Monday, May 22, 2017

Elder Robert D. Hales on personal conversion and service to others

Elder Robert D. Hales (born August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"Knowing the truth and gaining a testimony strengthen us to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life. As testimony grows, we become more and more converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we follow Him, we commit ourselves to serve Him by serving others....
"Conversion requires consecrating our lives to caring for and serving others who need our help and to sharing our gifts and talents. The Lord didn't say tend my sheep when it is convenient, watch my sheep when you aren't busy. He said feed my sheep and my lambs; help them survive this world, keep them close to you. Lead them to safety—the safety of righteous choices that will prepare them for eternal life."
- Robert D. Hales, "When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren," Ensign, May 1997, p. 82
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Gaining a testimony and growing towards conversion are key steps in our spiritual progress in this life. A key part of the discipleship that accompanies conversion, according to Elder Hales, is the commitment to serve God by serving others. Those who are converted "consecrate" their lives to service of others. The word "consecrate" means to make sacred, and truly a life is made sacred through service.

The service of a converted soul is sincere, unselfish, and sacrificing. We don't serve only when it's convenient. We strive always to help one another "survive this world" and prepare for a better one. Ultimately, the only way our own soul can truly progress is to bring others along that path towards eternal life.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on heavenly help for the challenges of our time

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940) served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1976-1980, as the president of BYU from 1980-1989, as a Seventy from 1989-1994, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1994.
"In the course of life all of us spend time in 'dark and dreary' places, wildernesses, circumstances of sorrow or fear or discouragement. Our present day is filled with global distress over financial crises, energy problems, terrorist attacks, and natural calamities. These translate into individual and family concerns not only about homes in which to live and food available to eat but also about the ultimate safety and well-being of our children and the latter-day prophecies about our planet. More serious than these—and sometimes related to them—are matters of ethical, moral, and spiritual decay seen in populations large and small, at home and abroad. But I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets, and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself....
"I ask everyone within the sound of my voice to take heart, be filled with faith, and remember the Lord has said He 'would fight [our] battles, [our] children's battles, and [the battles of our] children's children' (D&C 98:37, emphasis added). And what do we do to merit such a defense? We are to 'search diligently, pray always, and be believing[. Then] all things shall work together for [our] good, if [we] walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted' (D&C 90:24). The latter days are not a time to fear and tremble. They are a time to be believing and remember our covenants."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Ministry of Angels," Ensign, Nov 2008, 29-31
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Holland spoke of Lehi's experience of being in a "dark and dreary waste" and finding help and comfort as an angel came to lead him "to safety and ultimately to the path of salvation." He likened that to our time and situation; we often seem to be in "dark and dreary" times in our lives as the world's circumstances bring discouragement or fear. Those times are a necessary part of mortality; we should not be surprised when they come. And we should not be overly discouraged. Gratefully, we are not forsaken; angels are still sent to guide and minister.

So we should "take courage" and have faith that we do not need to struggle alone in the world's challenges. To merit the help promised by God, Elder Holland reminds us of the admonition to "search diligently, pray always, and be believing"—and when we have done our part, we can be assured the the promised angels will be at our side to sustain and protect us.

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

President Spencer W. Kimball on working towards personal change and perfection

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"There are those today who say that man is the result of his environment and cannot rise above it. Those who justify mediocrity, failure, and even weakness and criminality are certainly misguided. Surely the environmental conditions found in childhood and youth are an influence of power. But the fact remains that every normal soul has its free agency and the power to row against the current and to lift himself to new planes of activity and thought and development. Man can transform himself. Man must transform himself....
"Self-mastery, then, is the key, and every person should study his own life, his own desires and wants and cravings, and bring them under control.
"Man can transform himself and he must. Man has in himself the seeds of godhood, which can germinate and grow and develop. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself by his very bootstraps from the plane on which he finds himself to the plane on which he should be. It may be a long, hard lift with many obstacles, but it is a real possibility....
"As we have stated before, the way to perfection seems to be a changing of one's life—to substitute the good for the evil in every case. Changes can come best if we take one item at a time. For instance, it's not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect. It is not difficult to become perfect in avoiding a swearing habit, for if one locks his mouth against all words of cursing, he is en route to perfection in that matter. If one studies the scriptures with all reasonable devotion, he has approached the perfection in that matter also."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Be Ye Therefore Perfect," BYU Devotional, September 17, 1974
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

"That's how I am, and I can't help it." I've heard those words spoken, and probably have thought them about myself on occasion. We are tempted to "justify mediocrity" and shortcomings by blaming our inherent nature or character, or pointing to patterns developed in our upbringing. And President Kimball acknowledges that "environmental conditions" impact who we are; but he rejects the idea that we can't change or overcome those tendencies. We can, we must, transform ourselves, lifting above the limitations we imagine are there.

