Spiritual Self-Reliance

[Stake Conference, October 2018]

My comments today are intended for both young and old, but I confess that I have our youth and young single adults particularly in mind.  I hope that you will recognize the Spirit teaching you something that is important for you to know or act on this morning.

Let me first give three examples of difficult, even painful situations which, despite our hopes to never encounter them, occur every day around the world to those who are, as the Savior said, “both the just and the unjust.”

First, imagine the scenario of an unexpected emergency or catastrophe.  It could be a flood or an earthquake; an outbreak of war or a disruption in the food supply; it could be a loss of power or a collapse of our financial system.  Think of the different levels of preparedness at which an individual or family might be the moment the problem strikes.  Some might be well prepared to weather the storm until normalcy returns.  Others might be completely unprepared and have some very difficult times.  Many would be somewhere between those two extremes.

Second, imagine the challenges that can follow a person who takes little or no interest in learning.  Being “educated” doesn’t necessarily mean having one or more college degrees.  It means being interested in learning enough to invest time and effort into it—which might be through formal schooling or may be through practical, hands-on learning.  Those who don’t pursue learning may have some extra challenges in life.  Some may be financial.  Others may involve personal relationships.  Some may be easily taken advantage of or struggle to solve their own problems.  In contrast, someone who actively accumulates knowledge and know-how may be in a better position to navigate life and its financial, emotional, interpersonal, and other challenges.

Third, imagine the person who needs employment but can’t find it or has suddenly lost it, perhaps through no fault of his or her own.  The lack of a job can, obviously, create financial hardships, but it can be even more challenging than that.  Work often includes an enhanced sense of purpose and value and the satisfaction of contributing.  It can include valuable friendships and learning opportunities.  When Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden, Adam was given the gift of work.  Work is a gift and the absence of it can be a very heavy burden.

Those three scenarios illustrate three concepts that are critical when we talk about “self-reliance.”  They are:  emergency preparedness, education, and work (or employment). God wants each of us, individually and as families, to be self-reliant.  He wants us to be physically, mentally, and economically healthy and to be able to care for ourselves and our loved ones—and, ideally, for others as well.  He wants us to be prepared to handle problems that come to us unexpectedly, perhaps through no fault of our own.  Temporal self-reliance is important to God and should be an active pursuit for each of us.

But I would like to emphasize today the concept of spiritual self-reliance.  And here, perhaps, is where I would like our youth to be especially listening.  God also wants us to become spiritually self-reliant.  He wants us to be able to stand on our own two feet spiritually, not having to lean too heavily on parents or others in our lives.  He wants us to be able to face and withstand challenges and he wants us to be in a position to help others become spiritually self-reliant.  I will admit that I think our circumstances in Highland Utah can sometimes create a spiritually protective, somewhat homogeneous environment around our youth that can leave them vulnerable to a lack of spiritual self-reliance if they have not sufficiently established it before encountering the world away from here.

Now let’s revisit those three scenarios, but this time from a spiritual perspective.

The first one regards emergency preparedness.  What spiritual emergencies may confront us in our lives?  They are not uncommon.  Members of our stake have unexpectedly lost loved ones in the past year.  Some have been abused or mistreated or perhaps felt betrayed.  Some have been confronted by arguments against the Church that they had never considered and unexpectedly find themselves in the so-called “crisis of faith.”  Events happen in people’s lives which cause them to question foundational things they have relied on including the very existence of God.  People who have felt confident in their beliefs about God and His plan for us—perhaps they’ve even stood and borne public testimony of those things—experience some event in life that makes them wonder if they were fooling themselves all along and that maybe, on second thought, none of it actually is true.

How would you prepare for such a spiritual emergency?  How would you become spiritually self-reliant to the point that your faith would be a strength to you at such a time of crisis?

We might start with the words of Helaman, who said we must build a spiritual foundation that is based on the Savior, “that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds,… when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you…, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

Another Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, taught us to hold dearly to the word of God.  Nephi described the iron rod as, “the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them.”

Notice Nephi doesn’t just say to read our scriptures:  he says to “hearken unto the word of God,” which surely means to practice what those scriptures teach.

In fact, it is not enough to say our prayers each day and read our scriptures each day if we do so mechanically without really engaging mentally and spiritually.  For example, we might study the challenges that faithful people in scriptures went through and ponder questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “why does God not seem to intervene more when people hurt each other” or “why does God permit suffering in the world?” or “why don’t I get a more vivid and unambiguous answer to my prayers?”  Strong foundations are built upon coming to know God and coming to understand His plan for us through thoughtful study and prayer and application of scriptural teachings.

