Learning to Love Learning

Based on a talk by Elder David A Bednar found in the February 2010 Ensign.

Life is like a laboratory – we are constantly conducting experiments and learning from the results of these tests – good or bad. Elder Bednar in his talk gives three aspects in our lives as to why it is important to love the process of this learning experience. There are different categories of students in this laboratory – those who are there, eager to learn what new concept will be addressed today, note pads ready. Unfortunately, there are also those that are there just to go through and get the grade at the end, with as little effort or learning as possible. The three aspects of our lives that learning to love learning develops are:

1. Learning to love learning is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Throughout the scriptures , we are advised and commanded to learn. We are told to ‘seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) One of the ordinances we receive as members of the Church is the confirmation – or to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This precious gift of God has many roles and purposes, but one is to facilitate learning. Numerous scriptures talk about this role of the Holy Ghost – “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) “But the Comforter…he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) are just a couple. The Gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around learning “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ…” (John 17:3) – how can we learn of God and of Jesus Christ if we do not learn? We cannot! It takes a lifetime of learning to even begin to know them, therefore we have to be learning now!

As the scripture said – the most important thing that we can learn in this life is about our Heavenly Father. There is priority to what we can learn in this life and we need to be able to discern what in life we can learn that is of eternal importance. The Apostle Paul prophesied that people in the latter-days would be “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) – there are those people who spend their time pursuing knowledge of the world (which in itself is a good thing) but sacrifice learning which will propel them to celestial glory and returning to their Heavenly Father – we need to learn and apply gospel principles to our lives.

2. Learning to love learning is vital to our ongoing spiritual and personal development

If there was a model of someone who loved to learn, it was President Brigham Young. Repeatedly, he would emphasise life being a learning experience and how important it was to learn and love doing so. Here are a couple of things he said on this topic – “The religion embraced by the Latter-day Saints, if only slightly understood, prompts them to search diligently after knowledge. There is no other people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth.”, “We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never.” (President Brigham Young). As we develop through our life, and life after, it will be hard to avoid learning, especially if we desire to make it back to dwell with our Heavenly Father! As we learn how to truly learn – we will see ourselves develop spiritually and personally. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36) – how can we expect to gain what God has gained without gleaning intelligence from this life?

3. Learning to love learning is an absolute necessity in the world in which we do now and will yet live, serve and work.

Elder Bednar remarked about how the BYU has a motto saying “”Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” This expression certainly does not imply that everything necessary for a lifetime of meaningful service can or will be obtained during a few short years of higher education…” (Elder David A Bednar). He is making the point that – although university is a place solely set aside for learning, it really is a place where people go to learn to love learning. During life, at least once, we will come across a situation or task that we haven’t faced, compelling us to learn something new to rise to the task. Elder Bednar puts this point across even further by saying “For example, the US Department of Labor estimates that today’s college graduates will have between 10 and 14 different jobs by the time they are 38 years old. And the necessary skills to perform successfully in each job assignment will constantly change and evolve.” Fortunately, in today’s world we have many resources at our fingertips to assist us in our quest to learn and to overcome life’s puzzles. However, we must be careful to not “trust in the arm of flesh,” (2 Nephi 4:34) and not remember the Lord our God. If we do that, we will become like Zeniff and his group of people. They wanted to possess the land of their forefathers and journeyed to do so. However, he records “we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.” (Mosiah 9:3). If we ever feel the world is above us in wisdom, remember these words “…if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost…They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.” (President Brigham Young).

As we learn to love learning and then use what we learn to serve diligently in the world and the Kingdom of God – we will see great blessings and treasures of knowledge.

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A Creator

Many people believe that this Earth which we live on was a random chance which occurred many years ago with which they can explain the origin of life itself.

Elder James E Talmage gave his thoughts on this perspective. “…man’s ingenuity has invented theories to illustrate…a possible sequence of events by which the earth has been brought from a state of chaos to it’s present habitable condition; but by these hypotheses this globe was once a barren sphere, on which none of the innumerable forms of life that now tenant it could have existed. The theorist therefore must admit a beginning to life on the earth, and such a beginning is explicable only on the assumption of some creative fact…” (articles of Fatith pgs 34-35).

The theories developed by man are indeed logical in many cases – however, to say that a monumental, cataclysmic event from nothing (as was once explained to me) is illogical to me. Elder Talmage also mentioned this – “we conclude that something must have existed always, for had there been a time of no existence, a period of nothingness, existence could never had begun, for from nothing, nothing can be derived.” (Articles of Faith, pg 34).

