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.

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How to Minister – Nephi and Lehi

Helaman 5:12, 35-47 – prison

As always in the Church, we are encouraged to serve. It is a service Church. Every person is called to the work in some capacity or another. Without the efforts of diligent saints who try to serve others then the work of the Lord would not got very far to have an effect in the lives of God’s children. We know this. However, it is very often something that is not done well. One only needs to look at the number of home teaching visits done by brethren of the Church as just an example. We are always asking this question: how can we encourage more to minister? However, I think there is another question we should be asking as well: how can we get more to minister more effectively?

To consider this I want to look briefly at an experience related in Helaman, focusing on Nephi and Lehi. First, we need to ensure we are firm on a foundation built on Christ as they were. The well-known verse reads “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12) As we continue through our mortal lives, we do not know the challenges we will face but if we build our lives on Christ He will guide us through. If we can do this, then we will be in a much better position to support others and minister to them.

We can then learn about the importance of ministering when we look at an experience found after this important verse. Moving on, after this wise counsel, Nephi and Lehi found themselves imprisoned for their beliefs and sentenced to death. However, the Lamanite who were going to carry out the sentence came across a life-changing scene. The Nephite prisoners were indeed there but encircled, seemingly, by fire and unharmed. Whilst they were trying to take in this inexplicable scene, the Lamanites then experienced more bewilderment as they were covered by an impenetrable mist which they could not see beyond.

As the situation grew ever more bleak, one member of their group, an ex-Nephite called Aminadab remembered what he had been taught:

“35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.” (Helaman 5:35-36)

This previous member of the Church saw examples shining through the darkness of ministers who had their focus heavenward. As we consider how to reach out to those around us, we should never underestimate the Spirit which emanates from those who live the Gospel and try to be the best they can be – aiming towards their Heavenly Father. What will happen, if we do this well to those who are ready to change their lives, is that they will remember feelings and promises (covenants) they have made in the past which would enable them to feel the security and comfort they see from those who are living those covenants. Aminadab felt this as the experience continues:

“37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.” (Helaman 5:37)

He, the lost soul, then reached out to others around him and encouraged others to look toward the ministers. They then used their agency to turn and look. We must remember as we minister to encourage all to ‘turn and look’. We can’t hope to inspire others to change if we do not invite them to do so. The experience continues:

“38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.” (Helaman 5:38-39)

Naturally, questions came – as we support, teach and minister we must equip those we teach to be ready to answer questions about their faith. We can teach them and help them to feel the Spirit all we want but they must be taught how the Gospel is relevant to their lives and that people will also want to find out more. In this experience, Aminadab knew the answer but we must prepare those we teach to know that sometimes they may not know the answer – and that’s ok.

“40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.” (Helaman 5:40-45)

As the Lamanites followed the advice of the convert-turned lost sheep-turned minister, they also felt the converting power of the Lord’s embrace.

Blessings of Ministering

My wife loves animals, has studied Conservation and Zoo Biology at University and currently is in employment working with animals and teaching others about animals. It’s because of this frequent interaction with animals (having gone to a zoo or aquarium pretty much every holiday we’ve been on, including our honeymoon) that I have come to think about this topic in this way… 

In the animal kingdom there have been studies into natural altruism between animals. Altruism, as defined by behavioural psychologists, is an incident where someone or some creature performs an action for another without any benefit. For example, wolves have been studied saving meat acquired from a hunt for other adult wolves that were not present for the hunt. Ravens have been spotted calling other ravens to a feast they have come across. Walruses have even been seen adopting a younger walrus whose parents have been caught by a predator. In all these incidents, the giver does not receive any return from that act – it is an altruistic act. Even if the person or animal does the deed with no thought for reward or gain, if they do receive a reward, it is not a completely altruistic act according to behavioural psychologists.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that there are no completely altruistic acts.

Let me explain. When we serve (or minister) in this great work of salvation, we receive blessings. Of course, those blessings should never be our main motivator – nevertheless, we will receive blessings.

There are three areas in our lives that ministering to others has blessed me personally in, and can bless all of us if we elect to serve God with all our heart, might, mind and strength.

Me (The Giver)

As mentioned, there are a great number of individual blessings available to the soul who gives up, sacrifices, their time for the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth. I will focus on the ultimate blessing we will receive – for we receive an outpouring of blessings – as we fulfil our covenant we make at baptism to ‘take upon ourselves the name of Christ’.

What does taking upon ourselves the name of Christ have to do with ministering? Everything! Christ was the ultimate Minister – He Himself said:

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

As such, when we promise and make the assurance we will be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, we declare we intend to become like Him. Therefore, we MUST minister!

I wish to illustrate this briefly with a parable by the Master Teacher – the Parable of the Talents. This parable applies directly to this principle. We can recognise the Master in the Parable as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are the servants. If we are not slothful but minister as the Saviour expects us to we produce results, or fruits (in the case of the parable, talents). Now, this is not to say that in order to be a successful minister we have to double the attendance in our Quorum, or double the number of people going to the Temple to worship – although that would be marvellous. The result of our efforts could simply be ourselves coming closer to the Lord and developing our own talents. When the two servants who received their talents, worked and were successful – note the response of their Master (imagine our Lord saying this to you):

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)

Notice the difference between the servant’s status before and after his work (or ministering). Before, he simply owned the talents for a season (or in our case this represents what we do with our time, talents, possessions etc. on the Earth) but then, he was made a ruler over many things – he became the owner, he gained dominion – what does this represent for us. It is eternal life, the greatest of all gifts of God (see D&C 14:7).

