The Soul’s Sincere Desire

In D&C 10:5 it reads:

Pray‍ always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape‍ the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.

Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women General Presidency gave a talk which was entitiled ‘The Soul’s Sincere Desire’. We know that in order to truly hone our desires, in order to come closer to the Lord and ultimately overcome Satan and his temptations we must call upon the powers of heaven to support us – we must pray.

Prayer is, I feel, one of the simplest principles we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, however it is one that is understood or utilised the least. I feel this at least in my own life. Whilst I do pray on a daily basis, my prayers do not contain or produce the power that they should.

Sister McConkie made the blessings of powerful prayer clear when she said:

“For us, miraculous healing, powerful protection, divine knowledge, liberating forgiveness, and precious peace are among the answers that come when we offer up a “soul’s sincere desire” in faith.” Can you say that your prayers offer the blessings listed here as much as they should or could? I know we all will be at different stages in the power of our personal prayers but we must all progress.

What is Prayer?

The key to starting this progress is to ask the very basic question – what is prayer? This is something that already we can easily misunderstand. Whilst it is indeed an opportunity to commune with and interact with our Heavenly Father, prayer is so much more.

Prayer is a miraculous gift. We have been sent to Earth to live by faith and yet we have been provided with something so precious as it allows us to contact the Being who allowed us to come here. However, there are some very important things to remember with prayer. Prayers are not an opportunity to place an order and accept things instantly. To begin with, a look in the Bible Dictionary will tell us “Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.” Prayer is the means by which we can come closer to God and, as such, bring our will closer to His. We can ask for blessings and if we receive that blessing, it is because the Lord is willing to give it to us and would have if we asked.

This is why it is vital we remember prayer as being a two-way communication. If you wanted to have a conversation with me, you would not approach me, list a number of thoughts and questions you had and then leave without me responding. Then why are we so easy or willing to have this kind of conversation with Heavenly Father?

I don’t think we do this on purpose – perhaps we are unused to talking with the Lord in a way that we speak to him and converse with Him?

Thinking about this – I was visiting a ward recently to speak in on Sunday and a sister missionary spoke before me. She spoke of prayer and an experience she had over Christmas. All the missionaries were invited on Christmas Day to engage in a 45 minute prayer. As this daunting task lay before her, she planned what she would discuss with her Heavenly Father and was able to pause for answers. This illuminated me. In all my years of, quite frankly, failing to consistently hold meaningful prayers I had never thought of this! Actually sitting down and planning what I would discuss in my prayers. I am a very methodical person so I decided to give this a go. As I planned the prayer then called to Heavenly Father, three amazing things happened:

  1. Before I even started the prayer, I found that through the day I was picking things up or noticing things I wanted to talk to my Heavenly Father about – things that I would have forgotten about at the ridiculous hour at which I go to sleep when saying my closing prayer for the day
  2. My prayer was a lot more focused. As I had prepared prayerfully the things I would discuss, I found that I was able to form more coherent thoughts which led to a more effective discussion
  3. I wanted answers. Because I had clear things to discuss, I was more eager to listen to the Spirit for answers Heavenly Father had for me so I waited for them. Then, when I received answers, I wanted to explore those answers more in detail because I had a clearer purpose to my prayer rather than just saying my prayers because I should say my prayers!

Our Desire’s Answer

As you pray with more power, you will find your soul’s sincere desires addressed more by Heavenly Father. Sister McConkie talked about a parable that Christ gave – she said:

He told of a judge who did not honor God and did not have any regard for mankind. Repeatedly, a widow came before him, pleading to be avenged of her adversary. For a while, the judge would offer her no relief. But as a result of her faithful, consistent pleading, the judge finally thought, “Because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”

Then Jesus explained:

“Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him … ?

In other words, if we ask a mortal person repeatedly about something they will probably answer eventually because we are pestering them. So then, our Heavenly Father, who loves us dearly, will surely hear out prayers and answer them because He loves us with a perfect love. He knows the sincere desires of our soul and when we call upon His name, He will be able to help us.

