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!
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.
As a child, sitting still in church was difficult for me. Talks at the pulpit seemed long. But when time came for congregational singing, my wiggles stopped and I sat upright. Even before learning to read, I felt something joyous in singing hymns of praise to God. Later, while driving as a family on road trips, my sister taught me to harmonize. I clearly recall peering out the window at rolling countryside scenes while singing, “Ere you left your room this morning; Did you think to pray?” Throughout my life, singing and accompanying church hymns have burrowed gospel messages into my heart. This is good counsel for all: “Let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord…in our homes, and our personal lives. Teach your children to love the hymns. Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together. Sing hymns as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones…Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment” (First Presidency preface in our hymn book). I wish I had sung hymns as lullabies to my young children. Quality of voice doesn’t matter. There is a feeling that comes through music that is more powerful than words.
Righteous routines and holy habits are those little things I should regularly do and feel to draw close to the Savior—who gives me the enabling power to resist temptation and deception, stay true to my covenants, and find joy. This is my personal list:
Things to do daily:
- Pray morning and night.
- Study scriptures.
- Exercise and make healthy eating choices.
- Offer kindly service to someone.
Things to do weekly:
- Attend church and partake of the sacrament.
- Plan family time together.
- Record insights, special moments, and gratitude in my journal.
- Attend the temple and pay tithing.
Attitudes to feel continually:
- Demonstrate an attitude of gratitude.
- Be teachable and eager to learn.
- Smile and reflect joy in each new day.
- Learn to see and celebrate the best in others.
What have I left out? What is on your list of righteous routines and holy habits?
A Welcoming Site
I hear the phrase often that I am going to church. What that means varies by individuals and by religions. To some this entails Sunday worship for a few hours. As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have a paid ministry, everyone is expected to participate either by teaching or serving. As a member, I have learned that going to church involves more than merely the geography of my body. God declared, “And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:8) When I find myself merely going to church quite unprepared, it is less effective in getting the gospel “inside me.” Thus I become a “taker’ rather than a “giver”. I can prepare for Church by pre-reading lessons, accepting any calling to serve and giving my best effort. As one of my goals is to develop more Christ-like attributes, it is imperative that I don’t regard my church-going casually, rather being fully engaged in the process of seeking, learning, and participating. When I am prepared to learn and serve, then my going to church will cause my soul to grow. Have you had any similar experiences?