Monday, February 25, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I hope they call YOU on a mission.

It's the beginning of 2013, a brand new year.  A fresh start.  A time to quit your depressing job and head towards happiness.
But while everyone is talking of setting resolutions and thinking of goals worthy to pursue, today I want to talk about something else ... something more important for some of you.

One of the best decisions I ever made, which brought me a HUGE amount of lasting happiness, was to serve a full-time mission for my church.

A mission?  Like a spy should-you-choose-to-accept mission?  No, not quite as glamorous, and for a much worthier cause.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) encourage our 19 year-olds to go out proselyting and serving others anywhere in the world for 18-24 months, if they are able and worthy to do so.  For the young men, it's more expected of them, as it is a duty (and privledge) under the priesthood which they can hold.
To be a missionary, you have to adhere to a strict code of conduct and schedule, although 90% of missionaries will not be monitored daily - it's obvious that in the mission field, you only get what you put in, and the Lord can really only bless you when you are 100% obedient.

Both Matthew and I served missions - very different kinds - when we were 20 and 24 respectively.  Not only did we experience different cultures and language barriers, but the Lord tailored our missions to suit our skills and talents, and to give us hard challenges to wield us into better people by serving others.

Matthew went to the heart of South Korea - the Seoul West South Korea mission.  He had to quickly adjust to a different culture, not to mention learning how to speak and read Korean.  I didn't know Matthew back then, but he was clearly very influenced by his two years in Seoul.  He has such a love for the Korean people and culture.  We regularly cook and eat Korean food, and I am slowly picking up some words and phrases.

I was assigned to the Temple Square Salt Lake City mission, which included a four month stint in Louisville Kentucky.  Most people think of Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah USA, as the iconic homeland of all Mormons.  Or the sound studio of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the famous backdrop of organ pipes.  Temple Square is definitely the mecca of all Mormons, as our prophet and other leaders live/regularly meet there, but most Mormons actually live outside USA.

My mission routine was highly structured and very busy, with a combination of proselyting formally on historical tours and informally in random conversation or on the phone, 9 am to 9 pm 6.5 days a week (half a day per week was our own time to shop, wash, play).
The key difference between this mission and all others is that us missionaries were constantly watched - yes, a few crazies - but mostly from media, church leaders, and millions of international tourists.  We were the face of the church, not just teachers, and so we had to look professional and respectable, learn as many facts and figures about the buildings, church people, church history, and all the random odd questions that random odd people think of.
I quickly embraced this unique assignment, and learnt how to be bold but not overbearing or confrontational.

"If only you could see the vision as I have.  I wish I had your bodies to do this work.  I would run from house to house telling everyone of the gospel, and after I lost the strength to run, I would being to walk.  And after I collapsed from walking, I would being to crawl.  And after my knees were so bloody that I could not use them, I would use my arms to drag myself.  And once every muscle in my body was gone, I would being to yell!  Oh, if only you could see the vision as I have."  [1]

Serving a mission was the single best decision I have ever made and the most worthwhile thing I have ever done with my life.

So how do you know if you are ready to serve a mission?  You might have doubts about your readiness to serve.
Elder Russell M. Nelson said prospective missionaries should not begin their service before they are ready spiritually and temporally.  Just because the minimum age requirement was recently lowered does not mean that is when you must go.

The best answer is this:  rely on the advice of righteous parents and spiritual advisers.  Ultimately, your bishop and stake president will help you determine your readiness .. but you gotta talk to them about it.

In the meantime, this is how I think you can best prepare to serve a mission:

Think what might be the best things for you to be doing right now .. we all know the things we struggle with.  What items would be on your list?
Here are a few keys:

1. Personal scripture study.
    This will help you develop faith in, an understanding and testimony of, and love for the gospel of Jesus Christ - all fundamental in becoming an effective teacher of the gospel.  Out of all the standard works, I would concentrate on the Book of Mormon.  It is literally the most correct of any book on earth - the keystone of our religion.  You will get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts.  The Book of Mormon changes lives!  So read it, ponder it, find answers to all your question in it, get some great experiences to share with potential investigators.  You know missionaries ask people to test the truth of this book - but it's no good asking people to do so, if you haven't.

2. Personal prayer.
    What about saying your prayers vocally?  Even if you whisper to yourself, it means you are making an effort.  And you probably won't fall asleep or drift off into random thoughts.  Find a habit that works for you - it might be best to say your morning prayers immediately when you roll out of bed.  Make the decision right now to make this work, and keep in touch with your Heavenly Father.