The Best Gifts

However, this promise does come with a clear condition. If we pray with a sincere desire Heavenly Father will hear and answer our prayers. It does not mean that we govern His answer. Our Heavenly Father will always bless us with what we NEED, not necessarily what we WANT – and very often those two things are different.

Sometimes, this outcome of prayer is difficult to understand. We must remember the words of Isaiah in of my favourite verses which reads:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Even if we know and understand this principle, it is not easy. The most asked question I had on my mission was not about plural marriage or tithing, but it was an honest question which more people have than you might think. The question was this – “If God was really there, why does he let bad things happen to this person who is a really good person?”

A while ago we were teaching prayer in our Family Home Evening and we were considering how we could get across to our 4 year old son that we should pray to Heavenly Father for help but sometimes He will know how best to help us even if we want something a lot. We came across this analogy which I really liked:

It was Saturday morning, and father was home. He had brought some work from the office to complete and went into the study to be alone.

(1) Soon his little daughter came into the room crying. Someone had broken her new doll. Her father told her not to worry: he would fix her doll. She thanked her father and ran happily back to play.

(2) Next his son came in. He asked his father for money to buy a new model boat to take sailing with his friends. His father took time to explain that the boy had already received his weekly allowance two days ago with the understanding that it was to take care of such things.

(3) His teenage daughter came in next. She wanted a new dress for the coming dance. Her father told her that she would have to wait. He told her that if she saved as much as she could herself, he would help her buy the new dress.

(4) His teenage son interrupted the father next. The son was doing his homework and needed help with a problem. His father gave him some suggestions, but did not work the problem for him. A few minutes later, his son returned to say, “Thank you for the idea you gave me. It worked!”

(5) Finally, the youngest child came in. His father looked down at the boy and asked kindly, “What do you want, son?” “I don’t want anything,” the little boy answered as he reached his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him. “I just wanted to be with you.”

I loved this. I wish I knew this story when I was on my mission. This story breaks down various glorious understanding as to why we have different answers to prayers as a witness to how a loving father works – and it is the same with our loving Heavenly Father.

For (1) the child was ready to receive and the father listened, intervened and supported the children. In this instance, the child does need that help but cannot help themselves and so the father listens and acts.

For (2) the child had to understand responsibility. They were listened to but did not get the response they wanted. If they were to receive it they would quickly become spoiled and presume to receive things whenever they wish. They had to learn to do without the thing they didn’t really need.

For (3) the child again was listened to by this loving parent. This was a blessing that was required, but this child had means wherewith they could contribute. It would be foolish of the parent to give the money or the blessing in full instantly – what would the child learn? They had to put the work in beforehand and the father would make up the rest.

For (4) the child had to work out the answer themselves. If they were given the answer they would not grow or develop. The loving parent listened and gave suggestions but then let the child go away and work it out. As a result, the child was so grateful to the parent and had developed.

For (5) the child clearly loved their father. They only wanted to interact to say how much they loved their parent and were grateful for all he had done for them. I’m sure Heavenly Father would love to receive more prayers like this!

Sister McConkie added this in her remarks: The answers we receive in prayer may not be what we would desire. But in times of trouble, our prayers become a lifeline of love and tender mercy.”

“He does not want us to suffer longer or endure more trials than needed. He does want us to turn to Him and allow Him to ease our burdens, to heal our hearts, and to cleanse our souls through His purifying power.”

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!

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.

Perfect vs Unconditional Love

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave an excellent talk in the last General Conference about our Heavenly Father’s perfect love. As we know the love of God reaches all. We find the scriptures full of references of his undying love for His children. For example, in Jeremiah 31:3 we read “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” We see evidence of His love in what He has done for mankind. In John 3:16 we read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

However, there is a very important distinction that must be made. It is something which I have occasionally said and it must be clarified. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained “One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture.” I have often used this phrase but it can provide some incorrect meaning. God’s love is indeed unconditional in the sense that He will always love us but if we desire the full blessings of His love, that is down to us. We know that God is not a respecter of persons but also that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson further clarifies by saying “Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,”3 “perfect love,”4 “redeeming love,”5 and “everlasting love.”” These scriptural expressions are much more appropriate. Because of the love of God, He has provided everything for us. Because of the Saviour, the cause of God’s love can redeem us.

