Posted by: 2thdocbob | 21 May 2017

Reverence is more than just quietly sitting

I gave this talk on reverence today in Crestline Ward. My speaking companion was out of town, so I had to fill 45 minutes on my own. But I knew ahead of time and was prepared. I felt inspiration as I prepared this talk, and as I gave it. I hope that you will feel that as you read it.

I’m grateful that our stake includes three congregations in the mountains. It’s a special privilege to travel up to the beautiful chapels and enjoy the fresh air and the quiet surroundings.

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My dear brothers and sisters, I am grateful to be with you today. I feel blessed whenever my speaking assignments brings me to our beautiful mountain wards, and I am able to worship with you.

I bring you the love and greetings from our Stake Presidency. They are mindful of you and are grateful for your faithfulness, and for your many acts of service, both seen and unseen.

I pray for the guidance of the Holy Ghost so that we may all be instructed of the Spirit. I testify that this instruction will come to those who seek it reverently.

This was taught to me here in this chapel several years ago when I was here for a speaking assignment. A couple in your ward had been wrestling with a significant challenge, and had been fasting and praying for guidance from the Brethren in General Conference. Following my talk, they came up to the stand and thanked me, as we often do.

But what they said next had a deep impact on me. They told me that I had been an answer to their prayers; that my message taught them what they had sought to know, before General Conference even came. I didn’t know of their challenges, but the Lord did!

This was a very humbling moment. I have always taken my speaking assignments very seriously, but since then, I feel an increased responsibility to know and to speak what the Lord would have me say to the members that I will address.

So if you feel that I am speaking just to you, I hope you understand that it isn’t me; it is the Spirit speaking to a prepared heart. And having a prepared heart isn’t a simple thing in this world.

We live in a world that has grown increasingly noisy. As the standards of the world become more lax, the noise increases. Like it or not, we all listen to rap and many other offensive noises. As the volume goes up, so does confusion and contention.

We can appreciate Elijah’s experience. He felt a great wind, an earthquake, and fire (sounds a little like our area, doesn’t it?), and the Lord was not in them. And after the fire there was a still small voice, and Elijah noted the contrast (see 1 Ki. 19:9-12).

Through all the noise and static, the still small voice of the Spirit is still present, softly requesting our attention. It calls to my mind a good blues song, called “God trying to get your attention.” The Spirit can be heard if we will learn to filter out the background noise. But we can’t just go online and buy a spiritual attenuator to reduce the noise. We must develop our own spiritual rectifiers to filter out the static and the background hiss of the world.

Satan knows that if he can drown out the still, small voice of the Spirit, he can defeat us.

The Lord has commanded his servants to stand in holy places that we may be able to withstand the evils of our day. How do we do this? We can’t just hide in the chapel or in the temple. We still have to live our lives; we still have to get out into the world.

It all starts with reverence. What is reverence? How will it help us? In Primary we sing:

“Reverence is more than just quietly sitting

It’s thinking of Father above,

A feeling I get when I think of his blessings.

I’m reverent, for reverence is love.

When I’m reverent, it shows in my words and my deeds.

The pathway to follow is clear.

And when I am reverent, I know in my heart

Heavenly Father and Jesus are near.”

Do we understand and practice these great truths?

Much of what we say in the Church about reverence focuses on being quiet in places of worship, with special emphasis on children being quiet. Being quiet is a key part of reverence, an important element. Quiet does not necessarily equal reverence.

Even though we use this building for many different activities, our chapels are houses of worship where we should be able to sit quietly during prelude music and meditate on the beauty of the restored gospel, prepare our hearts and minds for the sacrament, and ponder the majesty of our Heavenly Father and the splendor of the Savior’s Atonement. I will return to this theme again. These manifestations of our worship will naturally be accompanied by an attitude of reverence.

Do we feel this way as we enter these sacred halls?

Reverence begins with a love for our Heavenly Father. Just as our love for our earthly parents leads us to respect and to honor them, so our love for our Heavenly Father leads to reverence for him.