    “I do not worry about the youth of the Church that will pray twice a day.” [2]
    “Satan trembles, when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” [3]

    “Personal, sincere involvement in the scriptures produces faith, hope, and solutions to our daily challenges.  Frequently reading, pondering, and applying the lessons of the scriptures, combined with prayer, become an irreplaceable part of gaining and sustaining a strong, vibrant testimony.” [4]
    “Living the Lord’s standards requires that we cultivate the gift of the Holy Ghost.  That gift helps us understand doctrine and apply it personally.  Because truth that is given by revelation can be understood only by revelation, our studies need to be prayerful.” [5]

3. Attend Institute and church meetings.
    Faithful attendance at church meetings brings blessings you can receive no other way.  Be worthy to prepare/bless/pass/take the sacrament.  Come to that meeting with clean hands and a pure heart.  Listen carefully to the messages.  Also, you really really really should attend Mission Prep classes at Institute.  You'll develop a deeper understanding of and proficiency in teachings the doctrines from Preach My Gospel.

    “None of us ever need to hesitate to speak for this church, for its doctrine, for its people, for its divine organisation and divinely given responsibility.  It is true.  It is the work of God.  The only things that can ever embarrass this work are acts of disobedience to its doctrines and standards by those of its membership.  That places upon each of us a tremendous responsibility.  This work will be judged by what the world sees of our behaviour.  God gives us the will to walk with faith, the discipline to do what is right at all times and circumstances, and the resolution to make of ourselves a declaration of this cause before all who see us.”[6]

4. Strengthen your testimony.
    This is the coolest diagram of what sets our faith apart from the rest - note the place of the Book of Mormon.  Know what sets us apart, and be really excited about it!
    Additionally, you really must avoid anything that offends the Spirit.  “The Spirit of the Lord usually communicates with us in ways that are quiet, delicate, and subtle … The standard is clear.  If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing.  If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us.  Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us.  Because we estrange the Spirit of the Lord when we engage in activities we know we should shun, then such things definitely are not for us.” [7]

    “Some of you may not have a testimony, and so I have said to other groups like you, if you don’t have a testimony today, why don’t you cling to mine for a little while?  Hold on to our testimonies, the testimonies of your bishops, your stake presidents, until you can develop it.  If you can say nothing more today than I believe because my president, or my bishop, believes, I trust him, do this until you can get a testimony for yourselves; but I warn you that won’t stay with you unless you continue to cultivate it and live the teachings.” [8]

5. Read your patriarchal blessing.
    This is a revelation from God for YOU and only you.  It is the inspired and prophetic statement of your life's mission, together with blessings, cautions, and admonitions.  It's your prophetic map to life - so regard it as personal scripture to you, and read it regularly to know God's will for you.

6. Take opportunities for service seriously.
    Home/Visiting Teaching can be hard, but it can also be quite fun.  Both the young men and young women programs were designed very specifically for you, and you should be able to help teach and serve others.

    “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves.  No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man.  Service to others is akin to duty – the fulfilment of which brings true joy.”[9]

7. Wearing modest clothing and preparing for attending the temple.
    Preparing for a mission means preparing to enter the house of the Lord.  Find out what you have to do to have a current temple recommend, even if you're not planning on going yet, and live according to those standards.  You'll find you already know them .. but the key standard most are not prepared for is wearing modest clothing.  Temple attendance means either making or renewing highly sacred covenants, and we remember those highly sacred covenants by wearing garments.  So get used to sleeves and decent lengthed dresses now!  You gain power through keeping your covenants.

    “Sometimes we are tempted to let our lives be governed more by convenience than by covenant.  It is not always convenient to live gospel standards and stand up for truth and testify of the Restoration.  … But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience.  The power comes as we keep our covenants.” [10]

    It’s simple.  “Keep your covenants and you will be safe.  Break them and you will not.  ...
“... We are not free to break our covenants and escape the consequences.” [11]

It's really important to recognise that, yes, we all know these basics (aka your typical sunday school answers), but that we can all struggle with them.  That is why we always hear about them!

You don't need to be perfect or spiritually brilliant - but do not settle for mediocrity.

(from The Friend magazine)

I think the true essentials are:
1. The desire to serve.
2. Exact obedience.
3. The humility to be taught.

"My experience is that once you stop putting question marks behind the prophet's statements and put exclamation points instead, and do it, the blessings just pour." [12]
You know the ones you personally struggle with ... break it down.  Why might you be struggling with it?  What can you to make it easier?

John Bytheway once told a story of when his room mate Mike received a phone call around 5:30 in the morning from Lisa.  She called and said her room mate Jill was really sick, and she wanted Mike and John to give Jill a blessing before she took Jill to the hospital.

So Mike knocked on John's door, told him about the call, and then they both ran over to the girls' apartment.  They had to hurry - there was no time to say 'Well, I need to repent first'.
Jill was in a really bad way.  Mike anointed her, and then it was John's turn to perform the blessing.  He put out his hands, and suddenly remembered the scripture in Psalms 24 - Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.  

He looked at his hands, and asked the question "Are my hands clean?"  Because this was the time to be an elder in the priesthood.  What movie did I push into the machine last night?  Did they stain my fingers?  Have I done anything on a date that I'd be ashamed of?  Are my hands clean?
What about my mouth - can I have a prayer or blessing come out of the same mouth I used during the week at work?

