[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, October 2016.]
Good morning, brethren. Thank you for being here this morning. My Patriarchal Blessing reminds me to attend faithfully all the meetings at which I am expected. I have tried to do that and it has blessed my life. You are in the right place and I join you in looking forward to being taught by Elder Worthen in a few minutes.
Sometimes it seems to me that when women are spoken to in the Church, they are provided comfort and reassurance—whereas men are told to buck up, shape up, and get with the program.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a “healthy” way of approaching life and understanding ourselves, which allows us to see ways in which we need to improve without being discouraged or frustrated (or perhaps demoralized) by it. It is, I believe, Heavenly Father’s desire that we strive for improvement from a position of security in the assurance that while we are striving, faithful, and observing our covenants, we are acceptable to the Lord in spite of our various needs for improvement.
And I believe that describes the vast majority of the men here this morning—faithful to the Savior, observant of and committed to covenants, and striving to magnify callings at home and in the Church. It is my testimony that we may do so from a position of confidence and trust in the Lord.
I would like to speak to you this morning about what must surely be the very most foundational aspect of effective priesthood leadership: personal righteousness. I often shy away from the word “righteous.” I suppose I confuse it with “self-righteous” sometimes and I often think of the Savior’s comment, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” Nevertheless, in our healthy way of striving for improvement, personal righteousness is what we ought to be striving for.
Let me begin by quoting the first paragraph of Chapter 3 from the Church’s Handbook of Instructions (Book 2):
All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of … Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ….
Leaders can best teach others how to be “true followers” by their personal example. This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
I don’t think we talk about that pattern very much. Perhaps that’s because it seems so obvious. But I think we would do well to talk and teach about it more explicitly. When an Elders Quorum presidency, for example, calls a man as a quorum instructor, the discussion accompanying that call could include a discussion of this pattern: “You are being called, not to teach lessons, but to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ—and to be able to do that effectively, you will need to be a faithful disciple, yourself. What do you need to do and how can I help?”
Such a discussion would also be appropriate for bishopric members who are training young men to be leaders in Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidency meetings. And we ought to discuss this pattern in our own presidency meetings.
Let me mention five fundamental areas of personal righteousness we need to all attend to. I would invite you to take notes and teach these things to those you lead. All come straight from the Handbook.
We should keep in mind that all men who bear the priesthood are called to lead. Some may, at the moment, have formal callings of leadership within the Church, but all are called by virtue of the priesthood, itself, to lead others to Christ, beginning with those in our own homes. Principles of priesthood leadership apply to all priesthood holders.
First, effective leaders must keep the commandments. This is a broad notion with myriad associated specifics and applications. All the law and the prophets are summarized in the commands to love God and to love our neighbors. At the heart of our efforts to keep the commandments should be a conscious striving for expressions of love toward God, toward our families, and toward all people.
To keep the commandments, we must be honest in all aspects of our lives. We must be faithful to our wives and our children in every way. We must honor the Sabbath meaningfully. And, we cannot be “Sunday Mormons” or publicly one way and privately another. The integrity of our professed devotion must extend to moments both seen and unseen.
An excellent guide for all of us with regard to the commandments is the pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth.” In my family, our Family Home Evening lessons are often drawn from “For the Strength of Youth” which is certainly no less applicable to us than to our teenagers. It is full of good counsel and reminders, which, exactly as its title suggests, will strengthen us as we follow them.
Second, we should study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Studying the scriptures is, I believe, essential nutrition for our souls. Dietary nutrition makes for a good analogy. If I get a steady diet over the course of a week or a month of all the vitamins and nutrients my body needs, I may notice some fairly immediate effect, but the most important effects will be long-term. Conversely, if I eat a steady diet of junk food and empty calories for a week or a month, I may also notice some fairly immediate effects, but the most important effects of such a sustained diet will be long-term—only they won’t be that long term because I won’t live that long.
Similarly, I can study or not study scriptures and living prophets for a week or so and the short-term effects will be real but probably not staggering. A steady, consistent diet of God’s word, however—or the absence thereof—has tremendous mid- and long-term effects.
