Recommitting to a Gospel focus in the home (Manzano YSA Branch Sacrament Meeting Talk)

Susan and I both spoke at the Manzano YSA Branch today in Los Lunas NM today.

Susan spoke about the importance of education and the resources available to us. She didn’t write it all down so I can’t print it here, but perhaps the most memorable portion of the talk was when she talked about her own struggle to learn to read.

Growing up, her family moved so often — and from one country to another — that it seriously affected her ability to learn to read. It wasn’t until she was in her late 20’s until she finally became proficient. She mentioned how she used to read to her young children as well as she could, until they became better readers than her, and they would read to her while she learned from them.

Then here’s my talk:

Today, I’m going to talk about some simple things that everyone should be doing every day as they seek to live the gospel in their home.

I am reminded of the emails that Pres. Clark sends out to all leaders in the Stake once a week. He ends every email with the admonition to “Keep the Faith – Through Daily Religious Behavior”

Let’s think a bit about that term “daily religious behavior” for a moment. What does it mean?

Prayer is certainly a religious behavior, isn’t it. So that means that if you pray every day (and I suspect that all of you here are doing that), congratulations! You are heeding Pres. Clark’s counsel.

Now, prayer is pretty simple, but in order to have effective prayer there are some fundamental principles we need to understand.

We are all children of our Heavenly Father. He is always ready to hear and answer our prayers.

You may feel at times that God doesn’t care or that he’s not listening. It’s important to know that the power of our prayers depends just as much on us as it does on him.

The prophet Mormon warned that if anyone “shall pray and not with real intent of heart … it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moroni 7:9). To make our prayers meaningful, we must pray with sincerity and “with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). We must be careful to avoid “vain repetitions” when we pray (see Matthew 6:7).

**Use language that shows love, respect, and reverence. We should use the pronouns of the scriptures when we address God—Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine, rather than the more common pronouns you, your, and yours. When we pray, we should use words that appropriately convey a loving, worshipful relationship with God.

Always give thanks to Heavenly Father. We should “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon [us]” (Alma 34:38). As we take time to remember our blessings, we will recognize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us. We should express our thanks to Him.

**Seek Heavenly Father’s guidance and strength in all we do. Alma counseled his son Helaman: “Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:36–37; see also Alma 34:17–26).

**Remember the needs of others as we pray. We should offer prayers “for [our] welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around [us]” (Alma 34:27). We should ask our Heavenly Father to bless and comfort those in need.

Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost so we will know what to include in our prayers. The Holy Ghost can teach us to pray and guide us in the things we say (see Romans 8:26; 2 Nephi 32:8; 3 Nephi 19:9, 24). He can help us pray “according to the will of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:30).

When we make a request through prayer, we must do all we can to assist in its being granted. Heavenly Father expects us to do more than merely ask Him for blessings. When we have an important decision to make, He often will require that we “study it out in [our] mind” before He will give us an answer (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8). Our prayers for guidance will be only as effective as our efforts to be receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. In Alma, chapter 34, we learn that Our prayers will be in vain if we “turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need” (Alma 34:28).

If we have a difficult task before us, Heavenly Father is pleased when we get on our knees and ask for help and then get on our feet and go to work. He will help us in all our righteous pursuits, but He seldom will do something for us that we can do ourselves.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ counseled: “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). Personal, private prayer is an essential part of our spiritual development.

Prayer is two-way communication. As we close our prayers, we should take time to pause and listen. At times, Heavenly Father will counsel, guide, or comfort us while we are on our knees.

We should never give in to the idea that we are not worthy to pray. This idea comes from Satan, who wants to convince us that we must not pray (see 2 Nephi 32:8). If we do not feel like praying, we should pray until we do feel like praying.

As you know our prayers can take many forms. They can be said vocally or in silence. They can be said alone or with others. We may say them at the start and end of each day. We may say them at meals. We often say them in times of crisis. It is said that you can have a prayer in your heart at all times.

The Savior has commanded, “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:5). Although we cannot be continuously on our knees, always offering a personal, private prayer, we can let our hearts be “full, drawn out in prayer unto [God] continually” (Alma 34:27; see also 3 Nephi 20:1). Throughout each day, we can maintain a constant feeling of love for our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. We can silently express gratitude to our Father and ask Him to strengthen us in our responsibilities. In times of temptation or physical danger, we can silently ask for His help.

My wife was recently counseled by her doctor that she should be doing some sort of activity every day to help relieve stress. Private prayer and meditation is certainly one activity we can and should be doing every day to help us get through the day and deal with the stress and trials in our lives.

The Savior taught, “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” (Matthew 7:7–8). To the Nephites He said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20).

Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect, but He does answer—in His own time and according to His will. Because He knows what is best for us, He may sometimes answer no, even when our petitions are sincere.

