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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Turning Outward

Talk given to JW7 on 2/23/14

President Thomas S. Monson taught, “As we look heavenward we will inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.”

That is what I would like to speak about today—turning outward.  We live in a world of entitlement.  Often we ascribe that trait to our children and work hard to keep them from feeling entitled to toys, money and privileges.  I fear that entitlement has spread to us adults as well, though in more subtle ways.  What do you feel entitled to?  Your time?  Your comfort zone?  Do you feel entitled to a certain type of calling?  Don’t get me wrong.  We do need to focus on ourselves first.  We need to make sure we are functioning at a healthy level, emotionally, spiritually and physically. There comes a point when focusing on ourselves becomes selfish instead of productive.  We need to instead focus outward.  We need to look beyond ourselves at the needs of others and at the things our Father in Heaven has asked us to do.

Recently I have been reading in Alma, specifically the stories of the sons of Mosiah, going to convert the Lamanites.  In their stories I have found many examples of turning outward.  To refresh, they had been wicked for most of their lives.  They had had a life changing experience that helped them see the eternal punishment they were heading towards and the damage they had done in the salvation of their fellow men.  And then they were given the opportunity to repent and feel the atoning power and the love of our Savior.  After having gone through such a harrowing experience, they couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else facing those same consequences.  Not even their enemies, the Lamanites.  In fact, especially the Lamanites.  They themselves had been fighting against the word of God, just as the Lamanites had been doing for centuries.  They saw Lamanitish tendencies in themselves and knew the damage it could cause.

They could have stayed comfortably at home, rejoicing in their newly found eternal salvation.  They could have lived simple, righteous lives, encouraging those around them.  They could have taken the throne when their aged father offered it to them. Instead they turned outward  They didn’t think of themselves or their own comfort, but instead thought of those most in need of their help and experience.

They didn’t go into their mission with great expectations to be the ones who finally converted all of the Lamanites. They had hundreds of years of history before them showing the Lamanite’s unwillingness to repent and turn to Christ. The Lamanites had persecuting the Nephites because of their beliefs.  The sons of Mosiah knew the enormous task that they had taken upon themselves.

All of their friends at home told them they were foolish and that it would be better to just destroy the Lamanites from off the face of the earth and start fresh without them. But instead of thinking of how much better their lives would be without the Lamanites, they focused on how much better the Lamanites’ lives would be with Christ at the center.  They saw the Lamanites, not as enemies, but with the pure love of Christ.  They couldn’t stand the thought of even their enemies dying, having never repented, and having to suffer the eternal consequences of such. But they knew it would be hard and that they would be lucky to bring only a few to Christ. And yet, they felt it was worth it.

In Ammon’s words, “But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.” (Alma 26:26)  He goes on to talk about their sufferings, “and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again. And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.” (Alma 26:29-30)

By turning outward, they were more concerned with the eternal salvation of one or two of their enemies than they were about their own comforts or even their own lives.  We are not asked to risk our lives to convert people who would rather kill us for our beliefs.  Our task is much easier.  We have been asked to visit and home teach.  In this, have you turned outward, putting their needs and their salvation above your own comforts?  What selfish reasons have kept you from this service?  Is it finding time in your busy schedule?  Is it trying to schedule with your busy companion?  Do you hate making phone calls? Is it that you don’t know the people you’ve been assigned to teach?  Have you been assigned someone you’ve never seen at church and are afraid of how they will react to your call?   We must put our self aside and turn outward, if we are to be instruments in God’s hands to hasten His work.

The sons of Mosiah didn’t save just a few souls, as they had anticipated.  They were the instruments in saving thousands.  And they didn’t do it immediately; it took 14 years.  Sometimes we look at our efforts and don’t see immediate results, so we give up.  We look inward and see how our efforts and time seem to be useless and we see all of the other things we could be doing for ourselves instead.  But God’s time is not our own.  Turning outward is not something that is accomplished in a short time, and then we can move on.  Turning outward is a lifelong goal.  It is a lifestyle change.  It is a change of heart.  Our ultimate goal is to be like Christ.  He is our ultimate example of turning outward and serving others instead of ourselves.

Pres. James E. Faust has said, “As you and I perhaps would have turned inward in self-pity, He turned outward and ministered to others whose needs were far less. That is the character of Christ that causes me to stand all amazed.”

There are many specific events in their ministry that emphasize their choice to turn outward and serve the Lamanites.  Unfortunately, my time is too short to detail them.  But I would encourage you to go home and read their stories in Alma 17-26 and find for yourselves where they turn outward and then apply their examples in your own life.

Upon being reunited with his brethren, Ammon boasted of God by rejoicing in their accomplishments.  “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”  When we boast of our accomplishments, is our motivation to boast of God?  Or is it to boast of ourselves?  When we do great things, who do we give the credit to?

In college I went on a date with an accomplished artist.  As part of our date we put together a puzzle out in his studio, giving us something to do while we talked and got to know each other better.  I remember walking around, looking at his art, simply amazed at his talent.  When I complimented him on his talent, he simply said, “Thank you,” then immediately credited his talent to God.  Honestly, his statement took me aback.  I knew our talents came from God.  I had heard of people giving all credit to God for their works.  But I had never seen the principle in action so blatantly nor outside of a religious or formal setting.  Had he humbly said, “Thank you,” and changed the conversation back to whatever we had been talking about before, I wouldn’t have thought him prideful or boasting in himself; I would have thought him humble.  But he knew something I didn’t: he knew that by simply saying “Thank you” he was allowing my praise to fall on him.  But instead of letting my praise fall on him, he turned outward and instead gave that praise to God.  It was a lesson I’ve long remembered.  Being humble does not mean putting ourself down or downplaying our strengths.  Being humble means acknowledging the truth and giving the praise and glory back to God.

As we turn outward, we will find that our lives become more fulfilling.  As we focus outside of ourselves, our entitlement will vanish and our love for those around us will grow.  The less we focus on our self and the more we turn outward to the blessing of others, the more we become like Christ and center ourselves on the path to return to live with Him.

In the name…

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