That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me

 

Don’t we deserve it?

I want to share two examples – one from the scriptures and one from my personal life – where we find an attitude that, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves in which will limit our potential, spiritual growth.

Several months ago I began a renewed study into the Book of Mormon and I have made slow but steady progress. It is slow because I have wanted to look more closely at the messages contained in the verses for experiences I can learn from. In 1 Nephi we see a constant struggle from Nephi and Lehi to teach and touch the hearts of their brethren or sons, Laman and Lemuel. At times, we in the Church depict Laman and Lemuel and wicked, slothful individuals who were so stubborn that even though they had many experiences that we would be changed by, they never seemed to change.

Whilst this may in part be true, we have to be cautious. There are, at times, moments in 1 Nephi where I think my personal reactions (and maybe some of your own) would be closer in nature to Laman and Lenuel’s than Nephi’s.

Shortly after Lehi’s Vision, and after Nephi’s own vision interpreting and unveiling many things, we find Nephi returning to the tent of his father. He finds them discussing here the things that Lehi has just taught. Pause to consider this – Laman and Lemuel, the brethren who were so reluctant to follow their father’s guidance from the Lord to leave Jerusalem, to retrieve the brass plates and other things, are seen here discussing the word of the Lord from Lehi and trying to understand the meaning of these words! Surely this is a massive step forward. But then we learn why they are discussing…we read in 1 Nephi 15:2-3:

And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.”

Nephi then quizzes his brothers further as to why they haven’t received this guidance. Let’s remember here: Laman and Lemuel are actually seeming to want to learn. However, it seems that they haven’t even thought to ask the Lord for its meaning. In fact, in verses 8-9 we read:

“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Laman and Lemuel were expecting an answer, despite not being close enough to the Lord to feel able to ask Him their questions. They wanted an answer, but they did not take the time to build a relationship with their Saviour to then be close enough to sense revelation when they sought it.

The experience from my personal life is from my mission and, actually, it is not one specific experience but something which happened often. I served my mission in the England Leeds Mission and (whilst I didn’t keep count of this) I think, out of all the questions I was ever asked, there was one that came up the most in our discussions. It was not “How many wives do you have?”, it was not “Are you really Christian?” and it was not “Where in Utah are you from?” – although I loved it when I was asked that one and then seeing the look at utter confusion when I told them I was from Manchester – I was a very popular companion to have for that reason. The most often question asked was not even “Do you not think that the purpose of our lives is the procurement and consumption of bacon?” (yes, that was a real and honest question I once had on a doorstep in York…). The question was “If God really existed, why he has let all these bad things happen to such and such who is one of the best people I know?”

In both these experiences, the asker is expecting an answer without being willing to grow closer to the Lord spiritually, in order to receive an answer.

In the talk I have been invited to base my remarks from by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve, he made this statement:

“Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequities, and feel aggrieved—even offended—by the unfairness we perceive.”

 Is Life Fair?

This brings us to a question which even many of us in the Church have struggles over, even if we have an inordinate amount of faith in the Saviour. “Is Life Fair?”

Can we really say that life is fair, when there are thousands, even millions suffering in the world when they themselves have done no wrong?

Can we really say that life is fair, when no matter how careful one person is with their finances and they work so hard to provide for their families, that person could in the very next month find themselves struggling with debt due to circumstances outside of their control?

Can we really say that life is fair, when a person we know and love has lived the most righteous life possible and yet they still come up against the most difficult trials?

Whilst all of the above I have said is happening all around us, there is a much more striking reason for why life is not fair.

Elder Renlund went on to say:

Because they were distant from the Savior, Laman and Lemuel murmured, became contentious, and were faithless. They felt that life was unfair and that they were entitled to God’s grace. In contrast, because he had drawn close to God, Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ.”

The further we are from the Saviour, the more we believe we are entitled to help and blessings from Him. Why is this? Because if we truly were closer to the Saviour, the more we would recognise how unfair it is that this perfect, compassionate, merciful man would have to endure more than any other person on this earth would ever have to endure, so that we could be forgiven for the errors we all make, be supported through our trials and experience the tragic events we have done (and will) experience.

