I had two experiences this week that reinforced the idea that one of the most important reasons for serving a mission is to simple bless others.
One day last week I went to the bank to deposit the money I received for selling the old mission truck. As I got to the door, the security guard standing outside stopped me. As she eyed me up and down, it was clear that she was NOT going to let me go inside the bank! I paused and stood with her a moment, trying to decided what she wanted, and/or what I was going to do…
She finally began to ask me some questions: Are you a minister? Yes, I am a missionary…a minister for my church. What church? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons. Well, if you are a real minister, can you give me a blessing?
Hmmm…had to quickly think on my feet about that one!
Of course I had the ability and authority to give her a blessing. But right then and there? On the street in front of the bank? Why not? Besides, her stance made it clear that she might not let me in the bank unless I did…
So I told her, yes, I could and would give her a blessing! I placed my right hand on her shoulder, and began to say a prayer of blessing for this woman. I’m not sure how much attention we attracted (there were a lot of people around the bank that morning), but my mind was focused on her and what I was saying. After closing the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, she smiled and opened the door to the bank for me.
The second experience happened when Terri and I went out with Elders Broadbent and Mills to see an inactive family. Part of the duties of the missionaries here on the island is to visit the less actives and invite them to come back to church. We had met with the wife before (she still had a strong testimony of the gospel), and had come back to visit with the husband.
After a short visit, it was clear that he would not be coming back to church. He had been offended by someone or something some years back, and had left the church. In the meantime, he had returned to his previous church–the Catholic Church, and was very happy there. With nothing left to do, we did not want to leave without doing something for this good man! Both Terri and I at the same moment had the thought of giving him a blessing (he had been having some health problems). So, after asking permission, we gave him a blessing. We told him how much God loved him, and that we (i.e.,the Church) would always be there for him and his family. Then said our goodbyes.
It was clear to me after these two incidents that when all else fails, we are simply here to do good and bless others! Of course we want people to accept our message, beleive in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and be baptised. But if they choose not to listen, or not to join the church, it does not make them bad people, or make our work unprofitable or without meaning! And if nothing else, like the Savior, we can go about doing good and blessing others.
In District Meeting this week we talked about this subject: doing good and blessing others; and how, using our faith, we could profoundly effect the lives of those we come in contact with. Even if they reject our message, we could still leave them with a blessing–leave them better off from the blessings we leave behind.
As part of that discussion, and how our faith could produce miracles through our good works, I shared the following with them to read later. It includes a number of faith promoting experiences I have had while serving in the Church:
The Power of Faith
In this chapter, we will look at the power of faith and the miracles that can come to pass as a result. We have talked about faith and how, through the power of our will and the strength of our fervent prayers, we can begin to produce the fruits of faith. Let’s talk about how faith works and how you can, in fact, produce miraculous results beyond your wildest dreams.
The Key to Faith
If I were to ask members of the Church what is the real key to faith, there would be many answers: prayer, keeping the commandments, reading the scriptures, etc. All of them, though good attempts, would be wrong. The real key to faith for members of the Church, and especially for missionaries, is work. This may sound like a strange response to a serious question, but it’s true. Work is the key to performing miracles. Remember what we have learned about faith: Missionaries already have faith. They just have to learn how to use it. Rather than spend time increasing your faith, you should spend your time learning how to use your faith. The key to learning how to use your faith is to work and then to work even harder: to go the extra mile. In fact many times the opportunity to experience great miracles is nothing more than being in the right place at the right time. Let me give you an example:
I was serving as ward priesthood leader (it was a small ward and I served as both the high priest group leader and the elders quorum president) and had been given the assignment to choose two brethren to give a blessing to a woman who was in the hospital. What none of us knew at the time was this woman had great faith, and her prayers were going to be answered. God had already ordained this woman to be healed. This great miracle was simply waiting for two priesthood holders to give her a blessing. Who would it be? Any two priesthood holders would do. At the end of priesthood meeting, I asked for two brethren to volunteer to go to the hospital to give this woman a blessing. Two men raised their hands. Later that day, they went to the hospital and gave the woman her blessing. The next Sunday, they told us of their experience. The woman had been healed almost immediately. It was a spiritual experience that neither of these men will ever forget, and all they had to do was volunteer!
Life is a lot like this event. There are many marvelous experiences just waiting to be had by simply showing up. By working hard, by always being in the right place at the right time, you will experience many wonderful miracles and spiritual blessings. If you work harder and longer than other missionaries, you will experience more miracles than they. The first and most important key to making your faith bear fruit is work.
The Second Key to Faith
The second key to faith is going the extra mile. Work even harder; push yourself. In my first area, I desperately wanted to succeed. I wanted to be able to teach people the gospel I loved so much, but it came so agonizingly slow! It would have been so easy to give up, to start working a little less each day, sleep in a little longer, come in a little earlier, etc., but I knew better. I had learned that a golden family was waiting at the end of that last street, and I was determined to find them. And though it came slowly, the cycle of success finally began for us. We found families to teach, we persuaded members to go on splits, and our teaching numbers went up, week-by-week, and I could feel the faith growing within me. I knew that God would reward my hard work and desires. One week it all came together, and we knew we would break the mission record for the number of discussions taught in one week! The mission record was 24 discussions. It was only Wednesday and we already had 15! We also had two splits with members set up for the end of the week. We knew it was inevitable we would break the record. We felt such great joy because we knew we had earned it. We had worked and planned and worked even harder. And now, through the grace of God, we were reaping our reward and it was wonderful. By working even harder, by going the extra mile, you will find that golden family at the end of the street! The second key to making your faith work is to go the extra mile.
