Where are you on your journey?
In Europe we have had an Area Plan: this simple, yet inspired Area Plan focuses on three key areas. This plan is to bring a friend, become self-reliant temporally and spiritually and find an ancestor. In Alma 34:32 we find a well-known verse which reads – “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” We have all been blessed to be on this Earth, we need to use our time effectively. If we have not moved off in our journey this year yet and left the shore to get to the Promised Land, it’s not too late to start TODAY!
The Daily Battle of Direction
In fact, this principle of it never being too late (or indeed too early) is exactly the message I want to think about. This is based on a talk that was given by Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy. In his talk he applies the approach of it never being too early or late to raising children in the Gospel but I want to apply this wider to anything in our own or our family’s spiritual progression and then discuss the impact on children in Zion.
He begins by making this statement:
“Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in a battle with the world. In the past, the world competed for our children’s energy and time. Today, it fights for their identity and mind.”
When we wake up tomorrow, will we remember that we are on a spiritual battlefield? Bearing in mind that it used to be a battle in itself to get our son, Joshua, out of bed for Nursery in the morning (despite him only being 3 years old at the time, not 13) it can be easy to see in our hectic day-to-day lives why we might forget this. In the confusion and hardships of the day, we might sometimes slip our focus away from the things that matter most. I want to look at an event from the scriptures which links well to this – the Brother and Jared and the Jaredites. As we know, they were blessed to come away from a sinful nation and were given the promise that if they followed the Lord, they would be lead to a blessed land where they would prosper. They obeyed and travelled and it says in Ether 2:13: “… it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.”
Surely, if they were content to dwell there on the seashore for four years, it must have been a pleasant enough place? Just picture where you were 4 years ago – that is a long time! If we’re talking about it never being too late to act then this is a good group of people to study(!) – because for four long years they settled. They did not progress. Are we sometimes not like the Jaredites, settling for what we have right now? If we think for one moment that we are good as we are and all is well in Zion then we need to repent – because none of us are where our Heavenly Father would have us yet – although I am sure He is pleased with the progress we have made so far!
All is Well?
This attitude of all being well as it is right now, today, is not only a sign of a lack of motivation to improve but it is a cunning tool of Satan to have us never reach our full potential – to be stunted in our spiritual growth. In 2 Nephi 28:21 we read:
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
Not only is Satan craftily making us stop our own progress if we feel content where we are, but he is carefully leading us back away from the Lord. To quote from Elder Neil L. Andersen in his talk at the same Conference, he said:
“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith.”
We are either moving forward in our journey, or slipping away from our eternal goal.
Never Too Early or Too Late
To return to the account of the Jaredites, the Lord clearly wanted to make this point to the spiritual leader of the group, the Brother of Jared, as we read:
“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Ether 2:14)
To me, we can learn a lot from this. Yes, what the Jaredites did in being content was wrong, that is made clear. Also, the Lord is always there for us when we are ready to return back to Him. However, we also read here that the Lord ‘came’ to the Brother of Jared. Our loving Saviour is not just always there but he will seek us out if we are lost. This is a great lesson for us as members of His true Church – whilst we should always be ready to receive those of our number who are lost with open arms, it is NEVER too late for us to go out and find them, and it can’t be done early enough. In the New Testament, our Saviour taught us our role when he gave the parable of the Lost Sheep:
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4-5)
Obviously we are not encouraged to literally lay investigators on our shoulders – but how amazing is it that we have the opportunity to play our part and not only be ready to receive, but also to go out and find – it is NEVER too late for them! As we know, it wasn’t too late for the Jaredites either and they made it to the land which the Lord had prepared for them.
Children in the Gospel
As we know it is our mandate to bring people to the Lord, what do we need to do to help them become spiritually self-reliant so they can become tools in the Lord’s hand? This can apply to our children, as Elder Foster goes on to teach, but also children in the gospel (investigators, our friends, even our HT/VT families as we are all meant to be teachable).
Elder Foster taught us a very valuable principle when he said:
“On this occasion, Jesus told a story about planting seeds—the parable of the sower. In explaining this to His disciples, and ultimately to us, He said, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” The message for parents is clear: there is a difference between hearing and understanding. If our children merely hear but do not understand the gospel, then the door is left open for Satan to remove these truths from their hearts.”
Our FHE’s, investigator lessons, HT/VT visits etc. are not simply places where we are to preach and they are to listen to our words. If we attempt this, then we are not teaching in the Lord’s way. Why is this? Because we are not to be the teachers. If we set ourselves up as the teacher then the learner will only hear the words we say. However, if we recognise the Holy Ghost is the teacher, then understanding will implant deeper into the listener’s heart.
Teaching By the Spirit
Before mentioning a few things to remember about teaching by the Spirit, I would echo Elder Foster’s plea again – It Is Never Too Early or Too Late. Our daughter, Elaina, is 2 years old. If we do not begin now to offer a spiritual feast each and every day in our home then she will look for a feast elsewhere as she grows up and it will be more difficult to provide that feast later as we have not got into the habit of providing that feast. Similarly, it still is never too late if we have not been providing that feast. Begin today.
Can I dispel some myths about teaching and learning by the Spirit? Supposedly, you can tell children, or even adults, have been taught by the Spirit if:
- They sit quietly through the whole lesson (again, adults as well as children!) – quite honestly if this were true then I would start thinking it’s never too late to give up
- They cry with tears. Whilst crying can be a response to the fruits of the Spirit we can feel (Galatians 5:22-23 like love, peace, joy and goodness) it does not mean you have to cry to indicate you have been taught by the Spirit. Again, to apply this to our FHE setting, I think I would be concerned if my 4 year old began sobbing at what we were saying – in fact, the only time he has cried during a FHE is when he was struck by his sister with a toy.
- The teacher does not prepare the lesson and so decides they have to ‘teach by Spirit’. Teaching by the spirit is not the same as ‘winging it’. As a primary school teacher, I know what it is to have to ‘wing it’ for a lesson sometimes – and often it can pay off. However, the Spirit will be the strongest if we are prepared. It is never too early or too late to prepare a spiritual lesson or experience with our children. If we spend hours on preparing a lesson for Church and then sit swiftly with our children and make up a lesson for FHE or some other experience on the spot, something is wrong.
- Everyone is happy and the lesson went great. There will be times that you feel that a lesson did not go the way you wanted it to (again, this applies to parents, member missionaries, HTs, whoever) – however, it may well be those lessons that the Spirit has touched the heart of one of the listeners and that teaching moment by the Spirit will change their life forever.
Build a Better Tomorrow, Today
Building eternal bonds, loving ties and spiritual foundations has to be on the mind of all parents in Zion. To quote the scripture which always makes me feel terrified as a parent but willing to do better in D&C 68:25
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”
It is never too early or late to build lasting relationships with our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our ancestors, with our HT/VT families – it needs to begin NOW otherwise we will not move on in our spiritual journey and miss out on potential future promised land blessings.