Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Elder David A. Bednar on progress through righteousness and Atonement

Elder David A. Bednar (born June 15, 1952) was serving as the president of BYU–Idaho when he was called and sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2004.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that 'we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually' (Mosiah 5:2), as did King Benjamin's people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin.
"Prophets throughout the ages have emphasized the dual requirements of (1) avoiding and overcoming bad and (2) doing good and becoming better. Consider the penetrating questions posed by the Psalmist:
"'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
"'He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully' (Psalm 24:3-4).
"Brothers and sisters, it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart. Please notice that both clean hands and a pure heart are required to ascend into the hill of the Lord and to stand in His holy place."
- David A. Bednar, "Clean Hands and a Pure Heart," Ensign, November 2007, pp. 80-83
Click here to read or listen to the full talk
While the scriptures contain many admonitions related to eliminating sin and evil from our lives, what Elder Bednar points out is that there is more to our spiritual growth and development than that. In addition to cutting out the bad, we need to fill in with good—active obedience, unselfish service, faithful devotions and worship. When we "have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit" we begin to have the desire "to do good continually" and that makes all the difference. It's critical to remember how that "mighty change" of the heart occurs—not through practice or trying harder, but through allowing the Atonement of the Savior to purge, purify, and strengthen.

It's an interesting thought that we can have "clean hands" through meticulous external efforts to obey the commandments; but that must also be accompanied by a "pure heart" through the power of the Atonement.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Elder Robert D. Hales on showing our faith in spite of troublesome times

Elder Robert D. Hales (b. August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"As we look into the eyes of our children and grandchildren, we see the doubt and fear of our times. Wherever these precious ones go in the world, they hear about unemployment, poverty, war, immorality, and crime. They wonder, 'How can we cope with these problems?'
"To find answers, they look back into our eyes and listen to our words. Do they hear us speaking faithfully and hopefully, despite the tribulations of our times?
"They need to see us continuing to pray and study the scriptures together, to hold family home evening and family councils, to serve faithfully in our Church callings, to attend the temple regularly, and to be obedient to our covenants. When they see our steadfastness in keeping the commandments, their fears will subside and their confidence in the Lord will increase.
"By showing our faith through tribulation, we assure them that the fury of the adversary is not fatal."
- Robert D. Hales, "Faith through Tribulation Brings Peace and Joy," Ensign, May 2003, pp. 15-18
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Hales shares a valuable reminder and caution. It's easy to be discouraged in the midst of "the doubt and fear of our times." We may have concerns for our nation, our economy, our schools, the safety of our neighborhoods, our international relations—so many things. And those perils are increasing, and will continue to increase, in our day.

But what do we teach our little ones, who look to us, by how we respond? And not just the little children, but perhaps those who don't share our faith and understanding of God's plan? When we talk in overly worried and fearful tones, we demonstrate a lack of faith in God and in His ability to carry us to safety. And so Elder Hales counsels us, as the Lord has always counseled, "Be not afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36) and let that belief shine in our words and in our actions.

Truly, the example we show in our words and actions will help to bless and strengthen those around us more than we ever realize. There are always others watching, actively or passively; and one person's faith not only blesses that person, but when it is visible and demonstrated, it does more good than he or she can ever anticipate.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Elder M. Russell Ballard on increasing spirituality through strengthened testimony

Elder 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.
"And so it returns, as it always does, to your own personal faith and testimony. That is the difference-maker, my young brothers and sisters. That is how you know. That is how you avoid the mistakes of the past and take your spirituality to the next level. If you are open and receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in your lives, you will understand the lessons of the past, and they will be burned into your souls by the power of your testimonies.
"And how do you get such a testimony? Well, there's no new technology for that, nor will there ever be. You cannot do a Google search to gain a testimony. You can't text message faith. You gain a vibrant, life-changing testimony today the same way it has always been done. The process hasn't been changed. It comes through desire, study, prayer, obedience, and service. That is why the teachings of prophets and apostles, past and present, are as relevant to your life today as they ever have been."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Learning the Lessons of the Past," Ensign, May 2009, pp. 31-34
Click here to read or listen to the full address

The keys to true success and happiness in life always come back to our personal faith and testimony. Elder Ballard mentions two significant goals: avoiding the mistakes of the past, and growing in spirituality. Those are both accomplished as we listen to the whisperings of the Spirit.