As we make ourselves more open to this redeeming love, we can then be changed. We see an example of this in Mosiah 5:2 where the people of King Benjamin exclaim – “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Whilst this feeling is often linked to conversion and a mighty change of hear, we do have to ensure we have this event, or feeling, on a regular basis. As we do this, the redeeming love of God changes us. This is what helps us become better. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

His love is perfect. His love is redeeming. His love is life-changing.

Be Thou Humble

The Three Relationships

I was recently in a discussion about the crisis of faith that can enter into every member’s lives. Those that attend the Lord’s house do so because of their faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ. However, those foundations of faith have been, are now being and will continuously be tested by turbulent trials and tribulations. Horrific events shake the world most weeks – the news never seems to cease. As we discussed how each of us could more safely navigate through these troubled times, our discussion become focused on three key relationships that, if we work on these, then we will become much more able to stay stable in our faith.

Having reflected on this, it became clear that we need to put all of our efforts into maintaining and strengthening these key relationships. One key attribute we need to do this is humility. I have studied the talk given by Elder Steven E Snow of the Seventy in the last General Conference in relation to this. We have a great deal of influence over the relationships we have in our lives – and these relationships could ultimately save our eternal lives in future times.

Fellowcitizens

The first key relationship we should develop is our relationship with fellow members of Christ’s Church. We read in Moroni 6:4-5:

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

When we are baptised into his Church, our Leader, our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, asks us to support one another. When members gather together, Christ is in their midst. As we develop a stronger relationship – a friendship – with those we share the same beliefs with, we have a wider network we can rely on when times become difficult. Not only this, but we can be sources of strength for others also.

As we develop our friendship with those around us in the covenant of Christ, we can remember the words of joy found in D&C 18:16:

“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”

You do not know the beneficial impact you can have on the faith of those around you. I have learnt great lessons of faith from many other people. Lessons of love, care, concern, humility and faith. I’m sure you can think of many lessons you have learnt from others too. On the other hand…we can have negative experiences in this type of relationship.

Careless words, thoughtless actions and unintended misunderstandings can have devastating consequences in our relationship with fellow Saints. We know how these negative experiences can have a direct impact on someone’s faith (whether or not this is the main reason for a lack in faith). Most of you will have heard the experience of Thomas B Marsh. If not here it is in brief:

Thomas B Marsh was the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the latter days, at 35 years of age. Therefore, he would (if the same general rule of ordination followed as today) have become the next President of the Church after the Prophet Joseph Smith. He lived faithfully, serving missions and caring for members of the fledgling Church. However, in 1837, relationships among the Twelve had deteriorated. This actually highlights another need for humility – the main causes were inexperience and disagreements about their role and purpose within the Twelve. We find Christ chastising the original Twelve Apostles in the New Testament when He said in Mark 10:44 – “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”

Despite being successful in improving the humility of His brethren in the Twelve, Marsh fell victim to the spirit of pride, with an incident involving Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris. According to George A. Smith, the women had agreed to exchange milk from their cows for making cheese. But counter to their agreement, Elizabeth allegedly kept the cream strippings—the richer part of the milk that rises to the top—before sending the rest of the milk to Lucinda. According to Smith, the matter went before the teachers quorum, then the bishop, and then the high council, all of whom found Elizabeth to be at fault. Marsh, not satisfied, appealed to the First Presidency, who agreed with the earlier decisions. Further offended by this chain of events, the already frustrated Marsh was said to have declared “that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.”

Sometime in the fall of 1838, Marsh left Far West with his family and began actively opposing the Saints. He swore out in October 1838 that detailed his concerns about acts of violence and destruction he believed were being planned or carried out by members of the Church against their neighbors in Caldwell and Daviess counties, as well as stating his fear that “all the Mormons who refused to take up arms, if necessary in difficulties with the citizens, should be shot or otherwise put to death,” and that “no Mormon dissenter should leave Caldwell county alive.”