The Third Key to Faith
The third key to faith is watch for signs of what God is doing. Righteous servants of God know that God and His angels will prepare the way for them. Therefore, they watch for the hand of God to be shown, so they will be ready to serve God properly and effectually. For example, if you have prayed for God to send someone to teach, would it not be wise to begin to watch for that person to come across your path? If you are a businessman in trouble and have prayed to God for help, wouldn’t it be common sense to watch for new business opportunities? If you are a missionary desperately praying for help in the service of God, how will you know when God is reaching down His mighty hand to give you that help if you do not watch for signs that tell you what God is doing?
As we earnestly seek God’s help, we must look for the signs God will show us. These signs prove that God is working to help us. They also give us understanding about what God is doing to help us and how He is going to do it. We must watch for signs, so that when they happen we can use them for our righteous purposes. By actively watching for the signs of God, we prove our faith in God’s ability to help us. We activate and energize our faith when we confidently look for the hand of God in our lives and this sacred work to which we have been called.
One of the most important duties of missionaries is to give people blessings. Never turn down the opportunity to give someone a blessing. You are their link to the eternal God. You may be the first, and sometimes the only opportunity some people have to receive a priesthood blessing. Because of this, you must keep yourself prepared.
Although most missionaries know the mechanics of giving a blessing, they often have no clue as to how to give powerful blessings; blessings you know connect our earthly bodies with the powers of heaven; blessings that always work. Yes, it is possible to give blessings that always work, just as some people can always have their prayers answered. All it takes is a combination of faith and mental effort.
Most missionaries already have enough faith to produce great miracles; they just don’t know it. Many misunderstand how easy it is to acquire and use faith. This is partly because they do not understand the true meaning of scriptures.
There is a misunderstanding concerning the power of faith. Christ said that if people had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, a person would be able to move mountains.[i] After reading this, most people feel that Christ is criticizing the people for their lack of faith. After all, they have never moved mountains or experienced great miracles! But Christ meant something else entirely. Christ was giving people a glimpse of what is possible with the faith they already have inside of them.
All missionaries already have faith. They have proven their faith by their works—attending Church, being baptized, going to the temple, accepting Jesus as their Savior and Messiah, and, greatest of all, being willing to go on a full-time mission. These actions have already produced enough faith within you to produce great miracles!
If missionaries have problems producing results, the problem does not lie in a lack of faith, but in their inability to use their faith properly. Christ’s admonition is this: If a person can move mountains with faith as small as a mustard seed, just think of what he can do with the large amount of faith he already has! Many more people have faith than use faith. The only thing these missionaries really need to understand is how to use the faith they already have. Joseph Smith taught us how this works.
“We ask, then, what are we to understand by a man’s working by faith? We answer—we understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force. It is by words, instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Faith, then, works by words; and with these its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed. (Lectures on Faith, p. 59)
As mentioned in the section on prayer, we must use our mental powers to pray with intensity and power. The same is true for giving blessings. It is not enough to focus on saying the right words (this is important but should not be your focus); you should concentrate on connecting with God and on intensifying your desire to bless this person. In the quiet solitude of your relationship with God, the Spirit of the Lord will act as a conduit as the powers of heaven flow through you to others. Concentration, focus, mental effort, and intensity. Put these things in your blessings and prayers and you will get results.
Keep in mind that this power of faith can be developed and used by anyone at any time. Faith is an eternal law, available to all God’s children, whether members of the Church or not. This is why members of other churches can, and do, experience the fruits of faith: miracles and answers to prayer. The spiritual gifts and blessings experienced by people of other faiths are not a result of the power of Satan (as some may believe in an attempt to bolster their own belief system). They are the direct result of eternal laws that apply to everyone, not just the limited number of people who claim membership in Christ’s true church.
Faith is an eternal principle, an eternal law; it is built into the universe itself as a governing, controlling force; it is ordained of God and shall endure forever. It takes no special divine decree to cause the effects of the law of gravity to be manifest everywhere on earth at all times. The law has been established and the effects that flow from it are everlastingly the same. So it is with faith. He who has given a law unto all things has established faith as the power and force by which he and his shall operate in righteousness forever. No special divine decree is needed to utilize the power of faith; it is like gravity: anytime any person in any age conforms to the law involved, the ordained results will attend. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 2, p. 287)
Because the power of faith can be used by anyone, the blessings of the priesthood can be used to bless anyone, even nonmembers of the Church. All that is required is a desire to receive a blessing at your hands and a belief in Jesus Christ.
How do men exercise faith? What are we to understand by a man’s working by faith?
Those who work by faith must first have faith; no one can use a power that he does not possess, and the faith or power must be gained by obedience to those laws upon which its receipt is predicated. Those who work by faith must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his Father. They must accept at face value what the revealed word teaches as to the character, attributes, and perfections of the Father and the Son. They must then work the works of righteousness until they know within themselves that their way of life conforms to the divine will, and they must be willing to lay their all on the altar of the Almighty.