So how is a testimony gained and strengthened? Elder Ballard mentions contemporary technology to offer a warning, then reminds us of the things that have always made a difference.

This is a wonderful sequence to remember, to ingrain in our activities and habits:

  • desire
  • study
  • prayer
  • obedience
  • service

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the blessing of true friends

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.
"Remember that there are wheat and chaff in every life. A wise lady once said that what we hope our friends will do is to separate the wheat from the chaff and, with a breath of kindness, blow the chaff away. I am grateful now, as I have been over the years, for friends who have had strong lungs....
"Sometimes, in the mutual climb along the straight and narrow path, brothers and sisters, we need friends to shout warnings to us or to give us instructions, but we also need those moments when warm whispers can help us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Good friends can give us the gifts of approval and acceptance and of perspective. How many of us have rendered that specific service for someone this month? How long has it been since you have been the recipient of such a gift? Perhaps too long in both instances. 'Deserved specific praise' is the ingredient of fellowship, of commending Christians."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Insights from My Life," BYU Devotional October 26, 1976; see also New Era, April 1978
Click here to read or listen to the full address

Elder Maxwell speaks of some of the blessings of sincere friendship. The first is the ability friends have to overlook our faults and shortcomings, seeing the good in us:

The other blessing of a true friend is that they will walk with us, giving us warnings, instructions, and encouragement on the journey. It's impossible to understate the value of "the gifts of approval and acceptance and of perspective."

Then Elder Maxwell asks the pointed questions: are we giving that kind of friendship? Are we receiving it? He suspects not enough of that is happening, and we are missing some of the blessings of fellowship. We should seek to be "commending Christians." Perhaps as we make more efforts to offer that kind of sincere friendship, we'll receive more in return.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on measuring personal progress

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.
"How can we measure our progress? The scriptures suggest various ways. I will mention only two.
"After King Benjamin's great sermon, many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord 'has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually' (Mosiah 5:2). If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal.
"The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God 'have the mind of Christ' (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them. They are hearing His voice instead of the voice of the world, and they are doing things in His way instead of by the ways of the world."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become," Ensign, Nov. 2000, pp. 32-34
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It seems to be our nature to want to know how we're doing... how we're progressing. Am I growing? Am I learning? Am I moving forward in good ways?

Elder Oaks suggests two positive and practical ways of self-evaluation. The first is to notice that we're losing the desire to do evil; our hearts are being purified and our whole desire is do good. And the second is that we begin to see things the way God sees them; we begin to listen to His voice and ignore the world.

Another way of saying this is that we are becoming more like Him. His will becomes our will; His desires are our desires. As we start to notice more and more evidences of that in our lives, we know we are progressing as we should.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Elder Marvin J. Ashton on perspective and sensitivity in our accomplishments

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915-1994) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1971 until his death in 1994 at age 78.
"How easy it is for man to believe that temporal success has been achieved by his own skills and labor. Everything good comes from the Lord.
"Consideration for the feelings of others should always be important to worthy Latter-day Saints. Rightfully we may be happy about the number of children with which we have been blessed, the missionaries who have served, the temple marriages of our offspring, and the accomplishments of family members; but others who are not so fortunate may have feelings of guilt or inadequacy. They may have been praying long and hard for the same blessings about which we are boasting. These people may feel that they are out of favor with God.
"For this reason our appreciation should be sincerely felt and gratitude expressed frequently to our Father in Heaven—but not too vocally to the world.
"May we all be gratefully aware of the source of our blessings and strengths and refrain from taking undue credit for personal accomplishments.
"Oftentimes when we dwell on where we have been and where we are now, and what we have now spiritually or financially, we can create resentment rather than respect.
"Boasting, whether it be done innocently or otherwise, is not good. Too frequently it creates an impression of more interest in self than in others."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "Neither Boast of Faith Nor of Mighty Works," Ensign, May 1990, p. 65
Click here to read the full article

Many years ago, not long before this conference talk was given, I attended a stake conference in Colorado at which Elder Ashton presided. One of the speakers in the meeting was a woman who was obviously very proud of her accomplished husband and her large family, and their many wonderful achievements; she spoke at some length about the joy of her family's successes.

