Waiting on the Road to Damascus

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Second Counselor in the First Presidency

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One of the most remarkable events in the history of the world happened on the road to Damascus. You know well the story of Saul, a young man who had made “havock of the church, entering into every house . . . [committing the Saints] to prison.” Saul was so effective that many members of the early Church fled Jerusalem in the hopes of escaping his anger.

Saul pursued them. But as he “came near Damascus . . . suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”

This transformative moment changed Saul forever. Indeed, it changed the world.

We know that manifestations such as this happen. in fact, we testify that a similar divine experience happened in 1820 to a boy named Joseph Smith. It is our clear and certain testimony that the heavens are open again and that God speaks to His prophets and apostles. God hears and answers the prayers of His children.

Nevertheless, there are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe.

They spend their days waiting on the road to Damascus.

One dear sister had been a faithful member of the Church all her life. But she carried a secret sorrow. Years before, her daughter had died after a short illness, and the wounds from this tragedy still haunted her. She agonized over the profound questions that accompany an event such as this. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make sense of things. She frankly admitted that her testimony wasn’t what it used to be and ultimately felt that unless the heavens parted for her, she would never be able to believe again.

She found herself waiting, unable to move forward, unable to believe.

There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting on the road to Damascus. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples. They hope to receive the priesthood but hesitate to live worthy of that privilege. They desire to enter the temple but delay the final act of faith to qualify. They remain waiting for the Christ to be delivered to them like a Carl Bloch painting, to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.

The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master. But it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself—it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. But each piece helps us understand the big picture a little better. Eventually, after enough pieces have been collected, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us after all—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.

This can be our experience if we move forward with faith and do not wait too long on the road to Damascus.

“More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us”
Elder Paul V. Johnson

Of the Seventy

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Earth life includes tests, trials and tribulations, and some of the trials we face in life can be excruciating.  Whether it be illness, betrayal, temptations, loss of a loved one, natural disasters or some other ordeal, affliction is part of our mortal experience.  Many have wondered why we must face certain difficult challenges.  We know that one reason is to provide a trial of our faith to see if we will do all the Lord has commanded. Fortunately this earth life is the perfect setting to face—and pass—these tests.  

But these trials are not just to test us.  They are vitally important to the process of putting on the divine nature.  If we handle these afflictions properly, they will be consecrated for our gain.

Elder Orson F. Whitney said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  . . . All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”

Recently a nine-year-old boy was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer.  The doctor explained the diagnosis and the treatment, which included months of chemotherapy and major surgery.  He said it would be a very difficult time for the boy and his family, but then added, “People ask me, ‘Will I be the same after this is over?’ I tell them, ‘No, you won’t be the same. You will be so much stronger. You will be awesome!’”

At times it may seem that our trials are focused on areas of our lives and parts of our souls with which we seem least able to cope.  Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser-guided to our particular needs or weaknesses.  And no one is exempt, especially not saints striving to do what’s right.  Some obedient saints may ask, “Why me?  I’m trying to be good!  Why is the Lord allowing this to happen?”  The furnace of affliction helps purify even the very best of saints by burning away the dross in their lives and leaving behind pure gold.  Even very rich ore needs refining to remove impurities.  Being good is not enough.  We want to become like the Savior, who learned as He suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.

The Crimson Trail in Logan Canyon is one of my favorite hikes.  The main part of the trail creeps along the top of tall limestone cliffs and offers beautiful vistas of the canyon and valley below.  Getting to the top of the cliffs isn’t easy, however.  The trail there is a constant climb, and just before reaching the top, the climber encounters the steepest part of the trail, and views of the canyon are hidden by the cliffs themselves.  The final exertion is more than worth the effort, because once on top the views are breathtaking.  The only way to see the views is to make the climb.

The Sanctifying Work of Welfare
Bishop H. David Burton
Presiding Bishop

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In 1897, a young David O. McKay stood at a door with a tract in his hand.  As a missionary in Stirling, Scotland, he had done this many times before.  But on that day, a haggard woman opened the door and stood before him.  She was poorly dressed, and had sunken cheeks and unkempt hair.


 

She took the tract Elder McKay offered to her and spoke six words he would never forget: “Will this buy me any bread?”

This encounter left a lasting impression on the young missionary.  He later wrote, “From that moment I had a deeper realization that the Church of Christ should be, and is, interested in the temporal salvation of man. I walked away from the door feeling that that [woman], with … bitterness in [her] heart toward[s] man and God, [was] in no position to receive the message of the gospel. [She was] in need of temporal help, and there was no organization, so far as I could learn, in Stirling that could give it to [her].”

A few decades later the world groaned under the burden of the Great Depression.  It was during that time, on April 6, 1936, that President Heber J. Grant and his counselors, J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay, announced what would later become known as the welfare program of the Church.

Two weeks later, Elder Melvin J. Ballard was appointed as its first chairman and Harold B. Lee its first managing director.

This was no ordinary endeavor.  Although the Lord had raised up remarkable souls to administer it, President J. Reuben Clark made it clear that “the setting up of the [welfare] machinery is the result of revelation by the Holy Ghost to President Grant, that it has been carried on since that time by equivalent revelations which have come to the brethren who have had it in charge.”

The commitment of Church leaders to relieve human suffering was as certain as it was irrevocable.  President Grant wanted “a system that would reach out and take care of the people no matter what the cost.”  He said he would even go so far as to “close the seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close the temples, but they would not let the people go hungry.”

