A talk given in the Rexburg 11th ward on 11/8/2020. Two years ago when ministering was introduced to the Church, it was a big topic. Now it is largely ignored by many of the members, especially since we have been pushed into isolation by the pandemic. But ministering is the only way in which we can learn to live a celestial life, and is the only way our covenants can save us.
Plan of salvation
The highest purpose of the plan of salvation is to provide a way for God’s children, who are weak and who need a significant amount of help to become like Him, to incrementally improve and learn the attributes of godliness that will make it possible for us to dwell with God, as gods for eternity. The laws He gave us that are designed to allow us to come to earth, receive a body, and eventually return in glory to Him, is what we call the gospel. These are the commandments and covenants we must learn to live in order to become like our Father in Heaven. Christ was sent to show us the way and set for us the perfect example in all things.
Here are three quotes from Joseph Smith that talk about why God gave us the plan of salvation, and the premise for why we believe it is possible for us to obtain godhood at all. These come from the old Priesthood/Relief Society manual on the teachings of the prophets. This is from the one on Joseph Smith.
God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment.
All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.
Now, in this world, mankind are naturally selfish, ambitious and striving to excel one above another; yet some are willing to build up others as well as themselves.
This last point, that “some are willing to build up others as well as themselves” is my starting point. This is ministering, and how we fulfill our Father’s purpose, His work and His glory, to qualify ourselves to return to Him.
Making weak things become strong
This section is a direct quote from my Come, Follow Me commentary on Ether 12-15. You can access that commentary at this link.
What is the process of making those parts of our characters or personalities that are deficient into strengths? The New Testament clearly points out that we do not have the ability to choose to add a cubit to our height or to change the color of our hair at will. If we are unable to make the needed changes to ourselves, by ourselves, how does Christ do it? I might point out that Christ’s examples were physical examples having to do with height and hair color, but the same thing applies to our traits. We all have some aspect or multiple aspects of our life in which we are weak. We may have a tendency to lie, fib, or embellish stories needlessly. We might have an addictive personality or problems with anger. Some have difficulty exercising faith or are untrusting of others so they find it hard to believe what the Lord says. Many are quick to judge or eager to knock others down a peg so they don’t appear to be so high and mighty. The list of personality traits that might be affected is abundant.
So how does Christ take all those personality traits and transform us into stronger, more spiritually healthy people? What is the process? We know he doesn’t just wave a magic wand and our problems go away. We know that we can’t experience these changes by just asking them to be altered. God may have given us specific weaknesses, but we have to be the ones to identify what they are and deal with the process of changing them from weaknesses into strengths. He has made it our responsibility to make these changes, even though we can’t actually be the one to make the changes.
To make a weakness into a strength requires that we recognize that it is a weakness, whatever it is. We have to own that weakness and admit that we cannot personally make all the needed changes in our soul to make our particular weakness into a personal strength. Recognition and acceptance is the first step.
The second step is to study the word of the prophets and the word of God to learn what we need to be like, as opposed to how we are right now. We need to acknowledge that there is a gulf between our current position and where we need to be that we cannot possibly cross on our own. This is a recognition of our own weakness and inability to change our heart. I say this because it is our heart, our desires, our attitudes, and to a certain degree our personality that must change so we can be different than we currently are. By our self we cannot make this change.
Step three is recognizing that God can make the needed changes within us. And only God can do this. This means we must humble our self and approach the Lord and confess our inability to make this change on our own. We must plead for his help. But it doesn’t end there. Asking for God’s help is only the first step on the road to change. When we searched the scriptures and learned how we are supposed to be, and compared that to how we currently are, we should have made at least a mental list of some of the changes we would need to make in order to be different than we currently are. This is the list we now begin to work on. And at this point we need to depend on, and rely on prayer and action to work with the atoning sacrifice of Christ to learn new ways of thinking and behaving that will develop a strength of character that we never had before in sufficient quantity.
Working on changes is not quick, not easy, nor is it simple. We must begin to watch our attitudes, our thought processes, we must learn to see where we rely on the world for our thinking and inspiration and where we are relying on Christ for those things. We do the leg work, and as we practice trying to change our thinking and behavior, over time the Lord softens our heart and helps the changes we are trying to make become lasting changes.
