How Can I Avoid Distractions?

In Lehi’s dream, he first described his own journey to the tree of life, which was a result of his own personal prayers. After he ate the fruit, and found it to be “desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8:12), he instinctively looked for his family, wanting to share it with them. He saw them some distance off, confused about which direction they should go. When he called to them, some of them came, but two of his sons refused to join him (1 Nephi 8:14-18).

He then saw numerous people following a path to the tree. The path was marked by a rod of iron, a handrail. By holding onto the rod while they walked, they were able to navigate through a “mist of darkness” to the tree and enjoy the fruit (1 Nephi 8:19-24).

Then, he saw something that surprised him. Some of the people who had eaten the fruit, and who knew how good it was, became ashamed and abandoned the tree. Why would they do such a thing, he wondered. It was only then that he noticed the enormous building floating in the air (no foundation) on the other side of the river. The people in that building, who seemed to be very important, were pointing at the people beside the tree, mocking and belittling them. For some of those people, it was too much. They would rather avoid being mocked, even at the cost of giving up the delicious fruit (1 Nephi 8:25-28).

Lehi’s family did not abandon the tree. As he explained to his family, “We heeded them not…. For as many as heeded them, had fallen away” (1 Nephi 8:33-34). He was focused on the things of greatest importance and would not allow himself to be distracted.

After participating in general conference this weekend, I have a renewed desire to avoid distractions and to focus my time and energy on the things that matter most. How can I do that, when life is so busy and information is so pervasive?

After describing the people who followed the path to the tree, “holding fast” to the rod of iron, Brother Stephen W. Owen explained the significance of this imagery in our lives:

This means that we must deliberately take time each day to disconnect from the world and connect with heaven (General Conference, October 2019).

Today, I will take the time to connect with heaven, in order to ensure that I remain focused on the things that matter most. I will set aside my electronic devices, review my notes from general conference, pray, and make personal commitments about how to spend my time. I will remain focused on my core priorities and will not allow my attention to be diverted from the things that will bring enduring joy to me and my family.

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What Should I Do After I Hear the Words of Prophets?

General conference is over, and I had a great experience learning from church leaders. I listened to the talks and tried to understand the speakers’ messages. I also had a number of thoughts about improvements I can make in my personal life and in our family as a result of the things I’ve learned. What should I do next?

When the Savior visited the American continent, He taught the people about many topics, including baptism, avoiding contention, the higher laws of the gospel, and the gathering of Israel. Then, He instructed them what they should do after His departure:

Go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again (3 Nephi 17:3).

He was teaching them an important principle. They may have heard His words, but they needed time to fully assimilate them, to recognize all of their implications, and to learn to apply them to their own lives. Pondering was the key. To ponder something is to think deeply and carefully about it, with a goal of understanding it better.

I can do this by reviewing my notes on the talks I’ve heard, making connections between the talks, and identifying the principles I have learned.

I can also follow up on homework assignments:

  1. President Nelson invited the sisters in the Church to study Doctrine & Covenants sections 84 and 107. I can do that too.
  2. Elder Bednar invited us to discuss his cheetah experience with our families and see what additional lessons we can learn.
  3. President Nelson invited us to study Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision.

Finally, I will convert the knowledge I have gained into a concise set of resolutions: actions I can take or adjustments I can make in order to align my will more fully with the will of my Heavenly Father.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in general conference this weekend. I will take the time and make the effort to “ponder upon” the things which I have heard.

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What Should I Do When Prophetic Teachings Are Difficult to Understand or Accept?

Prophetic teachings are generally not intended to be soothing. A primary role of prophets is to call us to repentance, which means making course corrections or incremental improvements. Therefore, when we have the opportunity to hear messages from prophets, we should plan to be challenged.

Samuel the Lamanite denounced the people of Zarahemla for supporting only teachers who said what they wanted to hear:

If a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him (Helaman 13:27-28).

In contrast (and Samuel knew this by direct experience), they were quick to reject teachers who admonished them to change their ways:

If a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil (Helaman 13:26).

Abinadi faced an unreceptive audience (Mosiah 11:27-29). So did Alma in Ammonihah (Alma 8:8-9). Jacob prefaced a sermon with a warning that his message would be difficult to hear (Jacob 2:2-10). King Benjamin began his speech (to a receptive audience) with a plea for his people to open their ears, hearts, and minds (Mosiah 2:9).

Today, as I participate in general conference, I will expect to be challenged. I will pay attention to the ways I’m being pulled out of my comfort zone. I will specifically write down teachings which are hard for me to understand and will make a plan to study those teachings in more detail, with an open mind and heart, so that I can more fully understand what the Lord expects of me.

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How Do Different Forms of Revelation Support One Another?

