It’s Never Too Early or Too Late

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.

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The Armour of God

Many are aware of the ‘armour of God’ that can be found in Ephesians and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Here is the summary:

  • Loins girt about with truth
  • Breastplate of righteousness
  • Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace
  • Shield of faith
  • Helmet of salvation
  • Sword of God’s Spirit and His word through revelation

All of these items are vital – if any were missing in our defence, we would fall very quickly as weaknesses would be exposed. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin warned that Satan “seeks to find any chink in the armor of each person. He knows our weaknesses and knows how to exploit them if we allow him to do so. We can defend ourselves against his attacks and deceptions only by understanding the commandments and by fortifying ourselves each day through praying, studying the scriptures, and following the counsel of the Lord’s anointed.”

There are a variety of ways that we can protect ourselves and put on this armour of God. It is interesting, that in the Ephesians account of this analogy, it says in Ephesians 6:16 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” This passage seems to indicate the necessity of this particular protection – whether the most important or one of the most important – in order for us to overcome the wiles of Satan. It does make sense as faith is a principle of power. It seems ineffective having a knowledge of the gospel or understanding truth if we do not work on developing our faith.

Is it, therefore, any wonder that all the things we do to put on the armour of God are things that increase of faith? Acts such as reading the scriptures, praying, going to Church, partaking the sacrament and worshipping in the Temple. There are key areas where Satan tries to pinpoint his attacks which affect the majority of the human family, God’s children, that without the armour of God would be vulnerable areas.

One is chastity. The Law of Chastity is a simple law and one which, when one considers the consequences when not followed, makes sense – to those who understand the Lord and His love for His children. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught “One of the most pervasive deceptions in recent years is the notion that immorality is normal and acceptable and has no negative consequences. In truth, immorality is the underlying cause of much suffering and many other problems that are prevalent today, including rampant disease, abortion, broken families, families without fathers, and mothers who themselves are children.” It does seem to be one of the most accepted transgressions of the Lord’s commandments in the world today when in actual fact, for example, the sin of adultery is the sin ‘next to murder’. God delights in chastity. What better thing for Satan to try and pull us away with.

Not only this, but there are a variety of ways in which we can be ensnared. One of these tactics is pornography. President Gordon B. Hinckley warned “You must not fool around with the Internet to find pornographic material. You must not dial a long-distance telephone number to listen to filth. You must not rent videos with pornography of any kind. This salacious stuff simply is not for you. Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.” If we submit to this vile tool of Satan, we are literally stripping off our armour and our virtue and putting ourselves under Satan’s power. Stop now! For anyone who is under this seemingly unstoppable habit, it is never too late. Even if it has begun, it can be halted. We need to continually put on the armour of God and to do so we need to keep clean and call upon the Atonement of Christ to cleanse us further.

The second possible weak spot is honesty. President James E. Faust taught “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” Honesty includes a complete change in our way of doing things – to become more honest. When we are not honest, then it becomes more and more difficult to tell the truth.

Of course it is one of the commandments to be honest. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16) The principle of being honest is, again, very simple. However, it is one that many can find difficult to keep fully for one reason or another. As members of Christ’s church, even as any human being,  we should strive to be honest. If we can become more honest, we will find strength to overcome more challenges.

The final example of possible weakness is our use of language. There are a few elements of our language we need to be careful with. We should not take the name of the Lord in vain. We shouldn’t use foul language. Of course, as with chastity and honesty, language is something that Satan has been working on up to today where, to use this kind of language, is something deemed as perfectly acceptable. President Hinckley said “Don’t swear. Don’t profane. Avoid so-called dirty jokes. Stay away from conversation that is sprinkled with foul and filthy words. You will be happier if you do so, and your example will give strength to others.” It is incredible how, when someone shows the example and doesn’t use foul language, it is really noticed by people around them. I’ve personally had a number of instances where people have mentioned they have noticed I don’t swear and appreciate it, or when they mishear me and think I have sworn and are shocked – when many other people around them use the same words freely.

Of course, when we use bad language it drives the Spirit away. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:8-9) This verse points out the irony that the mouth that we use to say our prayers to God and even partake of the sacrament with – we sometimes allow it to issue forth things we shouldn’t. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve stated “Profanity and vulgarity…are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defences by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us.” Foul language can draw the presence of the Spirit away and easily offend others – just what the adversary would want.