These days I find three other things particularly important about scripture study in addition to consistency.
One is a steady connection to the Book of Mormon. The purpose of Joseph Smith’s mission and the purpose of the Book of Mormon are to bring us to Christ. The Book of Mormon does do that. From my observation, members of the Church who grow skeptical of Joseph Smith, also grow skeptical of the Savior and sometimes lose their connection to Him. The critical effects of the Book of Mormon are therefore twofold: it brings us closer to the Savior in a direct way and it brings us closer to the Church, which also strengthens us in our relationship with the Savior.
Another is the importance of studying the words of living prophets. I recently began reviewing again conference talks that were given 12 and 18 and 24 months ago—and this time preserving in my own electronic document the words and messages from those conferences that particularly touch my spirit and my mind. Just as we ought not disconnect ourselves from Joseph Smith, we need to stay in touch with living prophets—all of which will help us come to the Savior.
Lastly, I have long believed that we need to be outstanding students of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There we learn so much about the Savior, about our Father in Heaven, and about their love for us.
Do you need to study scriptures for two hours every day? Not in my opinion. But meaningful time in them each day has critical short- and long-term effects on our spiritual well-being.
Third, to develop our own personal righteousness in order to be effective leaders, we must pray. Of course, there are prayers, and then there are prayers. Prayers should be meaningful and they should be bi-directional as much as possible. Prayers should include enough time to be still and listen to the thoughts and feelings we receive in return.
Prayers are best in my opinion when they are heavy on thanking and light on asking. We shouldn’t ask for things we’re not willing to do our part for. And sometimes we should pray for strength to endure challenges more than we pray for our challenges to be removed from us.
Prayers should be more than thanking and asking, though. They should include worship. Worship is personal and, in some ways, hard to define, but I believe it has a lot to do with the depth and sincerity of our gratitude and respect and of our recognition of God’s perfection and generosity toward us. We can feel those things when we pray—and feeling them benefits us.
Fourth, we should fast. We all know the scripture wherein the Savior taught that some problems are not solved except through prayer and fasting. Fasting shows devotion, earnestness, and submissiveness. This is true when we approach Fast Sunday purposefully—and also when we fast for special purposes outside of Fast Sunday. Fasting can help foster unity for families, wards, and quorums.
As with prayer, we might consider sometimes fasting without tying our fast to a request. We might fast purely as an expression of gratitude, an expression of humility, and an expression of worship.
Fasting connected to caring for the poor has many beautiful promises attached to it:
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:8-9)
Lastly, the Handbook mentions that if we are to lead effectively through our example, through personal righteousness, we should “humble ourselves before the Lord.” What does that mean?
Nearest I can tell, all significant blessings associated with salvation, other than the resurrection, are tied to our humility. In 2 Nephi we read:
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:7)
I am convinced that, other than our covenants, the one thing that will most enable the Savior to save and exalt us is the achievement of having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Such a heart reflects faith in the Savior. Such a heart moves us not to occasional repentance, but to constant repentance. Such a heart keeps me well within the bounds of my covenants and stops me from trying to test limits of obedience and submissiveness.
When the Savior encountered broken hearts during his earthly ministry, He responded with compassion and mercy. When he encountered proud or rebellious hearts, he responded with chastisement and justice. When I am sufficiently self-aware, I see that there is too much pride in my heart. It is in my moments of legitimate humility that I find myself most at peace with myself and with the Lord—and I find myself in a position of strength because it is His strength I am recognizing.
Brethren, let me say again: Holding the priesthood, and particularly the Melchizedek Priesthood, is a call to lead—to lead others to the Savior. The very term “priesthood leadership meeting” seems redundant. We who have come this morning have each been asked, though, to lead some specific people in some specific ways and our call to leadership is particularly clearly defined right now.
We will be most effective helping others come to the Savior when our own lives are in order, when our spirituality is healthy, and when we are striving for personal righteousness not just in our outward examples but in our very personal private lives.
