Today I spoke at my stake's first ever stake conference. Sunday session. Every speaker had the exact same topic: Hastening the Work of Salvation. No pressure, right? :) I thought I'd share my talk with you. In reality I ended up skipping around some, and I'm pretty positive I left some things out. But this is the talk I intended to give. :)
I'm sure you will all be surprised to find out that my topic is Hastening the Work of Salvation. Growing up, I lived in a Mormon bubble in Idaho. My little town, Ririe, had 596 people. I graduated in a class of 63. I didn’t know a single person who wasn’t LDS. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I had a step aunt and her kids that weren’t LDS, but they came to all the family baptisms, mission farewells and homecomings and baby blessings. My aunt grew up for the last part of her youth in an LDS home with my mom. I figured that they must know enough about the gospel that I couldn’t possibly add any more, so they didn’t really count as non-members in my head. It wasn’t until the summer after 8th grade that I befriended a nonmember (several actually) at a camp several hours from my home. I remember being shocked when for breakfast one morning, one of my friends poured herself a cup of coffee. I thought, “This must be what it’s like to be out in The World”. I felt so far out of my element, having never had a gospel conversation with anyone who didn’t share my beliefs, that I let the opportunity pass.
Then in high school a non-member moved in. He was on the Scholastic Bowl team with me, and we became friends. At the end of my senior year, he told me that he was interested in attending seminary, to see what all the fuss was about. But he didn’t want to seriously commit to it, in case he didn’t like it. So the next school year, before I left for college, I went to early morning seminary with him every day for two weeks, but then I never saw him again after that. I then went to BYU-Idaho, another Mormon bubble, for 2.5 years, with a 4-month break in the middle to teach English in China, where I wasn’t allowed to talk about the gospel, even if I was asked. Then I transferred to BYU, where I found myself, yet again, surrounded by fellow members. I spent one more summer abroad before I graduated, to Israel. Where again I was forbidden to discuss the gospel with anyone, even if asked. Since then I’ve branched out to Orem, Riverton and now Lehi.
It would be very easy to say that I haven’t had much opportunity to do missionary work, as I’ve lived my entire life surrounded by members of the church. Here in Utah we sometimes zone the world into two parts: Mormonville and The Mission Field. The only times I’ve really left Mormonville to go into The Mission Field for any substantial amount of time, I’ve been forbidden to discuss it. It would be easy to comfort myself by saying, “Well, I’ve been a good example all this time. Hopefully any non-member I’ve met without realizing it has seen the light in my eyes.”
The truth, however, isn’t so comfortable. With Facebook I can now see a glimpse into the lives of many of my peers from grade school and high school. When I see one of them write about a lifestyle that I know is not in line with the gospel, I can’t help but remember my relationship with them. While I have always considered myself a nice person, and I can only remember a very few times when I was outright mean, I also see a major gap in actively befriending them. There was one boy, a neighbor, who was one of the school outcasts. He could be mean and was just weird. Every time I had a lesson at church or seminary about being kind to everyone, and to befriend the friendless, I thought of him. But I never could quite bring myself to do more than say hi, to smile, and then to walk past and forget about him until I next happened upon him in the hall.
When he didn’t come to church, I made no effort to invite him. To be honest, I didn’t really want him there. It was so much more fun with just my friends and the people I got along with. I made the mistake of believing that church and activities were about me. That I should be comfortable there all the time. What I failed to realize was that the gospel was not about just me. The purpose of the gospel is to bring every single person on this earth back to Christ. Every. Single. Person. They are not about having fun, though that can be a great side effect. They are about returning to our Heavenly Father. Not just you and I returning to His presence, but everyone returning to his presence.
I have had missionary opportunities my entire life. But they were disguised because I wasn’t out in The Mission Field. I didn’t realize that The Mission Field is, in fact, the entire world. Including Mormonville, Idaho and Utah. My missionary opportunities were disguised as people I already knew. They were disguised as people I thought already knew enough about the church. In many cases they were disguised as people I didn’t like, or people who were too cool or popular to care about me. Then I moved away from my small town to a university where I could be on campus all day long and not see a single soul that I knew. My missionary opportunities there were disguised as well. They were disguised as roommates I didn’t know well. They were disguised as neighbors I only recognized by chance meetings to and from the apartment complex. They were disguised as obnoxious classmates and coworkers who seemed to have it all together.
Now I live in a neighborhood surrounded by all of you wonderful people. We have so many active neighbors that we’ve had to split two wards and our stake since I moved here less than two years ago. And yet, I still have missionary opportunities. They are disguised as person around the corner that someone else told me wanted nothing to do with the church. They are the family down the street that I haven’t seen at church for awhile, but I have dismissed because it’s summertime and surely we’ve just missed each other with summer vacations and all. They’re disguised as the neighbor I’ve never met because I’ve allowed the church building to define who my friends are instead of taking the time to meet my neighbors and enjoy them for who they are.
The Work of Salvation is bringing every soul to Christ. Every soul. Not just those faceless people out in The Mission Field, but every soul. It is our responsibility to see The Mission Field right here. The Work of Salvation should have us focusing on bringing every person in the Jordan Willows Stake boundaries to Christ.
