Sunday, October 7, 2007


Harold B. Lee (center) Western States Mission 1921

The Lord has said, “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:21). To teach effectively, you need to obtain spiritual knowledge. For you to grow in the gospel and stay on the path that leads to eternal life, you need to develop a habit of gospel study (See D&C 131:6). The study habits you develop as a missionary will bless you personally and help those you teach grow in their faith in the Savior.

Effective daily study must always begin with prayer. Study is an act of faith requiring the use of personal agency. Many missionaries struggle to know how to study effectively. Some rely heavily on others or on structured programs to tell them what and how to study. While learning from a good teacher is very important, it is more important for you to have meaningful learning experiences on your own. Getting good results from your study depends on having a strong desire to learn, studying with “real intent” (Moroni 10:4), “hunger[ing} and thirst[ing] after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), and searching for answers to your investigators questions and concerns. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 17).

There is nothing that qualifies a man so much for preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as to study the revelations that the Lord has seen fit to give us in our day. (Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, October 1925, p. 6).

The individual elder is left largely to the guidance of the spirit of his calling, with which he should be imbued. If he fail to cultivate that spirit, which is the spirit of energy and application, he will soon become torpid, indolent and unhappy. Every missionary should strive to devote part of each day to study and prayerful thought on the principles of the gospel and the theology of the Church. He should read and reflect and pray. True, we are opposed to the preparing of set sermons to be delivered with the thought of oratorical effect and rhetorical display; yet when an elder arises to address a congregation at home or abroad, he should be thoroughly prepared for his sermon. His mind should be well stored with thoughts worth uttering, worth hearing, worth remembering; then the spirit of inspiration will bring forth the truths of which his auditors are in need, and give to his words the ring of authority. (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 13th ed. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968, p. 363).

It is right that the Elders should “treasure up in [their] minds continually the words of life. . . .”[D&C 84:85.] It is proper that they should ponder upon the things of the Kingdom and the principles of life and salvation. They should store their minds with all knowledge, for the Lord has, in several revelations, given commands to this effect. It is evident that it is his wish that His servants should be fully informed concerning principle, doctrine, the laws of the Gospel and all things that pertain unto the Kingdom of God, and also that they should “obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdom, of laws of God and man.” [D&C 95:53.]

In bestowing time and thought in studying the principles of intelligence and truth the Elders obey the command of God. It is evident, however, the Lord designs that His servants should trust in Him to give them His Spirit to bring forth the principles and instructions best adapted to the condition of the people whom they address. No man by his own wisdom and knowledge, can judge correctly concerning the spiritual wants of His children, and when His Elders stand up before a congregation and put their trust in Him, He will, through His Holy Spirit, suggest to them and lead their minds to speak upon those points of doctrine and to give that counsel that shall best be adapted to the condition of the listener. . . . It is the Spirit of God that reaches the hearts of the honest. A few words accompanied by the Spirit, thought they may be awkwardly expressed, will have more effect upon the people than the most eloquent discourses which are not sealed upon the hearts of the listeners by the Holy Spirit. . . .

Undoubtedly the Lord knows that which is best for His Elders and people. It is for Him to dictate how His Gospel shall be preached, and His Elders have not right to depart from His instructions upon this point. . . .

The experience of all men who have had any knowledge of or practice in public speaking is that the man who is trained to speak extemporaneously is far more ready and effective speaker than one who has been accustomed to rely upon notes or to write out his discourses or lectures in full. The man most ready in off hand speaking, or in answering a sudden call, is one who has never depended upon notes, but who has stored his mind with truth and knowledge in the manner that the Lord has suggested to His Elders. . . That which they do say, though it may not be so elegant framed as it might be if time were taken to write it, reaches the heart of the hearers and has a much better effect upon them than a speech would be that had been carefully prepared and written. (George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, 25 [1 April 1890]: 210-211).

At that time nothing I had attempted was so hard for me to do as to try and speak out in the open air, but when I “broke the ice,” I was as happy as a bird. It gave me strength, for the Spirit of the Lord helped me. And, so it will you and your companions if you courageously meet obstacles, with a firm determination to do your whole duty. Get in your hearts the Spirit of God, the knowledge of the truth, and determination to do right, and you need not fear the taunts nor ridicule, nor the wisdom or learning of any man. Keep away from toughs and from their haunts and pay attention to study and prayer, always remembering God in humility. (Joseph F. Smith, From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to his missionary sons, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, p. 31).