Not only does the infinite Atonement allow all of us to receive enabling grace through the Saviour’s Atonement, but He has overcome all things for each and every one of us, of you. This is not just an infinite Atonement, but also an intimate Atonement. We read in Mosiah 15:10-11:

“And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?

Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed…”

The Saviour saw each one of usHe knows perfectly how weeel. And that is why, if we truly were close to the Saviour, we would feel that we all don’t deserve what He has done for us.

But oh, how grateful are we for the fact He has done this. Elder Renlund commented:

“The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him.”

The truth is that we all need to repent. Every single one of us. But despite the fact we all make mistakes, our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ did provide a Saviour for us. Why? Because our Heavenly Father (and our Saviour) love us with a perfect love. We all are in need of accepting this love and enabling grace through the Saviour’s infinite and intimate Atonement.

How can we stay true?

Despite knowing that we are so blessed to have this opportunity to draw closer to the Saviour and become changed through His enabling grace, we sometimes just may not think it is possible. We will be hit by challenges – some sent specifically by Satan to tempt and try us and some will simply by an effect of living in a fallen world – which can bring us to our knees. Elder Renlund said:

“Jesus did not say “if rain descends, if floods come, and if winds blow” but “when.” No one is immune from life’s challenges; we all need the safety that comes from partaking of the sacrament.”

Through the ordinances of the Gospel, administered by priesthood authority, we can draw closer to the Saviour, which will eventually bring us through life’s most difficult challenges. That is why the holy sacrament and sacred temple ordinances are vital because, without these we would struggle. And that is why we have an Area Plan which focuses on these key, regular events we can have (bringing a friend – sacrament, finding an ancestor – temple, both of which help us to become spiritually self-reliant).

In D&C 84:20 we read – Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”

To bring this post to a close, I’ll share an experience related by Elder Renlund in his address. He was speaking about a friend he has in South Africa who, through a simple mistake, was missed out by the priesthood holders in the sacrament worship. Another member noticed this and informed the Bishop, who invited her to a room to the side after the service. Elder Renlund went on further:

“A priesthood holder came in. He knelt down, blessed some bread, and handed her a piece. She ate it. He knelt down again and blessed some water and handed her a small cup. She drank it. Thereafter, Diane had two thoughts in rapid succession: First, “Oh, he [the priesthood holder] did this just for me.” And then, “Oh, He [the Savior] did this just for me.” Diane felt Heavenly Father’s love.”

When the sacrament is next passed to you by one holding the priesthood authority of God remember that, even though for convenience it was passed to the rest of the congregation, this miraculous opportunity to renew your covenants is offered just for you.

Draw closer to the Saviour through the sacred ordinances of the Gospel. Remember to take the sacrament and worship in the Temple often. As you do this, you will begin to draw closer to the Saviour, even if currently you feel so very far away. We are not “entitled” to blessings, as Laman and Lemuel believed, but we are fortunate that our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered all for us.

Jesus Christ has done everything for us – all he asks is that you come unto Him, and He will make your burdens light. He has promised us this and this is available to all, no matter who you are, because you are a child of God and He wants you to draw closer and return.

 

 

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Case Study of Leadership: King Benjamin

One of the most incredible things about the Book of Mormon for me personally is the way we can receive guidance and direction from this text for many areas in our lives. It does not just guide us in spiritual matters of developing a relationship with God or develop our testimony of the Saviour – it also provides practical guidance.

One such example of this is the excellent case study of leadership that we find nestled in between the small plates of Nephi and the abridgement of the large plates of Nephi by Mormon himself. He begins the narrative of his abridgement by detailing the workings of King Benjamin. King Benjamin was described as an almost perfect leader. The manner in which he served left a legacy and indeed a great example for the rest of us to study. It begins in Words of Mormon 1:10-18:

10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.

Here we find straight away the type of leader that King Benjamin was. He did not simply ‘watch over the shop’ until the next person came to carry the responsibility on. He proactively worked on his stewardship and was diligent in his duties. Not only this, but it highlights King Benjamin’s value that he placed on the word of God. These were clearly of great import to him and it shows he recognised where great power came from.