When it was Elder Ashton's turn to speak, he gave a gentle but firm rebuke in much the same spirit of this quote—his decision to speak on this topic in conference was likely a result of this experience, and others like it. In our stake, he pointed out that as fortunate and blessed as the sister was, there were others in the room who, through no fault of their own and no lack of worthiness and effort, didn't have the same blessings; and did she recognize how truly fortunate and blessed she was, far beyond anything she had done to earn or merit the blessings? He went on to reassure all present that God loved them equally as much, and would bless them appropriately (in His own time and way) for their faithfulness.

Elder Ashton was a master teacher, and presented that message in a way that was not in any way hurtful or critical, but only offering loving counsel to all of us that we should be much more aware of those around us and sensitive to their feelings. I am one who has occasionally felt "feelings of guilt or inadequacy" when some of these kinds of things have been expressed, wondering why I was not deserving of the blessings that someone else was receiving. And I have likely been one who has made others uncomfortable as I have unwittingly expressed gratitude that came across as boasting.

This is the tender suggestion from Elder Ashton: "our appreciation should be sincerely felt and gratitude expressed frequently to our Father in Heaven—but not too vocally to the world." And this results naturally from remembering that God is the source of our blessings, and we should never take "undue credit for personal accomplishments."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

President Thomas S. Monson on giving thanks for our blessings

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 until becoming Church president in 2008.
"My brothers and sisters, do we remember to give thanks for the blessings we receive? Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God's love.
"My beloved friend President Gordon B. Hinckley said, 'When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.' (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley p. 250)...
"To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven."
- Thomas S. Monson, "The Divine Gift of Gratitude," Ensign, Nov 2010, pp. 87-90
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The person who learns to "walk with gratitude" or "live with gratitude" is doubly-blessed. In recognizing and acknowledging blessings, he not only "unlocks the doors of heaven" but learns to "feel God's love." It changes the way we perceive the world around us, and the circumstances of our lives, in a profound way.

I think President Monson is a wonderful example of this principle. His joyful life of service demonstrates an awareness of who he is in God's eyes, and his deep and sincere gratitude for the blessings he has been given. He truly has touched heaven, and invites us to follow that example.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Gordon B. Hinckley on recognizing our magnificent blessings

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"Our society is afflicted by a spirit of thoughtless arrogance unbecoming those who have been so magnificently blessed. How grateful we should be for the bounties we enjoy. Absence of gratitude is the mark of the narrow, uneducated mind. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge and the ignorance of self-sufficiency. It expresses itself in ugly egotism and frequently in wanton mischief....
"Where there is appreciation, there is courtesy, there is concern for the rights and property of others. Without appreciation, there is arrogance and evil.
"Where there is gratitude, there is humility, as opposed to pride.
"How magnificently we are blessed! How thankful we ought to be! ...
"Cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving for the blessing of life and for the marvelous gifts and privileges each of us enjoy. The Lord has said that the meek shall inherit the earth. (See Matt. 5:5.) I cannot escape the interpretation that meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself, a recognition of God, and an acceptance of his commandments. This is the beginning of wisdom. Walk with gratitude before him who is the giver of life and every good gift."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "With All Thy Getting Get Understanding," Ensign, Aug. 1988, 2
Click here to read the full talk

There is so often a contrast between society at large, and those who strive to follow the Lord's way. President Hinckley identifies one important root case of that contrast: the "spirit of thoughtless arrogance" that comes when we fail to acknowledge the source of our blessings in life. When we fail to recognize how "magnificently" we are blessed by God, thinking that we are self-sufficient and not dependent on God, we develop instead arrogance, ugly egotism, and pride.

