Filling Life with Light

As I was reading the Book of Mormon today there popped out a verse that seemed to have been put in there since I last read that section (that happens, right?)

It is found in Jacob 6:7 and it reads “For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?” This wonderful little verse identifies a key principle. As we go throughout life we have a days to live, hours to use the best we can. Life is a wonderful thing to live, however we need to make sure we use it wisely. How we fill our lives can have an impact on the decisions we make later on.

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes.” The more light we fill our lives with, the closer to the Saviour we will feel, the more we will feel of His Spirit and the more confident we will be when choices to sin arise to make the right choice. Not only this, but we will be able to avoid the cunning wiles of Satan, for they are not obvious or apparent at times. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained “Who is it that is deceived in this Church? Not the man who has been faithful in the discharge of duty; not the man who has made himself acquainted with the word of the Lord; not the man who has practiced the commandments given in these revelations; but the man who is not acquainted with the truth, the man who is in spiritual darkness, the man who does not comprehend and understand the principles of the Gospel.” We cannot allow ourselves to not study the word of the Lord for our lives will have an impact on it. It isn’t impossible but it is certainly more likely that we will try and do good around us if we study the words of the prophets – words that testify of Christ and His divine character; a character that we can try to pattern our lives after.

Very recently, President Thomas S. Monson, current President of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a very simple but powerful promise. He said “If you are not reading the Book of Mormon each day, please do so. If you will read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth to you…I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day.” The definition of the word ‘implore’ is “beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something” – the prophet of the Lord is begging us – all of us – to read the Book of Mormon everyday. There are many reasons for this but one of them is clear – to fill our life with more light. Please read the Book of Mormon for yourself everyday, it will fill your life with more light also.

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Independent Spiritual Learning

Today in sacrament meeting there was a focus on self-reliance, particularly on spiritual self-reliance. A few thoughts came to mind as I listened to the various messages and principles.

This story was shared from the June 2017 Ensign about seagulls who became dependent on being provided with their nourishment. It says:

“Years ago the seagulls in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, were starving. For generations the gulls had learned to depend on the shrimp fleets to feed them scraps from their nets. The shrimpers eventually moved from the area. The seagulls had not learned how to fish for themselves; nor did they teach their young how to fish. Consequently, the big, beautiful birds were dying even while there was plenty of fish all around them in the water.2

We cannot afford to become like the seagulls; nor can we let our children go through life dependent on us, or others, for their knowledge of the Lord. “Our efforts,” said President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, “must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.”3 When we become self-reliant gospel learners, we know how to feed ourselves spiritually and strengthen our relationship with God.”

We have to become self-reliant in developing our spiritual centre and also help our children and those we minister to become self-reliant in searching for their answers also. If the answers are always provided, or the things to study are only provided in a structured programme, then they will never learn to seek for answers and guidance to their own problems.

Spiritual self-reliance is something we can all aim for. It is a goal completely within our own choices and influence. Obviously it can be made more difficult from other factors but we have direct influence over whether we can strengthen our spiritual self-reliance or weaken it. It says in John 7:37-38 “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” We can come unto the Lord at any time to drink from living water through studying the scriptures, praying or many other ways – but the problem is that we need to do it as often as we can, rather than have ourselves thirst.

Of course, self-reliance doesn’t just include spiritual self-reliance, but other areas of our lives too. Elder L. Tom Perry gave an experience in the October 1991 of when he was younger and how his parents taught him a valuable lesson. Interestingly before he shared this experience he said this: “Never before in my life has the doctrine of self-reliance been more needed to be preached and encouraged for the benefit of the Saints. We live in a time of rapid change. Governments are rising and falling. Industries are blooming and then all too soon becoming obsolete. New discoveries in science are soon overshadowed by new findings. Unless we are continuously expanding our understanding and vision, we, too, will become out-of-date. Research tells us that individuals entering the labor market today will be forced to find three to five different career paths during their productive years.” This was 26 years ago! How much more relevant is this now! I heard a fact recently that of my generation (20-30 year olds), a third of us when we reach the age of 60 will still be renting accommodation rather than own our own home. Whilst this is not a direct indicator of “self-reliance”, it highlights the more and more challenging financial circumstances of the world we live in.

Anyway, Elder Perry shared this:

“My parents established a family tradition in our home which was fun for me in my early years and has become even more meaningful as I reflect back on it as the years have passed. On the first birthday of each child the family would gather in the living room. In the center of the living room floor, our parents would place articles for the one-year-old child to select. The selection to be made might indicate an interest the child would pursue in life. The articles were the Bible, a child’s bottle filled with milk, a toy, and a savings bank, filled with coins. The child was placed on one side of the room and the family on the other side. Family members would encourage the child to crawl toward the objects and make a selection. This was all in fun, of course…

Now I propose to you that in this entertaining family activity we can find the most fundamental principles of self-reliance. First, the scriptures represent our need for spiritual nourishment…

Second, the bottle filled with milk symbolizes the physical body’s need for nourishment…

Third, the toy I mentioned earlier represents the acquisition of things of the world…

Finally, the fourth item, the bank. It is a symbol of our financial well-being.”

As we consider how we can ensure we become more self-reliant, it is important that we think about these four areas. Are there any steps we can take to help us become more self-reliant in any of these areas? Some may be more challenging than others but we can make small steps in many ways.

The Hand of the Lord

In my studies recently I have been acting on an invitation from President Russell M Nelson to the Young Adults of the Church to go through the whole Standard Works and highlight things that Christ has DONE and SAID in those inspired works. This was given as an assignment from a prophet of the Lord. He said:

“I have an invitation for you that will help—it’s an assignment, actually—if you choose to accept it. Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation.”

