I hopped on my elliptical machine to exercise, and turned on TV to make the time go by faster. Every channel clamored for my attention, such as commercials and programs shooting out dizzying images, grating voices, and quirky phrases to capture my focus. Even news channels bombarded my senses with moving messages along the bottom and sides of the screen in addition to spoken words. I was on sensory overload and my ears throbbed. Exasperated, I switched off the TV and tapped my phone to The Mormon Channel. By contrast, I listened to an apostle of the Lord speaking in a humble voice about an important principle of truth. His voice was soft; his message powerful. Ah—what relief! Spiritual truth cannot compete with the flash and flair of the world, if we are energized by those things. The world shouts in voices that are brassy and harsh; God speaks with the quiet voice of the Spirit which lingers and lifts. I need to seek quiet places to hear answers to my prayers, to hear God’s counsel, to feel His peace. “Therefore, let us follow after the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19). God’s peace is what energizes and sustains me even through difficult days. In this I find Reasons to Rejoice!
Why is it so hard to notice our own spiritual progress? The reason: The effects are gradual and difficult to observe from day to day. For example, if I look at a photo taken of myself many years ago, I would notice a big difference as compared to now. But when I look in the mirror each morning getting ready for the day, I can’t see the subtle changes taking place. They aren’t obvious in 24-hour increments. I think that’s how it is with spiritual change. As I strive to keep the commandments, such as making time for scripture study, church and temple worship, offering kindness and service to others, change is happening even when I’m not aware of it. One way to observe this transformation is to keep a journal describing goals, challenges, and victories along the way. It’s like a photograph which can be viewed and reviewed. As I read entries from the past, I can see little signs of improvement. Some things I once struggled with have been conquered, and goals set years ago have been reached. Change is still subtle, and of course there are occasional setbacks and relapses. But as I yield to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the Lord helps me put off the “natural man” little by little, step by step. God is in the process of recreating my nature to become like Him. I can see it and feel it. I feel progress like wind in my hair. This is a Reason to Rejoice!
“Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn” (Isaiah 51:1). What does this mean to you? When I think of the word, “hewn” I think of a statue emerging from a block of beautiful marble after the master artisan has laboriously chipped away with sharp tools to create a likeness. Along with all of God’s children, I am “hewn” from divine parentage as a beloved child of God. He is shaping me to be in His likeness. The word “Rock” is often used in the scriptures to represent the Savior Jesus Christ. He is what I strive to become. I have taken upon myself His holy name in covenant, and have pledged to always remember Him. In another respect, I am also “hewn” from beloved earthly parents and ancestors. I want to carry on their legacy of courage and faith. I live in a confused world when it comes to identity. Many people look to find themselves in the wrong places. The right place to find one’s real identity is from God, as His beloved child. Real identity comes from recognizing our divine heritage and purpose. These words from a favorite child’s hymn relate to adults as well: “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me; help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him someday.” Isaiah’s words, “Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn” remind me of who I am and whose I am.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: What sacrifices have I been asked to make in my religion? I believe that a religion that does not require effort and sacrifice—doesn’t produce faith, refinement, and spiritual growth in its members. We understand this principle in other areas. For example, if I work hard and save money to pay for my college tuition, I will apply myself with greater diligence and appreciation. And how absurd it would be to ask a physical trainer to help me develop bulging biceps and total body fitness without performing strenuous exercise? The principle of sacrifice and reward has application in every dimension of our lives. It applies to religion too. If it doesn’t pinch, it isn’t a sacrifice. Here are some sacrifices I’m striving to make. I am imperfect, but I will never give up trying.
- Resist forbidden things.
- Study scriptures daily.
- Pray morning and night (and in between).
- Obey commandments.
- Minister and serve others, even when it’s inconvenient.
- Prioritize marriage and family as number one—to love, teach and minister.
- Cherish the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Fast and pay tithing.
- Repent when I make mistakes and strive to improve.
- Stand as a witness for truth.
- Treat others kindly even when mistreated. Forgive freely.
- Learn to love with compassion and courtesy.
Note the ACTION WORDS: Resist, study, pray, obey, minister, serve, prioritize, cherish, repent, stand, learn, love, forgive.
A friend told me that before her family kneels for prayer each evening, they take a moment to reflect and share a particular experience that day which manifests Heavenly Father’s love. The person offering the prayer then includes expressions of gratitude for those specific things. In this way, family members are being made aware of one another’s kindnesses from God. This exercise also helps avoid vain repetitions and keeps expressions fresh. Though our children are now grown with families of their own, we continue the tradition of kneeling for family prayer whenever we gather together in our home. It is a sweet finish to every family activity before we hug goodbye. There is truth to the adage that “families who pray together—stay together.”
- Prayer is an acknowledgment that God is our Father and Jesus Christ is our Savior.
- Prayer is a sincere confession of mistakes, and a request for forgiveness.
- Prayer is recognition that we need help beyond our ability.
- Prayer is an opportunity to express gratitude to our Creator.
- Prayer is a privilege to ask God for specific blessings.
When families kneel together in humble supplication both morning and night, they enjoy a bonding spirit of love and unity.
Two of my favorite words are “eager” and “earnest” because they describe the amperage of a person’s spiritual motor. Here is a vivid example: “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” “And they immediately left the ship…and followed him” (Matthew 4:20,22). After testifying of His divinity, Jesus Christ invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and become fishers of men. Undoubtedly, the Savior spoke many words as they tarried by the water’s edge, and the Spirit bore witness to their souls of His truth and divinity. The fishermen must have keenly felt this powerful witness to immediately leave their nets—their livelihood to follow the Master. They didn’t say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you,” or “Let me finish what I’m doing and make some arrangements first.” They immediately left behind all that was familiar and went forward with faith. I want to do the same and follow the Savior with eagerness, without excuse or caveat. I will obey His commandments with all my heart. He promises, “All that I have is thine” (Luke 15:32).
The phone rang in the middle of the night. As I scrambled across the room in total darkness, I staggered and bumped into things. This little experience reinforced the truth that without spiritual light I will also stumble, fall and fail. Jesus Christ promised, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Savior’s light is power. But I must follow Him to activate it. “The answer to our weakness is to plug into the inexhaustible power of the Lord. That plugging in process involves commitment. Once we truly commit to the Lord to do his will at all costs, we throw the switches that send his power surging to us” (Duane Hiatt). I can personally witness that committing to follow Christ and obeying His commandments enable me to do what I could not do alone. I am empowered beyond my natural ability to work, learn, serve, and find joy in life. Each week as I partake of the emblems of the sacrament, I eagerly renew my covenant to stay on the illuminated path of the Savior Jesus Christ.