11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.

King Benjamin’s people were not perfect and neither did they have a perfect time. They had their trials as has pretty much every civilisation in the history of mankind. Therefore, King Benjamin must have been a leader who listened and supported his people. I make this presumption because when his people gathered in later chapters in the book of Mosiah they were ready to change, they were willing to listen to this man of God – as such they must have respected him as a leader.

13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.

There’s a number of things to pick out from this verse. When King Benjamin ‘gathered together his armies’ he clearly enabled his followers to feel empowered and enthused to gather under his call. They came forward in numbers determined to defend their families and their lands. Also, ‘he did stand against them’ implies that he did not just direct the forces and instruct them on their duties, but he stood with them. He worked alongside those he served with, not ‘above’ them. We learn of this hands-on approach again with the phrase ‘and he did fight with the strength of his own arm…’. King Benjamin used his strength in defence of his people. Once again, he decided to give all he could to support those who others may have called those his ‘people’. However, it is clear from this that King Benjamin sw them as those he served, something very different from the general view.

14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.

However, despite putting all his efforts into serving the Nephites, once again there is recognition by Mormon, and by extension King Benjamin, where the true strength came from. They were able to contend because of their trust and the resultant blessings of the Lord.

15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;

16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—

Interestingly, we then see another danger arise within the Nephite people, that of false prophets and false teachers. This time, King Benjamin again recognised the value of gathering and empowering the strength of others in his task. If he were to attempt to contend with the false truths being taught alone then he would have probably not been as successful. He was able to call upon help, delegating duties and tasks to those who could assist and therefore make the work more effective.

17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—

Not only did King Benjamin recognise where the source of true strength and power was but he also knew how to gain access to it – through righteousness and virtue. Because of this righteousness he developed, he was able to speak and teach with power and authority. How else could he deliver the sermon he gave towards the end of his life?

18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.

Finally, we see what I think sums up the 8 other points of a Model of a Leader well. King Benjamin laboured with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul. A true leader gives all for those he serves and ultimately, because of the attributes and skills developed as mentioned before, peace and prosperity reigned through the land.

If we want to see the evidence of King Benjamin’s leadership and the impact on his people, then you only have to look at the reaction to his call to the people to gather at the Temple to listen to his words. A great many people, so many that they could not be counted, gathered and their hearts were changed.

Filling Life with Light

As I was reading the Book of Mormon today there popped out a verse that seemed to have been put in there since I last read that section (that happens, right?)

It is found in Jacob 6:7 and it reads “For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?” This wonderful little verse identifies a key principle. As we go throughout life we have a days to live, hours to use the best we can. Life is a wonderful thing to live, however we need to make sure we use it wisely. How we fill our lives can have an impact on the decisions we make later on.

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes.” The more light we fill our lives with, the closer to the Saviour we will feel, the more we will feel of His Spirit and the more confident we will be when choices to sin arise to make the right choice. Not only this, but we will be able to avoid the cunning wiles of Satan, for they are not obvious or apparent at times. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained “Who is it that is deceived in this Church? Not the man who has been faithful in the discharge of duty; not the man who has made himself acquainted with the word of the Lord; not the man who has practiced the commandments given in these revelations; but the man who is not acquainted with the truth, the man who is in spiritual darkness, the man who does not comprehend and understand the principles of the Gospel.” We cannot allow ourselves to not study the word of the Lord for our lives will have an impact on it. It isn’t impossible but it is certainly more likely that we will try and do good around us if we study the words of the prophets – words that testify of Christ and His divine character; a character that we can try to pattern our lives after.

Very recently, President Thomas S. Monson, current President of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a very simple but powerful promise. He said “If you are not reading the Book of Mormon each day, please do so. If you will read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth to you…I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day.” The definition of the word ‘implore’ is “beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something” – the prophet of the Lord is begging us – all of us – to read the Book of Mormon everyday. There are many reasons for this but one of them is clear – to fill our life with more light. Please read the Book of Mormon for yourself everyday, it will fill your life with more light also.