I am up to about Genesis 44 (not quite as far as I would like to be) but already I have spotted some interesting patterns. As I have read the great accounts of the ancient prophets – Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and others – I have noticed that as these righteous covenant makers stayed true to the gospel they were taught, they were blessed. The impact of these blessings did not always come instantly. Examples were Joseph and being sold by his brothers to Egypt, Abraham and his struggles with family and being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac and also Jacob and his worry about his brother Esau seemingly advancing to exact vengeance.

The opposite is true of those who were not valiant in their testimonies or in their obedience to God’s commandments. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was such an example. He took his family and pitched their tents towards Sodom and Gomorrah despite being warned. As a result they were forced to flee their residence (out of interest, which was now in Sodom itself so they had obviously accepted living within it’s boundaries later on) and lived in misery after losing loved ones.

The lesson? The hand of the Lord is evident in the lives of those who follow the Saviour. Of course, this does not guarantee that life will be perfect. We know the rain will fall on the just and the unjust. But, the Lord will bless those in relation with the obedience they have shown. As I continue with this assignment I know I will see more examples of this. President Nelson continued:

“This may seem like a large assignment, but I encourage you to accept it. If you proceed to learn all you can about Jesus Christ, I promise you that your love for Him, and for God’s laws, will grow beyond what you currently imagine. I promise you also that your ability to turn away from sin will increase. Your desire to keep the commandments will soar. You will find yourself better able to walk away from the entertainment and entanglements of those who mock the followers of Jesus Christ….”

I encourage you to take on this challenge, there will be great blessings from it.

Understanding Isaiah – 2 Nephi 19

Verse 2 – “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” This is a nice verse which indicates how many before the coming of Christ will be in spiritual darkness. However, the light will shine on them – all of God’s children will have the light shine on them, it will be down to them whether they accept it or not.

Verse 6 – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Couldn’t go through Chapter 19 of 2 Nephi and mention this well-known verse. This is Isaiah’s well-documented prophecy of the coming forth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When Isaiah speaks he often does so ‘Messianically’, meaning he is foreshadowing the coming of the Saviour, or signifying events that will come.

Verses 12-13 – “…For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of Hosts.” The concept of the Lord’s hand not being turned away, but always being outstretched is an interesting one. The general assumption is that this verse is referring to the infinite mercy of the Lord, that He is always there ready to help and support us (and this concept is indeed true). However, I have read a deeper meaning to this elsewhere. John Gee, a Latter-day Saint and professional Egyptologist, explained, “The English sentence is constructed to say that in spite of the punishments afflicted (‘for all this’), the punishments do not satisfy the Lord’s anger (‘his anger is not turned away’).” Gee continued, “In other words, to the contrary (‘but’), the hand of the Lord is still ‘stretched out.’” Gee thus concluded, “So a stretched out hand, by any careful reading of the English, is a hand administering punishment,”3 or, at least, threatening or beginning to do so.” This is certainly a more unsettling aspect of this verse, but also just as true a concept as the previously mentioned one.

Understanding Isaiah – 2 Nephi 18

Verse 1 – “Moreover, the word of the Lord said unto me: Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen, concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” Again, this indicates the use of names and their meaning. The name used in this verse means ‘Quickened destruction’ which again links to a lot of the imagery and description in Isaiah’s verses.

Verse 12 – “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.” Again, a verse that slightly confused me initially. However, this verse is basically stating that we need to always trust in God first, that He will support us in all things. The meaning is made clearer when linked with Isaiah 31:1 “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!” The ‘confederacy’ that is mentioned by Isaiah is one that Israel wanted to make with other nations to protect themselves. Here, the Lord is inviting them to trust in Him instead and He will deliver them. For us in our lives, this can be evidenced when we trust in our own abilities or ‘in the arm of the flesh’ before the Lord.

Verse 14 – “And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” In the same way those who do not stumble over Christ and His teachings, those who are not offended will be blessed. Links to Luke 7:23 which reads “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

Verse 19-20 – “And when they shall say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter—should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead? To the law and to the testimony; and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Once again this is another reference to the Israelites needing to rely on the Lord. This chapter seems to have a very consistent theme!

Understanding Isaiah – 2 Nephi 17

Verse 3 – “Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son…” The name ‘Shearjashub’ means “remnant shall return”. This links well with Isaiah’s prophecies with the future of Israel.

Verse 7 – “Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.” This highlights the finality of the word of the Lord. We must recognise that if we submit our will to His, He will bless us ultimately with what we need. In Proverbs 21:30 we read There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” When we seek for answers to deep questions we have, we must remember the counsels and guidance of the Lord we have already received. This will help us.

Verse 14-15 – Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good.” This seems appropriate considering the time which I’m posting this. I was intrigued by the phrase here with the butter and honey. How does this relate? The butter and honey refers to the humble circumstances in which the Saviour would be born on the Earth. Because of this humble beginning and His mortal existence, our Lord and Saviour would know how to support us all in our trials and times of difficulty.

Verse 21 – “And it shall come to pass in that day, a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep;” Once again, this has links with the Assyrian destruction of the land. As a result, there was less providers to sustain and support the land. This can relate to today in numerous ways, as again was the purpose of including these prophecies in the Book of Mormon, to liken the scriptures unto us. A spiritual battle wages around for example and some will fall away. We must try and support and sustain as many around us.