I promised this post a couple of months ago. Back in April, I was asked to give a talk with 6 days notice and no topic at the Saturday evening session of stake conference. For those of you not familiar with latter day saints, a stake consists of several units of the church in a geographical area. It was a sublime experience to be led by the Holy Spirit as to what to prepare to speak on and on the evening, being the penultimate speaker, it was humbling to note that my words summarised all those who had spoken before. So, here’s the talk.
Good evening, Brothers and Sisters. As I pondered this assignment, I felt impressed to speak on who we are and our relationship with God.
Some years ago, when I was a young girl, I looked in a mirror while getting ready for school, and into my eyes. I didn’t see a gawky, shy but slightly mischievous 11 year old girl. As I looked in my eyes, I saw something else, something far deeper, beyond my physical appearance, and I recognised that this part of me would still be alive after my physical body passed away. I didn’t understand what this overwhelming feeling was; I burst into tears, was inconsolable for some time, and missed school! Unable to really explain what I had felt, it was years later before I came to understand who I really am.
The knowledge that we are spirit children of God has been with humans since our first parents, Adam and Eve, walked the Earth, and permeates humanity. That we are literally all spirit sisters and brothers within the human race follows, since we have the same heavenly parentage. Some time ago, before the earth was formed, though it probably would not seem long ago if we could remember, as the children’s primary song (#4) states: we lived in Heaven:
Lived there and loved there with people I know. So did you.
Then Heav’nly Father presented a beautiful plan,
All about earth and eternal salvation for man.
We knew who we were then; we knew our identity and our relationship to God was clear – we knew that we are His children and we chose to follow, and defend, Father’s plan for us to become like Him. We chose to honour our relationship with God. And now we are here, on earth.
Elder Donald L. Hallstrom at April 2016 General Conference explained:
“Here on earth, we identify ourselves in many different ways, including our place of birth, our nationality, and our language. Some even identify themselves by their occupation or their hobby. These earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity —that of being a son or a daughter of God.”
From the scriptures, two individuals who, I feel, did not let their earthly identity supersede their eternal identity, despite the difficult times they lived in, are Mormon and Abraham.
First, the mighty prophet historian and leader commander, Mormon. He lived at one of the most trying times in history, one which would see the annihilation of his nation (the Nephites) and leave his surviving brethren nation (the Lamanites) in a depraved and lost state. He knew it, he could clearly see the state of his nation people, that “they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits” (Mormon 2v14) and that they “did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them” (Mormon 5:2). Mormon leads the Nephite armies from the age of 15 years and he is about 50 years old, when he ‘utterly’ refuses to be a commander and leader “because of their wickedness and abomination” (Mormon 3 v11). Mormon states “I did even as the Lord had commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard… Therefore I write…” (Mormon 3v16-17) and certainly Mormon wrote – we know that! It appears to be more than 10 years later when he decides to lead the Nephites again, though it is “without hope,” for he knew “the judgements of the Lord which should come upon them” (Mormon 5 v2). Mormon’s final words, before Moroni records his father’s death, reach out to all, inviting to believe in Christ and be baptized, with water and with fire, with the Holy Ghost (Mormon 7). Throughout his life, Mormon did not lose sight of his eternal identity, nor that of his brothers and sisters, including us, for whom he wrote. He did not forget his relationship with God. Can you imagine if Mormon only identified himself as a Nephite commander or leader, totally fixed on destroying all Lamanites, rather than as a child of God with a unique task to fulfil?
Then Abraham and the particular choice he made early in his life, to not identify with his fathers and the people around him – “In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of [his] fathers, [he], Abraham saw that it was needful for [him] to obtain another place of residence… [His] fathers having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshipping of the gods of the heathen” (Abraham 1 v1-5). They utterly refused to hearken to Abraham, who identifies himself as “a follower of righteousness” (v2) with desires to “receive instructions and to keep the commandments of God” but instead they tried to offer him up, as an offering to strange gods, idols, as they had done with men, women and children before him. Abraham was saved by an angel, leaves the Chaldees and goes to the land of Canaan. As we know, in that land, the Lord makes a covenant with Abraham, which Abraham keeps, and through Abraham’s seed “shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessing of salvation, even of life eternal” (Abr 2 v11). Today, we take part in that Abrahamic covenant, become Israel – the covenant people, as we are baptised and receive all the blessings of Heavenly Father through temple covenants. Can you imagine if Abraham only identified himself as a Chaldean, willing to be sacrificed to the heathen Gods, rather than as a child of God with a unique task to fulfil?
We live in equally troubling and difficult times – the winding up scenes of history – but also the best of times since we have been given the opportunity to be baptised, by water and by fire, with the Holy Ghost. We individually have the opportunity to make covenants with God, possibly as no other people in the history of the world, with the building of temples across the world. Truly, we are ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.’ (1 Peter 2 v9).
But do we identify with this, first and foremost, or do we put our relationship with God second, preferring to be identified by our profession, by money or where we live, our nationality, or our race? And do we identify others by their profession, nationality or race rather than seeing them as a child of God, as we all are? What would be the difference in our lives if we identify ourselves as daughters and sons of God with his unique work to fulfil? Remember: “These earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity —that of being a son or a daughter of God.” Elder Hallstrom
As I thought on this, I realised that God has told us, throughout scripture, what we can do to maintain and improve our relationship with him:
“Turn ye unto me,… and I will turn unto you.” Zechariah 1 v3
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” D&C 88 v 63
“Return unto me, and I will return unto you,” Malachi 3 v7
“Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you,” James 4 v8
How do we draw near, turn to Him, return to Him? It is simple, we repent. Through Zechariah, the Lord told Israel to “Turn you now from your evil ways,” and through Malachi, Israel was told to bring “all the tithes into the storehouse.” James wrote “cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded;” and early in this dispensation, through Joseph Smith Jnr “sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him.” And to us now, a couple weeks ago in General Conference, our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, told us:
“When we left our premortal existence and entered mortality, we brought with us the gift of agency… Although it is imperative that we choose wisely, there are times when we will make foolish choices. The gift of repentance, provided by our Savior, enables us to correct our course settings, that we might return to the path which will lead us to that celestial glory we seek.”
I have made mistakes and I have felt the Lord’s forgiveness as I have needed to use the gift of repentance to turn back to him. I am very grateful for our Saviour, our eldest brother, and that because of Him, when I make a mistake or neglect to do something, I can change. Because of Him, I can improve each day and I have pondered on where I need to improve and I hope I can remain true and faithful to my Father, and choose my relationship with Him. I know the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, available only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true. I know for myself that it provides all necessary covenants and knowledge of salvation, so we can honour our relationship with Father, while on earth and return safely to Him. I know Joseph Smith Jr is a Prophet, that the priesthood of God was restored to earth through His angels – John the Baptist, Peter, James and John. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that Thomas S Monson is a true prophet of God. I love being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
My brothers and sisters, for that is what you truly are, we all have a special relationship with God; He is our Father and He loves us, you, very much. We need to draw near to Him, keep our covenants, use repentance, feel the blessing of forgiveness, and honour that relationship with Him while here on earth. Then when we pass on, we will see Him clearly again, “face to face: now, we know in part, but then shall we know even as also we are known” (from 1 Corinthians 13 v12).
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.