As we use the armour of God to protect ourselves and win the war against the fiery darts of the adversary, we will protect our weaknesses and receive more power by our Heavenly Father. Here is another interesting thought to add to that by President Harold B. Lee:
“[The] armoured man hold[s] in his hand a shield and in his other hand a sword…That shield was the shield of faith and the sword was the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. I can’t think of any more powerful weapons than faith and a knowledge of the scriptures in…which are contained the Word of God. One so armoured and one so prepared with those weapons is prepared to go out against the enemy.” The armour of God includes offensive as well as defensive preparations. The sword of God’s spirit – meaning the Word of God – can give us power to actively combat the falsehoods of Satan. We can use the scriptures against his lies and therefore, the armour of God becomes, not just a defensive tool that we have to shield us but is also a weapon to vanquish Satan and come off conqueror in our daily, spiritual battle.

Gift of the Holy Ghost – A Sure Compass

This entry is based on a talk given by President James E. Faust in the April 1989 General Conference.

Christ had always prophesied that his life would end earlier than expected – leaving the Apostles to administer the workings of His church on the Earth. The very thought of that must have been worrying for the Apostles. However, Christ always spoke of peace and comfort to them. In fact, He promised to send them the third member of the Godhead – the Holy Ghost. He said “I will not leave you comfortless…But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:18,26).

The Holy Ghost has many roles and influences on those who receive it’s gift of being a constant companion. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that the mysteries of God’s kingdom “are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him.” (D&C 76:116). The Spirit of God is vital if we are to learn and grow in the Gospel, what a blessing!

However, if we want the fullness of this power in our lives, we need to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is possible to feel the enlightenment before receiving the gift. For example, Cornelius (a Roman centurion) felt the power of the Holy Ghost in Peter’s teaching and testifying and “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” (Acts 10:44) – and they hadn’t yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is necessary for seekers of truth who wish to gain a testimony of Christ and His Gospel before baptism.

In the journey of Lehi and his family, they were miraculously given a “round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whether we should go into the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 16:10) – the Liahona. This device led the family through “the most fertile parts of the wilderness,” (1 Nephi 16:16), the safest way to the promised land. However this compass had another miraculous feature. The Liahona pointers did work “according to the faith and diligence and heed which [they] did give unto them.” (1 Nephi 16:28) Because of this inspired compass, the family reached their destination. The Liahona was a sure compass – and it is a perfect object lesson for the working of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As we use our curious gift, paying heed to its still, small voice and staying worthy through our faith and diligence to have it – we will be comforted and guided through the more ‘fertile’ areas of life and reach our desired destination. “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (1 Nephi 16:29)

However, because of the effectiveness of small and simple things, that too is how Satan works. Thomas R Rowan explained “Author and commentator Malcolm Muggeridge once told a story about some frogs who were killed without resistance by being boiled alive in the cauldron of water. Why didn’t they resist? Because when they were put in the cauldron, the water was tepid. Then the temperature was raised ever so slightly, and the water was warm, then a tiny bit warmer, then a bit warmer still, and on and on and on. The change was so gradual, almost imperceptible, that the frogs accommodated themselves to their new environment—until it was too late. The point that Mr. Muggeridge was making was not about frogs but about us and how we tend to accept evil as long as it is not a shock that is thrust on us abruptly. We are inclined to accept something morally wrong if it is only a shade more wrong than something we are already accepting.” 

This is frighteningly true. If we are ready to accept something that is only slightly wrong, we gradually become worse and worse until “the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21) The Holy Ghost is given so we can detect those movements and steer clear of them.

Not only does the Holy Ghost give guidance, it also gives comfort – hence the title ‘The Comforter’. It can give us feelings of comfort and I’m sure that even just the knowledge that we have the third member of the Godhead with us is comfort enough.

Even if we feel lost, if we are faithful to our covenants we make when receiving this gift, we will never be left comfortless. It will lead us to our just reward with our Father in Heaven. The Prophet Joseph Smith appeared to Brigham Young in a dream and told him

“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and to be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the still small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the Brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God.”

As Joseph Smith said, the Holy Ghost will not lead us astray and we will be able to recognise its influence if we are aware and listening for it. “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy sceptre an unchanging sceptre of righteousness and truth.” (D&C 121:46) As we live, earnestly striving to keep this wonderful gift effective in our lives, we will truly have a sure compass!