Last weekend, the stake I am a part of in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held stake conference. For those unfamiliar with the term “stake,” the church website defines it as “a group of local Church congregations” and usually includes “about 3,000 to 5,000 members in five to ten congregations.”
There were two meetings I needed to attend: one on Saturday and one on Sunday. On Saturday, I arrived about 45 minutes before the meeting was to start. As anyone who has attended one of these conferences can attest to, if you don’t show up early, you might be relegated to sitting in an overflow area without a padded chair.
The topic that I wanted to write about was how to stay close to God in a world that more and more pushes God away. A Gallup poll released last June stated that 81% of U.S. adults professed a belief in God. This may seem high, but it was down six percentage points from 2017 and was the lowest Gallup had recorded. According to Gallup, the figure was above 90% between 1944 and 2011.
The first thought that came to me was to do exactly what I was doing by going to stake conference.
Going to conference on a Saturday night is not necessarily easy. There are many other things that one could, or may even prefer to, do on a Saturday night. Thankfully, this was made much easier because it’s June and not October (the middle of college football season), but in my situation, because this meeting was for adults only, I had to figure out a plan for someone to watch my children. That wasn’t exactly hard, but it was one step I had to take that I could have easily said I didn’t want to. It’s just easier not to go to conference and not deal with finding someone to watch my kids, I could have thought. But I wanted to go to conference. I wanted to feel the spirit and be taught. A General Authority Seventy, Shayne M. Bowen, was to speak and I wanted to hear him. According to the church website, General Authority Seventies are “Church leaders called by the First Presidency to be ‘especial witnesses’ and to assist the (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) in ‘building up the church and regulating all the affairs’ and ‘preaching and administering the gospel’ throughout the world (Doctrine and Covenants 107:25, 34, 38).”
I learned a lot that night, but most importantly, I felt the spirit. I knew I was where I was supposed to be, and I was grateful that I had made the choice to be there. Making that choice, and continuing to make that choice in the future, will help me to have the spirit in my life more abundantly, which will in turn help protect me from the influences of a world increasingly moving away from things that bring the spirit.
A second thing that came to my mind that we can do to bring us closer to God despite the world around us is to choose media that uplifts and reminds us of God. I think it first really struck me how difficult this was several years ago when I was watching a program on a station that most people would not think had any content that people would find offensive. And, for the most part, the content was not offensive. But one of the characters frequently said the name of God in vain. I’ll always remember the frustration my wife expressed each time it occurred. She loved God with all her heart and she never wanted to hear anyone say his name disrespectfully. I can’t help but think someone could have flipped her off and she wouldn’t be as upset at that person as she would if the person used the name of God in vain. She simply couldn’t stand it, and it was one of many reasons why I loved her so much. Admittedly, this is a high standard since media in general is saturated with that kind of language, as well as other obscenities, but I’ve realized that as my desire to have the spirit in my home grows, the more careful I am about the type of media I allow into it.
Third is to not limit our attention to spiritual matters to Sundays. I was impressed recently by a thought I heard someone share, which was something along the lines of if we only focus on God and Jesus Christ on Sunday because that’s the day we go to church, then we essentially give Satan six of seven days to influence us free of competition. Satan is too powerful to trust that only one day a week is sufficient to effectively combat his influence. I never want my children to grow up thinking spiritual activities and thoughts should only be on Sundays.
Because of that, whenever I feel like I have gained a spiritual insight, I want to share that with my children, whether it’s in church on Sunday or as they are eating lunch on a Wednesday afternoon. There are a lot of responsibilities and distractions in life, but I want them to always remember the reason why they are here on this earth, which is “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25) I want them to always know that no matter what Satan does to influence them, they can always trust that God wants them to overcome him so they can reach their highest eternal potential. I want the blessings of eternal life to always be more important to them than whatever satisfactions they can realize in life.
Fourth is to always follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I recently listened to a talk by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in which he spoke of an instance when he was to preside over a stake priesthood leadership meeting on the same evening that his son was playing in a ninth grade tournament championship basketball game about two hours away. As he sat in preparation about five minutes from the start of the meeting, he noticed an Elders Quorum president who had a son who was also playing in the basketball game but was playing against Elder Bednar’s son.
Suddenly, Elder Bednar had a thought that he should invite the man to leave the meeting with him so they could attend the game. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and Elder Bednar wondered afterward if he had been following the spirit or simply following a desire to be at a basketball game instead of a priesthood meeting. Then, six months later, the son of the man who Elder Bednar went to the game with tragically died. He was out in the woods cutting wood and a piece of metal came off the maul he was using and went through his clothing and into his chest, nicking his heart. He didn’t know it had happened, but when he got into the back of the truck, he said he felt terrible and passed out. He was taken to the hospital where he died. Elder Bednar said after he got to the hospital and the father told him what happened, the father told him how glad he was that they had gone to the game because that was the only chance he would have had to see his son play in a game like that.
“Was a stake president moved upon by the Holy Ghost to get up and walk out of a stake priesthood leadership meeting because the Lord knew in the future what would happen to the son of this Elder’s Quorum president and he wanted that dad to have that experience with that son before that son was transferred to the spirit world? I absolutely know that’s what took place,” Elder Bednar said. “But can I confess to you, can I confide in you, can I share with you the fact that as a 40-plus-year-old man who had been a bishop and I was serving for the second time as a stake president, I kind of thought I was just rationalizing my own desire to go and watch a basketball game that my son was playing in, which was a good thing, but I wasn’t sure it was the right thing in that very moment. …
“Don’t just sit and wait for some dramatic message to come from heaven. You be a good boy, you be a good girl, you honor your covenants, keep the commandments, press forward with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and he will guide your steps, and as you open your mouth, it will be filled. Don’t be paralyzed wondering, ‘Oh, is this me or is it the Holy Ghost.’ Get over it. Quit worrying about it. Press forward, get going and you’ll be alright.”
I could write many articles on experiences I’ve had where I followed the spirit in a matter and later realized exactly why I received that prompting.
Making the decisions that allow us to stay close to God is not easy. One lesson I’ve learned throughout my life is that one has to work to feel the spirit. But I can say with certainty that I would much rather have the spirit with me than not. I have experienced both, and the difference between the peace that comes from the spirit and the despair that I’ve felt without it is as obvious to me as the difference between day and night. The peace of the spirit changes everything about me, from my desires, to my priorities, to my interactions with others, always for the better. It makes me feel like the people of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon who said the spirit of the Lord “wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)
I’ll end with some comments by David R. Stone, who gave a talk in the April 2006 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titled “Zion in the Midst of Babylon.” He said:
“My involvement with the building of the Manhattan temple gave me the opportunity to be in the temple quite often prior to the dedication. It was wonderful to sit in the celestial room and be there in perfect silence, without a single sound to be heard coming from the busy New York streets outside. How was it possible that the temple could be so reverently silent when the hustle and bustle of the metropolis was just a few yards away?
“The answer was in the construction of the temple. The temple was built within the walls of an existing building, and the inner walls of the temple were connected to the outer walls at only a very few junction points. That is how the temple (Zion) limited the effects of Babylon, or the world outside.
“There may be a lesson here for us. We can create the real Zion among us by limiting the extent to which Babylon will influence our lives.”
I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned that have taught me how to achieve that.