If I might share a personal example – many years ago I was very impatient with something my wife did on a regular basis. Her habit annoyed me to no end. I learned that I would have to change myself, since we can’t change anyone else, so I followed the above steps and took my impatience to the Lord. I talked to Him about how I felt, and acknowledged that the change I was looking for seemed so far away. I pleaded for His help to change my attitude so I could love my wife more purely and feel more kindly toward her about this habit.
Months went by and I did all the groundwork. I prayed about it regularly. I watched my thoughts. I studied my scriptures, and I served her more often and in different ways than before. Finally, one day we were having a discussion and she did what she always did that had always distressed me so much, and like a bolt of lightning I realized that it no longer bothered me. I was now able to look past her habit and it became almost invisible to me. It was no longer a conversation stopper. I finally realized and had accepted that the fault was in me, not her, and the Lord helped me overcome my hangup. My heart had changed.
What I learned from that experience was that this process of making weak things become strong is a process of coming to Christ and learning to rely on Him in all things. It is accepting that we are, in fact, weak and in need of help. We need to acknowledge God’s power to change us and help us become more than we can possibly make of ourselves on our own. This is not a negative thing, but a glorious admission that we have a path to greatness of soul. We can make so much more of ourselves because God loves us and wants to help us. When we are willing to be humble and rely on His power to change what we cannot, we can shed those attributes that cause us suffering in this life, and we can find greater joy in His love and atoning sacrifice.
Learning to minister correctly takes a lot of work and thought. On social media, in our Facebook group, and others I read, the most popular comment is that we are just supposed to rely on the Spirit to tell us what to do for others. In saying this they are completely leaving out the Lord’s injunction to us all that he or she who has to be commanded in all things is a slothful and not a wise servant (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29).
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is in all things, the same is a and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their .
29 But he that not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is
What is the Lord saying here? I think He is telling us that we are not puppets awaiting to have our strings pulled. We have moral agency, and He expects us to learn how to use it as He would use it. Yes, there are times when the Spirit will correct us if we choose amiss, and we do need to ask for the Spirit to accompany us in all our endeavors, but that is in the capacity of a companion, not in the capacity of the driver of our destiny. We are in charge of that. It is we who will be judged for the choices we make, not the Spirit.
Ministering is our “practice makes perfect” exercise. It is in the act of ministering to the needs of others, in any capacity, that we learn to be comfortable with godly behavior. This is how we learn to think and feel like our Father and our Savior think and feel. I would like to share a couple of recent experiences I’ve had regarding my ministering progress.
I have been greatly blessed to be asked to minister with my wife to the Heer family in our ward. Over the course of the last year we have grown close to the Heers. We were deeply grieved to lose Leo to cancer, and we have been going to Sister Heer’s house every week to administer the sacrament and play sacrament hymns on her piano. Our association with her has been a great joy to our hearts.
Last week we finally brought up the topic of how she was fairing without Leo. We were standing next to a photo of Bro. and Sis. Heer while we talked. I looked at Leo and thought, “You owe me Leo for all I’ve done here.” I was immediately smitten with a sense of shame and embarrassment. I realized that I love Leo, and serving his widow in his absence is such a profound privilege.
Another example of changes I’ve experienced through ministering came also last week when we cleaned the chapel. I was tired, having been up a good share of the night, and I was sanitizing all the railings, table tops, light switches, and door knobs in the entire stake center. As I moved from room to room I selfishly thought “I hope the Lord appreciates this.” I thought it as thought He owed me for this sacrifice so early in the morning. No sooner had the thought run through my mind than I was hit with the realization that it is such a privilege to be able to assist others in keeping the Lord’s house clean for my fellow ward members and stake members. After all, I have received so many blessings at the hands of the Lord that feel completely undeserved, this is a small thing I am doing to express my appreciation.
I still struggle with how I minister. Sometimes I don’t do it at all, and sometimes I am sure I am doing more harm than good, but I am trying. Ministering takes thought, and deliberate intent. Our goal is to learn how to act like Christ, to think like Christ, and to love like Christ. God knows we are capable of enlargement. If He didn’t have faith we could accomplish this monumental task of becoming like Him, He wouldn’t have given us the earth to come to, and a plan for our salvation that guarantees it is possible for us to become what He knows we can become.
My prayer and my encouragement for us all is that we will believe Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. When he tells us we need to become perfect, which means whole or complete, it means that through deliberate practice, prayer, scripture study, and pondering, He can heal us, enlarge our capacities, and bring us the joy we all hope to find in the gospel our Father has given us. May we all go home and choose to deliberately minister to others in any way we can find to do it.
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