Marriage

I love my wife eternally. There is no one who I would rather spend time with. She is my eternal companion, the spectacular mother of our children and my best friend. However, when I minister as an Elders Quorum President, that takes away time I get to spend with her. So, how can ministering in the Kingdom possibly strengthen my marriage, or indeed any marriages of devout members who minister?

Allow me to illustrate this, this time with an example from our own marriage. Early on in our marriage I was serving as the Young Men’s President in our Ward whilst my wife was serving as the Primary President in our Ward (…we didn’t have any young children demanding our time at this point as you may have guessed). As such, we were required to be ministering in either calling most evenings in the week. On top of this Chrissie was working through her final year of University while I was adapting to my first year of University. For a young couple who had only recently been married a few months before, surely this demand on our time would not be a benefit to us in strengthening our marriage? However, it was. As my wife and I came away from our ministering to our home, we were filled with the Spirit. We supported each other in our calls and we saw each other grow and develop.

Even now with two young children, we are finding ways of ministering together. This recently has been accomplished mainly through our Family History efforts  – over the past two weeks my dear wife has discovered 62 individuals who have been submitted for baptism (I can’t help but praise her at every opportunity). Through this ministering we have found our marriage relationship enhanced – I firmly believe and testify that as couples find ways to serve and minister they are blessed. It may be difficult, but for now, and the eternities, it will strengthen your relationship and increase your happiness as you invite the third companion of your marriage through your service – Jesus Christ.

Family

Finally, ministering in the Gospel can strengthen your family. Again, some might question this considering that ministering takes you away from your family. When I leave my two children, how am I strengthening my relationship with them? However, as with marriage relationships, family relationships can be strengthened.

The scriptures are brimming with examples of this – Lehi->Nephi (I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father… 1 Nephi 2:16), Abraham->Isaac (Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Genesis 22:9), Jacob->Enos (the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. Enos 1:3) and many more!

I, however, could not make mention of being examples of ministering without mentioning my upbringing. My Dad served as a Stake President between when I was the age of 11 and 21 – the formative years of my Gospel life for me personally. Let me say this now – there were not many evenings I got to see my Dad: Monday was FHE (good), Tuesday meant Stake Councils in some form or another, on Wednesday my brother and I were at Youth and Dad was the Taxi service, Thursday’s were Institute and Interviews night, Fridays and Saturdays depended very much on the week (sometimes there were activities or Stake events that required attendance) and Sundays probably one in four Sundays Dad would be home in the evening (after being out at 7am in the morning and returning home at around 3pm…and the one Sunday evening a month I would be at a Youth Fireside)…

However, my Dad remains to this day as one of my inspirations in my life. Why? I barely got to see him at home…there can be only one answer – his example as a disciple of Christ. Notice I did not say “his example as a Stake President, or a Priesthood Leader, or even as a very busy man”. It was not his calling that inspired me, but his willingness to serve and minister. In his case, it just so happened to be as a Stake President. But for anyone, it may be a case of being a dedicated home teacher for a family who a struggling to be self-reliant spiritually. Your calling does not affect the impact you can have on your family; you have to simply be an example. Ministering to others (in whatever shape or form we do) strengthens our family. As mentioned in the scriptural examples, it is  the example we set of a disciple of Christ, and seeing the joy it brings us.

Serving for the love of Service

This is linked with Mosiah 2:17 which says “…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” We are fortunate enough in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be given the opportunities to serve others and, therefore, serve God.

Elder Antoine R. Ivins spoke in the October 1948 General Conference on this matter, saying:
“I would like to be able to say that I always serve for the sheer love of service. I don’t know whether I can honestly say that or not, but I hope I can. I would like to suggest that all of us who serve, serve for the same motive, out of the sheer joy and love of service. I would that every man who accepts a responsibility…would accept it because of the opportunity for service which it offers him; Not be a good bishop, that when the stake is reorganised he may become the president of the stake, because if he serves with that motive, there is very likely to be a day of disappointment for him, but if he serves because he loves to…then whether things come or not, he is never disappointed.”

I love this quote because it really outlines why we should give service. However, it also makes me think of how indebted we are for the greatest service ever given, that was given by our Saviour. He didn’t perform the Atonement for His sins – He didn’t have any! Neither did he do it for glory – He gave that glory to the Father (see Moses 4:2). He did His great work because He loves us. No matter what service we give back to the Saviour, we still “…would be unprofitable servants…” (Mosiah 2:21)

As I went on my two year mission for His Church, one of the many reasons I went was so that I might be able to pay the Lord back, at least a fraction, of what He did for me – simply because of how grateful I was for what He did. Since then, I have served (and am currently serving) in callings which I hoped would go towards paying back my Saviour. And then I came across this quote by President Brigham Young which blew that theory out of the water! He said:
“I would not give the ashes of rye straw for the man who feels that he is making sacrifice for God.  We are doing this for our own happiness, welfare and exaltation, and for nobody else’s.”
Humbling words. In the end, no matter what we give and sacrifice, we can’t repay our debt to the Lord. Even if there was some way, the Lord pours out more blessings to us as we sacrifice, so even then our debt just keeps on getting greater!

In conclusion, we are told some relieving news by King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:22 “…all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments…therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.” The Lord is happy with our efforts as long as we strive to do our best – as long as we recognise truly that without Him, we would always fall short.