And then—when the day is at hand and the hour has arrived for the miracle to be wrought—then they must be in tune with the Holy Spirit of God. He who is the Author of faith, he whose power faith is, he whose works are the embodiment of justice and judgment and wisdom and all good things, even he must approve the use of his power in the case at hand. Faith cannot be exercised contrary to the order of heaven or contrary to the will and purposes of him whose power it is. Men work by faith when they are in tune with the Spirit and when what they seek to do by mental exertion and by the spoken word is the mind and will of the Lord. (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp. 169–210)
You are men of faith, servants of the Most High God. You have been given the authority to use the powers of heaven itself to bless the earth and save the children of God. You have the power! Now all you have to do is learn how to use it.
Destroying the Olive Tree
One of the powers we have been given is the power to destroy. It is not a power used frequently, but one of which you should be aware. The Savior’s use of this great power is recorded only once, against a small olive tree.[ii] Joseph Smith talked about this power but in another way. He learned that if God determines a person should die, we should not fight against his will.
June 24—This night the cholera burst forth among us, and about midnight it was manifested in its most virulent form. Our ears were saluted with cries and moanings and lamentations on every hand; even those on guard fell to the earth with their guns in their hands, so sudden and powerful was the attack of this terrible disease. At the commencement, I attempted to lay on hands for their recovery, but I quickly learned by painful experience, that when the great Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, and makes known His determination, man must not attempt to stay His hand. The moment I attempted to rebuke the disease I was attacked, and had I not desisted in my attempt to save the life of a brother, I would have sacrificed my own.” (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 114)
On another occasion, Joseph talked about how our prayers may hold those back from dying who should be released. He taught that it is appropriate to let them go if they are called home. Let me share with you a couple of stories.
A wonderful woman in Connecticut was living a very painful life. She was very old and had cancer. The pain with which she lived every day was almost unbearable, but she did bear it, and she continued in her faithfulness as an example to her family. You see, her family did not want to let her go. They prayed to the Lord every day to keep her alive—for them. One day an elder was called upon to give her a blessing. Everyone expected the usual. He would raise his voice to God in prayer on her behalf that she might be healed and made well. But as he prepared himself to give that blessing and sought out the quiet place in his mind where he communicates with God, he was told something entirely different! He was told to let her go. In essence, he was told to use his priesthood powers to help her die! At first it seemed to go against everything that he was taught as a priesthood holder. He was not sent forth to destroy but to heal and send blessings, but he could not deny the message God was telling him to send. With great trepidation in his heart, he started the blessing. He told this good woman how much God loved her and what a great example she had been for her family but now God was calling her home. He told her to prepare herself to be taken into the bosom of Abraham, to be taken home to God who gave her life. Her pain would be gone and she would experience a peace and joy unlike any she had ever experienced. She had earned it! She had been faithful and God was going to reward her faithfulness by calling her home.
The scene was rather a strange one. The family was in tears, shaken because their mother and grandmother was to be taken. But in the midst of this sorrow was the woman herself, beaming with joy! This is exactly what she had wanted! This is what she had been praying for, for weeks! She knew it was time for her to be taken; she just didn’t know how to tell her family or prepare them for her death. Now, in one simple blessing, her prayers had been answered and her problems solved. Now her family could prepare for her death, knowing it was God’s will. Now she knew the end was in sight; she would not have to endure this terrible pain much longer. She was filled with joy and thanked this humble priesthood holder for having the courage to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit. Though the family was shocked, they accepted the words of God that had come through the blessing and prepared to let her go. It wasn’t as hard as they thought it would be, because they knew she was going to a better place. Three days later, this good woman died in bed, surrounded by family just as she had prayed to God it would happen. God was able to answer her prayers because, in spite of the reservations this elder may have had, he had listened to the Spirit.
A similar event happened to me in Cleveland. A woman’s brother, who was not a member of the Church, was ill and in the hospital. I knew the family well because I was her home teacher. She had asked me to come to the hospital to give her brother a blessing and of course I agreed. As I got to the hospital and began to run through my mind what I might say (knowing this man was not a member and I might have to explain a little about the Church and how we give blessings), the Spirit began to tell me I was to release him from this life. No way! Using this mighty power for members of the Church was one thing but to do the same for a nonmember? What would they think? As you might imagine, I was not looking forward to this event. I guess my demeanor showed it because his sister could tell I was upset. When I got to her brother’s room, it was filled with family members, none of whom were members of the Church. They were talking excitedly. The doctor had just given them some great news. The operation had been a success and he would soon be going home! There was a minister from another church there, and I discovered this minister had given him a blessing. It immediately became clear that I would not be giving a blessing this day, and I was relieved! After we left the room, this good sister asked me what was wrong. She could tell that I was not my normal, happy self. After some hesitation, I told her that, had I given her brother a blessing, I would have told him to get his affairs in order because God was going to take him home. I also told her I was glad I did not have to give such a blessing, and I was now having second thoughts about whether what I had been feeling was correct. One week later, her brother died suddenly and without any hint of further problems; not even the doctors saw it coming. I was glad I had told this good sister my feelings that day because she remembered what I had told her and it gave her incredible comfort to know it was God who had called her brother home. She knew he was in a better place and trusted God had done what was right.
God Does Work Miracles
We were within days of breaking the mission record for the number of discussions taught in one week. We even had a baptism scheduled for the next week. Everything was going perfectly then disaster seemed to strike. I was transferred to what was universally acknowledged to be the “pit” of the mission. This was an area with such bad karma every missionary dreaded being sent there. When the zone leaders told me where I was being transferred, they tried to console me by saying it really wasn’t as bad as everyone said. What was President Pinnock thinking?! Perhaps I was naïve, or perhaps I was still filled with the spirit of joy that had been upon us that week as we experienced so much success, but I trusted my mission president and felt confident in the Lord’s plan for me. In spite of any disappointment I may have felt over being transferred, I knew God had a plan for me. I knew He would somehow make everything work out right.