That we may keep the commandments, study the word of God, pray, fast, humble ourselves, and do all other things that are necessary for our own spiritual strength is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Does every prayer get answered? What does it even mean for a prayer to be answered?
Matthew 7:7 suggests (rather clearly) that every prayer is answered. Arguably, it even suggests that every prayer is answered favorably and might even imply to some that all prayers are answered immediately. At least, it says nothing about answers ever being “no” – nor about our having to wait for them. The Savior said:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
This same passage is similarly repeated in Luke 11. However, before going there, I would like to state one emphatic belief of mine: every prayer is answered.
However, I do not believe that every prayer is answered the way we want. We do not believe that God is like the genie in the bottle, there to grant us every wish exactly when and how we like – or even at all in some cases. Some answers are “yes.” Some answers are “no.” Some answers are “not right now; let’s hold off on that one.” And some answers are “you need to struggle through this one on your own for your own benefit; I’m going to let you do that.” You could come up with your own variations on those themes, but that’s how I see it. In fact, it troubles me whenever I hear someone say their prayer was answered, when they say it in a way that suggests that the proof of it being answered is that they got what they wanted – which in turn suggests that their prayer would have been unanswered if they didn’t get what they wanted. I think we need to be careful to never suggest that “answered” prayers are comprised only of those whose answers we like.
Back to Luke 11. This is an interesting chapter! It begins with one of Jesus’ disciples asking him to teach them to pray. The Lord responds with what we know as The Lord’s Prayer and eventually gets into words similar to those in Matthew 7, quoted above. But, interestingly, between those two things he asks his audience a question involving “importuning,” which, according to Google, means “to ask someone pressingly and persistently for or to do something.”
“Keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking…”
Let me quote Luke 11:5-10. However, I’m going to quote the International Standard, rather than the King James, version. (The everyday language of the ISV may be startling to some Latter-day Saints, but I find it insightful sometimes to review other translations of the New Testament.) It says:
Then he told them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’ Suppose he answers from inside, ‘Stop bothering me! The door is already locked, and my children are here with us in the bedroom. I can’t get up and give you anything!’ I tell you, even though that man doesn’t want to get up and give him anything because he is his friend, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. So I say to you: Keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you, because everyone who keeps asking will receive, and the person who keeps searching will find, and the person who keeps knocking will have the door opened.”
The part I italicized is rather interesting. It is a completely different translation than the KJV because it adds in the “keep asking/searching/knocking” part, which doesn’t seem to exist in the Greek text at all. I’m definitely not suggesting the ISV is a more literal translation of the text. Nevertheless, isn’t it expressing what we believe? And isn’t that, in fact, what the Savior is teaching? Verse 8 in the KJV says, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [his “pressingly and persistently” asking] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Emphasis added again.) The Savior is teaching that receiving doesn’t always immediately follow asking; nor finding seeking.
That teaching might remind us also of a parable the Savior teaches seven chapters later – a parable which begins with an instructive preamble!
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.”
Now that last word is a little confusing, as is the comparison of God to an “unjust judge.” Nevertheless, the teaching seems unmistakable: men and women ought to pray repeatedly over the long term and never give up praying, because, even though answers will come “speedily” when they do come, they won’t come necessarily immediately. Some answers take time. And sometimes the answer is “no” and sometimes the answer is “wait” and sometimes the answer is “you’re on your own.”
Blessings, in real but not pre-specified forms, always follow obedience quickly (see Mosiah 2:24 ). Prayers, however, are not always answered the way we wish. Nor are they always answered the way we wish without consistent “importuning.”
What, then, should we do about our frustrations over our prayers not being answered when and how we want? The same thing we should do when our prayers are answered exactly when and how we like: be humble and submissive; maintain a broken heart and a contrite spirit; trust in the Lord and wait on Him. Getting impatient and angry with God will not result in happiness. Waiting on Him with faith and submissiveness, however, is critical to living after the manner of happiness!