Sunday, September 24, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on understanding the true test of life

President Henry B. Eyring (born May 31, 1933) served in the Presiding Bishopric from 1985-1992, as a Seventy from 1992-1995, then was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He has served in the First Presidency since 2007.
"The restored gospel not only teaches us why we must be tested, but it makes clear to us what the test is. The Prophet Joseph Smith gave us an explanation. By revelation, he was able to record words spoken at the Creation of the world. They are about us, those of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father who would come into mortality. Here are the words:
"'And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them' (Abr. 3:25).
"That explanation helps us understand why we face trials in life. They give us the opportunity to prove ourselves faithful to God. So many things beat upon us in a lifetime that simply enduring may seem almost beyond us. That’s what the words in the scripture 'Ye must... endure to the end' (2 Ne. 31:20) seemed to mean to me when I first read them. It sounded grim, like sitting still and holding on to the arms of the chair while someone pulled out my tooth.
"It can surely seem that way to a family depending on crops when there is no rain. They may wonder, 'How long can we hold on?' It can seem that way to a youth faced with resisting the rising flood of filth and temptation. It can seem that way to a young man struggling to get the training he needs for a job to support a wife and family. It can seem that way to a person who can’t find a job or who has lost job after job as businesses close their doors. It can seem that way to a person faced with the erosion of health and physical strength which may come early or late in life for them or for those they love.
"But the test a loving God has set before us is not to see if we can endure difficulty. It is to see if we can endure it well. We pass the test by showing that we remembered Him and the commandments He gave us. And to endure well is to keep those commandments whatever the opposition, whatever the temptation, and whatever the tumult around us. We have that clear understanding because the restored gospel makes the plan of happiness so plain."
- Henry B. Eyring, "In the Strength of the Lord," General Conference, April 2004
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

We must be tested in life. That, according to President Eyring, is a fundamental premise of the gospel. But we sometimes forget what the test comprises; it was laid out by our Heavenly Father at the very creation of the world. We must be "proved" by the conditions and experiences of mortality, to verify whether we are willing to do whatever God tells us to do. That is the whole test—our willingness to obey. The hardships or challenges we suffer only modify the conditions of the test, not its purpose.

If everything in our mortal experience were straightforward and peaceful, with no difficulties or problems, it would perhaps be easier to show obedience. It seems harder to demonstrate our true commitment when we are deep in the midst of "enduring." But through our varied challenges, which seem perhaps customized according to what we individually need, we have the opportunity to pass the ultimate test again and again: will I obey in faith, regardless of circumstances or challenges?

The phrase "endure it well" was notably spoken to Joseph Smith (D&C 121:8) who was struggling through his own set of challenges; he was invited by God to continue faithful in the midst of the test. We are each asked to do the same in our personal difficulties.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on showing our love for God and Jesus

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley before becoming Church president in 2008.
"Today, the challenge which we face and must meet is not that we should go forth on the battlefield of war and lay down our lives. Rather, it is that we, on the battlefield of life, so live and serve that our lives and actions reflect a true love of God, of His Son, Jesus Christ, and of our fellowmen....
"Jesus teaches us: 'If ye love me, keep my commandments. …
"'He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.' (John 14:15, 21.)
"Years ago we danced to a popular song, the words of which were, 'It’s easy to say I love you, easy to say I’ll be true, easy to say these simple things, but prove it by the things you do.' ...
"The Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians, 'If any man love God, the same is known of him.' (1 Cor. 8:3.) The love which these faithful members have for God, for His Son, Jesus Christ, and for His everlasting gospel is confirmed by their very lives. It is reminiscent of the love demonstrated by the brother of Jared as described in the Book of Mormon. The blessings of a loving, caring, and just Heavenly Father simply could not be withheld. Faith preceded the miracle."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Those Who Love Jesus," General Conference, October 1985
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In our modern era of conflict, uncertainty, and turmoil, we might ask what our great challenges are. President Monson suggests that the external, societal challenges are not as significant to us as the choice to follow Jesus Christ in our lives and actions, expressing a true love for God and the Savior:

