Prayer: The Father and Son Chat

Today I was listening to a Mormon Messages soundbite on preparing ourselves spiritually each day and the main focus moved onto prayer.

I am pretty diligent in my scripture study, even if it’s only a few verses a day, I attend my regular Church meetings and renew my covenants and I try to fulfill my callings to the best of my ability whilst balancing family life. However, the one practice that I never seem to get right or do consistently is my personal prayers. We say family prayers everyday and you would think as a return missionary I would be better at this. I have seen miracles, felt clear promptings as a direct result and witnessed changes in my own nature as a result of heartfelt prayer. So why do I struggle with it on a regular basis. I seem to leave Church each Sunday with the commitment to improve my personal prayers and then fall short! Why do I not call on my Heavenly Father? 

All these thoughts began to buzz around my mind as I listened closely to the audio clip. Later, they shared a passage of scripture from the Bible Dictionary. Some of it I remembered and have used in my own opportunities to teach such as a talk, or when I have ministered. However, there was a section they read which I was sure was from some other source and I even rewound the recording to listen to where they found it again, but it was indeed from the very same place: the Bible Dictionary. It says this:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.”

For some reason, despite knowing that God is my Heavenly Father, this struck a chord in me. I love speaking to my Dad – I know that he loves me and is pleased to see me when we meet. How much more then is my Heavenly Father eager to see me when I ‘meet’ Him in prayer. No disrespect to my earthly father, but my Heavenly Father is so much more able, willing to love and has given me more guidance and help in my life than my earthly father (although, I owe my life to him also). So why shouldn’t I be anxious to get on my knees and communicate with Him!? 

The answer is right there at the end of the Bible Dictionary passage – we forget about how intimate the relationship with our Heavenly Father is. In fact, the unfortunate paradox is that we probably understand this intimate relationship the best when we are already praying fervently and often…not before we begin the process. So how can we always remember this relationship with Heavenly Father so we are consistent in our prayers?

There will be many answers, each more useful or unique to different people. However, I think the main answer is one which relates to the wonderful teaching by Alma in Alma 32:28 where he says:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

In other words, we just need to cast aside our apathy, our easiness to drift into relative contentment, and just get on our knees and do it! Then the next day, have some reminder ready and do it again! Try the word and see what happens. Only then can our hearts truly BEGIN to change. The word BEGIN is important there. It is a lifelong process which is why we are taught so often the basics – because we aren’t getting them all right yet.

Tonight – I will just do it!

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Sister Okazaki – Prejudice or Peace: An Example of Cultural Unity

I recently studied an article about a talk by Sister Chieko N Okazaki in the April 2018 Ensign. I was impressed whilst reading the short bio of Sister Okazaki at the start of the article. You can read it at this link or the bio is just below:

“Chieko Nishimura Okazaki (1926-2011) grew up in Hawaii, USA, in Buddhist family of Japanese ancestry. She joined the Church when she was 15.

By then, Sister Okazaki had come to acknowledge the complexity of her ethnic and  cultural status. Worried about how others would perceive them after the Japanese  military bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Sister Okazaki and her mother gathered and  burned every Japanese memento they owned. But then she looked in the mirror and  thought, “I have never set foot in Japan. am not Japanese in my heart. But cannot run away from myself. My eyes, my skin, and my hair are Japanese.”1

Sister Okazaki confronted racism throughout her life. She began teaching soon after  World War II when anti-Japanese sentiment still ran high in the United States. Three mothers refused to allow  their children to be in her class. But Sister Okazaki soon won them over.

Sister Okazaki was the first woman to serve on all three of the women’s auxiliary boards:   first Young Women, then Primary, then Relief Society.”

I am aware that this type of cultural prejudice is unfortunately as prevalant today as it has always been. You would think that as the world becomes smaller through new and improved systems of communication and a diversifying of many cultures this would not be the case. Sadly, there is still a lot of unwarranted hate in the world. You only even have to look at something as trivial as football fans to see this in action. One set of fans automatically go against other fans and hurl abuse simply because of the team they support. Were they to meet each other in other settings they may have struck a wonderful friendship up. Yet, it is their categorisation of ‘those fans and that club’ that instantly have them make a judgement about those individuals.

The harrowing thing about cultural prejudice is that, unlike football teams and fans, culture and race cannot be ‘chosen’. We are born with it. As such, if someone is prejudiced against someone else for their race or culture, they are making judgement on that person just because of the way they were born – not on ANY of the choices that person has made! This is clear to see in the example of Sister Okazaki. The sorrow she must have felt when treated in this way because, simply, she looked different must have felt bad. She even said she did not ‘feel’ Japanese, but the way she looked made the difference.