When we have reverence for Heavenly Father, we begin to ponder and to understand what He has done for us. We develop reverence for His plan, the wonderful plan for our eternal happiness that He has given us.

Reverence for the plan of salvation increases our love for Jesus Christ, and leads to a reverence for His mission as our Savior and Redeemer. As we ponder this, we begin to understand the wonderful gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We begin to “Marvel that he would descend from His throne divine,” and as we continue to ponder, we realize that he come down to “rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.”

And it works in the other direction as well. Increased understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ gives us a greater appreciation for the plan of salvation, which increases our love for Heavenly Father.

As we reverently reflect on Christ’s Atonement, we accept and personalize this great gift. As we continue to reflect, we look forward to partaking of the sacrament each Sunday, and to renewing our covenants with the Father. We begin to desire to honor all our covenants, and to make and keep all the covenants that will help us to return to Him.

We lose the desire to sin and we continue to progress. Alma refers to this as a mighty change of heart.

With this increased desire to return to Heavenly Father, we also feel a respect and a reverence for all Heavenly Father’s children, and indeed, for all His creations. And we seek to bless their lives as well.

All this may come from being reverent!

Reverence doesn’t just LEAD us to ponder important gospel truths, it ALLOWS us to ponder and to understand them. Reverence opens the doors of our hearts to personal revelation and allows the Holy Ghost to witness of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our hearts and minds. We come to know of the truth of the various elements that make up the gospel of Jesus Christ as well.

It is in these quiet moments that revelation comes. You have probably felt this yourself. In fact, it can come in no other way. That is why the Psalmist wrote “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We absolutely must tune out the world to commune with Heavenly Father through His Spirit.

Enos, the son of Jacob, described his experience with this. You will remember that he went out hunting, probably on his own. It was this time alone that enabled him to ponder the things his prophet-father had taught him. He tells us:

“And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.

“Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.

“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away” (Enos 1:2-6).

I think that maybe the hunt wasn’t going so well for Enos, so he had some private time to think about things. The hungering of the soul that he described comes through reverence. As he reflected on the truths his father had taught him, in private, in quiet, these words touched his heart deeply.

The most frequently repeated commandment in the Book of Mormon is simply “remember.” Enos remembered, and found salvation. Do we remember?

Brothers and sisters, this attitude of reverence is so simple that we begin to learn it as young children. In spite of its simplicity, there is great power in reverence. It is in those quiet, focused moments that we receive great spiritual strength.

There were surely few quiet moments in the Smith household, yet Joseph found a way to study and to reflect on the scriptures. After reading the promise of James, he wrote:

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did …

“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God” (JS-H 1:12,13).

This reflection that allowed this verse to enter into his heart with great force did not come during times of horseplay with his brothers, or during the conversations at mealtimes. No, Joseph had to find times to contemplate what he had read.

Joseph then found a quiet, sacred place to pray, and was visited by the Father and the Son, who answered his humble prayer personally.

Moroni challenged us to ponder the truths of the Book of Mormon and ask God if they are true (see Moroni 10:3-5). I am certain that for each of us, the promised witness came during quiet, reverent times.

Probably the most sacred time in our busy week is sacrament meeting. This brief time has been consecrated to the Lord for our benefit, so we can worship Heavenly Father, renew our covenants with Him, and feel His Spirit. This dedicated time is so important that observing it has been a commandment from the beginning.

In our dispensation, the Lord commanded:

“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;

“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;” (D&C 59:9-10).

More recently, these instructions were given in Handbook 2:

“Each sacrament meeting should be a spiritual experience in which members of the Church renew their covenants by partaking of the sacrament. Other purposes of sacrament meeting are to worship, provide gospel instruction, perform ordinances, conduct ward business, and strengthen faith and testimony.” (18.2.2)

Further, we read: “Leaders set an example of reverence during the time before sacrament meeting. The bishopric and the speakers should be in their seats at least five minutes before the meeting begins. This is not a time for conversation or transmitting messages. (My commentary here: please don’t bother the Bishop or his counselors during this five minutes: let them focus on feeling the Spirit before the meeting, too!)