As I was transferred to my new area, I became, for the first time, a senior companion. My companion was a brand new missionary, so I would be training for the first time as well. I remember touring the area for a while and going to see the new chapel that was being built. As we sat in the parking lot looking at the new building, I said a silent prayer. “Please God, let me continue the work I was doing in my last area. Bless me to know that You will be with me here also!” As I prayed, thoughts flooded my mind. This is a brand new church. The people in this area will want to know who will be attending this church! What better place to start than to work in this very area! As we began walking to the first home, once again I had a prayer in my heart. “Show me a sign, Lord! Show me that I am on the right path and that You will continue to bless me!”
God did show me a sign. We got into the very first door and taught a discussion! It was a sign from God, and my faith and energy to do the work of God in this new area skyrocketed! I decided to double my effort and increase my spiritual intensity and energy at every door. The very next week, my new companion and I shattered the mission record for number of discussions taught. From then on, we continued to break the record week after week, as we climbed into the 30s, the 40s, and then the 50s.
Little did I know how profound that sign was to be! It was at this time that God revealed to me a principle that would work for me throughout my mission, although I didn’t know why it worked until years later. God inspired me to use a map to lay out a work plan for the entire area. I took a map of the city and mapped out the areas where we would work. As we covered streets, I marked them on the map. Over the summer, we tracted almost the entire city. By laying out the areas we would be working ahead of time, it gave the Lord time to work on the people we would be visiting. It amazed us how the people on the streets we tracted always seemed to be at home and/or ready for us to visit.
Week after week, we expanded our teaching and broke mission records. We began to have frequent visits from our district leader, and then the zone leaders started showing up. Even the assistants started coming on a regular basis. I’m sure it was a combination of checking to see whether we were cheating on our reports and a desire to learn what we were doing differently that made us so successful. We really didn’t care. In fact, we really enjoyed being able to work with these great leaders so often! In reality, we were just working hard and letting the Lord do the rest. It was all very exciting.
We never really knew why we suddenly had so much success. We were simply working hard and praying hard. The only problem that arose during this period of success was that we could not ever get past the first few discussions. We were getting into almost any door at will and trying our best to teach good, quality discussions, but when it came to return visits, they always said no. No one could find an answer. Not even our leaders, who worked with us on a regular basis, could answer this perplexing question: Why did people refuse to listen to more than one or two discussions? It was a mystery.
Our biggest success, besides simply getting into homes, was the distribution of Book of Mormons. At first we simply gave them out, but after a while it was costing us too much money so we started to charge people one dollar. Many paid us extra, so we had money to buy cases of books at a time. I would take a briefcase packed with as many books as I could carry, and would have to return to the apartment several times each day.
We taught thousands of people. We gave out hundreds of copies of the Book of Mormon. But after six months, we had only one baptism. It wasn’t until years later, while talking to Elder Pinnock, that he finally explained the difference between “sowers” and “reapers”—that each person has a different talent and my talent was as a sower of spiritual seeds.
As miraculous as all of this sounds, God was just getting started! He had another lesson to teach. He taught me to see as He sees, to catch the vision of what is possible when God puts His hand to the work. I had no concept of how far God could go, or would go, in making the work go forward in this area, but I was about to find out.
It happened one Saturday, but it began Friday night. Our week started on Sunday and ended on Saturday, so we had one more day to work. One more day to push ourselves to break the mission record again. We called our district leader and asked permission to leave our apartment early, and work a little late, so we could break the record again. He gave us permission, so we were excited and up late praying and planning where to go the next day. We had our large map on the wall, with each street that we had worked highlighted. You could see large patterns in our work—large sections of the city colored in. We prayed for guidance as to where we should go the next day. We felt strongly we should just keep going where we had been working. God seemed to have prepared people for us to see every single day, so why should we change what we had been doing?
The next day, we got up early and got out on the street. We stood at the head of the street we intended to tract at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning. It was a beautiful summer day, warm and sunny. The part of town we were tracting was older, but the homes were well kept. Before we started down the street to the first home, we stood together and said a prayer. I prayed that the Lord would open doors for us that day, so we could teach people the gospel we loved. I opened my eyes and took a large breath before beginning that day’s work. I looked up at the sky, paused a moment to take it all in, and the Lord opened a wonderful vision before my eyes.
I saw before me a large door and frame that covered the entire street we were about to tract. It was gigantic, maybe 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide (wide enough to block the entire street). As I wondered about the meaning of what I saw, the voice of the Spirit spoke to me and said, “God will open doors for you this day!” As I continued to look, I saw this large door begin to open before me until it was fully open and the street was no longer blocked. It was not until later that I fully understood the meaning of this great vision.
As we started knocking at the doors of homes on that the first street, we began to experience success beyond our wildest dreams. We began to get in every door. Some people were not at home, or perhaps had not gotten up yet, but every door that answered our knock let us in to teach. I wish I had the words to describe it! Door after door, street after street, hour after hour, we knocked on doors and were let in to teach. I quickly came to understand what was happening, so instead of giving a full lesson, we gave a short lesson and set up a return appointment. Door after door, street after street, hour after hour, we tracted and found success at every door. As morning moved to afternoon, we began to physically weaken. After working hard and tracting all summer, we were in good shape, so our weakness was not physical but spiritual. We were spiritually drained from teaching!
