Sunday, October 7, 2007

Preaching by Service

Elder Spencer W. Kimball visits Mission President Wm. Grant Bangerter and family in Brazil 1958

Your faith to find people to teach is demonstrated through your actions. During his mortal ministry, the Savior, “took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). He went about “doing good” (Acts 10:38) and “preaching the gospel” (Matthew 4:23). As you follow this example, you will find those who will receive you.

Through service, you and those who are prepared for the restored gospel come together in a powerful, inspiring way. Your good works will help people recognize you as a servant of God, and will lead to opportunities to teach the restored gospel.

Many missionaries’ experience with service before their missions involved helping someone move, serving at a Church farm, or cleaning a yard. As a missionary, you will offer such planned service each week (see the Missionary Handbook for additional information).

The type of service described in this section focuses on unplanned opportunities. This type of service involves listening to the Spirit to recognize opportunities of small, simple acts of kindness that you can offer to God’s children. Pray and be aware of opportunities throughout each day to do good. As you seek to do good, you will be led to people who are being prepared for the restored gospel. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 168).

It is so important that you lose yourselves in this work, that you don't worry about "what is it going to do for me." You are not out in the world with self-improvement as the major objective, but you can't help getting a maximum amount of self-improvement if you lose yourself in the work of the Lord. I don't know of any better preparation for life than two years of devoted, unselfish, dedicated service as a missionary. (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974, pp. 59-60).

Not long ago, two of our young missionaries were summoned to a California hospital to give a blessing to a young Latter-day Saint man who had been in a serious motorcycle accident. The nurse who called them was a member of the ward in which they were laboring, and she asked them to come as quickly as possible because the young man’s condition was extremely critical.

When they arrived at the hospital, she apologized for having brought them there for nothing. The young man’s condition had worsened. Scans revealed no brain activity. Monitors hooked to his body indicated that his various body systems were shutting down. Death was probably only minutes away.

The missionaries wondered if they should turn their ministerial attention to the young man’s family. They were told that the highway patrol had contacted his parents in Utah, and they were making arrangements to come as quickly as possible. Still, they were at best hours away, and it appeared unlikely that they would arrive before their son died.

What a tragic situation. The missionaries asked if there was anything at all they could do to help. The nurse assured them that nothing could be done for the young man and suggested that perhaps they could return to provide comfort and support to his parents when they arrived. The missionaries said they would do so and turned to leave.

They had gone just a few steps down the hall, however, when an overwhelming feeling came to one of them. “If that were my son in that emergency room,” he said to his companion, “I’d give him a blessing, no matter what the doctors said.”

His companion agreed, and they quickly returned to the nurse.

“I appreciate what you’re saying, elders,” she said when they explained that they wanted to give the young man a priesthood blessing. “But he’s dying. He may already be dead. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.”

The missionaries looked at each other for a moment. Then one of them spoke. “You’re right—there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “But the blessing won’t come from me. It will come from God. Why don’t we see what He has to say in the matter?”

The nurse led them to the young man’s bedside, where one of them anointed his heavily bandaged head with consecrated oil. The other missionary joined his companion in placing their hands delicately on the patient’s head, careful to avoid all of the tubes and wires that were keeping the young man barely alive. The anointing was sealed, and the missionary who was acting as voice waited for the Spirit to prompt the words of the blessing. He was not impressed to give a blessing of healing or recovery; he was prompted to bless the young man that he would live long enough to see and speak to his parents when they arrived.

That is precisely what happened, much to the amazement of the entire medical staff of the hospital. For several hours, the young man hovered precariously between life and death. But he rallied significantly when his parent arrived. He even regained consciousness long enough to speak to them briefly before he died.

The missionaries returned to the hospital to speak to this young man’s parents, from whom they learned the rest of the story. Their son had been estranged from them and from the Church for several years but had recently made some important changes in his life, including a return to activity in the Church. He was on his way home to Utah for reconciliation with his family when the accident occurred. During the brief time he regained consciousness, he was able to express his love to his parents, and they were able to express their love to him. It was a healing time for the entire family—spiritually, if not physically.

When the parents thanked the emergency room staff for their care of their son, one of the doctors rejected their suggestion that the skill of the medical personnel had something to do with the young man’s staying alive as long as he did. “It’s nothing that we did,” the doctor said, “I don’t even know how he was able to regain consciousness to communicate with you. I’m not sure I believe in miracles, but there’s no other explanation for what happened here today.”

Ever since the priesthood of God was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, miraculous things have happened in the lives of Latter-day Saints. In addition to miracles of healing, the priesthood power is manifest almost daily throughout the Church through miracles of revelation, miracles of service, miracles of organization, and miracles of administration. Under the direction of latter-day prophets and Apostles, priesthood authority is exercised in behalf of Heavenly Father’s children, and priesthood keys are used to unlock the mysteries of His kingdom. (M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001], pp. 151-153).

Take an active part in building the kingdom of God through service. Once we have nourished ourselves with the good word of Christ and feasted at His table so that our testimony is strong and vibrant, we are obligated to join with the missionaries in a balanced effort to invite others—beginning with our families—to the spiritual banquet. As the Lord said to His beloved Apostle Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen they brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Feeding the Lord’s sheep requires each of us to awaken our interest in others. The duty to invite others to partake of the gospel feast does not rest only on the shoulders of our missionaries. That sober and significant duty belongs to each member of the Church, for “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).