“Members should be taught to make the time before sacrament meeting a period of prayerful meditation as they prepare spiritually for the sacrament. The bishopric encourages families to arrive on time and to sit together.” (18.2.2)

The Handbook specifies three groups of people who are responsible for the spiritual success of sacrament meetings: the Bishopric, the speakers (and music people), and the members.

First the Bishopric must carefully plan sacrament meetings to ensure that the Spirit will be present, and that the messages, both spoken and sung, will be in harmony with the Lord’s will. Moroni, in Chapter 6, described the process:

“And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done” (Moroni 6:9).

Occasionally emergencies will arise, but this planning should be done well in advance. That way, the Bishopric can sit down and invite the Spirit into their own hearts. They need this time more than the rest of us, because of the burdens they carry. Please let them worship, too.

I have also been in sacrament meetings when the Bishop felt prompted to make a small change that probably blessed someone in the congregation. If we intrude on this quiet time for the Bishopric, we may short circuit this inspiration.

Second, the speakers and those who provide music should be prepared to invite the Spirit into the meeting.

Appropriate prelude music should draw our thoughts to the Savior and invite us to ponder and feel reverent. But we must listen! As an organist, my offering to the Lord is not in technical ability, but in testifying through the hymns that I choose, and setting a reverent tone for the meeting. The hymns that are chosen should be appropriate.

Sacrament talks are not a time for jokes, opinions, or telling how the Bishop asked us to talk. As speakers, we are assigned to teach, to edify and to testify. This is a burden that weighs heavily on me as I prepare to fulfill a speaking assignment in my calling.

Third, we have a responsibility as members to add to the spirit of the meeting by our behavior: not just for our own benefit, but for that of others.

We should prepare for the sacrament, reflecting on the sacrament prayers, and the covenants found therein. We also should reflect on our own worthiness. Even a few brief moments on Saturday evening can make a difference to our sacrament experience.

The fifteen minutes before a meeting should not be a time to conduct business or to chit chat. Once in the chapel, we may greet each other reverently, but most conversations should take place outside the chapel. This time before sacrament meeting is a time to be seated and to invite the Spirit into our hearts.

Elder Packer warned us; “When we step into the chapel, we must! —each of us must—watch ourselves lest we be guilty of intruding when someone is struggling to feel delicate spiritual communications.”

Elder Robert C. Oaks, formerly of The Seventy, told this story: “My wife and I had been seeking spiritual instruction on a particular question in our lives. Thankfully, the answer came through the particular prelude hymn selected. In response to the sweet melody, the Spirit clearly indicated the appropriate course for us. Unfortunately, before the hymn had ended, someone sitting near me leaned over and started talking to me, and the Spirit immediately left. A treasure of sweet revelation was cut short by a lack of reverence” (Ensign, Dec. 2009).

Has something similar ever happened to you? Have you ever done that to someone else?

I am mindful of the words of one of our beautiful, unsung hymns, number 132:

God is in his holy temple.

Earthly thoughts, be silent now,

While with reverence we assemble

And before his presence bow.

He is with us, now and ever,

When we call upon his name,

Aiding every good endeavor,

Guiding every upward aim.

God is in his holy temple,

In the pure and holy mind,

In the reverent heart and simple,

In the soul from sin refined.

Banish then each base emotion.

Lift us up, O Lord, to thee;

Let our souls, in pure devotion,

Temples for thy worship be.

“Earthly thoughts, be silent now.” Have you ever thought that as you entered the chapel? Or the temple?

There is a critical need in our world to increase the frequency of these reverent, revelatory moments. As the potential distractions increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the things that matter most. In fact, just as young Joseph Smith experienced, when the moment is of great importance to our salvation, Satan will step in and try to distract us by any means possible.