Truly showing that love, and not just professing it, becomes the great challenge for our lives. Do our actions demonstrate our love? Once they do, we will truly feel His love and blessings in return.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, September 22, 2017

President David O. McKay on the glorious blessing of a clear conscience

President David O. McKay (1873-1970) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1906.  He served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith beginning in 1945, then then as the president of the Church from 1951 to his death in 1970 at age 96.
"It is glorious when you can lie down at night with a clear conscience that you have done your best not to offend anyone and have injured no one. You have tried to cleanse your heart of all unrighteousness, and if you put forth precious effort you can sense as you pray to God to keep you that night that He accepts your effort. You have a sense that you are God's child, a person whose soul God wants to save. You have the strength to resist evil. You also have the realization that you have made the world better for having been in it. These and countless other virtues and conditions are all wrapped up in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
- David O. McKay, Man May Know for Himself, p. 458

What a blessing a truly clear conscience is! President McKay calls it "glorious" to get to the end of a day and know that you have done your best in every way, and to have the sense that God accepts the effort of that day:

Joseph Smith once described three things we must have in order to properly exercise faith in God. First, we must start with the belief in His existence. Then we must correctly understand His "character, perfections, and attributes." Finally, we can have faith only when we possess "an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to His will." (Lectures on Faith 3:2-5). That confidence that we are doing what is right, that we are striving to do the very best we can given our current understanding—what a precious gift it is!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Elder James E. Talmage on being purified to feel the powers of God

Elder James E. Talmage (1862-1933) was born in England. He was a brilliant scholar, trained as a geologist and mathematician. But he's perhaps best known today among Church members for his classic writings, including "Jesus the Christ," "The Articles of Faith," and "The Holy Temple." He was called as an apostle in 1911 and served until his death in 1933 at age 70.
"Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all.
"As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us."
- James E. Talmage, "Personality and Powers of the Holy Ghost," Articles of Faith, pp. 142-154
Click here to read the full chapter

Elder Talmage's scientific training and background are evident in this excerpt. In discussing the flower of electric current through a conductor, he recognizes that the "purity" of the conducting material can enhance the electrical flow. When there are impurities or filled with "obstructions" the resistance increases and the flow of current declines. But for maximum efficiency and optimized current flow, the more pure the conveying substance, the better; and the analogy of the flow of the Spirit through a purified human being makes sense:

An how do we make the "conducting substance" of our beings more pure? I like Moroni's description:  "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness..." (Moroni 10:32). The process of purifying ourselves to maximize our ability to be conductors of the spirit, so that the spiritual forces might "manifest themselves with greater intensity," involves removing all the "ungodly" impurities from our lives. This is the process of repentance.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the celestial laws of sacrifice and consecration

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (July 29, 1915–April 19, 1985) served as a Seventy from 1946-1972 when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve.  He served in that assignment until his death from cancer at age 69.
"It is written: 'He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.' (D&C 88:22.) The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so also is the law of consecration. Thus to gain that celestial reward which we so devoutly desire, we must be able to live these two laws.
"Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.
"The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.
"Joseph Smith said, 'A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.' (Lectures on Faith, p. 58.)
"We are not always called upon to live the whole law of consecration and give all of our time, talents, and means to the building up of the Lord’s earthly kingdom. Few of us are called upon to sacrifice much of what we possess, and at the moment there is only an occasional martyr in the cause of revealed religion.
"But what the scriptural account means is that to gain celestial salvation we must be able to live these laws to the full if we are called upon to do so. Implicit in this is the reality that we must in fact live them to the extent we are called upon so to do.
"How, for instance, can we establish our ability to live the full law of consecration if we do not in fact pay an honest tithing? Or how can we prove our willingness to sacrifice all things, if need be, if we do not make the small sacrifices of time and toil, or of money and means, that we are now asked to make?"
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice," General Conference, April 1975
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder McConkie describes what he calls "celestial laws" as including the principles of sacrifice and consecration. His implication is that we do not fully live those laws in our current state; but that we must be willing to do so, and demonstrate our ability to live those laws by the ways in which we demonstrate obedience to partial aspects of the law.