She shared a wonderful talk about this cultural difference and the Gospel. She said:

“The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for family. Is the bottle right and the basket wrong?No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of  the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit…

Brothers and sisters, whether your fruits are peaches or papaya, and whether you bring  them in bottles or in baskets, we thank you for offering them in love.”

It does not matter what we look like, but what we live like. Obviously, this is something that as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we would believe as we believe we are all children of our loving Heavenly Father, no matter the colour of our skin. However, this talk – along with the context of Sister Okazaki’s life-experience – was an eye-opener. I fall victim to making judgements about others and I wish to work on that.

Belief, Faith and Knowledge

The three terms belief, faith and even knowledge are often interchanged as though they are synonyms – all with the same meaning. However, there is a definite difference between them all.

In the Oxford Dictionary – her are the three definitions:
Belief: “something believed (accept as true)”
Faith: “reliance or trust; belief in religious doctrine”

Knowledge: “the facts etc that someone knows; knowing a fact or about a subject”

The easiest one to separate is knowledge, which will be discussed later, but belief and faith do seem to be similar – however a closer look differentiates the two.

Belief “may consist in a merely intellectual assent,” says Elder James E Talmage (Articles of Faith pg 96) whereas “faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.” (Articles of Faith pg 97). From this, it emerges that someone might believe something to be true – however, they do not act on that feeling. Faith, on the other hand, leads to action – it is a trust or reliance on a subject and acting accordingly. Faith is what is necessary for us to receive salvation and exaltation – not merely believing that to be the case. Another interesting thought is that one can have a belief – or even better, knowledge of a fact – and not have faith whereas you can’t have faith and not believe.

For example, it says in James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Further, a man possessed by devils was causing havoc “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:6-7). These devils believed Jesus to be the Christ, in fact, more than that – they knew Him to be the Christ. These spirits, unlike us, do not have a veil over their memory and so they remember perfectly the Grand Council in Heaven and the fact Christ was ordained as our Leader and Saviour. However, despite having this perfect knowledge, it doesn’t help them – they do not have the trust in Him as their Saviour (i.e. faith) because they have enlisted to follow the other ‘leader’.

Now, compare this with Peter’s statement to Christ. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Peter has belief that Christ was the Son of God, maybe even a knowledge but it couldn’t have been much more knowledge than the devils had (after all they knew perfectly he was the Christ from their unveiled experience) – so what was different between Peter’s attitude and the evil spirits? Faith! Peter not only believed THAT Jesus was the Christ but also believed IN Him as the Christ and what He would do.

To illustrate the point that mere knowledge doesn’t save, Elder Talmage uses an example of a scientific man who discovered, through scientific tests and observations, that the supply of water in a great city was tainted and was causing outbreaks of cholera, which was killing many people. He proclaimed this and the people, never having seen the physical tests to prove it, acted on faith and would drink sterilised water. The scientific man, despite his perfect knowledge, one day forgot and drank unsterilised water and died. His sure knowledge didn’t save him, but the people’s faith did save them. The man wasn’t wise and didn’t apply the knowledge he had received to his own life – thus it is with one who has belief but no faith. “Faith in Christ leads to action.” (Preach My Gospel pg 61) and is key as the very first principle of the Gospel.

Learning to Love Learning

Based on a talk by Elder David A Bednar found in the February 2010 Ensign.

Life is like a laboratory – we are constantly conducting experiments and learning from the results of these tests – good or bad. Elder Bednar in his talk gives three aspects in our lives as to why it is important to love the process of this learning experience. There are different categories of students in this laboratory – those who are there, eager to learn what new concept will be addressed today, note pads ready. Unfortunately, there are also those that are there just to go through and get the grade at the end, with as little effort or learning as possible. The three aspects of our lives that learning to love learning develops are:

1. Learning to love learning is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Throughout the scriptures , we are advised and commanded to learn. We are told to ‘seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) One of the ordinances we receive as members of the Church is the confirmation – or to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This precious gift of God has many roles and purposes, but one is to facilitate learning. Numerous scriptures talk about this role of the Holy Ghost – “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) “But the Comforter…he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) are just a couple. The Gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around learning “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ…” (John 17:3) – how can we learn of God and of Jesus Christ if we do not learn? We cannot! It takes a lifetime of learning to even begin to know them, therefore we have to be learning now!