I was at President Gordon B. Hinckley’s side in Managua, Nicaragua when he spoke to 1300 members of the Church who had survived a devastating hurricane that claimed more than 19,000 lives.  “As long as the Church has resources,” he said to them, “we will not let you go hungry or without clothing, or without shelter.  We shall do all that we can to assist in the way that the Lord has designated that it should be done.”

The Essence of Discipleship

Sister Silvia H. Allred

Of the Relief Society

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From the beginning of time, the Lord has taught that to become His people we need to be of one heart and one mind. The Savior also explained that the two great commandments in the law are, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Lastly, soon after the Church was organized, the Lord commanded the saints to “visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief.”

What is the common theme in all these commandments? It is that we must love one another and serve one another. This is, in fact, the essence of discipleship in the true Church of Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate 75 years of the Church welfare program, we are reminded of the purposes of welfare which are to help members help themselves become self-reliant, to care for the poor and needy, and to give service. The Church has organized its resources to assist members to provide for the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional well being of themselves, their families, and others. The office of the bishop carries with it a special mandate to care for the poor and needy and to administer such resources for the members in his ward. He is assisted in his efforts by priesthood quorums, Relief Society, and in particular home and visiting teachers.

Relief Society has always been at the heart of welfare. When the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society in 1842, he said to the women, “This is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy.”  He told the sisters that the purpose of the society was “relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes…they will pour in oil and wine to the wounded heart of the distressed, they will dry up the tears of the orphan, and make the widow’s heart to rejoice.”

He also stated that the Society, quote “Might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor – searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants; to assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the community.”

The Spirit of Revelation
(Doctrine and Covenants 8:2)
Elder David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve

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Revelations are conveyed in a variety of ways, including, for example, dreams, visions, conversations with heavenly messengers, and inspiration.  Some revelations are received immediately and intensely; some are recognized gradually and subtly.  The two experiences with light I described help us to better understand these two basic patterns of revelation.

A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once.  Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing.  Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur.  However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.

The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation.  Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).  This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare and is evident in the experiences of Nephi as he tried several different approaches before successfully obtaining the plates of brass from Laban (see 1 Nephi 3-4).

Ultimately, he was led by the Spirit to Jerusalem “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).  And he did not learn how to build a ship of curious workmanship all at one time; rather, he was shown by the Lord “from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1).

Both the history of the Church and our personal lives are replete with examples of the Lord’s pattern for receiving revelation “line upon line, precept upon precept.”  For example, the fundamental truths of the restored gospel were not delivered to the Prophet Joseph Smith all at once in the Sacred Grove.  These priceless treasures were revealed as circumstances warranted and as the timing was right.

President Joseph F. Smith explained how this pattern of revelation occurred in his life.

“As a boy…I would frequently…ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony.


 

  But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line…until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me.  He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel.  By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess.  And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth that will stay with them, and it will make them to know the truth, as God knows it, and to do the will of the Father as Christ does it.  And no amount of marvelous manifestations will ever accomplish this” (“Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith,” 1986, 7).

The Holy Temple – A Beacon to the World

By President Thomas S. Monson

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Reports of the sacrifices made in order to receive the blessings found only in temples of God never fail to touch my heart and bring to me a renewed sense of thankfulness for temples.

May I share with you the account of Tihi and Tararaina Mou Tham and their ten children.  The entire family joined the Church in the early 1960s when missionaries came to their island, located about one hundred miles south of Tahiti. Soon they began to desire the blessings of an eternal family sealing in the temple.

At that time, the nearest temple to the Mou Tham family was the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, more than twentyy-five hundred miles to the southwest, accessible only by expensive airplane travel. The large Mou Tham family, which eked out a meager living on a small plantation, had no money for airplane fare, nor was there any opportunity for employment on their Pacific island. So Brother Mou Tham and his son Gerard made the difficult decision to join another son who was working in the nickel mines of New Caledonia, three thousand miles to the west. The employer provided his employees paid passage to the mines but provided no transportation back home.

The three Mou Tham men labored for four years in the tropical nickel mines, digging and loading the heavy ore. Brother Mou Tham alone returned home for a brief visit once a year, leaving his sons in New Caledonia.

After four years of backbreaking labor, Brother Mou Tham and his sons had saved enough money to take the family to the New Zealand temple. All went except for one daughter. They were sealed for time and eternity, an indescribable and joyful experience.

Brother Mou Tham returned from the temple directly to New Caledonia, where he worked for two more years to pay for the passage of the one daughter who had not been at the temple with them—a married daughter and her child and husband.

In their later years, Brother and Sister Mou Tham desired to serve in the temple. By that time the Papeete Tahiti Temple had been constructed and dedicated, and they served two missions there.

My brothers and sisters, temples are more than stone and mortar. They are filled with faith and fasting. They are built of trials and testimonies. They are sanctified by sacrifice and service.,,

Today most of us do not have to suffer great hardships in order to attend the temple. Eighty-five per cent of the membership of the Church now live within two hundred miles of a temple, and for a great many of us, that distance is much shorter.

If you have been to the temple for yourselves, and if you live within relatively close proximity to a temple, your sacrifice could be setting aside the time in your busy lives to visit the temple regularly. There is much to be done in our temples in behalf of those who wait beyond the veil. As we do the work for them, we will know that we have accomplished what they cannot do for themselves. President Joseph F. Smith, in a mighty declaration, stated: “Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.” My brothers and sisters, the work is ours to do.