Recently I was assigned the topic of temple preparation for a talk in Sacrament Meeting. As I pondered the topic, I realized that most of us, as practicing members of the Church spend a lot of our lives in temple preparation. How? By doing our best to keep the commandments, repenting when we need to, praying, reading scriptures, attending church meetings, and by applying every gospel principle to the level of our ability to do so. Everything we do to increase our level of spirituality and to sharpen our ability to hear the promptings of the Holy Ghost is temple preparation. Temple preparation is ongoing.
There were no temple preparation classes when I went to the Idaho Falls Temple to receive my endowment 50 years ago (before leaving on a full-time mission). However, I thought I was well prepared. I had done many temple baptisms, graduated from seminary and Institute, and faithfully attended meetings all my life. Nevertheless, I found the endowment different from anything in my previous church experience and somewhat puzzling.
All these years later I’m having the opportunity to teach temple preparation classes. What a blessing! Each time through the 7-lesson course I keep adding puzzle pieces to those I’ve gathered in each temple experience. Let me tell you about some of my favorite lessons in the church’s temple preparation course.
The Plan of Salvation is the Foundation
The first lesson is called “The Temple Teaches about the Great Plan of Salvation,” and includes many scriptures that explain that plan. I wondered at first why the lesson would go into detail about something so basic, then realized it is because the plan of salvation is the WHY of temple work. Each ordinance in the temple in some way facilitates a part of that plan. And I think the Plan of Salvation is laid out so clearly in this first lesson because the symbolic teaching in the endowment requires a good basic understanding of this Plan in order to fit the puzzle pieces together.
One of the best preparations we can make for the temple is to learn the nature of the Lord’s all-inclusive plan to redeem His people. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that no one is left out. Think of the millions who never heard of Christ while on this earth, or that DID hear of Him but didn’t understand the gospel. The plan of salvation teaches that each one of them will have the best possible chance to learn. They will be taught in perfect clarity without Satan’s static and the many distractions of this earth. They will be able to choose to be part of the Savior’s atonement. They will be able to choose to accept the saving ordinances done in their behalf in the temple.
In his superb book, The Infinite Atonement, Tad R. Callister, then of the Seventy, said that the redeeming powers of the Savior reach forward to the spirits of the dead just as readily as they stretched back to premortal life. He quoted 1 Cor. 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Our hope in Christ need never end! ((Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2000)
The success of the tremendous missionary effort that goes on in the spirit world explains why temple work is so important and why we should want to be part of it. In a talk by President Lorenzo Snow called “Preaching the Gospel in the Spirit World,” this prophet assures us that the success of missionaries in the spirit world far exceeds what we see here; there are few indeed who do not gladly receive the Gospel because circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable. (Millennial Star 56:50.)
And those who receive it are ready and anxious to move forward in a way that is possible only when we serve as their proxies in the temple—to receive for them the ordinances of salvation.
The Value of Personal Experience
A few years ago I was able to be the proxy for temple ordinances for my husband’s great-grandmother Wendla, a woman I had judged. I didn’t think she would be excited to have her temple work done since she had been an anti-Mormon bootlegger in Salt Lake City in the early 1900s, and also because almost everything I’d heard about her was negative. Imagine my amazement when I began to feel her joy even as I was handed the clothing to do her baptism!
As I stepped into the baptismal font, the Spirit swept over me and tears came freely as I heard her name spoken in the Temple of the Lord and stood in her place to receive the saving ordinance of baptism for her. I felt her presence even stronger while receiving her initiatory blessings, and so did the ordinance worker. We had to pause and regain our composure. I knew Wendla was not only accepting but also embracing with great joy the blessings of these temple ordinances. That temple experience changed so much for me: deepened my testimony of temple work, deepened my determination not to judge, and made the spirit world and gospel truths so much more real. I KNOW the spirit world is real! I KNOW the Plan of Salvation is God’s plan and that the priesthood authority to administer it has been restored.
