The closing song for the Primary Sacrament Meeting program was, “I Am a Child of God.” I fixed my gaze on a child who was singing loudly and enthusiastically. I thought how wonderful it was for him to sing those words and get that concept at such an early age. Then I remembered a recent speaker who reminded us all to apply “I am a child of God” to ourselves. How often do I take that personally? How often do I feel the implications of being His child?
Bruce R. McConkie said, “What counts in the field of religion is become a personal participant in it” (New Era, Jan 1980, p.50). The gospel is full of beautiful, hope-giving concepts. But they only make a difference in my life if I take them personally.
Taking God’s Creations Personally
Recently I read Virginia Pearce’s book A Heart Like His. In chapter three she told a tender Christmas Eve experience. After laying out presents for her children, greatly anticipating their responses of delight, she went out walking in the quiet snowy night. She said, “And there I stood in a snow-filled world, filled with wonder at the enchantment prepared for me by my Father. Waves of love and gratitude washed over me.” (p. 18)
Later, looking at some wondrous butterflies she remembered that Christmas Eve and thought, “The creators must have said, ‘Oh, wait until Virginia sees this Colorado Hairstreak. She won’t believe how delicate the tails are and the exquisitely changing shades of purple. Certainly when she sees the beauty and the care we have taken with this creation she will know how much we love her, and she will spontaneously turn in wonder to us and let us flood her with our love.'”
She continued, “Yes, When I want to fill my heart with His love, I open my eyes to the creations of His hand, especially the ones that seem outrageously and uselessly beautiful – sunsets, sunrises, ice crystals, patterns in drying mud, golden cottonwood leaves against red rock cliffs” (p. 38, 39).
That whole concept touched me. I had never considered such a thing as the Lord creating with me personally in mind, but the idea rang true. I went outside and marveled again at the beauty of my roses and imagined the Lord saying, “Won’t Darla just love the velvety petals of the roses? Won’t she enjoy their fragrance and their vibrant colors?”
Tears came to my eyes as the Spirit witnessed to me that the Lord did know, as he created these beautiful things, of the joy they would bring to his children – and not just en masse. He wasn’t thinking of his children as a huge group, but individually. I knew for the first time that in the creation He thought even of me and what would bring me joy! What a wondrous concept that, as a token of His love, He created the beauty of the earth for my personal enjoyment. And yours!
Taking the Lord’s Love Personally
Colleen Harrison tells of the breakthrough she made when she realized that she could take the love of the Savior personally. She calls it her spiritual awakening. She was re-reading 2 Nephi 33:6 (“I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus for he hath redeemed my soul from hell”). She says:
I felt as if I had never read these words before, though [I had read the Book of Mormon cover to cover several times]. But, then, none of those occasions had been a matter of life or death to my soul. This time I prayed constantly as I read, holding my heart and mind open, thirsting for relief from my addiction.
This time, as I read these words my breath caught in my throat. I felt as if someone had thrown cold water in my face or slapped me to bring me to my senses. I looked down at the words in front of me, reading them over again and again. Could they possibly have said what I felt them saying?
“I glory in my Jesus.” My Jesus – my – mine! I could not get past the personal intimacy of Nephi’s statement. Tears welled up, spilling down my face. I burned through and through as with a fire, a passionate and yet childlike love for God. I felt as if someone had just given me permission to approach the Lord, to actually embrace Him, at least in spirit. I felt such a passionate and yet childlike adoration for the Lord. It felt as it I had suddenly awakened to Nephi’s example of approaching the Lord and coming to know Him as my dearest friend, as my Jesus.
I wept in gratitude to the humble, tender Nephi who had reserved this saving truth of Christ’s availability. His personal administration in our lives can be ours, as soon as we are ready believe and receive it from Him. I mounted up in my imagination as on eagle’s wings (D&C 124:99), carried by the power of the love I felt for Him and from Him. I had never before comprehended how close the Savior is willing – and even desires – to be to us.”
How can I possibly convey the spiritual awakening, the change, that began to dawn in my heart from that hour? As I continued to read the Book of Mormon, I found one witness after another that there did not have to be any distance between the Lord and me; that His love and power to redeem were enough to save even me. His arm was strong enough to encircle me and give me safety from my weaknesses. A few pages later I read Jacob’s words:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of day, harden not your hearts (Jacob 6:5 ).
