Recently a friend who is a dedicated church member expressed concern about the need for greater reverence in our meetings. He told me that he was working on a talk for sacrament meeting on the subject of reverence.
I panicked. I have heard a lot of reverence talks in the course of a lifetime in the church. It seems to me that the net effect of most of them has been to decrease the level of reverence in our meetings while increasing the amount of judging.
Let’s think about the people who are the common offenders against reverence.
1. There are friendly, enthusiastic saints who can no more walk quietly to a pew and ponder solemnly than become a grapefruit. When I watch Sister Taylor scurry into the chapel and, with the best of intentions, head toward her traditional place, I know what will happen. On the way she will spot someone who never comes to church or someone who has suffered tragedy or someone who just needs to be loved. She will scamper over and engulf that person in her love. She tries to be reverent but her love just cannot be readily contained within the confines of traditional reverence. She tries to force herself to get seated and quiet but it’s an effort. She disrupts. And, as I watch her, I thank God for her abundant love for every lost soul. She enlarges our community with her love.
2. There are young parents who are outnumbered and outgunned by little people. Sometimes it is a single mama whose life demands almost crush her. Sometimes it is a person whose spouse is on church assignment. Sometimes it’s just overwhelmed parents. They herd their little crowds toward a pew trying to contain the vanguard while motivating the laggers. We could give them a stern talking-to from the podium and I’m afraid some would weep with discouragement and some would stop coming.
3. There are those who have never been trained or who are inadequately trained. I think of Aaronic Priesthood bearers who joke and jostle or children who wander the building like little lost tribes. These folks might need some training—or their parents might.
It is the rare reverence talk that can inspire greater reverence without injuring the overloaded and discouraging the sensitive. In my observation, public spankings aren’t good for reverence. And scoldings don’t improve behavior.
What would Jesus do?
If Jesus were the bishop of your ward, what do you think He would do to improve reverence in your meetings? I wonder how He managed reverence on the hills of Galilee. While it is hard to be sure what He would do, I think we can be sure of a few things:
1. He would encourage all of us to remember why we have come to church. We are there to celebrate His great, redemptive love, to renew covenants, and to strengthen each other with love and truth. The talks, the hymns, the greetings should be overflowing with awe-filled wonder and praise. Some of it may not be very quiet. In my view, reverence has more to do with the joy level than the sound pressure level. Maybe we should be more concerned when there is an absence of joy rather than when there is some noise.
2. I feel sure that Jesus would invite us to see every noisy irritation as an opportunity to help. When a struggling mama is managing too many children with too little sanity, can we offer to sit nearby and help? Can we whose children are adults become ministering angels who are prepared with quiet books, scripture stories, and finger puppets? Even in those cases when we cannot provide direct assistance, can we pray for and support each other? I think this is consistent with His instructions to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).
3. In those cases where someone needs added training, can we provide it in the way that shows love? When Hiram Page needed training, God instructed Joseph to take him aside privately and teach him in a spirit of love (D&C 28). That is the God’s pattern.
Years ago God taught me that I only have the right to correct those I love. When impatient indignation and annoyed disdain fill my soul, I cannot be a messenger for the God whose name is love. Godly correction probably doesn’t look like correction at all. God expects me to help those in need, not judge them.
When we have a specific stewardship for a person, we may undertake correction. But I think we should ask ourselves two questions first: Do I love this person with all my heart? Is my objective to lift this person toward Christ?
Jesus Himself chided the religious leaders for heaping up expectations on the people without offering any help: “And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).
We can do better than that. I can picture a loving saint saying to a burdened mama: “It looked like you were pretty overwhelmed in sacrament meeting today. How can I help you next Sunday?” Most of us need encouragement far more than we need correction.
Of course reverence is not the only issue that burdens our communities. There is modesty, punctuality, appropriate dress, honoring duties, keeping the Sabbath holy, etc. We may be tempted to deal with these issues by lecturing classes and congregations. The great danger of public scoldings is that they encourage us to commend ourselves and condemn others. No improvement in behavior is worth a communal loss of charity.
When our messages to each other are jarring, ungenerous, and accusing, we probably are not speaking for Jesus whether that message is delivered in a letter to the editor or in a sacrament meeting talk.
Somehow we must convey two messages related to the standard we hope to teach:
1. The hearer is invited to challenge him or herself. Each of us considers whether there are ways we can live the standard better than we have. How can I become more reverent, more filled with gratitude? Am I letting business intrude on time for reflection?
2. The hearer is NOT invited to assess anyone else’s performance. Our duty with respect to each other is love. Are there some in the congregation who need a hand? How can I help?
The Right Message
Whenever I give a talk or a lesson I choose to focus on Jesus and His goodness. When we are filled with Him, other things tend to fall into place. We want to live up to our standards. And we want to help each other.
When, in contrast, any of us chew people out for failing to act in certain ways, we increase contention, distract from goodness, and potentially damage others’ desire to embrace gospel principles. The central imperative remains unchanged: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).
President Monson has beautifully taught the same principle: “Never let a problem to be solved, become more important than a person to be loved.” Our challenge is to find ways to encourage obedience to true principles that doesn’t encourage judging and doesn’t injure tender or overwhelmed saints. Our stewardship is to be messengers of love and hope.
You can find many of Brother Goddard’s past articles by going to www.DrWally.org
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