Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Prophetic Priorities

Each of us face many decisions on how we use our time each day. Some of these decisions are routine or mundane and do not require much thought: Each morning I know I will spend time getting ready for work. I will use some of my time each day for eating and sleeping. On Sundays my family will use our time to go to church. These decisions-- and thousands of others-- are made without much conscious thought.

Other decisions require many devoted hours of study and research. Perhaps we are considering a career change, a college major, a move to someplace we've never been or a change in our family life.

The decisions we make without conscious thought or while racking our brains can both have major implications for our lives. As we consider our choices, Elder Oaks has reminded us that it is, 'not enough' to do something good. 'The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them,' he explains. 'Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.'

Though the agency to allocate our time is ours alone, living prophets provide guidance and counsel that will inform our judgment and direct our lives toward those things that are best. These choices may not always be popular or easy. A particular choice may require we do something difficult or carry a burden we'd prefer not to carry. Elder Oaks reminds us in such times that 'even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all.'

Prophetic priorities also protect us against dangers that could derail our lives and destroy our futures. Though the Word of Wisdom was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, it was President Heber J. Grant that emphasized adherence to this principle from 1918 to 1945. This was the time of prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II, when smoking and drinking were accepted norms and even considered glamorous.

Beginning in the 1960s, while illegal drug use was reaching epidemic proportions, researchers began to discover the significant health risks of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Elder Quentin L. Cook recently explained that 'obeying the Word of Wisdom gave our members, especially our youth, a preventative inoculation against drug use and the resulting health problems and moral hazards.' The prophets, like watchmen on a tower, saw the danger afar off and prepared those who would listen from the influences and addictions that could have destroyed them (see D&C 101:44-54).

In a January 2013 devotional, Sister Elaine S. Dalton taught that 'as dedicated disciples we must act and make prophetic priorities our priorities. In order to do this we will need to be riveted on the words of the current prophets, seers, and revelators.' The most recent general conference included a major announcement on missionary work and the announcement of several new temples. From the topics listed in the Ensign, there were nine talks about serving others, six about discipleship, six about the priesthood, eight about marriage, family or children, and twelve about Christ, repentance or the Atonement.

Are these priorities our priorities? Could a passer-by identify our priorities with a quick glance at our daily planner or by observing how we use our time today?

As another general conference approaches, we should remember to ask ourselves what we will strive to become because of what we hear from the Lord's prophets. In a separate address, Elder Oaks taught, 'We are accountable and will be judged for how we use what we have received... The principle of accountability also applies to the spiritual resources conferred in the teachings we have been given and to the precious hours and days allotted to each of us during our time in mortality.'

There are more opportunities to do something good than any of us could possibly have time enough to do. If we seek to make prophetic priorities our own, decisions of any size will contribute to a life filled with what is best. We will be protected from danger, find peace and joy in our decisions, and be led home to that God who, like any good father, is rooting for us to pass the tests we face. If we've let prophetic priorities be our guide, that will be the best of all.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Two-Way Relationship with God

Christ taught his disciples that life eternal was to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent (John 17:3). Many church programs, like the Duty to God program for the young men and Personal Progress program for the young women, have the stated purpose of helping the members of the Church develop their relationships with God. General Conference talks are often laced with references to deep and meaningful relationships with the Divine that are leading men and women toward life eternal.

Despite all of these, sometimes we may wonder how to have a relationship with God or how to strengthen it. Perhaps we have asked ourselves whether we know God but are unsure of how to answer.

We come to know God the same way we come to know a friend or a family member. It takes an investment of time and effort. Most of all, conversing with the Lord helps us get to know and stay familiar with our Heavenly Father.

Mosiah taught that we serve God when we serve our fellow men (Mosiah 2:17) and John wrote that we know God when we exercise love for one another (1 John 4:8). Studying the scriptures and the teachings and practices of the Church with an eye of faith will teach us more about the nature of God and how he interacts with us. Observing the hand of God in our own lives with gratitude for our many blessings will also build our faith and strengthen our relationship with God.

President Uchtdorf has taught:

Our relationship with God is most sacred and vital. We are His spirit children. He is our Father. He desires our happiness. As we seek Him, as we learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, as we open our hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, our lives become more stable and secure. We experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment as we give our best to live according to God's eternal plan and keep his commandments.

We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, by communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ... To strengthen our relationship with God, we need some meaningful alone time with Him. Quietly focusing on daily personal prayer and scripture study, always aiming to be worthy of a current temple recommend-- these will be some wise investments of our time and efforts to draw closer to our Heavenly Father.

When our prayers or scripture study are not what we would like them to be, often it is because we have not nurtured our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Just as we must give of our time and attention to develop vibrant relationships with our spouses and children, and just as our family relationships may be strained when they are neglected, the effort we give in prayer and scripture study will determine the quality of our relationship with God.

Elder Bruce D. Porter recently taught that 'prayer is the ordained means by which men and women, and even little children, come to know God.' Elder Porter reminds us that for us to get to know God and borrow strength, love and light at His doorstep through prayer, we must forsake our vain repetitions and decide to really pray. He continued:

Moroni's admonition about praying to know the truth of the Book of Mormon applies to all prayers: namely, that we 'ask with a sincere heart, with real intent' (Moroni 10:4). True prayer is heartfelt: the words convey our deeply felt desires and are coupled with a commitment to act on the divine guidance we receive.

Heartfelt prayer comes from the depths of the soul. Our mind and heart are directed toward God with full and complete attention. When we pray from the heart, we are not just saying words or 'going through the motions'; we are seeking to draw nearer to our Father in Heaven, to commune with Him in a personal and intimate manner. Heartfelt prayer is the furthest thing from a memorized recitation. We do not simply talk at God; rather, we talk with Him. This does not imply a face-to-face conversation as Moses experienced, but it does suggest communing with God by listening to the still, small voice of the Spirit. It means allowing time both during a prayer and after a prayer to hear spiritual promptings.

We know we are offering a heartfelt prayer if we mean what we say. Often times we will feel the prayer as much as we are thinking or saying it. It helps to set aside a time to pray when we will not be rushed but can meditate, if only for a few minutes, in quiet solitude. When we offer heartfelt prayers, we take a few steps closer to our Heavenly Father. It becomes easier to hear His voice in our lives and for our prayers to change from lists of blessings and desires to genuine conversations.

True prayer means speaking with God about the things that matter most. As we converse with God, we should seek to understand divine truths, to better understand the purpose of our life and to bring our will in line with the will of God. Through prayer we can learn God's will and gain the strength to accept it. Elder Porter explained:

God knows our innermost thoughts and feelings even better than we do, but as we learn to share them with Him, we make it possible for His Spirit to enter our souls and teach us more about our own selves and about the nature of God. By making ourselves totally honest, open, and submissive before God, our hearts become more receptive to His counsel and His will.

True prayer requires self-reflection and studying out our decisions before we approach the Lord. The Lord promises to tell us what is right in our minds and in our hearts by the Holy Ghost (D&C 8:2). If we have a good feeling but our thoughts are unsettled, we should continue to study and pray. If we have developed a plan of action that makes sense but does not feel right, we may not yet have the answer. Hearing the still small voice of the Lord requires silencing our personal prejudices. Only when heart and mind are in accord can we be confident that we have reached the right conclusion.

President Uchtdorf taught that 'prayer is a heavenly gift designed to help us achieve spiritual lift. It enhances and cultivates our relationship with God.' As we learn to offer more heartfelt prayers, to ponder and meditate, to search the scriptures and willingly serve our fellow men and women, we can develop a rich and meaningful relationship in this life and through life eternal.