Elder Holland said, “When those moments come… hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”  The more bricks we can lay in our spiritual foundation before large challenges arise, the better we’ll handle them.

Now let’s take that a step further with the second scenario.  The second scenario illustrates the issues around education and learning and the question of whether we will actively seek out learning or not.

In this last General Conference, President Nelson announced a tremendous opportunity for us in this regard.  He announced, quote, “A New Balance between Gospel Instruction in the Home and in the Church.”  The resulting headline has been that we’ll only have two hours of church on Sunday.  That’s the wrong headline!  The bigger story is that the living prophet of God is exhorting us to increase our personal and family study—our “spiritual education” if you will—outside of church—and especially at home—and especially on Sundays.

Just as a lack of worldly know-how can make financial and other challenges more difficult, a lack of understanding of true doctrine and other spiritual matters can decrease stability, increase uncertainty, confuse direction, and exacerbate other problems in our lives.

How do we learn spiritually?  As already mentioned, we study (and don’t just “read”) our scriptures.  We invest time in seminary and institute.  Sister Hansen in our stake teaches a wonderful class for the sisters each week.  We use the Sabbath and “home evening” and family scripture study.  And we don’t just engage mentally, we engage spiritually.  We pray and we seek the Holy Ghost to guide us. Jesus said that “if any man will do His will, He will know the doctrine,” so, much spiritual learning comes from faithfully doing.

One area related to education some of us can do better in is preparing our children for ordinances and covenants.  If we’re not careful, we’ll do more to prepare for missions and wedding receptions than we do to prepare our kids to understand the covenants they make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Endowment, or the Sealing Ordinance.  The result of that can be a very unhelpful ignorance and a delay (or worse) in receiving the blessings of consecrated discipleship.

We must diligently “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

The third scenario was about employment and the blessing of work and the problems created by not working.  This, too, has a spiritual parallel in service, ministering, and working to build the kingdom of God.  We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor, but it isn’t enough to have loving feelings for them in our hearts when we are able to also do things to bless others and to express that love.

Let me mention three ways we can be “employed,” so to speak in the Kingdom of God.

  • We can be actively involved in ministering to others, including those we’re assigned to minister to. Being assigned to love someone is highly underrated (from what I sometimes hear).  Some of the people I feel the most love for and most love from are people I have come to know either because I was assigned to them or they were assigned to me.
  • We can, if not limited by circumstances, serve in church callings and do our best to magnify them. Every church calling is about serving and helping people.  Finding the ways we can best do that is both fun and rewarding.
  • Lastly, we can engage in the work of salvation, specifically missionary work and temple and family history work. I can consciously engage in missionary work right now, every day, and I can make time in my life for temple and family history work.

We can do all these things in wisdom and order, considering the realities and priorities of our individual circumstances.  The more gospel activities are an important part of how we live our lives, the more spiritually strong and self-reliant we will become.

Brothers and Sisters—and especially you youth and young single adults—our Father in Heaven “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Before we came here, we lived with Him.  But we needed to experience some things outside of His immediate presence in order to grow and in order to prove ourselves.  That experience includes strong opposition.  I hope you have experienced and do experience many sunny days, but none of us, no matter how righteous, is exempt from rainy days.  We need to develop the spiritual strength to be able to withstand a downpour—and, perhaps, a prolonged downpour.  And even on those partly sunny, partly cloudy days we need the strength of faith and testimony, both built upon a foundation of the Savior, to guide us as we navigate the every day challenges and questions of earth life.

May we each act and not be acted upon.  May we look to the Savior, hold to the rod, heed the words of a living Prophet, and not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness”—or simply by the lies and deceits of the Devil.  There is good and there is evil.  God lives, and Satan and his strategies and philosophies are real.  The best defense is a good offense.

I testify that you are a child of Heavenly Parents.  God is not a creation of man.  You are a part of His family.  Jesus Christ is our brother.  We love and worship Him.  He sacrificed everything for us and offers forgiveness and mercy to all who demonstrate to Him a broken heart and contrite spirit.  This is His Church.  Fifteen men hold critical and legitimate priesthood keys.  President Nelson has been called to exercise them.  We will be blessed if we follow him.  I express my love to each of you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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