President Hinckley's warning and counsel is to "walk with gratitude" before God in all we do!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on having gratitude in times of trial

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (1940- ) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"Sooner or later, I believe that all of us experience times when the very fabric of our world tears at the seams, leaving us feeling alone, frustrated, and adrift.
"It can happen to anyone. No one is immune.
"Everyone's situation is different, and the details of each life are unique. Nevertheless, I have learned that there is something that would take away the bitterness that may come into our lives. There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious.
"We can be grateful!
"It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Grateful in Any Circumstances," Ensign, May 2014, pp. 70-77
Click here to read the full article

President Uchtdorf uses dramatic language to describe some of the times of great challenge we encounter in life, when we feel like "the very fabric of our world tears at the seams, leaving us feeling alone, frustrated, and adrift." For most of us, times of such extremity are rare; but we may, from time to time, feel portions of that depth of emotion as we face the various challenges that mortality presents to us.

So how to we "take away the bitterness" of those times? President Uchtdorf suggests that the key lies in gratitude; and he acknowledges the apparent paradox this presents:

Finding ways to be grateful in times of challenge is an important skill to cultivate during the smaller challenges of everyday life, so that when a larger crisis hits, we'll be prepared with the skills that we have practiced. When we learn to live in gratitude daily in any circumstance, we are truly blessed.

Monday, November 21, 2016

President James E. Faust on having a grateful heart

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley from 1995 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"It seems as though there is a tug-of-war between opposing character traits that leaves no voids in our souls. As gratitude is absent or disappears, rebellion often enters and fills the vacuum. I do not speak of rebellion against civil oppression. I refer to rebellion against moral cleanliness, beauty, decency, honesty, reverence, and respect for parental authority.
"A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being....
"As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. President J. Reuben Clark said, 'Hold fast to the blessings which God has provided for you. Yours is not the task to gain them, they are here; yours is the part of cherishing them.' (Church News, 14 June 1969, p. 2.) ... I hope that we may cultivate grateful hearts so that we may cherish the multitude of blessings that God has so graciously bestowed."
- James E. Faust, "Gratitude As a Saving Principle," Ensign, May 1990, p. 85
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I liked President Faust's description of the "tug-of-war" that exists in our souls. When we allow gratitude to slip away, the contrasting characteristic on the other end of the rope takes its place: which President Faust identifies as "rebellion against moral cleanliness, beauty, decency, honesty, reverence, and respect for parental authority." But when we allow gratitude to dominate, the results are wonderful:

So we cling to gratitude as "a successful mode of living." As we learn to live with more sincere expressions of thanks, we become more aware of the many blessings that are ours, which we should truly cherish.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

President Marion G. Romney on feeling and demonstrating gratitude to the Savior

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.
"To the Lord Jesus we owe an undying debt of gratitude, for he bought us with a great price. It is impossible for us, weak mortals as we are, to fully comprehend and appreciate the sufferings he endured on the cross that he might gain for us the victory over death. Much less can we understand the suffering he endured in Gethsemane that we might obtain forgiveness of our sins, which, in his own words, 'caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink' (D&C 19:18). Much less, I say, can we understand this suffering that he endured to satisfy the demands of justice and bring about the means by which we, through faith in him, and repentance, can receive forgiveness of our sins.
"None of us could have endured that suffering. No mortal man, nor any number of mortal men together, could have endured it.
"'There was no other good enough
   To pay the price of sin.
   He only could unlock the gate
   Of heaven and let us in.'
   (LDS Hymns, No. 201, 'There Is a Green Hill Far Away.')
"Surely every soul who understands what the Savior did for us loves him and desires to demonstrate, in a realistic manner, thanks and gratitude."
- Marion G. Romney, "Thou Shalt Thank the Lord Thy God in All Things," Ensign, June 1974, p. 3
Click here to read the full talk

As we "count our blessings" in seasons of gratitude, or as part of pondering on a Sabbath Day, there is one thing that should be at the top of the list. President Romney reminds us that we owe so much, more than we can possibly comprehend, to Jesus Christ. The gratitude should include both the sacrifice on the cross that provided "victory over death" to all who live on the earth; and then the opportunity to obtain forgiveness through the atoning power of Gethsemane.