Three thousand was a rich harvest in anybody’s book. Brethren and sisters, we must think in larger numbers. We must prepare our missionaries better, not only with language but with scripture and above all with a testimony and a burning fire that puts power to their words. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, April 1976).

If there is any best way for a young member of the Church to gain an in-depth knowledge of the gospel, it is to serve a mission. A mission is a near perfect combination of study and application of principles as one learns them. Nothing can compare with it. (Boyd K. Packer, "Principles," Ensign, [March 1985]: 10).

I also have been greatly influenced in my study and use of the scriptures by President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973). During my initial missionary training in Salt Lake City in 1971, approximately 300 elders and sisters were blessed to receive instruction from President Lee in the assembly room of the Salt Lake Temple. To be taught by one of the Lord’s special witnesses and a member of the First Presidency in such a sacred setting was a most memorable experience for me.

The format for the instruction was quite simple: President Lee invited us to ask questions about any and all gospel topics. I will never forget what I felt as I watched President Lee answer every single question from the scriptures! I knew I would never have the command of the scriptures that he did, but then and there in the Salt Lake Temple I resolved to study and use the scriptures in my teaching and follow the example of President Lee. And that commitment as a new and inexperienced 19-year-old missionary has blessed my life in ways that cannot be counted or adequately described. (David A. Bednar, “Because We Have Them before Our Eyes,” New Era, [April 2006]: 2–3).

These young men are just like the rest of us: they have received the spirit of life, light and intelligence, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and they are the messengers of the Great Jehovah, whom He has selected, set apart, and ordained to go and proclaim His will to the nations of the earth. They go not in their own name or strength, but in the name, strength and power of Israel’s God. That is their position, and if they cleave to God and magnify their callings, adhere to the principles of truth, and shun temptation and corruption of every kind, the power of God will be with them, and God shall open their mouths, and enable them to confound the wisdom of the wise, and they will say things that will astonish themselves and those who listen to them.

I would say to these brethren, let it be your study to fulfill your mission. Never mind the world; never mind the dollars and cents, the pounds, shillings, and pence. You cleave to God, live your religion, magnify your callings, humble yourselves before God, call upon Him in secret and He will open your path before you. (John Taylor, Deseret News (Weekly), [19 June 1867]: 194).

One should study, ponder, learn scriptures, and build his testimony so that he may be prepared to teach and train. The Lord has said, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30), and it is our hope that from infancy through all the years of maturing, the lessons taught in the auxiliaries, in the seminaries and institutes, in the home evenings, in the sacrament meetings, and elsewhere may bring every youth to a preparation that will eliminate fear. Every person approaching a mission should be schooled, trained, and indoctrinated for immediate and proper participation in proselyting. Gospel doctrine or organization illiteracy should never be found among our youth. Proper scriptures can be learned well and permanently by children; doctrines can be taught and absorbed by youth. (Spencer W. Kimball, “Advice to a Young Man: Now Is the Time to Prepare,” New Era, [June 1973]: 8).

A pattern is a plan, model, or standard that can be used as a guide for repetitively doing or making something. And the scriptures are full of spiritual patterns. Typically, a scriptural pattern is broader and more comprehensive than a connection. In the Doctrine and Covenants we find patterns for preaching the gospel (see D&C 50:13–29), for avoiding deception (see D&C 52:14, 18–19), for constructing temples (see D&C 115:14–16), for establishing cities (see D&C 94), for organizing priesthood quorums (see D&C 107:85–100) and high councils (see D&C 102:12), and for a variety of other purposes. Identifying and studying scriptural patterns is another important source of living water and helps us become acquainted and more familiar with the wisdom and the mind of the Lord (see D&C 95:13).

As I have both read from beginning to end and studied topics in the Doctrine and Covenants, I have been impressed with a pattern that is evident in many of the Lord’s responses to the questions of missionaries. On a number of occasions in 1831, various groups of elders who had been called to preach the gospel desired to know how they should proceed and by what route and manner they should travel. In revelations given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord respectively counseled these brethren that they could travel on water or by land (see D&C 61:22), that they could make or purchase the needed vehicles (see D&C 60:5), that they could travel all together or go two by two (see D&C 62:5), and that they could appropriately travel in a number of different directions (see D&C 80:3). The revelations specifically instructed the brethren to make these decisions “as seemeth you good” (D&C 60:5; 62:5) or “as it is made known unto them according to their judgments” (D&C 61:22). And in each of these instances the Savior declared, “It mattereth not unto me” (D&C 60:5; 61:22; 62:5; 63:40; see also 80:3).