Many scientists do actually concede that there must be a greater power out in the universe and they are trying to explain how this Power caused these things to occur so perfectly. Said Alma to Korihor “…all things denote there is a God; yea even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and it’s motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44).

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1) – the Earth began with it’s creation and it was the Old Testament Jehovah, under the direction of the Father, that undertook this task. There was, and is, a Maker, an Organiser, a God. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1). Often, the problem is that we need to have the Spirit of the Lord with us to begin to build a testimony of God and His influence. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18) Because many shut their eyes from the Spirit, they cannot feel it’s light.

We do have a Heavenly Father and He, through His Son Jesus Christ, created this Earth for us to come and dwell. We can all receive this witness but we have to be ready to listen to the quiet promptings of the Spirit. We read “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:4) – one needs a broken heart and a contrite spirit to know these things, and God will provide an answer.

One by One – John 3:1-13

The next entry shared by Elder Bednar is found in John 1:1-13 where Christ meets with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. What is interesting is that this time the one is not a future Apostle but a man from a group that reviled the Saviour.

1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

In this instance, the one came to be ministered unto. What is interesting here is that Nicodemus does not actually ask a question or state his desires. He approaches the Saviour but does not say what his question is. Does this mean he doesn’t know what his query is? Maybe he did know but he didn’t want to say? Or perhaps he was going to but he did not have the chance? Whatever the reason is, Christ speaks to him next…

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Christ spoke to this one and addressed his concerns. As we minister to the one we need to know them as the Saviour knows His Father’s children. Of course we will not be able to reach this level of knowing those whom we minister to in this life but we can aim to try and know them well. As we do this, the Spirit will be able to support us to know what it may be that they need, as the Saviour knew with Nicodemus.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

What is interesting about the Saviour’s response here is that he listens to Nicodemus’s question and tries to answer it in a way where Nicodemus has to listen to the Spirit to be taught the answer. One thing that I am often suspect to is solving everyone’s problems. If I meet with someone and they have a concern, I feel like I want to solve it with them. However, once again, the Saviour’s way of ministering to the one is insightful. What is sometimes required is for us to enable to one being ministered to search the answer for themselves. We talk of self-reliance and this applies to spiritual matters and concerns as well as physical trials to overcome. The Saviour is leading Nicodemus to search the answer for himself.

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

At this stage in the ministering to Nicodemus, it is clear that he is still not understanding the Master’s guiding questions. We can draw presumptions from the context – perhaps Nicodemus is struggling to follow the guidance from the Saviour as he (along with most of the leading members of the Jewish religion at the time) are more focused on letter of the law than the Spirit and is therefore not able to comprehend the Saviour’s meaning. There could be other reasons. However, the Saviour knows our Father’s children and he provides the response that He knows Nicodemus will best respond to.

10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

Here the Saviour seems to reprimand Nicodemus about his apparent lack of understanding. To some this may seem like a harsh response. However, there is an important principle to learn again about ministering to the one. It is important that we get to know those we minister to so that we know what they best respond to. Once we do this we can truly minister effectively to the one and assist our Heavenly Father in His work.

The question may arise: how do we know that this answer was appropriate for Nicodemus? How do we know that he didn’t leave this experience bitter and became part of the large amount of religious leaders intent on causing the downfall of this self-proclaimed Saviour? The answer is that we find him in two later events of the same Gospel.

In John 7:50-52 we find him defending Jesus when others are discussing their opinions of Him:

50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)

51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?

52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

He clearly has been affected by this one-to-one experience with our Redeemer. He is trying to talk for the Lord amongst others of the Pharisees who would have him removed. Remember, this Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees so he must have been impressed by the Saviour to at least defend him. However, does this mean that he was convinced of the Saviour’s divine mission? We read of more in John 19:38-40:

38 And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.

40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

Nicodemus – a man of the Pharisees – was not only defending the Saviour but after His death, he was part of a group that secretly sought to take the crucified Lord’s body and give Him a custom burial of His people when others of their culture would not allow it. Not only this, he provided the means for this to happen with expensive spices (one of the same gifts that were brought at the time of his birth by wise men who heralded his birth as a foretold King – a coincidence?). Clearly the Saviour had ministered to this one the way that had the biggest impact. We can learn a lot from the Saviour and his personalised ministering to Nicodemus – to this one.

One by One Pattern – John 1:45-51

I have just begun to study Elder Bednar’s new book – ‘One by One’. I have only got through the first chapter so far but am finding it a great read!

