Sunday, January 23, 2022

President Russell M. Nelson on finding joy in any circumstance

President Russell M. Nelson (born 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 became president of that quorum on July 15, 2015. Following the death of President Monson, he was set apart as president of the Church on January 14, 2018.
"Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind. Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us. Yet we are here to have joy?
"Yes! The answer is a resounding yes! But how is that possible? And what must we do to claim the joy that Heavenly Father has in store for us? ...
"The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.
"When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation... and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, 'Joy to the world, the Lord is come.' And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy! ...
"Just as the Savior offers peace that 'passeth all understanding' (Philippians 4:7), He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our 'afflictions shall be but a small moment' (D&C 121:7) and be consecrated to our gain (see 2 Ne 2:2)."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Joy and Spiritual Survival," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

President Nelson has a joyful countenance. For a man who is 97 years old, he always looks and acts remarkably optimistic and upbeat. In this wonderful talk, he shared thoughts about living with joy regardless of the circumstances that surround us. I love his testimony that we can truly find joy, even in times of "distress, anguish, and despair" as those challenges come to each of us in life.

The grand key to finding joy lies in this beautiful statement: "The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives." When the focus is on the Savior and on His love for us, we truly can find and feel His joy in any circumstance.

And what the Savior offers to us has "an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension." Why would we not make every effort to claim that profound promise?

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
October 12, 2016

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on living with faith in God

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940 - 76 years ago today!) 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.
"I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives. So a more theological way to talk about Lot's wife is to say that she did not have faith. She doubted the Lord's ability to give her something better than she already had. Apparently she thought—fatally, as it turned out—that nothing that lay ahead could possibly be as good as those moments she was leaving behind....
"To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now; to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future; to miss the here-and-now-and-tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there-and-then-and-yesterday—these are some of the sins, if we may call them that, of ... Lot's wife."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Remember Lot's Wife," BYU Devotional, 13 January 2009
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This is, for me, one of the most memorable of Elder Holland's many remarkable speeches. In addressing an assembly of BYU students, he spoke about what he identified as the second shortest verse in all the scriptures: "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). He explained that in the original story in Genesis 19, when Lot's family is fleeing God's destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, his wife disobeyed the Lord's instruction to "look not behind thee;" but her greater problem was that in her heart, she wanted to be back in Sodom enjoying the pleasures of the city. At least one aspect of the sin she committed was to doubt that God could give her something better than what she had already experienced. A parallel danger is to focus too much on the trials and hardships, forgetting the promises of "good things to come."

Faith in God reminds us to look forward, not backward. It is anticipation and expectation of the good to come, trusting in God's promises and the ultimate deliverance He will provide. We must remember, as Elder Holland emphasized on another occasion, that He truly is the “high priest of good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11).

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
December 3, 2016

Friday, January 21, 2022

President Ezra Taft Benson on thinking Christlike thoughts

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"If our thoughts make us what we are, and we are to be like Christ, then we must think Christlike thoughts.
"Paul, en route to Damascus to persecute the Saints, saw a light from heaven and heard the voice of the Lord. Then Paul asked a simple question—and the persistent asking of the same question changed his life. 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' (Acts 9:6.) The persistent asking of that same question can also change your life. There is no greater question that you can ask in this world. 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' I challenge you to make that the uppermost question of your life.
"We are accountable for our thoughts and what we think about. Our thoughts should be on the Lord. We should think on Christ."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Think on Christ," Ensign, March 1989, p. 2
Click here to read the full talk

This is a simple axiom: "If our thoughts make us what we are, and we are to be like Christ, then we must think Christlike thoughts." We might effectively reverse the conditional and say, "If we think Christlike thoughts, we will become like Christ because our thoughts make us what we are."

That is certainly the beginning of the process. The next insight comes as we ponder Paul's profound and faith-filled question as experienced his soul-changing conversion: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"

President Benson challenges us to make Paul's question "the uppermost question of [our] life." We should, in a spirit of constant humility and discipleship, be asking Him what He would have us do in life. The results of that kind of life will be astonishing. That certainly accelerates the process, helping us think most Christlike thoughts, and therefore progress much more rapidly on the path towards becoming Christlike ourselves.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
March 13, 2016

Thursday, January 20, 2022

President Howard W. Hunter on the Lord's promise of "heavenly help"

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President for only nine months, from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"All of us face times in our lives when we need heavenly help in a special and urgent way. We all have moments when we are overwhelmed by circumstances or confused by the counsel we get from others, and we feel a great need to receive spiritual guidance, a great need to find the right path and do the right thing. In the scriptural preface to this latter-day dispensation, the Lord promised that if we would be humble in such times of need and turn to him for aid, we would 'be made strong, and [be] blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.' (D&C 1:28.) That help is ours if we will but seek it, trust in it, and follow what King Benjamin, in the Book of Mormon, called 'the enticings of the Holy Spirit.' (Mosiah 3:19.)
"Perhaps no promise in life is more reassuring than that promise of divine assistance and spiritual guidance in times of need. It is a gift freely given from heaven, a gift that we need from our earliest youth through the very latest days of our lives."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Blessed From On High," General Conference October 1988
Click here to read the full talk

Most of us have had a personal experience with those times in life "when we need heavenly help in a special and urgent way." President Hunter is right that such times come to us all, eventually, to some degree. It helps immensely if we are comfortable and familiar with the process of how to "receive spiritual guidance" already. Then we need only to "be humble" and "turn to him" in our sincerity. Being familiar with the process in advance will make all the difference when the time of need arrives without warning.

