Thursday, July 26, 2018

President Ezra Taft Benson on the modern challenge of spiritual complacency

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.
"Every generation has its tests and its chance to stand and prove itself. Would you like to know of one of our toughest tests? Hear the warning words of Brigham Young, 'The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth.' ...
"Ours then seems to be the toughest test of all, for the evils are more subtle, more clever. It all seems less menacing and it is harder to detect. While every test of righteousness represents a struggle, this particular test seems like no test at all, no struggle and so could be the most deceiving of all tests.
"Do you know what peace and prosperity can do to a people—It can put them to sleep. The Book of Mormon warned us of how Satan, in the last days, would lead us away carefully down to hell. The Lord has on the earth some potential spiritual giants whom He saved for some six thousand years to help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly, and the devil is trying to put them to sleep. The adversary knows that he probably won’t be too successful in getting them to commit many great and malignant sins of commission. So he puts them into a deep sleep, like Gulliver, while he strands them with little sins of omission. And what good is a sleepy, neutralized, lukewarm giant as a leader?
"We have too many potential spiritual giants who should be more vigorously lifting their homes, the kingdom, and the country. We have many who feel they are good men and women, but they need to be good for something—strong patriarchs, courageous missionaries, valiant family history and temple workers, dedicated patriots, devoted quorum members. In short, we must be shaken and awakened from a spiritual snooze."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Our Obligation and Challenge," regional representatives’ seminar, Sept. 30, 1977
Quoted in David A. Bednar, "On the Lord's Side: Lessons from Zion's Camp," Ensign, July 2017

It's always fascinating to consider the timing of the counsel and warnings given by the prophets. This excerpt from President Benson was shared over 40 years ago. As we think about the kinds of challenges and distractions that were present in that era, compared to now—there is no question that prophetic foresight was anticipating the growing problems that would come to overwhelm so many in our day.

And even earlier than President Monson: Brigham Young's concerns about the risks of wealth and associated complacency have certainly been realized!

And so we live in an era when we face "the most deceiving of all tests" in ways that are clever, subtle, and easily overlooked. We become complacent; we forget who we are and what challenges and obligations are placed upon us, what opportunities to do good are all around:

Are we forgetting the "weightier matters" and being lulled into that complacency by the devilish distractions of our time? The ubiquity of electronic devices is certainly a part of it; they are powerful tools for good when used properly, but can be enormous distractions to lull us into sleep. What other modern distractions or attitudes might fit into that category?

So the challenge of our time is "to be good for something." To be "strong patriarchs, courageous missionaries, valiant family history and temple workers, dedicated patriots, devoted quorum members."

It would be a wonderful exercise for each of us to consider if there are ways in which we need to heed the warning of a prophet and be "shaken and awakened from a spiritual snooze."

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

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