Elder Bednar discusses a number of experiences that he and others have had where the Lord has directed their paths to meet with and share an edifying moment with one single individual, often when they were going about the Lord’s business to many other groups of ones. He speaks of an experience, for example, when he was repairing the roof of his home and he needed to go to the local DIY store to pick up supplies. Whilst there, he met with a man who recognised him and was able to share a great experience of talking with him for 15 minutes where they both were edified.

My plan is to discuss each scriptural section that Elder Bednar then shares in Chapter 2 which lists numerous examples from Christ’s life where he carries out His Father’s work to each individual, one by one. These were real eye-openers for me! With each of these Elder Bednar specifically doesn’t provide a commentary but allows the reader to consider the message of the verses for themselves.

The first is found in John 1:45-51 – Jesus Reveals Things to Nathanael

45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

To begin with, in verse 45 we read that Philip goes to find Nathanael after having been ministered to by the Saviour. This is the pattern from the first verse. Philip was a one and then he was invited to go and minister to other ones. Nathanael was one who needed to hear of the Lord. What was interesting here is that the phrase ‘Philip findeth Nathanael,’ seems to suggest that Nathanael was sought for purposefully. We do not know why Philip felt impressed to speak to this Israelite specifically but we can take a message from this. When we are taught by the Spirit, we must share this experience with others. However, we cannot just expect the Lord to do all the work for us, or for people to miraculously appear in front of us to share the Gospel with. We need to do our part – we have to seek and find those we can minister to as Philip did. We need to look for the one.

46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

Again, more principles of ministering to the one. Philip does not expect Nathanael to believe just in his word or testimony. He invites him to come and see. In this sense, he is inviting Nathanael to experience what he has experienced for himself.  Each one has to experience the Lord and His Gospel. It will not do to have one experience it and others to just accept it from their words. Each one must go into the baptismal waters, meet at the sacrament table, make (and keep) sacred covenants in the Temple one by one. Come and see.

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

I can see this becoming a familiar theme when the Lord Himself ministers to those in His mortal ministry. Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and knew Him. He knew His name and His character. Now, there is a level here that I haven’t considered before. In order for this observation to be made by Christ and it to be recorded at least one other must have been present to hear Him comment. This one or maybe these other ones would have been taught a valuable principle from the Saviour speaking these words. The Lord did not need to verbalise them. However, for those around Him, they learnt that He knows God’s children and who they are.

48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

And again, the Lord demonstrates His omniscient power. To any observer who knew not the Lord’s origin or motives they may be tempted to assume Christ is demonstrating His ability in order to impress. However, there is a reason why Christ felt it necessary to show His ability in this moment. He is ministering to a one. Perhaps Nathanael had a little faith or curiosity that was then fuelled by this miracle or sign that He was able to recite to Nathanael where He had been.

49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Lord then concludes this meeting with this one by testifying to him that he will see more miracles through his fledgling faith. This soon-to-be Apostle needed to be refined and taught in a relatively short space of time and the Lord was able to minister to Him as a one in a manner that enabled him to develop and grow.

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.

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.

Sword vs Word

As we consider how to strengthen ourselves and those around us, the best way to strengthen and encourage others to follow Christ can be debated and is in the scriptures. In Alma we learn of two ways how we can encourage others to turn to Christ – however, as with most things, one is a better choice.

In Alma 31, we learn that a whole community of the Nephites had left the Gospel of Christ and, as a result, the high priest, Alma, considered how best to reach out to those lost souls. In Alma 31:5 we read “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” The sword, mentioned here, is symbolic of fear or coercion – other factors not quite forcing but influencing greatly through threat to make people change. Alma believed that the word of God, teaching and testifying with the Spirit, would have a greater impact on the people of Zoram than any other means, including the sword.

As time went on in the experience, Alma went with a group of missionaries to the city to try and reach out to the Zoramites. He met with a number of people who had fallen on difficult times, not having much money and being cast out of the synagogues because of their exceeding poverty. Alma was grateful for the listening ears however recognised the reason why they were ready to receive. He said “And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved. And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.” (Alma 32 13-15) These words are clear – it is good to be converted through being compelled to be humble (by the sword) however it is better to be converted by your own choice (through the word).

However, I noticed a small distinction in the wording for those that are compelled to be humble and those that truly humble themselves. It says for those that are compelled that they ‘shall be saved’. For those that truly humble themselves it says that the same ‘shall be blessed’. There is a reason for the different wording. Could probably go into another post into what the differences between ‘saved’ and ‘blessed’ could mean – however, presuming that blessed is a greater version of ‘being saved’, this highlights how we need to make sure we are humble. Even if there is an event which compels us, we should ensure we are able to stay humble when the event has happened. Otherwise, we may find that we lose our way without other occurrences to keep us humble.