So one key suggestion he offers is for each person to "study his own life, his own desires and wants and cravings, and bring them under control." Sincere personal evaluation will identify tendencies or character traits that might not be appropriate; we can then work to change the direction and achieve self-mastery. This is a process that should be ongoing throughout our lives!

Perfection will only come through change—learning to "substitute the good for the evil in every case." President Kimball finds strength in doing those changes one at a time; gradual and continual progress will, over time, bring about the transformation we all seek, and keep us moving along the road to perfection.

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on facing life with good cheer

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"The Lord knows our bearing capacity, both as to coping and to comprehending, and He will not give us more to bear than we can manage at the moment, though to us it may seem otherwise. (See D&C 50:40; D&C 78:18.) Just as no temptations will come to us from which we cannot escape or which we cannot bear, we will not be given more trials than we can sustain. (See 1 Cor. 10:13.)
"Therefore... can we not 'be of good cheer' in spite of stress and circumstance?
"President Brigham Young said of a geographical destination, 'This is the place.' Of God's plan of salvation, with its developmental destination, it can be said, 'This is the process.'
"President Young, who knew something about trial and tribulation but also of man's high destiny, said that the Lord lets us pass through these experiences that we might become true friends of God. By developing our individual capacities, wisely exercising our agency, and trusting God—including when we feel forsaken and alone—then we can, said President Young, learn to be 'righteous in the dark.' (Secretary's Journal, 28 Jan. 1857.) The gospel glow we see radiating from some—amid dark difficulties—comes from illuminated individuals who are 'of good cheer'!"
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Be of Good Cheer," Ensign, November 1982, pp. 66-68
Click here to read or watch the full talk

The Savior's admonition to "be of good cheer" appears several times in the New Testament (e.g., John 16:33, Matt. 9:2, Mark 6:50) and was repeated several times in modern scripture as well (e.g., D&C 68:6, D&C 78:18). Clearly it's a message that is timeless and applicable to all. If we truly understand God's plan for us and His love for us, there is no reason we should not be of good cheer.

At times when we feel burdened with challenges and problems, we may struggle to maintain the "good cheer." Elder Maxwell reminds us to keep the perspective that "the Lord knows our bearing capacity." Any trial we encounter is within our ability to endure, and will surely pass in due time.

I love the insights from the Brigham Young quotes. First, adding to Brigham's concept of "This is the place," our awareness of "this is the process" will help us to keep a beneficial perspective. And then this thought is also very insightful:

Two phrases from this reference stick out for me. First, through our "trials and tribulations" we can "become true friends of God." What a powerful designation, one to be earnestly sought and treasured.

Learning to be "righteous in the dark" is also an intriguing concept. The dark could include the times of challenge and trial; but also when, for various reasons, we're less able to feel spiritual help and support. At those times, our righteousness must be deeply ingrained, and not superficial. That kind of faith comes from trusting God even when we feel "forsaken and alone."

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on finding specific answers in the scriptures

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"The scriptures can also help us obtain answers to highly specific personal questions. It is obvious, of course, that the scriptures do not contain a comprehensive list of specific answers to every question we could ask about a particular subject. The scriptures are not like a telephone book or an encyclopedia.
"We often hear it said that the scriptures have the answers to all of our questions. Why is this so? It is not that the scriptures contain a specific answer to every question—even to every doctrinal question. We have continuing revelation in our Church because the scriptures do not have a specific answer to every possible question. We say that the scriptures contain the answers to every question because the scriptures can lead us to every answer.
"...The reading of the scriptures will help us obtain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will also put us in a position where we can obtain inspiration to answer any doctrinal or personal question, whether or not that question directly concerns the subject we are studying in the scriptures. That is a grand truth not understood by many. To state it again, even though the scriptures contain no words to answer our specific personal question, a prayerful study of the scriptures will help us obtain such answers. This is because scripture study will make us susceptible to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which, as the scriptures say, will 'guide [us] into all truth' (John 16:13), and by whose power we can 'know the truth of all things' (Moroni 10:5).
"We may also find that a specific verse of scripture that was spoken for quite a different purpose in an entirely different age will, under the interpretive influence of the Holy Ghost, give us a very personal message adapted to our personal needs today."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Studying the Scriptures," Unpublished Thanksgiving Devotional, CES Address, November 24, 1985, pp. 19-21; quoted in CES manual "Scripture Study: The Power of the Word" chapter 14.

We often talk about finding answers to our questions in the scriptures. However, as Elder Oaks points out, the scriptures and not a question-and-answer manual or a comprehensive encyclopedia of the various issues we might confront. But yet, he states we can find answers to "highly specific personal questions." The key lies in the statement that "the scriptures can lead us to every answer" by providing the setting and opportunity for inspiration:

So we will find that "scripture study will make us susceptible to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost" in ways that we would not be otherwise. As we immerse ourselves in study, we open our hearts and minds to inspiration in ways that allow the Holy Ghost to speak to us about the concerns we have, often giving us "a very personal message adapted to our personal needs today."