Following his excommunication in 1839, Brigham Young become the next President of the Quroum of the Twelve…and the rest is history.

Pride amongst fellowcitizens and Saints can be faith-shattering. Remember humility and love.

Family

The second relationship we cannot allow pride to enter is with our family. Elder Snow is very clear on this matter:

“Humility is essential to gain the blessings of the gospel. Humility enables us to have broken hearts when we sin or make mistakes and makes it possible for us to repent. Humility enables us to be better parents, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends.

On the other hand, unnecessary pride can dissolve family relationships, break up marriages, and destroy friendships. It is especially important to remember humility when you feel contention rising in your home. Think of all the heartache you can avoid by humbling yourself to say, “I’m sorry”; “That was inconsiderate of me”; “What would you like to do?”; “I just wasn’t thinking”; or “I’m very proud of you.””

Have you ever had an argument with your spouse, parent or child and thought afterwards that it was the best thing to do? Was it ever better being right instead of recognising each have differing opinions and showing an increase of love?

Having said all this, we are human. Often, the original focus of our pride-filled ‘debate’ will be forgotten and at the end, the initial trigger of the argument will have been forgotten. At that moment we see 3 Nephi 11:29 fulilled:

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

I am certainly not perfect when it comes to having humility in my relationship with my family. We may be tempted to say that this shortcoming is only human, that it is something we can work on but will always be a problem. To that, President Dieter F Uchtdorf stated:

“Pride may be a common human failing. But it is not part of our spiritual heritage, and it has no place among holders of the priesthood of God. Life is short, brethren. Regrets can last a long time—some will have repercussions that echo through eternity. The way you treat your wife or children or parents or siblings may influence generations to come. What legacy do you want to leave your posterity?”

We are better than this. We can overcome pride in the home. It is not easy. However, if we desire to return to live with our Heavenly Father, we need our families. We must teach with love and humility. Parents must demonstrate humility to each other in front of their children. The way they see your interactions will have an impact on the spouse and parent they are in the future – affecting generations of your family line! Your pattern of humility (or pride) will echo into the eternities, for you and for them. And this will affect our faith…

God

The final relationship we must have the utmost humility in (and probably the most important) is with our Heavenly Father. We cannot develop a secure enough relationship with God if we are not humble. As mentioned, we are seeing many events in the world, as well as our personal lives, where we may be tempted to throw our hands up and question ‘Why?” Elder Snow said:

“Accident and illness, the death of loved ones, problems in relationships, even financial reversals can bring us to our knees. Whether these difficult experiences come through no fault of our own or through bad decisions and poor judgment, these trials are all humbling. If we choose to be spiritually attuned and remain humble and teachable, our prayers become more earnest and faith and testimony will grow as we overcome the tribulations of mortal existence.”

This is a scripture which I feel, for me personally, begins to convey to me to intense deep love our Father has for us. In Moses 7 we read:

“…Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth. And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Wo, wo be unto the inhabitants of the earth. And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever…and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…”

However, what will be an even greater cause of sorrow to our loving Father, is that when these horrifying events occur, there will be some that turn away from Him because they have lost that relationship with Him – their faith is gone.

One such person that could have easily lost their faith was Job. Job had been blessed with great riches and a large family. However Satan felt that Job was still faithful as he lived in comfort. So, Satan set out to tear away all from Job – natural causes of death and destruction literally tore Job’s life apart. He ultimately ended up alone without a penny, with only his ‘friends’ left, who accused him of sin – because how else would those bad things have happened? However, Job had built a strong relationship with His God. As such, despite this great loss, he testified:

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:”

Invitation

I share with you today an invitation that could affect your life. I urge you today to reflect on these three key relationships: with members, your family and your God. In each of these relationships, I invite you to think of how you can strengthen each one of them, remembering humility will be vital.