The homes in this area were built with large front porches and most had two or three chairs out front. As our strength diminished, we would come to a door, knock, and then sit down to rest while we waited for whoever was at home to come to the door. They would open the door, look at us sitting on their porch and not even ask us who we were. They would just say, “Come in.” Finally, late in the afternoon, our strength simply gave out, and we had to rest and get something to eat. We stopped for about 30 minutes to eat and rest and then began to knock on doors again. We found that we had lost the “crest of the wave,” and were no longer getting into every door but continued to have surprising success. By the end of that day, we had taught almost 30 discussions. At the end of that wonderful week, we had taught over 70 discussions. Almost three times the record we had been trying to break in my last area!
God had shown me how limited my understanding really was. We would have been content, even elated, to teach 20 discussions a week. We thought the world was truly coming to an end when we taught over 40! But who could ever imagine teaching 70 discussions? Who but God! That is the whole point. With the help of God, we really can do anything, achieve any goal, move any mountain, and fulfill any assignment. Now I could, for the first time, grasp the full meaning behind Nephi’s statement of faith:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
Now I understood that faith was indeed centered in God. We have faith to accomplish great things because we know that God has the power to bring anything to pass, if He so chooses.
Faith is Having a Vision of What is Possible
President Pinnock often quoted the proverb “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18). After experiencing that marvelous vision, I had greater understanding of how important it was to have a vision of the work we were doing. If we believed that all we could do was 10 discussions, or 10 baptisms, then that was all we would do—and we would be happy to achieve it! But what if that was far less than what God wanted us to do? What if God was ready and willing to extend our abilities far beyond what we could possibly do ourselves? Then the only thing that was limiting us from experiencing that kind of success was our own lack of vision. Fortunately, I learned the lesson well and when I had another opportunity to “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,” I made sure I did not limit my vision!
Preparing for the miracle.
A short time after moving to Connecticut, the ward we were in split, and I was called to be the Seventies Quorum president (which automatically carried with it the calling of ward mission leader). I had two active members of the quorum and one less-active member, so our numbers were very few, but I was excited because I could begin putting together a missionary program I believed would work.
Shortly after, while driving to an appointment at work, I was thinking of what I should do and how I should proceed with the work of the Lord in this area. Suddenly, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me. God wanted to help me understand the importance of this calling and that I had been specifically called to this place and time to do a great and special work for the Lord. God wanted me to understand that the events that had taken place prior to our moving to Connecticut were orchestrated simply to get me to this specific place and time. My family and I arrived here because we had been faithfully listening to the Lord and following the signs He had given us. Now it was up to me to fulfill the destiny the Lord had prepared for me in this place.
The scripture of Peter came to my mind: When asked what he should do, he was told, “Feed my sheep.”[iii] The Spirit of the Lord was telling me the same thing. I was to disregard everything else and concentrate on feeding his sheep in order to find and nurture those who were ready to come into the fold. Soon, I was in tears and had to pull to the side of the road. I knew without doubt that God was with me because of the spirit I was feeling. I had the faith and confidence to fulfill this great calling because of the wonderful training I had received from President Pinnock both during and after my full-time mission. And I believed I had the knowledge, ability, and patience to see it through to the end. Now all I had to do was use the key to successful missionary service. I had to go to work with all my heart, might, mind, and soul.
In the next few months, I began to feel very strongly that since there were just the three of us, and limited support from the ward, we needed to get back to the basic missionary work of tracting, finding, and teaching. I wanted to place the Seventies on the same level as the full-time missionaries (we had four missionaries working in the ward at that time, two working the inner city and two working the more rural part of the ward). We decided that as members of the Seventies Quorum we would take responsibility for an area of the ward that was not being worked. As Seventies, we would work the area in the same manner as the other missionaries working their areas. We would tract, and take any referrals made in the area. After we made first contact, we would set up a return appointment and split with the full-time missionaries to teach the discussions. In this way, we could increase the number of missionaries working in the ward by one third and thereby increase our success. As I meditated and prayed about this unique direction, I felt very strongly this was the way the Lord would have us go. I developed a plan of action, took it to the Lord, and received confirmation that it was acceptable. After the work began to progress, we further developed the missionary program and created a more formal organization.
From that time forward, my companion and I began to go out two nights a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each week, we would work our area those two days and on the other days do home teaching or split with the missionaries, as needed. Sometimes we would go out four or five times a week! It was difficult, especially with a young family, but I was determined to do my part in bringing about God’s work.
But it didn’t come easily. In fact, there were times I almost gave up. I had great faith. I knew that God and His angels would come through . . . but did I have the patience to wait for them? The missionaries and the three of us worked all spring, summer, and fall. Week after week, month after month, with no success. We taught a few people here and there, but not one investigator was progressing toward baptism! I began to hear criticism from members of the ward. “Why doesn’t he do this?” or “Why doesn’t he do that?” It was frustrating and I would often second-guess myself. I was often tempted to change the plan, but whenever I would kneel and pray I would always get the same answer. Be patient and stay the course. The angels are working as fast as they can!