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on walking in light through wise choices

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.
"When you were confirmed a member of the Church, you were given the right to have the Holy Ghost as your companion. The Holy Ghost is a powerful source of light to recognize truth, to follow and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and to find your way back to God after this life.
"But the spirit who led the rebellion in the world before still opposes the plan and wants you to be miserable. He wants you never to find your way home again. That enemy of your soul knows you and your goodness. He knows that if he can turn you away from walking in the light, he can both capture you and stop you from helping others along the journey. He knows how good you are and your power to teach and influence hundreds of Heavenly Father’s children in this life—and thousands over the generations that will follow your path. If he can get you to wander away from the light on your journey, he can do harm and bring misery to many.
"The fact that you are listening now is evidence that God recognizes your great importance and that you have chosen to walk in the light He offers you. Such choices are not always easy to see clearly. You make choices every day and almost every hour that keep you walking in the light or moving away toward darkness. Some of the most important choices are about what you set your heart upon.
"There are so many things you may consider desirable. For instance, all of us want, to some degree, the approval of other people. All of us feel a need for friends. All of us are searching for some evidence that we are persons of worth. We make choices based on those desires. Some might lead us away from the light God offers us as a guide. Some may brighten that light by which we can find our way."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Walk in the Light," General Conference, April 2008
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Eyring delivered these remarks as part of the General Young Women Meeting held in connection with the April 2008 General Conference. His remarks were very encouraging to the young women, helping give them perspective of who they are and who they have the potential to be. Though they (and all of us) are in the midst of conflict with an adversary who "wants [us] to be miserable" and knows the impact of turning us from the path of truth, we can be assured there are other forces fighting to keep us on the right path and in the right light.

So it comes down to the choices we make each day, each hour—will we set our hearts upon the things that keep us walking in light?

With the help of the Holy Ghost, with the encouragement of good friends, with the strength that comes from God—we know we can find our way through the challenges of the world.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on having faith in dealing with life's turmoil

President Russell M. Nelson (b. Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"We live in a time of turmoil. Earthquakes and tsunamis wreak devastation, governments collapse, economic stresses are severe, the family is under attack, and divorce rates are rising. We have great cause for concern. But we do not need to let our fears displace our faith. We can combat those fears by strengthening our faith.
"Start with your children. You parents bear the primary responsibility to strengthen their faith. Let them feel your faith, even when sore trials come upon you. Let your faith be focused on our loving Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Teach that faith with deep conviction. Teach each precious boy or girl that he or she is a child of God, created in His image, with a sacred purpose and potential. Each is born with challenges to overcome and faith to be developed....
"How you deal with life's trials is part of the development of your faith. Strength comes when you remember that you have a divine nature, an inheritance of infinite worth. The Lord has reminded you, your children, and your grandchildren that you are lawful heirs, that you have been reserved in heaven for your specific time and place to be born, to grow and become His standard bearers and covenant people. As you walk in the Lord's path of righteousness, you will be blessed to continue in His goodness and be a light and a savior unto His people (see D&C 86:8-11).
"Available to each of you brethren and sisters are blessings obtained through the power of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood. These blessings can change the circumstances of your lives, in matters such as health, companionship of the Holy Ghost, personal relationships, and opportunities for the future. The power and authority of this priesthood holds the keys to all spiritual blessings of the Church (D&C 107:18). And most remarkably, the Lord has declared that He will sustain those blessings, according to His will (D&C 132:47, 59)."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Face the Future with Faith," Ensign, May 2011, pp. 34-36
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The world "turmoil" is a vivid and descriptive one. It conveys a sense of great uncertainty, disturbance, trouble, or confusion. President Nelson lists examples of the kinds of situations, both natural and man-made, that can create those feelings of desperation.

Instead of fear and uncertainty, President Nelson teaches us to respond to turmoil with faith. I love the statement, "Strength comes when you remember that you have a divine nature, an inheritance of infinite worth." Regardless what the world throws at us, a person of faith remembers always that he is a child of God bearing those seeds of divinity; and that regardless of what the temporary situation might be, there are promises of an eventual inheritance of unimagined peace and blessings. A disciple who "walk[s] in the  Lord's path of righteousness... will be blessed to continue in His goodness" regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

Those who begin to understand this alternative to fear and uncertainty are asked to teach and inspire others—particularly children. They need examples around them of individuals who confront challenges with faith and conviction. And we also have the responsibility to be a light to the world.

Finally, we should remember that the Priesthood has power to bless and strengthen as we strive to overcome challenges in life. Those blessings can "change the circumstances of your lives" in very real ways!

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