That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me

 

Don’t we deserve it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Is Life Fair?

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

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

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

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

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

Elder Renlund went on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we stay true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Fully Benefitting From the Sacrament

If you were to stop anyone on the street and ask them what the MOST important regular event of their week was, what might they say? Some may highlight a sporting event as that special time; some may quite justifiably say a particular evening they spend with friends or family (whether that be in the home, pub or other place). Some may say the weekend is their highlight of the week and some may not be able to answer this question at all. Now, what time to you in the week is most important?

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there should be one clear answer in our minds. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated – “In my judgment the sacrament meeting is the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church. When I reflect upon the gathering of the Savior and his apostles on that memorable night when he introduced the sacrament; when I think of that solemn occasion my heart is filled with wonderment and my feelings are touched. I consider that gathering one of the most solemn and wonderful since the beginning of time.” Since the beginning of time – do we recognise the importance of that? Should our sacrament meetings not emulate that moment, just as we try to emulate the Saviour through this life-saving ordinance? I use the term ‘life-saving’ because, even though it is not an ordinance in which we MAKE covenants, it is an ordinance in which we RENEW covenants – covenants which, at some point, we ALL break due to our mortal nature.

In order to investigate how we can benefit more fully from the sacrament I want to do this using one of my favourite hymns in our Hymnbook – one of the most beautiful pieces – #185 Reverently and Meekly Now. The reason why I love this hymn is obviously it is deep and meaningful being a hymn that is sung as the holy ordinance of the sacrament is being prepared in front of the congregation. Another, more moving, reason I admire this hymn is the way in which the author of the lyrics has written them as if the Saviour is addressing us, the individual approaching Him through the sacrament. The language is loving, expressive and helps us begin to understand how our Saviour loved us so much that He made this plan possible.Each verse highlights a key principle in how we can make the sacrament a more holy experience:

  1. Rev’rently and meekly now,

Let thy head most humbly bow.

Think of me, thou ransomed one;

Think what I for thee have done.

With my blood that dripped like rain,

Sweat in agony of pain,

With my body on the tree

I have ransomed even thee.

The sacrament should be one of the most spiritual experiences of our week because it is one of the times when we are closest to the Saviour in an average week – we literally touch the emblems of His Atonement. In Luke 22:19 we read And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” It is ‘meant’ to be the time in the week where we reflect on the Saviour and His Atoning sacrifice. In order to receive the full blessings of the Atonement the sacrament is vital! How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Reverence – treat it with the reverence and sense of worship that this holy ordinance demands.

Of course, it may be difficult for some – particularly those with…energetic children (trust me, I know) – however, it is possible as we prepare ourselves for the sacrament effectively. President Joseph Fielding Smith recounted: “I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings. I have seen two members of the Church sitting together [in sacrament meeting], enter into a conversation, stop long enough for the blessing to be asked on the water or on the bread, then start again on their conversation. … That is shocking to me, and I am sure it is to the Lord.”

How can we fully benefit? Reverence…

  1. In this bread now blest for thee,

Emblem of my body see;

In this water or this wine,

Emblem of my blood divine.

Oh, remember what was done

That the sinner might be won.

On the cross of Calvary

I have suffered death for thee.

The principle of the sacrament, as well as being a literal renewal of ALL our covenants, is based on the principle of remembrance. Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the General Primary Presidency said this:As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance. This means that we will constantly look to the Savior’s example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts.” Further, 3 Nephi 18:7 says “And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Remember. Remember during the ordinance. Remember during the week. Remember every day of our lives – for that is what we promise ‘that we will always remember him’!

How can we fully benefit? Reverence, Remember at all times…

  1. Bid thine heart all strife to cease;

With thy brethren be at peace.

Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be

E’en forgiven now by me.

In the solemn faith of prayer

Cast upon me all thy care,

And my Spirit’s grace shall be

Like a fountain unto thee.

Another principle is found in a well-known scripture. We read in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our Saviour, through His Atonement and therefore the sacrament ordinance, to cast upon Him all our care. As we do this his grace will flow to us. This is shown in 3 Nephi 18:9 “And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.” This filling spoken of is the power of the Atonement of Christ relieving us and helping us find personal peace as spoken by Elder David A Bednar in his recent publication ‘Power to Become’.

How do we fully benefit from the sacrament? Relieve – relieve yourself from your cares through the sacrament ordinance – this is one principle that for me personally is a life-saver!

