our happiness
Week 30 is scheduled for study July 18-24, 2022. The work of God isn’t just up to us. God is doing far more than we generally give Him credit for. He has given us great resources for our happiness, chief among them are the temples and the scriptures.

Day 1

President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The word of God … has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.”

Ezra 1 – The Lord inspires people to bring about His purposes.

It is very easy to make the mistake of thinking that all of God’s work is done within the confines of His Church. The longer I live, the more I see that the Lord is moving and influencing people for good all over the world. When I worked at BYU-Hawaii, it was not uncommon for good men and women to attend, and graduate, but never convert. When they returned to their home country and began their careers, they did so with some knowledge of the Church, its culture, and the character of it’s people. And usually those impressions are mostly favorable.

I have seen those friendly to the Church enter into business and public service and perform great kindnesses to the Church in their country. Often, when there are misunderstandings in a country about who these Latter-day Saints are, it is these good people who step up and set the record straight and sooth ruffled feathers or help the Church to get the permits needed to build a temple, etc. Good people all over the world tend to recognize goodness when they see it. And since all good comes from God, He helps them feel good about furthering His work. And for that to happen it most often doesn’t require revelations, just that affinity they have for that which is good. This is one of the reasons why the Saints can do more good than they know, just by being kind and loving to their neighbors, wherever they live. It is these good impressions that others carry with them that the Lord can work with later on.

In every country on earth there are good people. Even the most despicable rulers have good people within their borders, and these people speak up and promote good, because goodness promotes happiness. In many ways, this is how the Lord is able to do His own work, completely independent of the Church organization. This is also why the Church doesn’t discriminate when it comes to charitable works. For God’s children, who are basically good people, are everywhere.

This week’s readings are prime examples of people, good at heart, who the Lord was able to inspire to help His people build up Zion. They actually, unknowingly fulfilled prophecy by the help they rendered Israel. Our challenge is to try to look at the bigger picture. We never know how our little influence may tip the scales perhaps years down the line, in the favor of the Saints as a whole, or in a particular area. Years after I was a freshman at the University of Wyoming, I sought out the lady who had cleaned the dorm floor I lived on. I was shocked when I introduced myself and she blurted out, “Oh, you are that nice Mormon boy!” I wasn’t even aware she knew my religion. We just never know where our lives will have an affect in someone else’s life. This is what the Lord is referring to when He tells His Saints that they need to be the salt of the earth.

Day 2

President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The word of God … has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.”

Ezra 3:8-13; 6:16-22 – Temples can bring me joy.

Have you noticed that there are those in the church who are upset that money is being spent on building new temples when they, personally, believe that the money should be going to the poor? Why do you think they feel this way? Let me ask you this – Do you think that those who believe the temples are a waste of money actually attend the temple? Do you think they look forward to the service to others that takes place within the walls of the temple? Or do you think they are probably not interested in temple service. Perhaps they are not even that active in the Church, and rarely even attend Church. My guess is that many of them no longer even pay their tithes and offerings.

How we feel about the temple and what happens within its walls, is very much like how we feel about our family and what happens within our own walls. The more devoted and involved we are, the more we care about what happens where we serve. The less attention we pay to our family or to temple service, the less we care about those institutions. It all depends on where our heart is. If I don’t ever go to the temple, how is the temple supposed to bring me joy? If I am not involved in any way with my own family, how am I supposed to care about what happens to my family? They have become strangers to me.

The Jews lived a law of daily sacrifices and ordinances. They were always involved with their temple, because their law demanded their involvement. The temple was part and parcel with their national and personal identity. I am sure that seeing the temple burn to the ground in the sacking of Jerusalem was heartbreaking. Hence, when they had the opportunity to rebuild that which had been lost to the previous generation it would have been a source of great joy for them. Now they finally had a way to fully participate in their religion, which required temple attendance.

Why do you think the old men wept when the foundations of the new temple were laid? The temple they knew in their youth had been the famous temple of Solomon. Do you think they found joy in the idea that something far inferior to that temple was all they could hope for? Yet those who hadn’t known Solomon’s temple only knew that “the” temple was being rebuilt. It was in that idea or symbol of their people that they rejoiced. So you have the people shouting for joy, while at the same time, all the old men were crying loudly in their sorrow, all at the same time.

How the people reacted to the building of the temple demonstrated a lot about their involvement in their religion. The same is true for us today. Those most vocal about the joys of temple service are almost always those who go and actually spend their time in the temple serving others. How can we possibly expect to feel the same way about the temple if we rarely, if ever, attend and serve within its walls?

Day 3

President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The word of God … has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.”

Ezra 4-6; Nehemiah 2; 4; 6 – I can help the work of God advance despite opposition.

First I read the verses in today’s reading then I read Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk referenced in the manual. The more I thought about how we can continue to further God’s work despite opposition, the more it came down to focus and priorities. One of Satan’s greatest tools is diversion. When he can get us to take our attention off of God and His priorities for our lives, he can lead us just about anywhere he wishes. The key is to keep our focus on what the Lord wants us to do.

The story of Nehemiah is inspiring because he didn’t lose focus. We was there to accomplish the reconstruction of the walls of the city, and to put up the gate to the city. His enemies tried repeatedly to trick him into leaving off from his work so they could get him away from Jerusalem, if even for only a few hours. He knew their excuses were merely ruses to single him out so they could hurt him. When none of those efforts panned out, they threatened to attack them bodily and kill the workers on the city walls. Instead of being cowed into compliance, Nehemiah armed the workers and put additional people as guards to protect them so they could continue their work. They exercised their faith that if they did all in their own power to push ahead with the repairs, God would help protect them from their enemy’s efforts to thwart their work.