The Lord’s statement that such things “mattereth not unto me” initially may seem surprising. Clearly, the Savior was not saying to these missionaries that He did not care about what they were doing. Rather, He was emphasizing the importance of putting first things first and focusing upon the right things—-which, in these instances, were getting to the assigned field of labor and initiating the work. They were to exercise faith, use good judgment, act in accordance with the direction of the Spirit, and determine the best way to travel to their assignments. The essential thing was the work they had been called to perform; how they got there was important but was not essential.

What a remarkable pattern for you and for me to apply in our lives. Jesus Christ knows and loves us individually. He is concerned about our spiritual development and progress, and He encourages us to grow through the exercise of inspired, righteous, and wise judgment. The Redeemer will never leave us alone. We should always pray for guidance and direction. We should always seek for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. But we should not be dismayed or discouraged if answers to our petitions for direction or help do not necessarily come quickly. Such answers rarely come all at once. Our progress would be hindered and our judgment would be weak if every answer was given to us immediately and without requiring the price of faith, work, study, and persistence.

The pattern I am describing is illustrated succinctly in the following instruction to those early missionaries:

“I, the Lord, am willing, if any among you desire, to ride upon horses, or upon mules, or in chariots, he shall receive this blessing, if he receive it from the hand of the Lord, with a thankful heart in all things.

“These things remain with you to do according to judgment and the directions of the Spirit.

“Behold, the kingdom is yours. And behold, and lo, I am with the faithful always. Even so. Amen” (D&C 62:7–9).

The principal issues in this episode are not horses, mules, or chariots; rather, they are gratitude, judgment, and faithfulness. Please note the basic elements in this pattern: (1) a thankful heart in all things; (2) act according to judgment and the directions of the Spirit; and (3) the Savior is with the faithful always. Can we begin to sense the direction and assurance, the renewal and strength that can come from following this simple pattern for inspired and righteous judgment? Truly, scriptural patterns are a precious source of living water.

The most demanding judgments we ever make are seldom between good or bad or between attractive and unattractive alternatives. Usually, our toughest choices are between good and good. In this scriptural episode, horses, mules, and chariots may have been equally effective options for missionary travel. In a similar way, you and I also might identify at various times in our lives more than one acceptable opportunity or option that we could choose to pursue. We should remember this pattern from the scriptures as we approach such important decisions. If we put essential things first in our lives—things such as dedicated discipleship, honoring covenants, and keeping the commandments—then we will be blessed with inspiration and strong judgment as we pursue the path that leads us back to our heavenly home. If we put essential things first, we “cannot go amiss” (D&C 80:3). (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water,” Brigham Young University CES Fireside for Young Adults, 4 February, 2007).

Awake to righteousness, and sin not; let your light shine, and show yourselves workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Apply yourselves diligently to study, that your minds may be stored with all necessary information. (Joseph Smith, Jr., Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986, p. 176).

The elders should improve their minds by the study of good books and by frequent reflection. Read much, but think more; and above all, seek for the light and assistance of that Spirit which guides into all truth, and whose inspirations you have a right to claim while you preserve yourselves pure and unsullied. (“Cry Aloud and Spare Not.” Elders’ Journal [1 November 1905}: 73).

Let me admonish you, my son, that casual and hasty reading is never as profitable as careful, thoughtful reading. Always weigh matters that you read carefully, and grasp or master the subject. That kind of reading is profitable! I realize, however, that it is not always possible to give proper study to the reading of books when one is crowded with continuous and important other duties, but as the reading of these books will be along the line of qualifying you the better for your mission work, if you have time to read them at all, you can afford to read them well. The reading of the scriptures is never so effective and therefore never so profitable as when the salient points are committed to memory. A few good passages of scriptures learned by heart are worth more than an entire reading of the Bible without an object in mind other than to read. (Joseph F. Smith, From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to His Missionary Sons, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981, p. 121).

Just imagine having a two-hour study period every day with a companion. How would you like that? The missionary studies the scriptures as he never has before and as he never will be able to do again, particularly if he is called as a leader.

He is given a foundation in the very essence of the gospel. He is taught the fundamental principles of priesthood government. The future of the Church will depend on him knowing that. (Boyd K. Packer, "Principles," Ensign, [March 1985]: 10).