Reverence, Remember, Relieve all our cares to the Lord, and His grace will make up the rest…

  1. At the throne I intercede;

For thee ever do I plead.

I have loved thee as thy friend,

With a love that cannot end.

Be obedient, I implore,

Prayerful, watchful evermore,

And be constant unto me,

That thy Savior I may be.

We have looked at the doctrine and principles behind the sacrament, so how are we to physically act to fully benefit from the sacrament?

As it says in the sacrament prayer – ‘and keep his commandments’ – as we renew our covenants through the sacrament – we should leave the meeting with a renewed desire to live a life of a disciple of Christ, one who is willing to take upon them the name of Christ.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Renew – not just our covenants but renew ourselves in mind, word and deed.

These four things – Reverence, Remember, Relieve and Renew WILL help us benefit from the sacrament!

Communion through the Sacrament

As has been stated a number of times recently by General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the weekly sacrament meeting is considered to be one of the most sacred, important and potentially life-changing meetings conducted in the Church. On my mission, I still did not appreciate how this was so until studying 3 Nephi 18. I still probably don’t fully understand but I have some more thoughts now…

The first thing I noticed is the use of the phrase ‘filled’ in 3 Nephi 18. For example: “And it came to pass that they did…drink of it and were filled…” (3 Nephi 18:9). Of course, this isn’t referring to a physical filling – the Nephites were being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, something we can feel if we partake of the sacrament in the way it’s meant to be. This sheds some light on what Christ meant when He told the Samaritan woman “…whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst…” (John 4:14). Christ was speaking of a spiritual fulfillment – a filling of the Spirit which, if we stay worthy of it, will never leave us. As we prepare for the sacrament each Sunday, we can receive this filling. But do we?

President David O. Mckay taught there are “…three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament.” He continued by saying ” The first is self-discernment…we should partake worthily, each one examining himself…” We should not be surprised if when partaking of the sacrament we do not feel a spiritual filling or satisfaction if we have not fully repented or confessed to the Lord our recognition of our faults in the week. This applies to all transgressions, even ones we may consider ‘smaller’ or less significant; sin is sin. If we pray to the Lord consistently through the week to ask for forgiveness then it should be no surprise that when the culmination of this repentance process happens (the sacrament – the renewal) then we will feel the Spirit more strongly.

“Secondly, there is a covenant made…” – remember how important that statement is. We are make a two way promise (or rather, renewing all our promises ever made with God) when we partake of the sacrament. That is not something to be taken lightly. Of course, we will fail to fully live up to all our covenants, but that is why the sacrament is a weekly event. And this is when we start to see how vital to our spiritual strength the sacrament should be.

However, the third fundamental principle of the sacrament stood out most to me. “Thirdly…a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord.” What an experience that could be – to commune with the Lord! “Let us make that sacrament hour one of the most impressive means of coming in contact with God’s spirit. Let the Holy Ghost…lead us into his presence, and may we sense that nearness…” In Catholicism, there is an event in a Catholic’s regular worship called The Holy Communion. I have attended a Communion and it is similar in principle to our sacrament – both of course based on the Lord’s Last Supper. Whilst we have a number of differences in belief and practice, I do like the name that Catholicism has chosen for this event. Through the sacrament, we can (we should) come closest to communing with God in those precious moments. Picture the sacrament ordinance for a moment (remembering as well it is a sacred ordinance, officiated by priesthood authority). The emblems carried in the trays are symbolic – emblems, even – of Christ’s body and blood. When we partake of the sacrament, we are mirroring the Nephites who came forward in 3 Nephi 11 and felt the prints of the nails in His hand. Whilst in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we don’t believe these emblems metamorphisise into Christ’s actual flesh and blood, we do believe they are partaken as a representation of His body and blood.

I have occasionally wondered what it would have been like to be present when the Nephites had the opportunity to go (one-by-one) and partake in feeling Christ’s sacrifice. Now I realise I don’t have to. I should know what spiritual filling they received IF I partake of the sacrament worthily, recognising the covenants I am renewing and trying to break to the veil to commune with my Father in Heaven. Will this happen every week? Probably not (particularly with my 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter). However, it CAN happen and how complete would our life be if we could sense that presence and renewal to it’s fullest extent each and every Sabbath? That, is why the sacrament is so important!