It takes discipline to become a disciple. For many of us, that means we have to take control of our electronic devices that capture our attention. In order to become true disciples of Jesus Christ, we should probably consider mandating “electronic-free times” each day so that we can focus on the things of the Spirit. Surely our sacrament meetings should be one of these times.

Please do not permit electronics to block your eternal progression. Young people, if you feel bored, perhaps you need to look within and determine if you understand why we meet, and then prepare yourselves better for this sacred hour.

Reverence requires practice. I will be the first to tell you that it takes some discipline to stop thinking of a captivating tune in meetings. I have memorized Redeemer of Israel, and sometimes I need to go through all six verses in order to clear my mind of outside thoughts and earworms. But it works! When I go to the temple, I use O My Father, with the same results. The prelude music should also invite reverence.

Reverence can also strengthen the sense of unity in your ward. As we worship together, and as we pray together (please remember, saying “Amen” makes the prayer ours), and especially as we sing together, we become united in the spirit. I cannot overemphasize the importance of singing together. It is one of the few times in mortality where can feel that unity. It doesn’t matter if you can sing well or not. Singing will bring the Spirit quickly. This I know from many experiences. And I recall the words of Hymn 119, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” Don’t let yourselves be numbered in that group, brothers and sisters. Sing with us.

And think about the words to the hymns. I have been touched deeply when certain phrases penetrate to my heart.

We may feel reverence at different times and in different places. For example, I feel reverent when I am in these beautiful mountains. I feel reverence when I listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I felt a reverent awe the first time I stood atop Mt. Whitney. I felt reverent the first time I extracted DNA in a science lab. I felt a profound reverence when I held a human brain in anatomy lab.  I even felt reverent when I visited St. Peter’s in Rome. I felt a reverence as I looked at Gutenberg’s Bible. I have felt a special reverence as I held each of our children and our grandchildren for the first time. I feel reverence every time I visit the grave of our little son in Salt Lake City, and an increased reverence as I look about that cemetery and see the graves of the Apostles and Prophets. I feel a special reverence each time I enter the sacred doors of the temple and leave my worldly cares outside. And most of the time, I feel reverent when I enter our beautiful chapels.

But true reverence doesn’t come from a place or a thing. It must come from within us. It is something that we can cultivate and develop. Reverence, like all other virtues, begins in the home.

As in all things spiritual, the Savior set the example for us. When he prayed, he hallowed or blessed his Father’s name. He zealously defended the sanctity of his Father’s house. All his words and actions reflected his reverence for the Father, and for his Father’s creations.

Brothers and sisters, are we following the Savior sufficiently? Do we feel the love and respect for our Heavenly Father that Christ exemplified? Do we feel a reverence for his house, for his children, for his servants and for all his creations? I feel certain that if we did, a great change would occur in our lives. We would grow in understanding, in truth, and in love for our fellowmen, and we would truly have the Holy Ghost as our constant companion. After all, the Lord has promised great blessings to all “who shall reverence [him] in [his] house,” (D&C 109:21) but he has said that our minds will be darkened if we treat holy things lightly (see D&C 84:54). Our behavior in the chapel will determine which direction we go.

When I was in dental school, I had a good friend named Mike Haynie. I love and respect this man for his wisdom and his maturity. One Sunday, we were leaving a Sacrament Meeting that seemed very ordinary, like so many others I had attended. Our two children were very young and fidgety, and like most young parents, we were probably focused more on keeping them still than on feeling the Spirit. As we walked to Sunday School, Mike came up beside me and said “wasn’t that the best Sacrament Meeting ever?”

That caught me by surprise. I still think about it, nearly thirty years later. The difference between Mike and me? I think that he had prepared himself to feel the Spirit, and I had prepared myself to get to church.

