and discuss topics which have been considered of vital importance by the Lord’s chosen servants. An example would be recent focuses on family history, Sabbath day observance and studying the Book of Mormon.

I’m very excited about these changes and it indicates a change to focusing on the words of the living prophets and personalised support for local units.