Answers to prayer come in many ways. They often come through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost (see “Revelation”). They may come in the circumstances of our lives or through the kind acts of those around us. As we continue to draw near to our Heavenly Father through prayer, we will recognize more readily His merciful and wise answers to our pleadings. We will find that He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Now I’d like to talk about another simple way that we can practice daily religious behavior, and how our church leaders are trying to help us do it.

Almost a year ago in General ConferencePres. Russell M. Nelson announced that our Sunday meeting time would be reduced from 3 hours to just 2.

Some asked “what should we do with the additional hour of free time?” Take a nap? Watch TV? Check Facebook?

Of course, that was not what President Nelson had in mind. He went on to explain that the time has come to move gospel learning away from church and into our homes. “It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings..”

That was our introduction to the “Come Follow Me program for Individuals and Families”, which is a new way to help us do what we’ve known all along, namely to study the Gospel in our homes.

I’m sure that many here have a habit of reading the scriptures every day. The Come Follow Me program is designed to assist us with that, and help make the scriptures more meaningful to us.

This year, we’re studying the New Testament. We’ve learned much about the Savior and all the things he accomplished during his short time on the earth. We’ve learned about his suffering and death on the cross, and his miraculous resurrection. We’ve learned about his apostles and how they were converted through the gift and power of the Holy Ghost and went on to preach the gospel in many lands.

Yes, there is much that we learn as we study the New Testament, but our wise church leaders understand that this is only the beginning.

Let me read a portion of the Introduction in the Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families manual:

“The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we’re not just looking for new information; we want to become a “new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This means relying on Christ to change our hearts, our views, our actions, and our very natures. But the kind of gospel learning that strengthens our faith and leads to the miraculous change of conversion doesn’t happen all at once. It extends beyond a classroom into an individual’s heart and home. It requires consistent, daily efforts to understand and live the gospel.”

The Come Follow Me manual is a companion to the scriptures. It doesn’t just help us to understand the scriptures, it helps us to understand how the scriptures can help us solve problems that we personally face everyday.

As you go through the manual, you’ll see questions like these:

  • How do I gain a testimony?
  • Why do I sometimes have to wait for blessings?
  • How does the spirit teach?
  • How can I do impossible things?
  • What is my divine potential and how can I reach it?
  • What should I say if my friends criticize my beliefs?
  • How can I feel peace?

Just yesterday, my wife and I discussed a question that is raised in the manual”. Referring to Romans 8:17–39, the manual asks, “How might these words apply to you and the trials you currently face?”

If we seriously take the time to ponder the questions posed in the manual, it will not only help us understand gospel principles more fully, but will help us to truly catch the vision of why we’re here and why we have these trials (that seem so big, but really aren’t). This then leads to a realization and understanding of our divine nature and unimaginable potential, which then ultimately leads us to the peace and joy that the gospel promises.

Some may be disappointed to discover that most of the questions in the manual are left unanswered. That’s because there is no one correct answer. We are encouraged to seek our own answers through the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Only in this way will we learn to become spiritually self-reliant.

Our church leaders have not told us exactly how we should implement the Come Follow Me program in our homes. That’s because there isn’t one method that will work for everyone. Every family is different and needs to find out what works for them.

There was a period in my life (while I was still single) that I found that it worked well to set aside time early in the morning to study the scriptures. My wife and I have tried a few different ways of studying the scriptures together. For years, we would read to each other at night just prior to falling asleep. More recently we listen to the recorded version of the scriptures on our smartphone during mealtime. We’ve also tried setting aside time after church to read and discuss the scriptures.

One brother told me that he uses his phone to read the assignment and ponder the questions every morning during his 30 minute bus ride to school. He explained that he set up side-by-side screens on his phone — with the Come Follow Me manual on the left side, and the scriptures on the right. In this way he is able to go back and forth easily.

Families with young children face perhaps the biggest challenges of all in implementing the Come Follow Me program. I suspect that most you here don’t have that challenge — yet. Appreciate and take advantage of this period in your life when you don’t have so many responsibilities.

Now I know that some of you have tried and failed to have regular scripture study in your home. Perhaps some don’t really understand the importance.

For those of you who feel discouraged, please don’t give up. As a former Bishop of mine often explained “the Lord blesses the effort”. He isn’t expecting us to do anything perfect is this life, but He does expect us to try — and He will bless us for our best effort.

I would like to conclude by testifying of the importance of daily prayer, and also of the importance of daily scripture study using the Come Follow Me program. Why are these simple things so important? Because, over time, they can fundamentally change you. They can help you become “the best version of yourself”, as Pres. Nelson says.

It is my prayer that as you seek the things of the spirit through daily religious behavior, that you will become the best version of yourself and achieve your full potential through the practice of daily religious behavior.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

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