You see, I remembered what I had learned on my mission. I knew that God had sent His angels to prepare the way and that if we changed course, all their work would be for naught. I also knew the more faith I had, and the more patience I exhibited, the greater the reward would be. If I did my part, God would know He had the time to set up a great work without fear the course would be changed by faithless servants. This is how it is with the prophets of the Lord as they see visions of the future. God shows them the works He has planned, knowing these great men will not vary the course they are on, and, in the end, will reap the rewards God has prepared. In my case, the angels had to have something big they were working on for it to take so long! Finally, my patience and faith were rewarded.
It was the week after Thanksgiving and my companion and I went out to work, as usual. It was Tuesday, our regular day to work. We had been diligently working every Tuesday and Thursday for an entire year. My companion and I had a referral in the city. It was a part-member family we could possibly teach, if only we could find them. So, we went into the city to look up the referral. Unfortunately, we got the usual result—either a wrong address or the family had moved some time ago. When we knocked on the door, the family that lived there had just moved in. They were from Puerto Rico. Just as he was about to close the door, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me and I knew I had to get in that door. Without even thinking, I stuck my foot out to stop the door from closing. I told him we were servants of the Lord and had a message to share with his family. To my surprise, he let us in. We taught him part of a discussion and set a time to come back with the full-time missionaries. It was very unusual!
As we left the apartment, I began to wonder about the event. I had not felt the Spirit that strongly since my full-time mission, and wondered if it had some special meaning. As we walked along the sidewalk, I stopped to ponder the power of the Spirit and the peculiar event and timing of its coming. As I stood there pondering, a vision suddenly appeared before me. It was the same vision I received when I was on my full-time mission. A large door with frame covered the entire street, only this time the door did not open. The Spirit of God spoke to my mind and said that the door would not open until the members of the ward were fully prepared to receive those who would come through. Then, the door would open and a flood of people would come into the Church. The vision closed and I was left alone in the dark street, wondering what it all meant. One thing was clear. Whatever the Lord and His angels had been preparing was about to burst forth.
The rest of that week, I pondered the vision and what it meant. Somehow the members of the ward had to be prepared. How was I going to get the members prepared? I wanted the vision to be fulfilled, and wanted to know how to prepare the members so the door would open. I was reading the Book of Mormon at the time and came across a passage that seemed to speak to me. It seemed to answer every question I had been pondering: Alma 4:19. Alma was trying to re-energize the Church, by having them purge themselves of their sins and change their hearts. Then came the statement that seared my heart. Alma stated there was nothing that moved the people more effectively “save it were in bearing down in pure testimony.” That was my answer! I would bear testimony to them and motivate them with the truth. The next Sunday (the first of December) was fast and testimony meeting. What a coincidence . . . .
That fast Sunday, with great fear and trembling, I decided to tell the ward about my vision and try to persuade them to help open the door the Lord had presented. I started my testimony by reviewing the vision and experience I had while on my full-time mission, showing that such things did happen and were true. I then told them about my recent vision and testified that if they would help me, if they would begin to support the missionary work in the ward, they would see this spiritual door open. Then hundreds of people ready to listen to the gospel would be drawn into the Church.
The reaction to my testimony was mixed at first. There seemed to be three groups that formed in the ward.
- Some members were touched by the Spirit, believed what I had testified, and immediately offered their help in the work. Among this group were the missionaries (of course), the small group of blacks in the ward, a few of the white members, and, most importantly, the bishop. It was very important for the bishop to recognize the truth of what I had experienced and back up what I said. He did so with both his words and deeds.
- There was another group of members who simply did not believe. They held back and waited to see what would happen. However, this group quickly came on board once they saw the success that came to pass. I could completely understand the lack of faith in this group. After all, I had worked all year and had not had a single baptism to show for it. I had no proof, no success behind me, and yet suddenly I was talking about having a flood of people coming into the Church! They doubted. They wanted to wait and see.
- The last group consisted of those who were offended by my words. They thought my vision was not true, or at least would not happen to someone like me. Perhaps they were jealous because this had never happened to them. This group actually seemed to fight against what we were trying to do.
So what happened? How did it all start? Two weeks after my vision, we had our first baptism for the year. The next year would change dramatically.
The miracle begins.
From the very first day of the next year, everything seemed to change. Family after family began taking the discussions. The members were motivated to go on splits and act as friend-shipping families so these investigators would be fellowshipped into the Church. The cycle of success had started at last! As the snowball effect grew and grew, no one could imagine how large it would get. It is hard to describe what happened to someone who wasn’t there to appreciate it. Perhaps one way to illustrate the dramatic growth is to talk about the Gospel Essentials class.
As part of my calling and because the ward was still very small, in addition to serving as the Seventies president and ward mission leader I was responsible for the gospel essentials class. The purpose of this class is to teach new members and investigators, and it is always the smallest of the Sunday School classes. After a short time attending this class, the new member would move into the gospel doctrine class, which is always the largest Sunday School class. When I was called to teach this class, we were given the smallest classroom in the ward building, a room large enough for about 10 people. This made perfect sense because we had very few investigators and no new members. However, within a month’s time, we had a room full of investigators. Within two months, we had to ask for a regular-sized classroom because we had too many investigators to fit into the small classroom. After another two months, we had to open the room divider so we took up two regular classrooms. After another two months, we filled both those rooms and began discussing with the bishop whether or not we could move into the room where the gospel doctrine class usually met. After talking with the gospel doctrine teacher, it was agreed we would use that room for the gospel essentials class.