I love that final thought: "Surely every soul who understands what the Savior did for us loves him and desires to demonstrate, in a realistic manner, thanks and gratitude." It's significant that President Romney didn't say express our gratitude to the Savior - but demonstrate it!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

President Spencer W. Kimball on the challenge of ingratitude

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"In many countries, the homes are barren and the cupboards bare—no books, no radios, no pictures, no furniture, no fire—while we are housed adequately, clothed warmly, fed extravagantly. Did we show our thanks by the proper devotion on our knees last night and this morning and tomorrow morning?
"Ingratitude, thou sinful habit!
"Around the world are millions groping in the dark, fettered through superstition and fear and insecurity. Here we live in the light with joy and love and abundance and hope.
"Behind... all the walls and all the curtains of oppression and dictatorship, behind the walls of force and slavery, live millions of our brothers and sisters in fear while we live in liberty and privilege. Do we appreciate that and do we express our gratitude in solemn thanksgiving?"
- Spencer W. Kimball, address to seminary and institute teachers, SLC, 9/12/75; see The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 120

I grew up in a typically sheltered and naĆ­ve youth. I was aware there was poverty in the world, and had a passing familiarity with what it might be like from TV reports and reading. But I really had no idea what it really meant to live in those kinds of desperate circumstances until I experienced the favelas (slums) in Brazil, and then later doing humanitarian work with my family in Mexico and Ecuador. It was eye-opening, and heart-opening. And yet, I know there are perhaps even greater challenges in areas of Africa and other places in the world. And also challenges right in our backyards that we are oblivious to. How much of our material comfort we take for granted!

President Kimball points out another significant insight: we also have rich blessings of understanding and knowledge, liberty and choice. Far too many in the world suffer with oppression, ignorance, and fear. Oh, how grateful we should be! How we should express that regularly in our communication with God, and how we should demonstrate it in our lives of service and compassion!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on having gratitude for our blessings

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1986, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1986 until his passing in 2008 at age 91
"I believe that many people are unhappy because they have not learned to be grateful. Some carry the burden of bitterness and resentfulness for many years. Some pass their days as though suffering a deep sadness they cannot name. Others are unhappy because life didn't turn out the way they thought it would.
"'If only I had money," some might say to themselves, "then I could be happy.'
"'If only I were better-looking.'
"'If only I were smarter.'
"'If only I had a new car, a college degree, a job, a wife, hair that wasn't so frizzy.' (Or, in my case, if only I had more hair or I were 12 inches taller.)
"If we only look around us, there are a thousand reasons for us not to be happy, and it is simplicity itself to blame our unhappiness on the things we lack in life. It doesn't take any talent at all to find them. The problem is, the more we focus on the things we don't have, the more unhappy and more resentful we become.
"Over the course of my years, I have met thousands of people. I have dined with the prosperous as well as the poverty-stricken. I have conversed with the mighty and with the meek. I have walked with the famous and the feeble. I have run with outstanding athletes and those who are not athletically inclined.
"One thing I can tell you with certainty is this: You cannot predict happiness by the amount of money, fame, or power a person has. External conditions do not necessarily make a person happy. The Brethren who have had assignments in poorer countries report that despite the abject poverty, the people are very happy. The fact is that the external things so valued by the world are often the cause of a great deal of misery in the world.
"Those who live in thanksgiving daily, however, are usually among the world's happiest people. And they make others happy as well."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Live in Thanksgiving Daily," BYU Devotional, 31 October 2000; see Ensign, Sept 2001, p. 6
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It seems there are as many reasons we can be ungrateful as there are to be grateful! Elder Wirthlin mentions a number of them: we haven't really learned how to be grateful; we are carrying burdens of resentment or bitterness; we have a deep unknown sadness.