And so, our current financial contributions to the Lord's Kingdom demonstrate an ability and willingness to eventually live a celestial law of consecration. Our current contributions of time and efforts in participating in building the kingdom are evidence of our willingness to sacrifice whatever the Lord requires.

The great key to our obedience is the heart. When we are willing and eager to do all we can in our current state, it is evidence that we have the proper attitude that will enable us to eventually comply with a full celestial law.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

President Marion G. Romney on celestial service and self-reliance

President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) was born in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico. He was ordained an apostle in 1951 and served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1972 to 1985. After the death of President Spencer W. Kimball, President Romney was released and returned to serve in the Quorum of Twelve until his death in 1988.
"We lose our life by serving and lifting others. By so doing we experience the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.
"Knowing that service is what gives our Father in Heaven fulfillment, and knowing that we want to be where He is and as He is, why must we be commanded to serve one another? Oh, for the glorious day when these things all come naturally because of the purity of our hearts. In that day there will be no need for a commandment because we will have experienced for ourselves that we are truly happy only when we are engaged in unselfish service. Let us use the freedom which comes from self-reliance in giving and serving."
- Marion G. Romney, "The Celestial Nature of Self-reliance," General Conference, October 1982
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In past general conferences, a "welfare session" was sometimes held in addition to the regular conference sessions, during which instruction and encouragement were given related to principles of the welfare system. These remarks from President Romney were the keynote from one such session. He was one of the great teachers of these principles, and gave many addresses during his ministry on topics related to welfare.

But this one stands out in my mind. I think it's a masterful discourse, examining some of the underlying principles and doctrines of the welfare program, as they relate to our personal spiritual development. After teaching about self-reliance and its eternal significance, President Romney expanded the principle to the concept of service to others. When we become self-reliant, we are capable of blessing those around us.

This is a remarkable phrase: "Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made." It's not just a program, guideline, or recommendation. The Savior's admonition to love one another, and the baptismal covenant obligation of bearing one another's burdens, give keys to President Romney's insight. Some day, he suggests, we will discover that the only source of true happiness comes from pure, Christlike, unselfish service.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, September 18, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on light shining in darkness

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"I was at Manti, Utah, some years ago. As we came out of the Saturday night leadership meeting, there was a heavy snowstorm. As we drove to the home of the stake president, he stopped his car and turned back to the temple hill. There the lighted temple was standing majestically. We sat there in silence for a few moments, inspired by the sight of that beautiful, sacred place. He said, 'You know, Brother Lee, that temple is never more beautiful than in times of a dense fog or in times of a heavy, severe storm.'
"Just so, never is the gospel of Jesus Christ more beautiful than in times of intense need, or in times of a severe storm within us as individuals, or in times of confusion and turmoil."
- Harold B. Lee, "A Blessing for the Saints," General Conference, October 1972
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I love lessons taught with powerful analogies and imagery. President Lee's story of seeing the Manti temple shining through a snowstorm is a great example. The temple is the perfect focus for this analogy, since it's the source of so much that we find meaningful and important. Storms that would attempt to obscure it or hide its beauty only emphasize the inherent power of the structure, and all that it represents.

The extension of the analogy to the rest of the gospel provides food for thought. When we feel those times of need or challenge, especially the "intense" ones, and are surrounded by "confusion and turmoil" by the circumstances of mortality, we know we have somewhere to turn that will give us light and hope. Having a solid foundation of understanding before the "severe storm" comes makes all the difference in how we are able to draw on the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)
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