As I prepare to participate in general conference this weekend, I’ve been thinking about how different forms of revelation interact with one another and support one another. By revelation, I mean messages from God. Here are some forms of revelation that I have been thinking about:

  • Dreams and visions
  • Face to face conversations with angels
  • Hearing or reading the words of prophets
  • Promptings (thoughts and feelings) from the Holy Ghost

The Book of Mormon opens with a spiritual experience involving multiple forms of revelation. As Lehi prays on behalf of his people, he sees a pillar of fire. He returns home filled with the Spirit of the Lord, sees a vision, and as part of the vision, reads the words of a book (1 Nephi 1:5-13).

What an experience! Multiple forms of revelation gave him a strong conviction that he had received a message from God.

Lehi’s experience is miraculous and unusual. But it is not unusual to receive revelation from multiple sources. For example, Mormon described a pattern in which God communicates to us through multiple channels:

[Angels] are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
And the office of their ministry is…to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men (Moroni 7:30-32).

Angels appear to prophets (“the chosen vessels of the Lord”), who then deliver messages to everyone else (“the residue of men”). But the goal isn’t for everyone else to simply believe the chosen few. The goal is for everyone to receive the Holy Ghost and receive revelation for themselves.

When Lehi shared with his family the things he had learned by visions and dreams, one of his sons, Nephi, prayed to the Lord for confirmation. In response, “He did visit me,” Nephi wrote, “and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father” (1 Nephi 2:16).

Nephi didn’t just receive a confirmation of his father’s words. He also learned additional information as he continued to pray to God (1 Nephi 2:18-24). His father had told him that the Lord had commanded them to “depart into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:2), but God explained to Nephi that they were traveling to a “land of promise” (1 Nephi 2:20).

Similarly, when Nephi and his brothers had failed twice to retrieve the brass plates in Jerusalem, and his brothers wanted to give up, an angel appeared, commanding them to try one more time (1 Nephi 3:29). The angel told them what to do but not how to do it. Nephi learned the “how” from the Holy Ghost as he obeyed the words of the angel (1 Nephi 4:5-6).

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has explained that we can receive personal revelation while we listen to inspired messages from church leaders:

Answers to your specific prayers may come directly from a particular talk or from a specific phrase. At other times answers may come in a seemingly unrelated word, phrase, or song. A heart filled with gratitude for the blessings of life and an earnest desire to hear and follow the words of counsel will prepare the way for personal revelation (“General Conference—No Ordinary Blessing,” Ensign, September 2011).

Today and tomorrow, I will prepare to receive personal revelation as I listen to the words of the Lord’s prophets. I will listen carefully to their words, knowing that their talks provide an opportunity not only to hear inspired messages but also to draw closer to God and receive personal revelation from Him.

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What Does the Book of Mormon Add to Our Understanding of the Resurrection?

References to the resurrection appear only a couple of times in the Old Testament:

  • Job testifies to his friends, “Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26).
  • Ezekiel describes a vision in which dry bones (representing the house of Israel) are miraculously covered with sinews, then flesh, then skin, and finally begin to live and breathe again. He delivers a promise from the Lord: “I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

The New Testament provides a lot more information about the resurrection:

  • Jesus prophesied early in His ministry that He would rise from the dead: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” He said, speaking of “the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21).
  • When Martha affirmed that she knew her brother, who had died, would live again, Jesus answered, “I am the resurrection. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:24-25).
  • After His death and resurrection, the Savior made it clear to His disciples that He was physically alive again: “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). He ate fish and a honeycomb to further prove the point (Luke 24:42-43). However, He also made it clear that this body was different from His mortal body. He entered a room with no open doors (John 20:19). He walked with two disciples without being recognized (Luke 24:16). He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-10).
  • The apostle Paul taught that we will all be resurrected because Jesus was resurrected: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

What does the Book of Mormon add to our understanding of this important doctrine?

  • Our resurrected bodies will look like us, except they will be perfect. “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form…. There shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame” (Alma 11:42-45). (See also Alma 40:23.)
  • A resurrected body is immortal and incorruptible, no longer subject to illness, injury, or death. “The spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal” (2 Nephi 9:13). (See also Mosiah 16:10, Alma 11:45Alma 41:4, Mormon 6:21.
  • The resurrection not only reunites our spirit with our body (overcoming physical death) but also reunites us with God (overcoming spiritual death, at least temporarily). “The resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works” (Alma 42:23). (See also Helaman 14:15-17, Mormon 7:5-6, Mormon 9:13.)
  • When we are resurrected, our cognitive limitations will also end. “Our knowledge shall be perfect” (2 Nephi 9:13). We will have “a bright recollection of all our guilt” (Alma 11:43), and of our “righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).

Today, I will be grateful for the gift of the resurrection. I will remember that, because of Jesus Christ, we will all be resurrected—our spirits will be reunited with an immortal, incorruptible version of our current bodies. I will also remember that, when my spirit and my body are reunited, I will also be restored to God’s presence, where I will be judged. My deliverance from physical death will coincide with my ultimate deliverance from spiritual death.

