About a week ago, I gave a talk in church. At some point, I may do a post about the process of being asked to speak in an LDS worship service and my personal struggles to prepare. For now, I wish to share (again) the thoughts given to me through the power of the Holy Spirit.
On January 10, Elder and Sister Nelson spoke at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults. Sister Nelson made an intriguing observation:
“Think of the woman who, for 12 years, endured an incurable disease. She stretched out her hand to touch the Savior’s robe. This was her only chance to be healed. Think of the man at the pool of Bethesda who, for 38 years, suffered with an illness and had never been the first one into those healing waters. Think of the Savior’s disciples who, with life-threatening waves crashing around their small fishing boat, cried out to the Savior, “Carest thou not that we perish?” What did these people have in common? They were desperate! Desperate for the Savior to heal them, help them, cleanse them, guide them, protect them, and save them! They were desperate for Jesus Christ to help them do things they could never do on their own. They were desperate to have the Savior’s strength and power in their lives. Do you know that feeling? Believe me, I do.”
She went on to point out that desperation can be a good motivator, because when we’re desperate to become the disciples of Christ that we were born to be, we find the courage to remove anything and everything from our lives that is unholy and impure, and when we’re desperate to be guided by heaven, we’ll work harder than ever to tune into heaven.
In Matthew 13:4-9, the Savior gave the parable of the sower. Many lessons and talks have been centered on the four different types of soil upon which the seed fell. My focus today was directed to verse 9, where the Savior concludes his parable with the words, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Although my job is listed as “music specialist” with the local school system, I find that I am often teaching so much more: social skills and behavior management quickly come to mind. I also find that I need to teach listening skills. So often children come into class and think they are listening to me or to the musical selection we are studying because their brain registers that sound is being made. Listening is so much more! Listening is a complex activity that involves being present, eliminating distractions, attending to what is being presented, and applying knowledge gained.
Being physically present is the foundation of listening. Just as it is impossible for me to teach a child who is missing from class, we cannot learn the things Heavenly Father wishes to teach us if we don’t show up. This involves praying, studying scripture, and attending church meetings – including conference.
I remember the first time that I encountered someone who held that attitude that conference was a “vacation Sunday.” Perhaps, because I am a convert, I am simply naïve, but it never occurred to me to skip those meetings. I was making great efforts to attend or listen remotely even when my schedule made it incredibly difficult. My young children had to sit around my laptop in the car while my oldest daughter participated in a solo and ensemble competition so that we could hear the words of prophets and apostles as they delivered them.
I’m sure it was one of many things that cost me the title of “most popular parent,” but I wanted my children to hear and know a precious truth that I didn’t have until I was a young adult – God has restored his voice to the earth by calling prophets and apostles, and it is a precious privilege to hear those words on a regular basis!
Once we have actually made it to the appropriate place to hear the servants of the Lord, we need to be spiritually present. Letting our bodies warm a pew simply isn’t enough. We need to spiritually prepare before we attend the temple, attend conference, and even before attending regular Sunday meetings, reading scripture, or praying. While the amount of spiritual preparation needed can vary, I find that I may need to slow down for a few minutes, take a few deep breaths, and remind myself that I am about to worship the Lord and learn spiritual truths. Praying for a spirit of worship and a teachable mind and heart also help me a lot.
President Eyring has related a couple of stories. The first was his own, and went back to his boyhood, when the local branch met in his home. He remembered having to travel a long distance to attend a stake or regional conference. Even though he could no longer remember who was speaking or what the topic was, he remembered that the Spirit bore witness to him that what he was hearing was true and was the word of God. His spirit heard.
In the second story, he told of a boy who had been a member of the deacon’s quorum that he taught. The boy sometimes had to miss classes, and so he sent his brother with a tape recorder to record the lessons for him. President Eyring was quick to point out that it was nothing about him as a teacher – the boy wanted to hear the lessons because he knew he needed to listen to instruction from God.
We need to be careful about the voices to whom we are listening. There are so many distracting voices available to us today! We live in a world where anyone with any motive and any level of qualification can find a platform – social media, blogs, etc. Often, those voices follow the pattern of Korihor, telling us that our spiritual experiences are delusions and that serving God restricts us, keeping us from the “good things” in life and the happiness that we should be entitled to.
Laman and Lemuel listened to those voices in their days, and returned to the comfort, if you will, of self-pity at almost every turn. As a result, they never really got to know their Father in Heaven, and they never learned to trust him. They missed out on the fruit of the tree of life which was desirable above all other fruit.
Because of the ability of voices to play upon our emotions and desires, our leaders are careful to teach us about the appropriate emphasis to place on the voices around us and to consider their sources. Even so, the church does not regulate which sources of information members can access. We are left to choose for ourselves.
When we read our scriptures, when we pray, when we attend our meetings, and even listen during conference, there are many things we can be listening for
- Answers to our questions,
- New spiritual insights and knowledge,
- Promptings to act – especially for the benefit of others.