Serving the Lord in whatever capacity is important, wonderful stuff.  So, another vital ingredient in preparing for a mission is to always live a clean life.

Yes you can repent - and the miracle of forgiveness is very real, and true repentance is accepted of the Lord.  But "[a] man who resists temptation and lives without sin is far better off than the man who has fallen, no matter how repentant the latter may be.  ... How much better it is never to have committed sin." [13]

Having said that, this is one of my favourites quotes:
"I testify that when a Bishop or Stake President has confirmed that your repentance is sufficient, know that your obedience has allowed the Atonement of Jesus Christ to satisfy the demands of justice for the laws you have broken.  Therefore you are now free.  Please believe it.  To continually suffer the distressing effects of sin after adequate repentance, which not intended, is to deny the efficacy of the Saviour's atonement in your behalf." [14]

There are two aspects to your social life - friends and (pre-mission) dating.

Remember, "[a] true friend makes it easier to live the gospel"[15]

"The kind of girl who want to date and marry will not only want you to go on a mission, she will expect you to.  She'll know that a mission can make you a much better person, and she won't be so selfish as to keep you from going." [16]

Basically, your Heavenly Father wants you to date those who are faithful members of the Church, who encourage you to serve a full-time mission, and to magnify your priesthood. [11]  My advice is to not take the chance of dating non-members, or members who are untrained and faithless.  You may think it's just some fun, or perhaps you have no intentions of making any kind of commitment with that person, but can't afford to take chance.  Plus, those kind of relationships say more about you than it does about the other person.

Think I'm being tough?  It's printed in The Strength of Youth, in black and white:  "Because dating is a preparation for marriage, date only those who have high standards and respect your standards, and in whose company you can maintain the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ."  It's basically saying it's better to stay home and not date, than to date people whose standards are not up to yours.

Some of you may struggle with deciding between two good paths to take.  I actually met Matthew just before I left for my mission.  It was really sucky timing, I thought.  I had no doubt I was meant to serve a mission, my application papers were in, and then I met him and quickly grew to know I was going to marry him.  What the .. ??  It was hard, but I simply could not deny the feeling I had, that I was meant to go.  So, I decided I had to trust in that feeling, and go with it.  We made no promises (I don't really agree with making someone promise to wait around) and I read Proverbs 3:5-6 a LOT.

After your mission, you will be more mature and better prepared to make some of the most important decisions of your life and to pursue your education, career, and courtship.

When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.  Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” [17]

I think it wonderful that Heavenly Father has trusted and relied upon youth to do His sacred and important work throughout the history of the world.  The new policy on the age for full-time missionary service is another evidence of His love and trust in you.

“The Lord wants every young man to serve a full-time mission.  Not only should a mission be regarded as a priesthood duty, but every young man should look forward to this experience with great joy and anticipation.  What a privilege – what a sacred privilege – to serve the Lord full time for two years with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.
“You can do nothing more important.  School can wait.  Scholarships can be deferred.  Occupational goals can be postponed.  Yes, even temple marriage should wait until after a young man has served an honourable full-time mission for the Lord.  And I would admonish you to date only faithful young women who also believe this and give you that encouragement.” [18]

It is very humbling – to be loved and trusted so much by God.  You can be, and are, worthy and prepared to serve the Lord.  You can really change the world.

“The difference between mediocrity and excellence can be ever so small … the little extra effort we make becomes such a tremendous difference.  I speak of the need for a little more effort a little more self-discipline, a little more consecrated effort in the direction of excellence in our lives.  This is the great day of decision for each of us.  For many it is the time of beginning something that will go on for as long as you live.  I plead with you: don’t be a scrub!  Rise to high moral ground of spiritual, mental, and physically excellence.  You can do it.  You may not be a genius.  You may be lacking in some skills. But so many of us can do better than we are now doing.  We are members of this great church whose influence is now felt over the world.  We are people with a present and with a future.  Don’t muff your opportunities.  Be excellent.” [19]

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[1] Spencer W. Kimball
[2] Harold B. Lee
[3] Thomas S. Monson, quoting William Cowper, "Come unto Him in Prayer and Faith", Ensign, Mar. 2009
[4] Donald L. Staheli, in Conference Report, Oct. 2004, 40; or Ensign, Nov. 2004, 39
[5] Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, Nov. 2000, 17
[6] Gordon B. Hinckley
[7] David A. Bednar, Ensign, May 2006, 29-30
[8] Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 136
[9] Thomas S. Monson
[10] M. Russell Ballard, in Conference Report, Apr. 1999, 113; or Ensign, May 1999, 86
[11] Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 107-8; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 84
[12] Russell M. Nelson, in Lane Johnson, "Russell M. Nelson: A Study of Obedience", Ensign, Aug. 1982, 24
[13] Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969
[14] Dallin H. Oaks
[15] Richard G. Scott
[16] Robert D. Hales
[17] Ezra Taft Benson, "To the Youth of the Noble Birthright", Ensign, May 1986
[18] ibid
[19] Gordon B. Hinckley, bold added
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