I know that the promised help, what President Hunter calls the most reassuring promise of all, is real and is truly a gift from God.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
January 20,  2016

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on patient growth and progress in life as we trust God

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.
"In life, the sandpaper of circumstances often smooths our crustiness and patiently polishes our rough edges. There is nothing pleasant about it, however. And the Lord will go to great lengths in order to teach us a particular lesson and to help us to overcome a particular weakness, especially if there is no other way.
"In such circumstances, it is quite useless for us mortals to try to do our own sums when it comes to suffering. We can't make it all add up because clearly we do not have all the numbers. Furthermore, none of us knows much about the algebra of affliction.
"The challenges that come are shaped to our needs and circumstances, sometimes in order to help our weaknesses become strengths. Job noted how tailored his challenges were, saying, 'For the thing which I greatly feared has come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.' (Job 3:25.) Yet he prevailed—so much so that he was held up as a model to the great latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith. (D&C 121.) ...
"Thus, when we are patiently growing and keeping the commandments of God and doing our duties, we are to that extent succeeding, a fact from which we should derive some quiet, inner reassurance.  Knowing that we are in the process of succeeding, even though we have much to do and much to improve upon, can help us to move forward while, at the same time, being 'of good cheer.'"
- Neal A. Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness [Deseret 19981], pp. 67-68

Elder Maxwell's poetic prose and vivid analogies never fail to inspire me. This suggestion of a "divine sandpaper" being used to help smooth our rough edges is a great one. There is someone who identifies the need, and is willing to employ the remedy, even though it may not be gentle.

Are we willing recipients of that "sanding" that occasionally comes in our lives? Do we learn to recognize it for what it is, to rejoice when it comes, and to know that once the process is over we will be "more fit for the kingdom"?

I also appreciated the next analogy.  As mortals, we often "try to do our own sums when it comes to suffering." We want everything to add up, to make sense. But we can't always "do the math" because we don't understand God's perspective. We don't have all the information needed to make sense of the circumstances. We have to learn to trust Him. As we do, "patiently growing" in the process, we can find not only inner peace but much "good cheer" in knowing that God is in charge.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
December 9, 2015

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

President Henry B. Eyring on God's sure promises

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.
"Now for the sure promises. First, if you will let your heart be drawn to the Savior and always remember Him, and if you will draw near to our Heavenly Father in prayer, you will have put on spiritual armor. You will be protected against pride because you will know that any success comes not from your human powers. And you will be protected against the thoughts which come rushing in upon us that we are too weak, too inexperienced, too unworthy to do what we are called of God to do to serve and help save His children. We can have come into our hearts the reassurance recorded in Moroni: 'And Christ truly said unto our fathers: If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me' (Moro. 10:23).
"There is another sure promise. It is this: Whether or not you choose to keep your covenant to always remember Him, He always remembers you. I testify that Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, was and is the Only Begotten of the Father, the Lamb of God. He chose from before the foundations of the earth to be your Savior, my Savior, and the Savior of all we will ever know or meet. I testify that He was resurrected and that because of His Atonement we may be washed clean through our faith to obey the laws and accept the ordinances of the gospel."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Always," Church Educational System fireside at BYU on 3 January 1999; see Ensign, Oct. 1999, p. 12
Click here to read the full talk

When we think of "sure promises" in this kind of context, we often think of the covenant kinds of arrangements: if we do certain things, then God will do certain things. That is how President Eyring introduces the discussion of promises:
- Let our hearts be drawn to the Savior
- Always remember Him
- Draw near to God in prayer
- Have spiritual armor
- Have protection against pride
- Have protection against feelings of inadequacy
- Have spiritual reassurance of the good to come
But in the second paragraph, President Eyring changes the tone.

EVEN IF WE DON'T do our part to always remember Him, we have the assurance that He will always remember us. What a remarkable, comforting, strength-infusing promise!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
July 15, 2016

Monday, January 17, 2022

President M. Russell Ballard on the doctrine of inclusion

President M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985. He became acting president of the Twelve in January 2018.
"If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times, particularly in times of need....
"I have never taught—nor have I ever heard taught—a doctrine of exclusion. I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.
"The Lord expects a great deal from us. Parents, please teach your children and practice yourselves the principle of inclusion of others and not exclusion because of religious, political, or cultural differences....
"That is our doctrine—a doctrine of inclusion. That is what we believe. That is what we have been taught. Of all people on this earth, we should be the most loving, the kindest, and the most tolerant because of that doctrine."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Doctrine of Inclusion," General Conference October 2001
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Ballard discussed a challenge in this 2001 Conference address that is probably even more timely now. There is increasing diversity in our society and cultures and ethnic groups intermingle. We see increased mobility and more moving between nations, especially as many flee challenging situations. And in many countries around the world there is a long history of racial tension and struggle for understanding.

True disciples, as President Ballard notes, will see beyond these differences and will "reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times":

President Ballard discussed particularly the issues among youth and encouraged parents them to be more tolerant and understanding. He also noted that often the youth are the best examples of doing the right thing, and we all all learn from them. In any case, we should never forget that we are all children of God and we should treat each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of differences in background and traditions! We should especially reach out to those who are different and come to appreciate and understand them, and love them.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
November 18, 2018
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