Students are usually in a hurry to get on with life. Some remind me of a missionary I had in the mission field. He once penned an unforgettable line: "President," he wrote, "do you know any quick way to memorize the discussions? If you do, send it to me right away." (F. Burton Howard, "On Giving and Getting, BYU 1983-84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo: University Publications, 1984, p. 121).

We want to send forth missionaries who have a testimony of the scriptures and who are spiritually prepared to be guided and instructed of the Spirit, that they in turn may teach by that same spirit. Is that too much to ask? Not if we commence early enough and prepare well enough. (Ezra Taft Benson, Regional Representatives' Seminar, 3 October 1974).

The scriptures testify of God and contain the words of eternal life. They become the strength of the missionary’s message—-even the tools of his trade. His confidence will be directly related to his knowledge of God’s word. Oh, yes, there are some missionaries who are lazy, less than effective, and anxious for their missions to conclude. A careful examination of such instances will reveal that the actual culprit is not laziness or disinterest, but is the foe known as fear. Our Father characterized such: “. . . with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. . . .” (D&C 60:2).

Had not this same loving Heavenly Father provided a prescription to overcome this malady, his words perhaps would appear overly harsh. In a revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet on January 2, 1831, the Lord declared: “. . . if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). This is the key. Will you use it?

How grateful I am that the family home evening manual places emphasis upon the scriptures. The seminary and institute curricula likewise stress the scriptures and help the student to internalize their vibrancy and meaning. The same holds true of the courses of study now used by the priesthood quorums and the auxiliary organizations, all programmed and coordinated through the correlation effort of the Church.

Let me provide one reference that has immediate application to our lives. In the Book of Mormon, the 17th chapter of Alma, we read the account of Alma’s joy as he once more saw the sons of Mosiah and noted their steadfastness in the cause of truth. The record describes these “missionaries.”

. . . they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God (Alma 17:2-3). Search the scriptures diligently! (Thomas S. Monson, Pathways to Perfection, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980, pp. 97-98.).

On one occasion I was with President Marion G. Romney. He spoke to a large gathering of young people. Afterwards, a returned missionary came up to shake his hand. As he did, he said, "President Romney, when I was a missionary I had a question that no one knew the answer to. Let me take advantage of your time for a moment and ask you." He then asked a rather complicated question, the answer to which could have been found in the scriptures.

President Romney listened attentively for a few moments and then replied, "That is a very good question. When you find the answer, let me know, will you please?" As we left the hall he commented to me, obviously referring to the young man and his question, "My father taught me as a boy that when I wanted a drink I should go to where the spring flowed out of the ground and not downstream where the cattle had been muddying the water. He'll be better off if he finds the answer for himself."

But how easy it is to find someone else with the answers to our questions. How many want to know the mysteries of God without studying the scriptures? How many ask the Lord to do things which they should do for themselves? They forget there is no spiritual attainment without effort. The attitudes we sometimes develop in the world can be spiritually fatal if applied to such things as repentance or eternal marriage or keeping the commandments. Think of the consequence, for example, of asking, "Must I serve a mission?" compared to asking, "Can I serve a mission?" (F. Burton Howard, "On Giving and Getting, BYU 1983-84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo: University Publications, 1984, p. 124).

These young men and young women go out into the world with little formal training. They are inexperienced, often immature, timid, lacking in confidence, and yet we find that their home training, activity in the priesthood quorums, auxiliaries, in the seminaries, is a wonderful blessing and advantage in preparing them to do missionary work. Through study, prayer, hard work, and the blessings of the Lord, these young people do grow and develop. They gain a knowledge of the gospel; confidence, power, and a maturity far beyond their years. They acquire a strong and burning testimony, and bear that testimony with such a fervency that it carries conviction to the hearts of the people they are teaching. (Henry D. Taylor, Conference Report, October 1958, p.121).

I wish to lay stress on the knowledge of gospel doctrine and principle which every missionary should possess. It is true that with adaptability of youth many missionaries secure a good working knowledge of the gospel after they reach their mission fields. Unfortunately, however, good deal of time most valuable to the missionaries and those whom they serve is lost in so postponing gospel education.