I knew it was true. I knew by my own experience that He lives and that He lives for me. Something had changed. I had lived this reality with the Savior. He was my friend, my Jesus. (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, p. 92)
There is little value in knowing that the Lord is loving unless I take that love personally – unless I know it and feel it for myself. I have learned that the Lord’s love extends to me in so many different ways. Often I receive His tender mercies through others acting in my behalf.
Recently I was ministered to by a friend literally sent to me by the Lord in a time of great need. I didn’t invite her; she just came – not from next door, but from another state! She knew she was needed but didn’t know how much until she was here. She held me when I cried; her arms were the mother arms I needed and no longer had. Her life experiences gave her the very words I needed to hear, including a validation of my basic testimony.
“I know you know God lives,” she said.
“I know you know that Jesus is your Savior.” She strengthened and comforted and fortified me and assured me of the Lord’s love for me at a crucial crossroads in my life.
Taking the Witness of the Spirit Personally
We can easily have experiences with the Spirit without taking it personally. My brother told me that he had always believed that feeling the Spirit was simply a witness of the truth. However, he learned to take it personally at a time in his life when he was struggling.
He took a class from James B. Cox; understanding dawned as he learned for the first time that when we feel the Spirit, it not only testifies of the truth of what we are hearing or reading, but testifies of the Lord’s acceptance and love for us personally.
Brother Cox said, “D&C 5:34 recommends that when we feel the Spirit, we count it of God and then rejoice that we were counted worthy to receive.” He suggests that the privilege and honor of the companionship of the Holy Ghost:
- Witnesses to me that my sins are forgiven
- Confirms that I am in the Strait and Narrow Path
- Comforts me in the trials of this life
- Shows me how to become like the Master
- Helps me overcome this world
- Helps me to master this body
- Increases my hope to be raised unto Eternal Life
(Becoming Spiritually Centered, by James B. Cox, pp. 18, 25)
I saw a huge change in my brother’s countenance, a newness of life as he took heart, learned to believe in himself more from seeing and believing the implications of the numerous times he felt the Spirit in his life. Taking personally the experience of feeling the Spirit has contributed greatly to the process by which he became a powerful and effective senior missionary. He is currently on his second senior mission!
What a comforting, wondrous thing to realize that each time we feel the Spirit we are receiving a personal love letter from the Lord.
Taking the Blessings of the Priesthood Personally
By priesthood power the Red Sea was divided, manna fell from heaven, and centuries later all the keys were restored in the latter days. However, all that power does not affect my life unless I take it personally.
I received a priesthood blessing as a baby; my life was spared by a priesthood blessing before I turned two. I was baptized by the authority of the priesthood when I was eight, received all the temple ordinances in my twenties. I have received many priesthood blessings since that have changed the course of my life, given me comfort, and kept me on track. Every Sunday I renew my baptismal covenant through the priesthood ordinance of the sacrament.
If I deny myself any of those blessings, forget how important they are to me personally, or fail to stay under the priesthood “umbrella,” I am missing out.
Taking the Scriptures Personally
We know the Lord has said, in regard to the scriptures, “What I say unto one, I say unto all.” He has told us to liken the scriptures unto ourselves.
Steven R. Cramer suggests we put our own name in any scripture promise, and claim it for ourselves. For example: “I, [Darla] was desirous that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those [including me] who diligently seek him” (1 Nephi 10:17).
“For unto [me] a child is born, unto [me] a son is given, and the government [of my life] shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (2 Nephi 19:6)
So many scriptures make it clear that the Lord’s invitations and promises in the scriptures are universal. He wants so much for each of us, personally, to accept them.
For example, lest anyone of us should think that we could be the exception to any of his gifts, 2 Nephi tells us,
He [the Lord] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart form me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden… and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 24-28, 33).
And so it is with all the scriptures. We are invited to partake, learn and be lifted. We are each invited to claim the promises and feast on the words of Christ. If the beauties of the earth were created with each of us in mind, how much more so were the scriptures written with each of us in mind! Surely the Lord, in his foresight, would know how much a certain scripture would touch my heart on this very day.
Taking the Atonement Personally
Perhaps the most important thing we can ever do in this life is to take the Atonement personally. When I sing the hymn, “Oh, it is wonderful that He should die for me,” do I feel in my heart that I personally was thought of, considered, included in that sacrifice? Do I realize I can access the Atonement every day for myself?