The Second Estate Continues in the Spirit World
The temple is symbolic of the Lord’s love for all of his children, and by preparing ourselves to serve there, we can be part of his great plan of redemption, first for ourselves, then for others. It all fits together: we are able to do ordinances for those in the spirit world because they are still in a probationary state and able to make the choice to accept Christ. The greatest expansion of my hope for those on the other side happened as I did research about the spirit world after my son’s death. Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s book The Promise of Discipleship contains a whole chapter about The Spirit World that is amazing. Here’s a short quote that summarizes his message: “We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise are part, really, of the second estate. [God] provides in the spirit world a continuum of mortality’s probation, the great opportunity for all.” (See Neal A Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, Chapter 9, pp 105-114)
Elder Maxwell’s message makes perfect sense.
Why would there be a massive missionary effort and such emphasis on temple work for the dead if our second estate probation ended with our last mortal breath?
To further validate this concept, I found a quote by, in a talk titled “We Are Children of God,” President Marion G. Romney defines our “second estate,” as the mortality we are now experiencing and our sojourn in the spirit world following death. (First Presidency message, Ensign, September 1984). The possibility of repentance in the spirit world is laid out clearly in Pres. Joseph F. Smith’s great vision of the redemption of the dead that became D&C section 138. This vision added so much light and truth in regard to the spirit world and the missionary work that takes place there. Verse 58 says, “The dead who repent shall be redeemed through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God.” And those ordinances must be performed by proxy by us. What a glorious plan and what a blessing to be part of it by preparing ourselves and attending the temple.
The Importance of Symbols
Lesson 5 of the temple preparation course is another of my favorites: It is called, “Learning from the Lord through Symbols.” This lesson has been so meaningful to me because I’m not always good at figuring out symbols. The lesson points out what a big part symbols play in our society and our church. Think of flags as a symbol of patriotism and wedding rings as a symbol of love and commitment. Then think of the ordinance of baptism, which symbolizes death and resurrection, coming out of the water cleansed and in a newness of life. Think of the sacrament, which uses bread and water as symbols of the redeeming power of Christ’s body and blood, which He gave for us.
The temple preparation lesson on symbolism gives four answers to the question “Why do we use symbols?”
1.Symbols can help us remember important things.
2.Symbols can teach us abstract truths that might be hard to learn in other ways.
3.Symbols can represent feelings.
4.Symbols can teach different principles according to our personal readiness to learn.
During his sojourn on the earth, Jesus constantly taught symbolically through parables, speaking of mustard seeds, pearls, foxes, highwaymen, and so much more in a symbolic sense. Think of how much symbolism we find in the scriptures in general. How fitting it is that in the temple we learn so much through symbols, and our understanding increases at the rate we are ready to understand.
We Learn Line upon Line
To prepare for temple service we need to understand that in the temple we truly learn line upon line, precept upon precept as the Holy Ghost reveals symbolic meanings to us, and as we are ready and willing to receive and apply them. Because of the symbolic teaching in the temple and the spiritual means of learning from it, we can go to the temple a thousand times and still learn something new and meaningful that applies to our lives.
Orderliness in Teaching and in the Temple
Lesson 6 of the Temple Preparation course contains all the practical guidelines a person needs to know before going to the temple for the first time. I find these lessons (and the temple itself) symbolic of the orderliness in the Church and how the Lord leads us by the hand and gives us what we need when we need it. He is so caring and loving and greatly desires that we move ahead and make progress in spiritual things as we are ready and willing.
The best part of the experience of teaching these classes for me has been the chance to interact with such honest-in-heart, good people. Some of the sweetest moments of my service in the Church have come in these classes. These people symbolize to me what temple preparation is all about: sincerity, humility, repentance, and a true desire to make progress and have the spirit of the Lord lift and bless our lives that we might be able to lift and bless others. We can all seek to exemplify these qualities as we continue to prepare daily to attend the holy temple. Temple preparation IS ongoing.
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