If you’re like me, the thought of missionary work can be, quite frankly, terrifying. I grew up my whole life believing that the only missionary work I was in the position to do was to be an example to those around me. That is an important work, but it is not the only work. It is a foundation. But who wants to live in a building with only a foundation?
I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years pondering on how I can be a missionary when the thought of sharing my religious beliefs with someone else flat out terrifies me. When you live your whole life believing one thing, only to find out you were wrong, it’s hard to change.
Testimony and Conversion
Elder Bednar taught us in general conference last fall that “knowing the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion.” Most of us would say that we have a testimony of the work of salvation. We know that it needs to happen. We are excited about the implications of lowering the missionary age. We are moved by stories of conversion and reactivation. You may have a testimony of the work of salvation, but are you also converted to it? Are you consistently true to the work of salvation? Are you consistently trying to hasten the work as our leaders have asked us to do over and over again?
We gain a testimony in passive ways. We ask, we ponder, we search. But we gain conversion in active ways. We become converted by doing. Let me be clear. You do not have to wait to be converted to share the gospel. You must share the gospel to become converted. Today I challenge you to gain a testimony of the work of salvation if you do not already have one. And then I challenge you to become converted to hastening the work. If you do not know how, go home and ask. Specifically ask your Father in Heaven what you must do to take that first step towards conversion. If you ask with a sincere heart, truly desiring to take that step, He will show you.
As we become converted to the gospel and to hastening the work of salvation, we will want to bring souls to Christ.
Let the gospel permeate your life
Why is it scary? What about sharing the gospel makes us uncomfortable? I think it’s because we feel like we need to make a production of it. That we have to find that perfect moment and bear a strong testimony of a gospel principle. We have to do it so perfectly that the Spirit will move them into wanting to learn more. Well, of course that is scary! That’s a lot of pressure! And it’s not at all the approach we should take.
The gospel is a major part of our lives. Why shouldn’t it be a major part of our conversations? When I read a new novel that I really like, I find myself living in that world for a few days. I find myself wanting to talk about it, even when I’m with people who have never read it. I find myself recommending it to everyone I think might even remotely enjoy it. Even when I’ve read a favorite book for the 10th time, I still find myself caught in that pull to share it. What about the scriptures? Have you ever been reading your scriptures and you find something new and exciting and you just want to share it with someone? What would happen if we read our scriptures more often? What if we re-read Conference talks on a regular basis? What if instead of reading, we studied and pondered?
I have found that when I actually studied the scriptures, gospel topics were just naturally a part of my normal conversation. How can we talk about the gospel with our non-member or less-active friends if we don’t talk about it to our active friends? If we let the gospel permeate every part of our lives, and not just the religious part of our lives, then it will be natural to talk about it to anyone we talk to.
Talk about it your everyday interactions. Not just when you talk face to face. The church is making a definite online presence. Describe something you’ve learned on your blog. Tweet quotes from general conference. Ask gospel questions you have on Facebook. Start discussions.
When we learn to let the gospel permeate every part of our lives, it will be easy to discuss the gospel with everyone.
Another reason we might fear sharing the gospel is the fear we might offend the person. Most people, however, won’t be offended if you share something that is important to you with them.
My brother-in-law, Nick, is an avid mountain biker. I am not. In fact, I stay away from most things that require a lot of physical exertion and I especially avoid anything that comes with even a semblance of danger. Mountain biking includes heaps and mounds of both. The idea of riding down a mountain path full of roots and rocks and other people is absolutely terrifying to me. I don’t mind that other people mountain bike. In fact, I am genuinely happy for the joy they find in it.
The first time I met Nick, I was dating my husband. We were at his apartment when Nick came bursting in the door, carrying a new mountain bike he had just bought on KSL. He spent the next half hour in what I can best describe as an in-person telemarketing campaign, describing all of the features of the bike. He compared it to other bikes. He discussed the pros and cons. He told us how much the bike was worth and how much he paid for it. He was very animated and his face lit up every time he thought of something new to tell us. By the end, despite having absolutely zero desire to ever ride a bike down a mountain, I found myself completely caught up and wanting to buy that bike.
I was a far cry from being offended that he would take up my time talking to me about something I wasn’t interested in. I still have no desire to ever mountain bike, but there is no doubt in my mind that I am much more likely to gain a desire now, because of Nick. And if I ever do decide to try it out, I am absolutely going to turn to him for help and advice.
What is something you’re passionate about? What gets you excited? When we are passionate or excited about something, we want to tell everyone. We invite everyone to come to a concert for our favorite singer. We tell everyone we see about the fantastic book we just read. We share our political views with anyone who will listen. We find a way to fit in the adorable things our kids do into every conversation we can.
Why is it then, that something so important to us as the gospel doesn’t generate the passion and excitement in us that a newly discovered restaurant can? When someone asks you what you did this weekend, do you skip the part about attending church? Do you tell them about the Primary class you taught? Why is it so much more common to get nervous and scared when an opportunity presents itself than to get excited?
We cannot let our pride, our shyness, our fear stand in the way of us and the eternal salvation of one of our brothers and sisters. We cannot let those opportunities pass. We must become passionate about the gospel now.
The Work of Salvation is far more than abstract missionary work. It’s more than the focus of stake conference. We need Christ-like love. We need to become converted to the gospel and become passionate about it. We need to bring souls to Christ. It is the most important work you can do. This I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.