Yes, we wrestle with children and that distracts us, but that is such a short moment in our family’s life. Most of us have been there, and most of us understand the challenges that young parents are dealing with. I was very touched by the action of one sister in Lake Arrowhead Ward who noticed a young mother sitting alone with two fussy children. She walked over during the meeting and took the baby so that the young mother could give her attention to the older child and take him out. What a great example of Christlike love! And I am certain that the young mother returns to church each week because she felt the love and support of that good sister. This simple act added to the reverence of the meeting for many people.

In keeping with the spirit of reverence, we should also pray for those who lead and teach us. We have been counseled to ponder and pray before general conference that the speakers will be inspired to say things that will help us to solve our problems. What a difference it would make if we took the same approach to our regular Sunday meetings!

Instead of being critical of a teacher who is struggling, or a speaker who is rambling, or even worse, boring, shouldn’t we pray for them instead? I don’t know how many members pray for the High Councilors to give better talks, but I do. And I testify to you that I do feel the Lord’s direction as I prepare to speak each month.

We have the promise from the Lord that Zion and her stakes will be a place of refuge and protection from the evils of the world. As members of the San Bernardino California Stake of Zion, we have the right and the obligation to call upon God for his protection. I pray that we will have the faith and courage to do so.

In addition, I believe that it is our reverence that will help to protect our chapels and temples during these turbulent times. Time does not allow me to share stories of this, but please be assured, my brothers and sisters, that the Lord and his angels are watching over and protecting these sacred precincts.

Our homes should also be places of reverence. They should be places of refuge from the world, where we can feel safe and protected. Within the walls of our homes, the gospel is studied, personal and family prayers are said, and eternal family relationships are nurtured. This alone should make our homes the most sacred places on earth. Do our attitudes at home encourage our children and grandchildren to feel reverent and safe?

Of course, there are many things that are permissible in the home which we would not do at church. However, we can still make our homes a place where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell. And perhaps that is the very heart of reverence: striving to live so that the places we go will be places of peace and safety.

Indeed, if we cultivate a spirit of reverence, almost anywhere we stand can be a holy place.

Brothers and sisters, reverence is a very personal, individual matter. Each of us can make a difference, from the newest member to the Bishop. We can all affect the reverence in our wards.

Now let me return for a moment to our electronic companions. They seem to capture too much of our attention. They create a background noise that can drown out the still, small voice of the Spirit. That is something we cannot afford. It has never been more important to create a daily “quiet time” in which we set aside our cell phones, tablets, computers, and other devices and log on to the celestial web in order to hear the voice of the Spirit.

That quiet time is vital to our well-being as we study and ponder the Scriptures and commune with Heavenly Father in prayer. We cannot afford to be distracted from this. We all need the strength that comes from daily introspection, and we can’t get it any other way. If we fail to do so, we will lack the ability to withstand the increasingly negative influences of the world. Will you please make it a priority in your lives? I promise that if you do, you will experience great blessings in your lives, including an increased power to recognize and resist temptation and evil influences.

The Primary children sing a song (some of you may remember it) that we should all keep in mind:

“It shouldn’t be hard to sit very still

And think about Jesus, his cross on the hill,

And all that he suffered and did for me;

It shouldn’t be hard to sit quietly.

“I think of the miles he walked in the dust,

And children he helped to love and to trust;

It shouldn’t be hard to sit tall in my seat,

To listen politely, to quiet my feet.

“It shouldn’t be hard, even though I am small,

To think about Jesus, not hard at all.”

If our little ones can sit quietly, so can we.

I pray that we may be more reverent. I pray that our conduct will reflect our commitment to Heavenly Father and his plan, for reverence does come from within, and our reverence reveals what is in our hearts. It must disappoint Father at times to see how his children treat his house.

I testify that our Heavenly Father lives. He loves every one of his children with a perfect love. Considering what he has promised us, he asks for very little in return. Obeying his commandments is all he requires. Jesus Christ is his Son. He is our Savior. He made it possible for us to live again with our Father in Heaven, if we will follow his plan.

Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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