As the scripture said – the most important thing that we can learn in this life is about our Heavenly Father. There is priority to what we can learn in this life and we need to be able to discern what in life we can learn that is of eternal importance. The Apostle Paul prophesied that people in the latter-days would be “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) – there are those people who spend their time pursuing knowledge of the world (which in itself is a good thing) but sacrifice learning which will propel them to celestial glory and returning to their Heavenly Father – we need to learn and apply gospel principles to our lives.

2. Learning to love learning is vital to our ongoing spiritual and personal development

If there was a model of someone who loved to learn, it was President Brigham Young. Repeatedly, he would emphasise life being a learning experience and how important it was to learn and love doing so. Here are a couple of things he said on this topic – “The religion embraced by the Latter-day Saints, if only slightly understood, prompts them to search diligently after knowledge. There is no other people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth.”, “We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never.” (President Brigham Young). As we develop through our life, and life after, it will be hard to avoid learning, especially if we desire to make it back to dwell with our Heavenly Father! As we learn how to truly learn – we will see ourselves develop spiritually and personally. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36) – how can we expect to gain what God has gained without gleaning intelligence from this life?

3. Learning to love learning is an absolute necessity in the world in which we do now and will yet live, serve and work.

Elder Bednar remarked about how the BYU has a motto saying “”Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” This expression certainly does not imply that everything necessary for a lifetime of meaningful service can or will be obtained during a few short years of higher education…” (Elder David A Bednar). He is making the point that – although university is a place solely set aside for learning, it really is a place where people go to learn to love learning. During life, at least once, we will come across a situation or task that we haven’t faced, compelling us to learn something new to rise to the task. Elder Bednar puts this point across even further by saying “For example, the US Department of Labor estimates that today’s college graduates will have between 10 and 14 different jobs by the time they are 38 years old. And the necessary skills to perform successfully in each job assignment will constantly change and evolve.” Fortunately, in today’s world we have many resources at our fingertips to assist us in our quest to learn and to overcome life’s puzzles. However, we must be careful to not “trust in the arm of flesh,” (2 Nephi 4:34) and not remember the Lord our God. If we do that, we will become like Zeniff and his group of people. They wanted to possess the land of their forefathers and journeyed to do so. However, he records “we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.” (Mosiah 9:3). If we ever feel the world is above us in wisdom, remember these words “…if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost…They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.” (President Brigham Young).

As we learn to love learning and then use what we learn to serve diligently in the world and the Kingdom of God – we will see great blessings and treasures of knowledge.

Choose the Right

Based on a talk/article given by Elder Charles Didier in the February 2010 Ensign.

As we live in a world fraught with spiritual pitfalls and the buffetings of Satan, it is ever more important that we are constantly aware of dangers and threats posed by the world. Just how can we stand up to mounting trials and difficulties, threatening to throw us off the course back to our Heavenly Father?

One valuable support that we have is revelation – revelation from earlier prophets, latter-day prophets and revelation we receive for ourselves by the Spirit. We are told in the scriptures “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18) and also in the Bible Dictionary “Without revelation, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion.” (Bible Dictionary pg 762). This vital gift from God can help us avoid situations where we would be tempted to lower our standards and give in to the adversary. Not only do we have words from the scriptures echoing, encouraging us to heed revelation but also living prophets today. President Ezra Taft Benson said “The word of God, as found in the scriptures, in the words of living prophets, and in personal revelation, has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.” As we hold fast to the sacred words and inspirations from those three undiluted sources of knowledge and truth we will find the Spirit assisting us in our day to day lives – so much so that we are more able to choose the right in circumstances where others may mock or question why we are trying to do so.

Choosing the right in the face of larger ‘trangressions’ is imperative – but it is also watching out for the smaller mistakes which we need to be ever mindful of as it’s these violations which can fulfil what we read in 2 Nephi 28:21 “…thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” Satan often works subtly to carefully lead the Saints away in ways that make us think that we’ll be happier for it. However, President Gordon B Hinckley counselled “Evil never was happiness, sin never was happiness. Happiness lies in the power and the love and the sweet simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” For example, Sodom and Gomorrah are known for their disregard for keeping the commandments of God. However, if we look closer in the Old Testament at this city’s journey, it is actually something more subtle that begins their eventual downfall. We are told “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her…neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” (Ezekial 16:49). These subtle traps might have led to the wanton disobedience that Sodom was known for later on – hence the large impact of actions which may seem small and even insignificant at the time. Of course “no unclean thing can dwell with God,” (1 Nephi 10:21) so even those smaller transgressions need to be avoided.

Overall, we need to be “an example of the believers,” (1 Timothy 4:12) and actively try to influence others for good. Elder M Russell Ballard said We should work to stem the tide of sin and evil instead if passively being swept along by it. We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it.” We can make a much bigger difference than we think – we need to do it boldly, meekly and with the Spirit and we will be able to help others to choose the right.