Within six months, we had so many investigators and new members, we went from being the smallest Sunday School class to the largest Sunday School class in the ward! This was unheard of! But it didn’t stop there. After another two months, we had so many people coming to Church we could not fit them in the gospel doctrine room! Two choices were left to us. We could move the class into the chapel, or we could open the partitions and take up all the classrooms on one side of the building. After a lot of discussion, the bishop decided we should use the classrooms because we needed to use chalkboards as teaching tools. So, we opened the partitions to three classrooms and moved the gospel essentials class there. During that period of time, there were Sundays we had 50 investigators coming to class every week! Add to that the missionaries (we had doubled the number of missionaries, from 4 to 8) and members who attended to support and fellowship our investigators, and you had to see it to believe it!
Another consequence of this growth was that we had to develop a process for the members to learn the new people’s names. The bishop issued a directive to everyone in the ward. Whenever a person got up to speak, whether it was in Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School class, giving a talk, or during Fast and Testimony meeting, they were first to state their name. Over time, this enabled new members to learn old members’ names, and vice versa.
Another way to see and understand the miraculous events that transpired that year is to look at the amount of member/missionary work that occurred. Just a few weeks into the year, it became clear I would have to spend a lot of time setting up splits to cover all the appointments the missionaries were getting. Since we now had four sets of missionaries instead of two, this meant there were many nights I would have to find eight members to go on splits. There were many weeks I had to arrange splits every night of the week! There were some weeks I had to make arrangements for over 50 members to meet with the missionaries! Now you can understand why the Lord said the door would not be opened until the members of the ward were ready!
As ward mission leader, I developed a system of dealing with the tremendous growth we experienced. Each Sunday, I would have a 7:00 a.m. coordination meeting with the full-time missionaries. I would get updates on the progress of each investigator and find out the schedule for their discussions that week (i.e., how many splits they would need me to set up). At 7:45, I attended the weekly PEC meeting with the bishop and the other leaders of the ward where I would pass on information about the progress of each investigator and let them know the needs we had. The different quorums would organize the members, assign home teachers (based upon upcoming baptisms), and help to organize the scheduled baptisms (usually every week). About 8:45 a.m., we would end our meeting and prepare for Church at 9:00 a.m. I would then teach the gospel essentials class and run the Seventies Quorum class, handing out additional assignments as needed for the week. Between classes, I would coordinate filling the font for any baptisms, which were usually held just after Church. After Church ended at noon, we would finish preparations for any baptism that week which would start at 12:30 p.m. This would last about an hour (sometimes longer if there was a small reception held afterward). Then I would go home, eat, and begin my afternoon schedule.
Each Sunday afternoon, I got out my calendar and the ward list and began calling members for splits. I set up splits well ahead of time; sometimes up to a month in advance, if I could. I did not let anyone say no. I just kept asking, “Well, what about next week? No? What about the week after that? No? What about the week after that?” until they gave me a date. One week I would start at the “A’s” and work to the “Z’s” and the next week I would start at the “Z’s” and work to the “A’s.” I went through the list until I filled all the slots for needed splits. At the start of the year, these splits were filled by the Seventies Quorum or other priesthood quorums. Within a very short time I began to see this would not be enough, so I began to call everyone, including the sisters, for help (of course splits with the sisters meant the discussion had to be held at their home, or two sisters would have to go with each missionary). All the youth were involved in missionary work. Anyone over twelve years old could go on splits and even the younger children were sometimes invited to participate in the missionary discussions. I became so desperate for help, I began calling the totally inactive members to help. In fact, this worked so well we were able to reactivate quite a few members through this big missionary push! It was fantastic!
At the end of the year, we found that about 75 percent of all members in the ward had been active in missionary work that year. That was all members, including the less active and children! When you consider that less than 40 percent of the ward was considered active, we had 35 percent more people doing missionary work than were considered active members!
In the end, the results were miraculous! We went from one baptism in 1985 to 38 baptisms in 1986, and about 25 baptisms in each of the years 1987 and 1988. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the whole experience was the ward’s statistics at the end of that second year. Our ward was at the top in every possible category: tithing, reactivation, new priesthood, etc. It was the first time the stake had ever seen such a thing.
In the end, three great missionary principles were reaffirmed:
- You have to have a vision of where you are going, a plan of action with which God and His angels can work.
- The key to success in missionary service is hard work.
- You must have enough patience for God and His angels to prepare the way before you. Nephi was right after all. Go forth and do the work of the Lord, knowing that He will prepare the way before you!
Faith and the Priesthood
Faith is at the core of everything we do, everything we are, everything we will become, and even everything that exists. It is not only the “moving force” of the universe, as Joseph would say, but it is power. It is the power behind everything—even the priesthood.
Most people think the power of the priesthood is somehow separate from faith, as though men who hold the priesthood have obtained some special power that others cannot obtain, but this is not true. All power comes from faith. The priesthood is authority, not power. The priesthood is the authority to use God’s power in special and additional ways.
Let me give you an example. A policeman is given authority to use force, or power, in ways others cannot. But their authority to use a gun is different from the gun itself. The gun is the real power a policeman has. But it is a power which anyone can use. The only difference is that the policeman has the authority to use the gun and has authority to obtain more power (i.e., call upon more men with guns) if needed. The criminal has the same ability to use that power (a gun) but does not have the authority to use it legally or to call upon more power when needed.
The same is true with faith and the priesthood. Anyone, whether a member of the Church or not, can use the power of faith, if they learn how to do so. That is why many Christians of other churches experience miracles and have faith-promoting experiences. Further, any member of the Church, male or female, young or old, can use the power of faith to work all the miracles about which one might read in the scriptures. (Read D&C 46 and Hebrews where it talks about the gifts of the Spirit. Notice it says nothing about the priesthood or men only. These powers are available to all members who believe[iv]).