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What Happens After We Die?

The Book of Mormon teaches extensively about life after death. For example, multiple Book of Mormon prophets testify that we will be resurrected—that our spirit will be reunited with a perfect version of our body, never again to die.

The prophet Alma understood this doctrine. But, as he shared with his son Corianton, he wanted to know more. Specifically, he wondered what happens to us between death and the resurrection. In other words, what happens to us immediately after we die?

Alma “inquired diligently of the Lord” to learn the answer to his question. This is what he learned:

The spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked,… shall be cast out into outer darkness….
Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection (Alma 40:11-14).

So there is a division that occurs immediately after we die. We briefly return to God’s presence and are then assigned to one of two locations or conditions. The righteous enter paradise, while the wicked enter a place characterized by darkness and fear. Alma called it “outer darkness,” but we generally refer to it as “spirit prison.” (See Gospel Topics, “Spirit World.”) According to Alma, all of us will remain in one of those two states until the resurrection.

In the year 1918, Joseph F. Smith received additional insights about the spirit world. He had lost twenty close family members before that time. During that year, he lost three more: his son Hyrum, his son-in-law Alonzo Kesler, and his daughter-in-law Ida Bowman Smith. He was also distraught about the global death toll—in the tens of millions—from the First World War and a global flu pandemic.

On Thursday, October 3, 1918, as President Smith sat pondering the scriptures, he felt prompted to read two passages in the New Testament:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water (1 Peter 3:18-20).

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (1 Peter 4:6).

Both of these passages speak of people in spirit prison, who had been disobedient to God during their mortal lives and were suffering the consequences of their disobedience. In both passages, the apostle Peter testified that the Savior had taught them the gospel.

Knowing that the Savior was resurrected only a few days after His crucifixion, President Smith wondered how it was possible for Him to preach to so many spirits. As he pondered this question, he received his answer:

My eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead (Doctrine and Covenants 138:29-30).

So the spirits in paradise are not just waiting for the resurrection, they are actively engaged in the Savior’s work: preaching the gospel to the spirits of men and women who are not yet in paradise.

President Smith saw many individuals participating in this effort, including Father Adam, Mother Eve, and many of the ancient prophets. He also saw his own father, Hyrum Smith, as well as his uncle, Joseph Smith, both of whom had died when he was very young (Doctrine and Covenants 138:38-39, 53).

As his great-grandson, M. Russell Ballard, observed:

We can only imagine his joy at seeing his beloved father and uncle. He must have been inspired and comforted to know that all spirits retain the likeness of their mortal body and that they are anxiously awaiting the day of their promised resurrection. The vision revealed more fully the depth and breadth of Heavenly Father’s plan for His children and Christ’s redeeming love and the matchless power of His Atonement (“The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” General Conference, October 2018).

President Russell M. Nelson has repeatedly defined the work of the church in an expansive way, which includes both those who are living and those who are in the spirit world:

Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life (“Let Us All Press On,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will be grateful for the diligent efforts of prophets, including Alma and Joseph F. Smith, which have enhanced my understanding of the postmortal life. I will remember that our efforts to share the gospel are not limited to this life. The work of salvation continues beyond the grave.

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What Does It Mean to Serve Others “According to Their Wants?”

After King Benjamin’s people received a forgiveness of their sins, he taught them what they should do to retain that forgiveness:

I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants (Mosiah 4:26).

About 20 years earlier, when Alma organized the church at the waters of Mormon, he taught the people to share with one another.

And they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants (Mosiah 18:29).

Years later, when the converts among the Zoramites were forced to leave their homes, the people of Ammon in Jershon took them in. They ignored the threats from the refugees’ attackers,

…and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants (Alma 35:9).

The noun “want” in English has two meanings:

  1. A lack or deficiency
  2. A desire

(Oxford English Dictionary)

These disciples of Christ saw a deficiency and provided what was needed. Whether the need was for food, clothing, medical aid, or companionship, they were there to help. The assistance they provided was both spiritual and temporal: not just things, but also emotional support, listening, counseling, encouraging, and uplifting.

I usually read the word “wants” in these passages to mean “needs.” But one of the three passages speaks of both “needs” and “wants.” Do the recipient’s desires also play a role in determining the assistance we provide?

I love the following guidance from President Russell M. Nelson:

Everyone has pain somewhere, and our challenge is to find out where the pain is. Usually it’s not physical pain but comes in the stress of living. The patient is always the expert. This is what we try to teach the missionaries. When you meet someone, find out how we can help them. The Church literally has the capacity to help people no matter what their problem is. The gospel exists to help people (quoted in Sheri Dew, Insights from a Prophet’s Life, p. 189).

Today, I will strive to understand the “wants” of the people around me. I will remember that the patient is the expert, that their perceptions and preferences matter. I will be grateful that the gospel and the Church provide me with opportunities to serve other people according to their needs and their wants.

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