The behavior of the Jews in pushing ahead to repair their city walls and the city gates comes across almost as a stubborn tenacity. But it was just persistent faith in their belief that this was what God wanted, and they weren’t going to let anyone stop them this time from getting the work done. Do you remember the story in the Book of Mormon of Amalickiah and Lehonti? Amalikiah wanted to become king. Through constant intrigue and murder he managed to become general over all of the Lamanite armies, except for those who didn’t want to fight in the war Amalickiah was pursuing. Lehonti, their general, barricaded himself and his army at the top of the mountain so they could defend themselves. Amalickiah couldn’t get Lehonti to come down the mountain, just like Nehemiah wouldn’t come down to those who wanted to hurt him. So Amalickiah went up to Lehonti and lied to him. Using flattery and lies he tricked Lehonti into becoming the head of all the Lamanite armies, knowing full well he was going to poison Lehonti and take over the whole army for himself.

Lehonti forgot why he had safeguarded his army at the top of the mountain in the first place, it was because they didn’t want to have to fight the Nephites. So Amalickiah used another approach to take Lehonti’s attention from fighting, and instead offered him power and prestige, planning all along to kill him in the end and take it all for himself. Lehonti wasn’t wise and fell for the deception. It cost him his life.

How often in life has Satan tricked each of us in like manner? We decide to be obedient to the Lord. We “barricade” ourselves spiritually so we will stay safe, only to have Satan change tactics and use another of our weaknesses to bring us down from our place of safety so he can hurt us in the end. Nehemiah was wise. He stayed focused on what he set out to do, and wouldn’t listen to any distraction or argument that might lead him away from doing what he set himself to accomplish. He was on the Lord’s errand, and that was all that mattered. Nehemiah managed, despite all the intrigue of his enemies, and threats of violence against his people, to finish the repair of the walls and the gate in just over 50 days. Remarkable.

If you haven’t read Elder Uchtdorf’s talk yet, please click the link above and read it. It is well worth your time.

Day 4

President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The word of God … has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.”

Ezra 7; Nehemiah 8 – I am blessed when I study the scriptures.

Ezra was not a prophet. He was a priest, being a Levite. So what makes his story so compelling? Look at this verse in Ezra 7.

10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

It says that Ezra prepared himself to be one who sought the law of the Lord, “and to do it.” After having personally sought to learn about the law of God, and to live that law, he wanted to also teach the people of Israel God’s “statutes and judgments.” Does this remind you of anyone else we have studied this year? Abraham perhaps? Abraham 1:2 –

2 … I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, … , and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

Ezra was a righteous man, just like Abraham. Ezra knew there were blessings of great happiness in following the ways of the Lord, so he deliberately sought after the knowledge of God that was found in the scriptures. Ezra desired to teach God’s law to his people, but you have to first know the law yourself before you can teach it to others. So Ezra spent years learning all he could about the law of Moses, and when the king sent them back to Jerusalem from their exile, Ezra was prepared to teach the people the law Moses had given Israel.

What tells us that Ezra didn’t have just book learning? It was in verse 10 where it says, “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.” He lived what he learned, making him one who taught by example, and not just by book learning. He hadn’t just prepared his mind, but “Ezra had prepared his heart” as well. Verse 10 may be short, but it is packed with vital information into the character of Ezra the scribe and priest.

Vital lesson

The vital lesson in today’s verses is that any real knowledge of who God is, and of His attributes and character has to come in two parts. First we must seek to learn all we can. Secondly, we must put into practice everything we can to emulate what we have learned. Only by practice can we make the changes necessary to become like God. No amount of book learning is sufficient to make us godly in our daily walk. We must walk the talk, as they say. Our lives must become a living demonstration of a godly life.

Living a godly life cannot be done in one go. We must be willing to repent of our failures and try again, over and over again. The more we repent, and the more often we attempt to live like, and be like God, the closer our lives will come to approximate the Savior’s perfect example, and the more our repentance will stick and pay us back in spiritual dividends we didn’t even know we were going to get. The older I get the more I come to know of a surety that God delights in honoring those who try to be good and live up to their privileges.

FHE/Personal Study

Nehemiah 8:1-12 – Reading the law.

Have you ever seen the movie “Polly Anna”? It is the story of a little girl who is sent to live with relatives. While there she attends church each Sunday where the preacher gives a hellfire and damnation speech that mortifies his congregation. This goes on every week. Polly doesn’t see life like the preacher does. She sees all the good in God’s word, not the terror and promised punishments. This is one of the major themes throughout the movie.

As you read the scriptures, what do you see? Do you see and remember mainly the punishments declared for the wicked, or do you see all the messages of hope and salvation promised to those who obey God’s commandments?

This week I invite you to think about how you see the scriptures as you read them. Are you focused on the messages of gloom and doom, the threats of scattering and punishments, or do you mainly remember the promises of hope, protection, love, and peace for those who are obedient? How we read God’s laws, His scriptures, shapes our spiritual outlook on life. If we see only the dismal failures of the people to “get it right” then we will have a greater difficulty in believing that God loves us and wants our success. But if we focus on His promises of prosperity, love, joy, and success then we will have the ability to find ways to be successful in our efforts to live His gospel no matter how tough life is at the moment, for we believe He is there to help us and keep us going in the right direction, even with the repentance pitstops we all have to make along the way.

So where is your focus? How do you read the law?

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OT30-2022 – I Am Doing a Great Work

Week 30