This concept is easy to understand when you break it down. Make a list of all the things the priesthood can do that the general membership cannot. You will find the only thing listed is the performance of ordinances, such as baptism. Anything that pertains to power, such as healing the sick, miracles, etc. can be done by anyone with faith.
The priesthood does give us the ability to obtain more power than we could normally obtain using our own faith. Someone who is given a calling obtains special authority to use God’s power to fulfill that calling when they are set apart by someone in authority. That same person will feel the withdrawal of those powers and increased spiritual ability when released. But the fact that people can obtain additional power through the priesthood does not change what that power really is, which is faith.
If the priesthood was a different or an additional power from faith, a priesthood holder who had no faith could perform healings and miracles, but this does not happen. A priesthood holder who is not faithful or active might be able to baptize someone and still have it count on the records of the Church, but ordinances do not show direct power, they show authority. In order for that same priesthood holder to heal or cast out devils, he must have faith. Now, there is no question the priesthood gives us the ability to call upon additional power when needed, but that power is always based upon faith; whether it is God’s or our own.
Let me give you an example of how faith is enhanced by using the authority of the priesthood. It is a story I have often told about the ability to cast out devils. Before I obtained the priesthood, it took a lot of prayer and effort to cast out the evil spirits that plagued me after coming into the Church. Each night, I would have to pray for a long time just to get to sleep without evil thoughts keeping me awake. My bishop, knowing my past and the problems I had with evil spirits, showed me how to cast them out the day I received the Aaronic Priesthood. This kind and wise priesthood holder told me an ancient secret: how men from the time of Adam used their priesthood to cast out devils. I used it that very night and my life has never been the same. Once I obtained the priesthood and the authority to use God’s power, I found that the evil spirits were forced to leave immediately, almost instantly. It was one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences of my life!
Another example of priesthood authority enhancing the personal power of faith is the ability to call for help from God and His angels in certain situations. The ability to call upon God for more power has been translated in our daily speech as “priesthood power,” but it is important to keep in mind that the real power behind it all is faith. That is why you will never hear that God used the priesthood to create the world. He used faith. Moses, on the other hand, could be said to have used both faith and the priesthood to part the Red Sea: faith was the power, but he had to use the priesthood to obtain enough power to accomplish the act. But when actually trying to define who did what and how, so we can learn how to obtain real power and use it, it is important to remember that all power comes from faith. Even when we use our priesthood to call upon the powers of heaven to help us, when that power comes, it comes as the result of the faith that resides in that God who sent it.
Thus says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews 11: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’”
By this we understand that the principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith; and that it is by reason of this principle of power existing in the Deity, that all created things exist; so that all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth exist by reason of faith as it existed in Him.
Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds would never have been framed neither would man have been formed of the dust. It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things. Take this principle or attribute–for it is an attribute–from the Deity, and he would cease to exist.
Who cannot see, that if God framed the worlds by faith, that it is by faith that he exercises power over them, and that faith is the principle of power? And if the principle of power, it must be so in man as well as in the Deity? This is the testimony of all the sacred writers, and the lesson which they have been endeavoring to teach to man.
Faith, then, is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things; by it they exist, by it they are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeable to the will of God. Without it there is no power, and without power there could be no creation nor existence!” (Lectures on Faith, pp. 8–10, emphasis added)
Fighting the Powers of Darkness
Some who serve missions will have the unwanted opportunity to face the army of darkness face to face. I do not mean experiencing problems and negative consequences on your mission—those things are just a part of the life we live. I am talking about actually facing those who oppose God and his servants. This is a part of the opposition in all things that Lehi wrote about.[v] Although it is not experienced often, it is a reality that must be understood and talked about. As missionaries begin to experience success in the work of the Lord, they will find that opposition will rise against them in direct proportion to that success. Due to the authority of the priesthood we have been given, and the power of the name of Jesus Christ, this opposition is nothing to worry about. However, forewarned is forearmed. Let me give you an example.
While working one area, my companion and I faced the power of Satan head on. We had begun to find great success when, shortly afterward, everything started to go badly. Appointments fell through, good families reversed their decisions and refused to see us, cars broke down, etc. Then one night it became deadly serious.
That night the power of Satan came into our apartment and I was forced to use the authority of the priesthood I held to cast out this evil influence. The next morning, I tried to explain my experience to my companion. He did not believe me. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to reading—I knew what I had experienced was real. After a short while, my companion came into the kitchen where I was reading. He was white as a sheet! He told me he now believed what I had said, because he had just had a similar, but more terrifying experience. He remembered what I said concerning my experience, that I used the priesthood to cast out Satan. He used the name of Jesus Christ and was immediately released from Satan’s power. That is when he came into the kitchen.
As mentioned in a previous chapter, we called President Pinnock about how to deal with this problem. He gave us the confidence to deal with it ourselves and we eventually did. The power of Satan slowly released its grip on our area and we began to find success again.
[i] Matthew 17:19–20
[ii] Matthew 21:18–22
[iii] John 21:15–17
[iv] “No matter who believeth; these signs such as healing the sick, casting out devils, etc. should follow all that believe whether male or female.” (Words of Joseph Smith, pg. 115)
[v] 2 Nephi 2:11