Minister through Actions not just Words

A quick post focusing on a few verses from Alma 17:22-25 which highlights some very important principles about ministering and trying to serve as Christ did.

At this stage of the narrative, Ammon has put himself into the hands of the Lamanites as he and his brothers have gone to try and teach them the Gospel. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael and there he is brought before King Lamoni, ruler of that area – as was the custom of the Lamanites whenever they captured any Nephite. Generally there were three outcomes of these captures: the Nephite would kept in prison, cast out from among the Lamanites or they would be slain. The encounter between King Lamoni and Ammon begins as such:

22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.

23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

This is an incredible statement by Ammon. Never at any point in the account of the sons of Mosiah did they say that they wished to live amongst the Lamanites until their death. They had requested that they be allowed to go into the land of Nephi to preach, that they might try and bring as many souls as they could to repentance. We know that they were desperate to do this when we read in Mosiah 28:3:

“Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”

Clearly they had that in the forefront of their minds. However, they never stated that they intended to never return to their people. And yet, this is exactly what Ammon is laying on the line here. He is saying that he is willing to give up the associations he enjoyed before, the culture he was raised in, even his close family and friends with whom he will have built eternal bonds with in order to serve this king. This gives us a little more insight into King Lamoni’s apparent U-turn in his manner towards this foreign Nephite. The account continues:

24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.

Quite the turnaround. Ammon has gone from, at best, being cast out from this people to being offered one of the daughters of the king as his wife. Surely King Lamoni must have recognised something in this Nephite – some honourable qualities which meant he was deserving of such a gesture? We cannot be sure why but that is what Ammon was offered. Surely this was it! This was Ammon’s way in to receive power and influence among this people. He would have been a prince – and as such have a powerful voice amongst the people. What better way to teach the Gospel than from such a position of authority in the land? Ammon however had no such privileges in mind. He knew there was a better way, a way which at first may seem to have been a backwards step. We read on:

25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

Ammon decided to reject the status of a prince and request the position of a servant. He descended from potentially being a prince among the Lamanites or even a king among the Nephites to work (possibly for the rest of his life) under King Lamoni. He decided to take the mantle of a servant – one who devoted his life (voluntarily) to supporting King Lamoni. However, this seemed to have a bigger impact on King Lamoni. We learn later that King Lamoni was amazed that Ammon was so dedicated in his service to the king. This is what then opens his heart to listening to what Ammon had come to say – his message of the Gospel.

Words are important in teaching the Gospel. However, actions are probably even more so. Ammon recognised this in deciding to give up all to show his sincerity and concern for King Lamoni. From this action, King Lamoni quickly developed a lot of trust in Ammon and was more than ready to receive a message from him when the time was right.

Sword vs Word

As we consider how to strengthen ourselves and those around us, the best way to strengthen and encourage others to follow Christ can be debated and is in the scriptures. In Alma we learn of two ways how we can encourage others to turn to Christ – however, as with most things, one is a better choice.

In Alma 31, we learn that a whole community of the Nephites had left the Gospel of Christ and, as a result, the high priest, Alma, considered how best to reach out to those lost souls. In Alma 31:5 we read “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” The sword, mentioned here, is symbolic of fear or coercion – other factors not quite forcing but influencing greatly through threat to make people change. Alma believed that the word of God, teaching and testifying with the Spirit, would have a greater impact on the people of Zoram than any other means, including the sword.

As time went on in the experience, Alma went with a group of missionaries to the city to try and reach out to the Zoramites. He met with a number of people who had fallen on difficult times, not having much money and being cast out of the synagogues because of their exceeding poverty. Alma was grateful for the listening ears however recognised the reason why they were ready to receive. He said “And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved. And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.” (Alma 32 13-15) These words are clear – it is good to be converted through being compelled to be humble (by the sword) however it is better to be converted by your own choice (through the word).

However, I noticed a small distinction in the wording for those that are compelled to be humble and those that truly humble themselves. It says for those that are compelled that they ‘shall be saved’. For those that truly humble themselves it says that the same ‘shall be blessed’. There is a reason for the different wording. Could probably go into another post into what the differences between ‘saved’ and ‘blessed’ could mean – however, presuming that blessed is a greater version of ‘being saved’, this highlights how we need to make sure we are humble. Even if there is an event which compels us, we should ensure we are able to stay humble when the event has happened. Otherwise, we may find that we lose our way without other occurrences to keep us humble.