“Let our anxiety be centered upon one thing, the sanctification of our own hearts, the purifying of our own affections, the preparing of ourselves for the events that are hastening upon us. This should be our concern, this should be our study, this should be our daily prayer….”
There are some “best practices” (as we call them in the teaching world) that will give us the best chance of hearing the messages Heavenly Father wants to send to us:
- Focus and stay alert: get rid of things that will pull our attention from what is being spoken, and be aware when our personal biases may be blocking us from receiving the word of the Lord
- Take notes: identify what is important to you, train yourself to monitor your thoughts for spiritual impressions (the brain thinks about four times faster than we speak, which is ample time to listen for the Spirit), watch for the main points, and look for relationships and patterns in what is being said.
- Compare what you are hearing to what you already know to be true.
- Ponder upon the things you receive. Dallin H Oaks has said, “Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation. … In the acquisition of sacred knowledge, scholarship and reason are not alternatives to revelation. They are a means to an end, and the end is revelation from God.”
True listening is a vital part of spiritual growth. In his address to the Young Adults, President Nelson said,
“Learn how to access the power of heaven. Every one of us has questions. Seeking to learn, understand, and recognize truth is a vital part of our mortal experience. Much of my life has been spent in research. You too will learn best by asking inspired questions. … Our Heavenly Father and His Son stand ready to respond to your questions through the ministering of the Holy Ghost. But it is up to you to learn how to qualify for and receive those answers.”
Dallin H Oaks has said,
“In an inspired utterance, the Prophet Joseph Smith described the Lord’s “pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 121:33.) This will not happen for those whose “hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” (D&C 121:35.) Those who fail to learn and use “principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36) will be left to themselves to kick against those in authority, “to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (D&C 121:38). In contrast, the Lord makes this great promise to the faithful: “The doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:45–46.)”
President Nelson also said,
“My dear brothers and sisters, you have as much access to the mind and will of the Lord for your own life as we Apostles do for His Church. Just as the Lord requires us to seek and ponder, fast and pray, and study and wrestle with difficult questions, He requires you to do the same as you seek answers to your own questions. You can learn to hear the voice of the Lord through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.8 As helpful as Google, Twitter, and Facebook may seem, they simply do not provide answers to your most important questions! My dear young friends, you can know the mind and will of the Lord for your own life. You do not have to wonder if you are where the Lord needs you to be or if you are doing what He needs you to do. You can know! The Holy Ghost will tell you “all things what ye should do.”
The final act of listening is applying our newly acquired knowledge. Failing to “go and do” is the spiritual equivalent of planning to get fit by sitting on the sofa watching the workout channel while eating pizza and chips. It simply is not going to work! We know the doctrine and receive witness of its truth when we follow what we are taught. Those who experience great spiritual growth follow this pattern. There is no secret ingredient or magical formula.
I want to close by bearing my testimony that I know that our church is led by our Savior, Jesus Christ through living prophets and apostles. I know from my own personal experience that taking to time to be where I need to be to listen has made a huge difference in my life.
From the January 17th special stake conference I learned
- We make time for what is important to us, and so we show what is important to us by where we spend our time.
- Attending conference is a commandment,
- Most of the time, we receive revelation when we study our scriptures and pray. Is the time we “save” by skipping these habits worth the revelation we lose?
- Heavenly Father expects us to be whole-hearted disciples who hold nothing back. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and might.
- We need to stay the course, and we also need to stay on course.
- Tape measure Mormons measure the width of the path and walk as close to the edge as possible. Our focus should be on staying in the center of the path.
- We cannot allow ourselves even a few minutes of being off-duty in our discipleship.
- We make a difference with the way we treat others as they are spiritually “coming to themselves.”
- Wherever we live, we need to establish a home where the Spirit is present.
- For ourselves and our families, it is important to pause while reading the scriptures to examine how they apply in our lives.
From the October 2015 General Conference, I have learned
- To ponderize.
- The significance of refusing to be too critical of the barrier, because it is the only thing that is keeping me from being devoured.
- That the promise in the sacrament that we may always have his spirit to be with us is real. The requirement is that we do always remember him.
- Many more things that cannot be presented in the time I’ve been allotted.
I was reading a story posted on the internet by Ted. L Gibbons, a regular member of the church. He told of a time when he was out with his scouts shortly after breaking a rib. The rib had healed enough that it didn’t bother him during regular activities, but it was still very tender. The scouts found a rope swing, and he decided to join them in swinging out over the rocky canyon below. His feet barely left the ledge when a fierce, stabbing pain in his side demanded that he immediately release his grip on the rope. Letting go meant falling about 20 feet onto some sharp rocks. He chose to endure the pain and hold on with all his might, avoiding worse pain and injury from making what, in the moment, would have been the easier choice.
Brothers and sisters, it is my prayer that we will hold on to the rope, or the iron rod, with all our might, mind, and strength. The temporary pains of making the commitments to be where the word of the Lord will be imparted, of actively listening to divine messages, and of committing to apply those teachings no matter how far they set us apart from the ways of the world are far less damaging to our souls than letting go!
In the name of Jesus Christ,