Returning to Church Activity by Responding to the Spirit

Returning to Church Activity by Responding to the Spirit

Life is full of learning experiences. Many beautiful truths are discovered by using our spiritual senses rather than our physical senses. In fact, it seems that the most important things in life are things which are unseen through our physical eyes.

The apostle, Paul, taught this principle to the Corinthian saints. 'While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.' (2 Corinthians 4:18) Love is not learned and felt primarily through the physical senses. Likewise, compassion and friendship are things of the spirit.

Most of my life has been lived in the Pacific Area. This Area of the Church is extremely diverse, with developed and sophisticated nations such as Australia and New Zealand. Other nations such as Tonga and Samoa, where Church members represent high proportions of the population, are primarily subsistence farming and fishing nations. Then there are developing nations such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands where infrastructure is poor and significant challenges confront the people. This diversity provides opportunities to learn.

One such learning experience stands out. As an Area Seventy, I had been assigned to preside at a stake conference in New Zealand. Only a few months before, President Monson had delivered a most powerful address to all the Seventies of the world. It concerned rescuing those who had slipped away from the ordinances of the gospel. As a result of his address and the consequent challenge given to us, I felt an urgency to take every opportunity to visit and invite those not fully involved in the gospel to return to the covenants and ordinances of salvation.

In the course of doing this, I had made it a regular practice to invite the stake president to take me with him during the stake conference weekend to visit some who were less active. Those visits, although often made during a day full of meetings when I was otherwise tired, were always wonderful. The people of the Pacific often have a profound understanding of the importance of the 'unseen things' described by Paul and many clearly prioritize the things of the Spirit over physical needs.

During this particular stake conference weekend, the stake president and I visited several families. One of these families consisted of a husband and wife who had been married for about ten years and had been sealed in the temple, but were now less active. We were welcomed warmly and had a spiritual visit. As the visit was ending I felt prompted to say to the husband that I felt I should give him a blessing, and that we'd like him to then bless his wife. This was unusual for me to do as I'd been taught that as a guest in another's home, I should take a subordinate role and that the head of the home should be the one who decides what is done and who is to do it. He was, however, grateful for the offer of this blessing. The stake president and I duly blessed him together and when we finished he was visibly moved by the spiritual experience.

However, as he arose, he asked me whether I or the stake president would bless his wife instead of his doing it. I found myself responding: 'No, it is you who should bless your wife.' He told us that, despite being married for ten years, he had never given her a blessing and was uncomfortable to do so now. I said: 'We will help you. We will explain what you need to do and give you whatever assistance you require, but you need to give the blessing.'

After our explaining what he should do, and having him rehearse what was necessary for him to say to begin and end the blessing, he proceeded to give his wife a most tender and wonderful blessing. When he finished, we all had moist eyes. Our invitation for them to return to the ordinances of the gospel was then accepted.

As a result of this tender experience, the stake president was inspired in his address to the members of his stake the next day, to challenge all those priesthood holders present to go home and bless their family members. As that Sunday session of the conference ended, I had a most unusual but compelling prompting to approach a young lady who was sitting on the side of the chapel about ten rows from the front, and ask whether she would like me to give her a blessing. I had never felt such a prompting before, nor have I since. I did not know the woman but the prompting was compelling and so I responded, feeling a little awkward. She was surprised and, being taken aback, said hesitantly: 'No thank you.' I was somewhat grateful for her negative reply, feeling that I had done as the Lord had asked but not knowing why He had asked. I returned with the stake president to the front and continued greeting members. Then this same young woman came forward and asked me whether I was still willing to give her a blessing. Of course I agreed and suggested she go to the stake president's office where we would join her shortly after finishing greeting those who were there.

After concluding the greetings, I asked the stake president who the young lady was and whether he could tell me something about her. As we made our way to his office he explained that she was just starting to return to Church after about ten years of total inactivity. She was living alone but had lived in a way totally unaligned to gospel standards for those ten years.

The stake president and I then spoke with the young lady who told us of her feelings of unworthiness and of her previous life where she had simply done what she wanted with no thought of spiritual matters. But she had experienced an awakening to the gospel and now realized that she had slipped so far behind in her spiritual development that she could see no hope of ever catching up.

We proceeded to teach her that the laborers who entered the vineyard later could still receive the same reward (see Matt. 20:1-10), and then gave her a priesthood blessing. As the voice of that blessing, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the Lord to her. It was a feeling more powerful than I'd felt before, one that made me aware that I was in the presence of a particularly noble spirit. As the blessing finished and she rose from the chair, there were two black lines running from beneath her eyes to under her chin. There was no mascara left where it had been applied. And the trails under my eyes, although not as clearly delineated, were similar in flow.

The Lord allowed me to see that this exceptional young lady was in the early stages of the process that we all must complete to achieve our potential here on earth.

As the apostle Paul taught the Galatians, this life is the time for the spirit to subdue the flesh. 'For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.' (Galatians 5:17)

Whether we reach our potential depends on whether our spirits govern our bodies, or whether instead, the 'natural man' (Mosiah 3:19) prevails. Many in the world seem to have no fight for this battle. The appetites of the flesh govern their lives and the flesh subdues the spirit.

This young woman was on a path that would enable her spirit to subdue the flesh. She had begun a contest which she was determined to win.

As I left that stake I asked the stake president to provide me contact details for those I'd met that weekend so that I could encourage them to continue on the paths they'd set and to remember the commitments they'd made.

The young lady continued to progress, and to do so rapidly. She began, by her faith, to 'walk in the Spirit' (Gal. 5:16, 25) and to 'live in the Spirit' (Gal. 5:25). She kept in touch with me and confided in me about the significant challenges she had faced and has since faced. She has become a dear friend to our family. And we have seen the strength of her spirit as she has drawn so very close to the Savior. She has now enjoyed the blessings of the temple, served as an ordinance worker and, always remaining absolutely faithful, radiates the spiritual gift of charity and goodness. As I write this she has just announced her engagement to a wonderful, worthy young man to whom she will shortly be sealed.

The spiritual has clearly overcome the temporal in this young lady. We have seen her heart become as pure as any and she has no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (see Mosiah 5:2). The Lord's knowledge of the unveiling nobility of her soul was the cause of the prompting I received that day. It has blessed me to see His power and His grace applied as this young daughter of our Heavenly Father lives and walks in the Spirit. We all can do the same.