With the facilities which the Church maintains, this equipment could be had before the missionary leaves home. If he could avail himself fully of opportunities offered in priesthood quorums, Sunday Schools, Mutual Improvement Associations, and other activities, he could if he would, be prepared to present the distinctive messages of the restored gospel clearly and impressively before he reaches his field of labor. He could have practice, too, in the exposition of the gospel, for he would be welcomed into the ranks of those who carry the gospel to our neighbors within the stakes of Zion. Such education and practice would save thousands of dollars expended for missionaries' maintenance during the learning period of their mission. On this matter of gospel education, I should like to ask a question. Will the election, which we are told each one of God's children is to make as to whether or not he will receive the gospel of Christ, be binding upon the one who makes it unless the principles of the gospel have been adequately presented to him clearly and understandingly? I know of no way to secure a presentation that will suffice except through preparation and testimony. (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, October 1943, p. 95).

There are a great many branches of education: some go to college to learn languages, some to study law, some to study physics, and some to study astronomy, and various other branches of science. We want every branch of science taught in this place that is taught in the world. But our favorite study is the branch which particularly belongs to the Elders of Israel—-namely, theology. Every Elder should become a profound theologian—-should understand this branch better than all the world. There is no Elder who has the power of God upon him but understands more of the principles of theology than all the world put together. (Brigham Young, Conference Report, 7 April 1852).

Teaching is an art, and an art has to be learned. Our missionaries must be taught better how to teach the gospel...remembering always that we can teach only that which we know. We are admonished to seek, to knock, to ask, to search diligently, with faith unwavering, and we shall be rewarded. (Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, April 1952, p. 53).

I remember presiding abroad and having Elders come whose ignorance concerning the principles of the Gospel they had been sent out to teach was painful to see. There has been a great change in this respect. Therefore, I say the character of our Elders has improved. They now go out, as a rule, well instructed in the principles of the Gospel, familiar with the history of the Church, capable of explaining the doctrines and everything connected with the Gospel, and, when necessary, capable of defending the principles they teach. This is a gratifying improvement, and it will be more and more visible as the years roll by and as our facilities for imparting will increase, as they are increasing on every hand. (George Q. Cannon, General Conference, 3 April 1892).

A great many of our missionaries are not ignorant of the principles of the gospel, but they do not give them proper thought. They do not study the different questions and the proper answers in order that they may be prepared to meet the opposition of the world and speak intelligently to those whom they are called to address. (John Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, p. 28).

Your gospel study is most effective when you are taught by the Holy Ghost. Always begin your gospel study by praying for the Holy Ghost to help you learn. He will bring knowledge and conviction that will bless your life and allow you to bless the lives of others. Your faith in Jesus will increase. Your desire to repent and improve will grow.

This kind of study prepares you for service, offers solace, resolves problems, and gives you strength to endure to the end. Successful gospel study requires desire and action. “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old” (1 Nephi 10:9). Like Enos, as you hunger to know the words of eternal life and as you allow these words to “[sink]” deep into [your] heart” (Enos 1:3), the Holy Ghost will open your mind and heart to greater light and understanding. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 18).

I used to tell missionaries with whom I was identified for many years that it was an excellent thing once a week to go by themselves and examine themselves, find out how the battle was going, who was winning—-“me” or “it”; to pass judgment upon one’s self, correct one’s mistakes and weaknesses, set one’s house in order. You do not have to make that kind of an appointment. The Lord has made it for every member of this Church. It comes on the Sabbath day. It is at the sacrament meeting, when you see the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood being prepared—that is the time for every man and woman to go into secret conference with himself or herself and discover whether or not they are in sin and transgression, whether they have yielded to the tempter, whether there are things that they need to repent of, and if so, to cleanse themselves and purify their souls and make peace with brethren and sisters and with the Lord, lest we should stretch forth our hands and eat and drink of these sacred emblems unworthily. (Melvin J. Ballard, “Struggle for the Soul,” New Era [March 1984]: 32).

Every missionary should strive to devote part of each day to study and prayerful thought on the principles of the Gospel and the theology of the Church. He should read and reflect and pray. True, we are opposed to set sermons to be delivered with the thought of oratorical effect and rhetorical display, yet when an Elder arises to address a congregation at home or abroad, he should be thoroughly prepared for his sermon. His mind should be well stored with thoughts worth uttering, worth hearing, worth remembering, then the Spirit will bring forth fruits of which his auditors are in need, and give his words the ring of authority. (Joseph F. Smith, "Public Speaking," The Missionary's Handbook, Independence, Missouri: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1937, p. 46).

Learning the gospel is also a process of receiving revelation (see Jacob 4:8). To Oliver Cowdery the Lord said: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it to you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that if it is right” (D&C 9:7-8). As you study, pay careful attention to ideas that come to your mind and feelings that come to your heart, particularly regarding the people you are teaching. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 18).