He spends more time on the problem of the "if only" syndrome, when we dwell on what might have been had certain things happened, or not happened, in our lives. This often comes as we compare ourselves to others around us, wishing that we had lives or situations more like those of our neighbors. As we dwell on things we don't have (wishing we did), we find ourselves slipping into a spiral of unhappiness and resentment.

Elder Wirthlin testifies from his own experience that real happiness does not result from some of those things we so often desire: wealth, fame, or power.

So, according to Elder Wirthlin, the key to happiness is learning to "live in thanksgiving daily." We need to focus on the blessings and gifts, not the perceived shortcomings; and learn to express gratitude for all the good things we have and enjoy. That not only changes how we view the world, it will change how the world views us.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Russell M. Nelson on the role of religion and faith in our lives

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.
"I will say that one of the realities of mortal life is that our faith will be tested and challenged....
"When we speak of faith—the faith that can move mountains—we are not speaking of faith in general but of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can be bolstered as we learn about Him and live our religion. The doctrine of Jesus Christ was designed by the Lord to help us increase our faith. In today's vernacular, however, the word religion can mean different things to different people.
"The word religion literally means 'to ligate again' or 'to tie back' to God. The question we might ask ourselves is, are we securely tied to God so that our faith shows, or are we actually tied to something else? For example, I have overheard conversations on Monday mornings about professional athletic games that took place on the preceding Sunday. For some of these avid fans, I have wondered if their 'religion' would 'tie them back' only to some kind of a bouncing ball.
"We might each ask ourselves, where is our faith? Is it in a team? Is it in a brand? Is it in a celebrity? Even the best teams can fail. Celebrities can fade. There is only One in whom your faith is always safe, and that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you need to let your faith show!"
- Russell M. Nelson, "Let Your Faith Show," Ensign, May 2014, pp. 29-32
Click here to read the full article

Our faith will be tested and challenged. That is certainly showing to be true in today's world, as challenging circumstances, growing opposition, and confusing information are presented in greater and more frequent ways. Hence the need for deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.

But where is our personal "religion" focused? What do we worship, what do we "tie" our faith to? Is it in a worldly pursuit, a person, an organization, a philosophy? Or is it in the only secure and lasting source of power and hope? "There is only One in whom your faith is always safe, and that is in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

President Spencer W. Kimball on our opportunities to do good

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"Each of us has more opportunities to do good and to be good than we ever use. These opportunities lie all around us. Whatever the size of our present circle of effective influence, if we were to improve our performance even a little bit, that circle would be enlarged. There are many individuals waiting to be touched and loved if we care enough to improve in our performance.
"We must remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve. It will do us little good to speak of the general brotherhood of mankind if we cannot regard those who are all around us as our brothers and sisters. If our sample of humanity seems unglamorous or so very small, we need to remember the parable Jesus gave us in which he reminded us that greatness is not always a matter of size or scale, but of the quality of one's life. If we do well with our talents and with the opportunities around us, this will not go unnoticed by God. And to those who do well with the opportunities given them, even more will be given!"
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Jesus: The Perfect Leader", address to the Young Presidents organization, Sun Valley, Idaho, 15 January 1977; see Ensign, Aug 1979, p. 6
Click here to read the full article

President Kimball's thought brings to mind the words of  hymn:
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed....
There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, 'Sometime I'll try,'
But go and do something today.
Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.
("Have I Done Any Good?" by Will L. Thompson, Hymns #223)
What a difference there would be in the world "if we [each] were to improve our performance even a little bit." The ripples of kindness and goodness would reach far.