Today, our prophet is calling for enthusiastic and dynamic love for our Heavenly Father’s children. He asks us to see the spiritual hunger around us and to respond by willingly sharing our abundance. No power on earth can accomplish as much as one righteous man or woman or boy or girl. And if you think you’re just too busy for that kind of dedication of your time and talents, or if you’re waiting to devote yourself to God’s service more completely “later,” may I suggest that you review this with the Lord in prayer and be willing to listen to His counsel. Don’t allow yourself to be so busy with temporal experiences that you lose the opportunity for spiritual experiences. (M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001], p. 69).

No greater service can be given to the missionary calling of the Church than to exemplify positive Christian virtues in our lives. (Spencer W. Kimball, "Hold Fast to the Iron Rod," Ensign, [November 1978]: 6).

I think there is no greater thing concerning future integrity that a missionary can learn than the value of personal virtue. I think there are fewer words greater than the promise given under the inspiration of the Lord as set forth by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” That’s the commandment. And then the promise: “Thy confidence [shall] was strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45). That’s the promise to those who walk in virtue. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Gifts to Bring Home from the Mission Field,” New Era [March 2007]: 4).

I’m going to read two or three statements from what I regard as the greatest missionary letters ever written. They were written by Paul to his young companion, Timothy. In 1 Timothy, the fourth chapter, the twelfth verse, Paul wrote: “Let no man despise they youth.” People look at you and say: “What are you doing as a minister of the gospel? What do you know about it, you young men and women?” That’s what they think. Here you are, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. Not educated—they look upon you as being not educated—as youth. “Let no man despise they youth”—Timothy was a young man, like you—“but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” What he is saying is that if you reflect in your lives the elements of the gospel, people will look beyond your youth as in the faces of men and women who are believers in word, in their conversation, in their acts of love and charity, in spirit, their attitude, in faith, in purity.

Skipping to the fourteenth verse, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Timothy was called just way you were, by the spirit of prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Who are the presbytery? The elders of the Church who set you apart, in most cases your stake presidents. . . .

Skip down to verse sixteen, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine, continue in them, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.”

That’s what happens when you go out and teach others; you save them. You are an instrument in the hands of the Lord in saving them, but you also save yourselves. You come home a different young man from what you were when you came into the field. And, if you remember what you learned in the mission field, you will be faithful all of your life. Those are the words of Paul to Timothy and they are the words from me to you.

Let me add one or two other things. The fifth chapter, twenty-second verse reads: “Keep thyself pure.” Paul puts it just that plainly and just that simply. “Keep thyself pure.” Every one of you knows what that means. I remember thirty years ago being in Taiwan when a missionary destroyed himself because he became involved in immorality. He was excommunicated from the Church. I have been trying to find him ever since. I don’t know what happened to him. I guess he’s out of the Church. I guess his children are out of the Church. He’s old enough to have grandchildren; I suppose probably they are out of the Church because of the foolish thing which he did. “Keep thyself pure.” There is no substitute for purity. What was it that Sir Galahad said? “My strength is the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.” What was it the Lord said? “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” That’s the commandment of the Lord through modern revelation. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Spain Madrid Missionary Meeting, 11 June 1996).

As we discussed these items of service, I was thinking of my missionary experiences. I thought back to the times when I was most successful, when I would give true Christian service. Often on our days off--what they call preparation days today--we'd done our work clothes and go out into the widow's cornfield and help her weed her corn or go help a family move. When we'd put the real Christian principle of service into action, it was easy to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. For when we set the example of the process of service, it was easy to go the next step of teaching why we gave the Christian service. (L. Tom Perry, "In the World", Brigham Young University 1981 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo: University Publications Department, 1981, p. 6).

Believe that people who are being prepared to receive the message of the Restoration will be placed in your path. God will also place you where your good acts and words will prepare people to receive missionaries and Church members. In all your finding efforts, pray and look for opportunities to serve, help, and lift others. As you are serving, talk with everyone you meet. Have the faith that you can share the restored gospel.

In every way you serve, you should do so because you love your brothers and sisters and therefore hope, pray, and earnestly desire to teach them the restored gospel.
Remember the following guidelines as you seek to do good:

· Stay with your companion.

· Preserve the sacred nature of your call.

· Keep the missionary rules, and do not donate or use your money.

· See your Missionary Handbook for guidelines concerning weekly community service.
(Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 169).

Do you want to be happy? Forget yourself and get lost in this great cause. Lend your efforts to helping people. . . . Stand higher, lift those with feeble knees, hold up the arms of those that hang down. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Gordon B. Hinckley, The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997, p. 597).

I am constantly amazed at how the Holy Ghost matches the characteristics and needs of each missionary and couple to the widely varying circumstances of missionary service throughout the world. I have observed how some of the strongest, most capable elders and sisters are called to the United States and Canada to keep the roots of the Church strong there. I have seen how missionaries who return from unusual assignments, such as adapting to the native culture of a Pacific Island, Mongolia, or the highlands of Guatemala or otherwise serving with minimal personal contact with the mission president, develop previously unknown personal capacities extremely well. (Richard G. Scott, “Now Is the Time to Serve a Mission!” Ensign, [May 2006]: 87).

Service in the mission field gives social training. The missionary meets many people of diverse extraction and opinions. The friendship of all of these he must win sufficiently to lay his message before them. This is good training in social behavior. It develops understanding, sympathy, and tolerance, indispensable elements in any program for the social well-being of a community. As the missionaries return and assume their share of leadership in the Church, the value of their experiences becomes very evident. (John A. Widtsoe, Program of the Church, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, Press, 1937, p. 91).