Steven A. Cramer said, “Of all the questions asked of bishops in personal interviews, perhaps one of the most common is, ‘How can I tell when I’ve been forgiven?’ The answer is simple, but we often miss it and make it difficult by our unbelief. The answer is simply to trust in the redeeming blood of Christ and believe his promises of ready, plenteous, abundant forgiveness. Jesus Christ promised that ‘he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven,’ and ‘he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’ (D&C 58:42, 1:32). Notice that these verses do not say what Satan would like us to think they say, that if we try to be good, we could be forgiven, or that we might be forgiven. What they say is that when we repent, we shall be forgiven. This is an iron-clad, unconditional promise from the Son of God.” (In the Arms of His Love, Covenant Communications, p. 102)
The adversary gladly provides “reasons” that I might be excluded from this iron-clad promise. Stephen E. Robinson, in his landmark book Believing Christ tells of his frustration as a bishop with people who were sure that they were the exception. He said:
Yet the ‘good news’ of the gospel is good news to me not because it promises that other people who are better than I am can be saved, but because it promises that I can be saved – wretched, inadequate, and imperfect me.
And until I accept that possibility, until I believe Christ when he says he can bring me into his kingdom and set me on a throne, I have not really accepted the good news of the gospel – I have only accepted the messenger while rejecting his wonderful message.
If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power. People like this often pretend to themselves and to others that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power. Though the appliances may all work and the wiring may be in good order, until we accept the power itself, beyond merely believing in the theory of power, we cannot enjoy the warmth and the light… until we accept the reality of our own salvation, we have not yet turned on the power” (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, Deseret Book, pp. 10, 12).
Colleen Harrison said, “It is our own vanity or unbelief in God’s mercy and goodness – that it should include even us – that causes us to resist turning to Him, and to instead go our own way. In our prideful, willful hearts we are so vain as to imagine ourselves more powerful to mess up than God is to make right; so we imagine ourselves somehow beyond the power of Christ’s atonement. Then no matter what we profess with our lips, claiming belief in Christ, we deny Him in the single most personal way we can – for ourselves” (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, p. 92).
Elder Holland said, “Sometimes we seek heaven too obliquely, focusing on programs or history or the experience of others. Those are important but not as important as personal experience, true discipleship, and the strength that comes from experiencing firsthand the majesty of His touch” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, 2006).
How can I know that the promises of the gospel apply to me personally? How can I access the Atonement for my own soul? How can I feel the effects of the Atonement for me, for now, for this day? I can ask for these blessing with a sincere heart, and know that as I continue to ask, the blessing will come in the Lord’s way, in the Lord’s time.
How can I know that? Because I believe God’s words. Because, as Enos testified, “And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” When Enos asked how it was done, the Lord answered, “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen” (Enos 1:5-8).
If I am feeling doubt, instead of faith, I can remember spiritual experiences in the past. If I have received a witness of the truthfulness or applicability of any gospel principle at any time in my life, that “counts.” The Lord hasn’t changed His mind. I can choose to “bear testimony” to myself.
I can say, “I know that God lives; I have experienced his love in so many ways in my life. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that His Atonement is real in my life. The Spirit has witnessed that truth to my heart numerous times. I believe the witnesses of all the holy prophets, ancient and modern. They would not lead me astray. God has sent me so many witnesses of the mission and power of the Savior. I believe in His Atonement. I believe it applies to me. Jesus is my only hope. I believe in Him. I turn to Him. I reconcile my will to His. I surrender to Him. I trust Him forevermore.”
I can also sing or think of the words of favorite hymns like “I Believe in Christ,” and “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” Filling my mind with such thoughts of testimony is like filling the room with light. Darkness flees. Doubt flies away, and I know again that the Lord will keep His promises to me personally.
The efficacy of the Atonement does not depend on my fickle feelings. It applies even when I don’t “feel” anything. If I ask for the Atonement to apply, am willing to have my heart cleansed and forgive others, if I’m turning to the Lord with a true and honest heart, admitting my need for Him every step of the way, I have done my part, given my “62 cents” and it applies, period. Because God cannot lie. Because His promises are true. Because He has made that promise over and over, I’ll take it personally.
Every Day and Every Hour
Taking the Atonement personally needs to be a daily affair, because we will never arrive at a place where we do not need its cleansing or its comfort. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, speaking of those sealed up by the Holy Spirit of Promise said, “The more enlightened a person is, the more he seeks the gift of repentance… It follows that the sins of the godfearing and the righteous are continually remitted because they repent and seek the Lord anew every day and every hour” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. III, p. 343).
We read in Mosiah 26:30, “As often as my people repent will I forgive them.” There we have the formula: seek the Lord anew every day and every hour. Take the gospel personally every day and every hour.