President Kimball goes on to remind us that all of us are surrounded by people who have needs, and are our brothers and sisters. In our individual situation, the people around us "are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve." As we improve our performance, greater opportunities will be given to us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

President Joseph F. Smith on how the Gospel changes our life

President Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) was the son of Joseph's brother Hyrum. He was ordained an apostle in 1866 at age 28, and served as a counselor to Brigham Young and the three presidents who followed.  He became the 6th president of the Church in 1901, and served until his death in 1918 at age 80.
"The spirit of the Gospel is designed to make all men good in the sight of God. The Gospel is calculated to remove from us everything that is not consistent with God and the plan of salvation which he has revealed to men. It is designed to qualify us to live so that we may enjoy a fulness of the light of truth, and understand the purposes of God, and be able to live so near to Him that we may be in harmony with His wishes constantly.
"The principles of the Gospel are calculated to make us unselfish, to broaden our minds, to give breadth to our desires for good, to remove hatred, animosity, envy and anger from our hearts, and make us peaceful, tractable, teachable, and willing to sacrifice our own desires, and perchance our own interests, for the welfare of our fellow-creatures, and for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
"A man who cannot sacrifice his own wishes, who cannot say in his heart, 'Father, Thy will be done, not mine,' is not a truly and thoroughly converted child of God; he is still, to some extent, in the grasp of error and in the shades of darkness that hover around the world, hiding God from the presence of mankind.
"Show me a man that is thoroughly converted to the principles of the Gospel, and who can truly say in his heart, 'I know that the Gospel is true,' and I will show you a man that when it comes to asking him to do that which God requires at his hands will have no question in his mind in relation to doing it; he will say, 'Yes, I am ready and willing to do the will of God.'"
- Joseph F. Smith, "Blind Obedience and Tithing," September 3, 1892; see Millennial Star, 20 Jan. 1893, pp. 77-80
Click here to read the full article

This is a wonderful way of looking at the Gospel of Jesus Christ: its blessing and power in our lives is "to remove from us everything that is not consistent with God and the plan of salvation which he has revealed to men."As we grow in the Gospel, as we repent and change, we leave things behind that are contrary to that spirit and to our peace and happiness. They are gradually replaced with the pure joy that comes from living "so near to Him that we may be in harmony with His wishes constantly." Moroni beautifully described this process in these words: "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness..." (Moroni 10:32). As we do that, removing all forms of "ungodliness" from our lives, the only things left are those that are god-like. We become like Him.

One of the signs of us "hiding God from the presence of mankind," according to President Smith, is that we have not yet abandoned our selfish spirit and learned to seek only the "welfare of our fellow-creatures" and God's ultimate will in our lives. But once we become fully converted, our heart will truly change:

Monday, November 14, 2016

President Howard W. Hunter on consistent scripture study

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.
"When we follow the counsel of our leaders to read and study the scriptures, benefits and blessings of many kinds come to us. This is the most profitable of all study in which we could engage...
"Reading habits vary widely. There are rapid readers and slow readers, some who read only small snatches at a time and others who persist without stopping until the book is finished. Those who delve into the scriptural library, however, find that to understand requires more than casual reading or perusal—there must be concentrated study. It is certain that one who studies the scriptures every day accomplishes far more than one who devotes considerable time one day and then lets days go by before continuing. Not only should we study each day, but there should be a regular time set aside when we can concentrate without interference....
"It would be ideal if an hour could be spent each day; but if that much cannot be had, a half hour on a regular basis would result in substantial accomplishment. A quarter of an hour is little time, but it is surprising how much enlightenment and knowledge can be acquired in a subject so meaningful. The important thing is to allow nothing else to ever interfere with our study."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 64
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Hunter starts this excerpt by reiterating an eternal truth: following the counsel of leaders results in benefits in blessings. In this case, he applies that principle to studying the scriptures, and promises blessings that will come as we learn to study faithfully and consistently.

He then offers counsel on how to study effectively, emphasizing that there are many styles and approaches that work well; the key is to study consistently:

Once a time is chosen and "set aside," it is our responsibility and privilege to make that time sacred. "The important thing is to allow nothing else to ever interfere with our study." Consistency brings rewards of its own, and our understanding and appreciation of the scriptures will grow and bring great blessings to us. It's as if we plant new seeds each day, then give time for them to grow and mature as we ponder them through the day; but each new day needs a new seed planted in order for the growth to continue.
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