Catching a Vision of the Work
Adapted from a talk given in the Altoona Ward of the Altoona Pennsylvania Stake, High Council Sunday, September 20, 2015
Good morning, brothers and sisters. My husband and I have been assigned to talk to you today about a topic that some of you may find uncomfortable. Some of you may find it offensive. Some of you might not like what I have to say. As I prepared for this talk, I felt all these things myself, to be honest: I was uncomfortable; I was offended; I did not like some of the things I was reading. But as I ‘got over myself’, as they say, I was able to use what I learned to examine my own progress in this great work. I pray you will be able to do the same.
So let’s begin.
Let me ask you to honestly answer one question in your mind: Have you caught a vision of the work?
Like me, your first instinct is probably to say, “Of course! I’m here, aren’t I?” But let’s examine exactly what the work is that we are supposed to be “catching a vision of”.
Our Church has actually made it quite simple for us. They have laid out the work of the Church – and by extension, the work of us members – in a simple four-point plan commonly known as ‘the four-fold mission of the Church’ that is designed to bring us closer to Christ: namely, proclaiming the Gospel, perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead, and caring for the poor and needy.
Proclaiming the Gospel immediately brings to mind the work done by our full-time missionaries. As you recall, a few years ago in general conference the announcement was made that the missionary age was being lowered. The response from the young adults among our membership was staggering – some of them even began filling out their missionary papers before that session of conference was finished! Within a few months, the number of missionaries increased by over 30 000, or more than 50%. These young men and women had caught a vision of missionary work. The question is….have you?
Do you work with your ward mission leader to find family, friends, acquaintances to teach? Do you feed the missionaries on a regular basis? Do you invite others to dinner when the missionaries will be there? When you see elders or sisters walking down the street, do you stop and say hello? Do you contribute to the church’s missionary fund? Do you financially support missionaries from your own ward, no matter how small the contribution you are able to make? Do you have mission funds started for your children, your grandchildren… yourself? Do you share the Good News of the Gospel with everyone you know? Do you Like and Share church messages on Facebook and other social media? Do you invite friends and family to ward and stake events? Do you pray for guidance about finding people whose hearts are open to hearing our message? Do you show your love for and commitment to the Gospel by attending your Sunday School classes, and Relief Society and Priesthood meetings so that investigators see your dedication and want what you have?
Have you caught a vision of missionary work?
In 2000 I was teaching kindergarten in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Just before Christmas, one of my parent volunteers dropped an invitation to a Christmas event at her church on my desk. She then began inviting me to Tuesday night dinner with the missionaries, and long story short, I was baptized six months later. I later learned that her family had been praying for someone to teach, and I was it. Sincere prayer, heartfelt invitations, and a vision of missionary work is what ultimately brought me to the church after six years of being an investigator. This sister and her family truly had caught a vision of the work. The Lord has said to each of us, “And thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing” (D&C 28:16). Do you open your mouth at all times, declaring the gospel with the sound of rejoicing?
Perfecting the Saints is one area that many, maybe even most of us, usually sum up by the statement ‘enduring to the end’. If we just do what we are supposed to do, just hang in there, just pray and read and study and go to church…we’ll be okay. However, this is one of the most misunderstood parts of the mission of the church. Perfecting the saints actually refers to the opportunities we have to render service to each other, service that helps us all grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And believe it or not, this does not refer to the service that we perform to non-members, or to most service that we perform during the week. Perfecting the saints refers specifically to the service that is performed each Sunday in our Sacrament meetings and Sunday School classes and Quorums and Auxiliaries. When speaking of the sacrament, the obvious thing that comes to mind are the young men who bless and pass the Sacrament, but the people who give talks and prayers, who prepare and provide the music, who preside over the Sacrament meeting are all performing acts of service that are meant to uplift and spiritually renew each and every one of us.
But it doesn’t stop there. Every teacher who prepares a lesson – be it nursery, primary, young men, young women, Sunday school, Relief Society, Elders Quorum or High Priest Group – every one of those people are giving an act of service to you. Are you accepting their act of service, or are you rejecting it? Are you attending your classes? Are you fostering love towards your teachers? Are you offering them an act of service in return, by participating in discussions, by coming to class prepared and on time, by being an enthusiastic class member, by offering to read and give prayers?
Have you caught a vision of the perfecting of the saints?
In 2002 I was called as the Youth Sunday School teacher in the small branch I was attending. I diligently prepared my lesson each and every week for this group of about fifteen youth. But no matter what I did or how much I prepared, the class was, quite frankly, terrible. I could find no way to reach them, especially one young man who was very angry about a lot things. Even when the branch presidency stepped in and removed him from the class, it left a pall over the rest of us, because we knew that one of us was missing. His brothers stopped coming to class. His friends stopped coming to class. And eventually, I asked to be released.
In that class there was no vision of the work held by anyone, including myself, and I, even though I had won teaching awards in my career, felt like a complete failure.
I was also called as Young Women President in this branch. I honestly did not know why. I had been a single teenage mother. One of my counselors, also a new convert, was going through a terrible divorce and custody battle, and was also responsible for her adult mentally challenged son. My other counselor was a lifelong member who went inactive in her teens and whose current husband was in jail. We were, honestly, a complete mess…probably the most unlikely Young Women’s Presidency in the history of the Church! We had six girls on our list. And yet, we had ten young women attending class on Sundays, and fourteen or more coming out on Tuesday nights. We and our six girls had a vision of what Young Women could be.
Are you like my Sunday School class? Or are you like my Young Women? Do you have a vision of perfecting the saints? Of rendering service to your fellow ward members through your support of their sacrifice and service?
Redeeming the dead refers to temple work, or more specifically, the ordinances that we perform in the temple for our kindred dead. Our church puts a lot of resources towards this part of the four-fold mission of the church, everything from world-wide record collection and storage to digitizing those records to the thousands of family history centers to the tens of thousands of family history consultants to our online genealogy program to our temples themselves. And here in your ward you have some wonderful experts in this field, as evidenced by their contributions to the recent Stake family history day. This is one area that the Church itself is already a world standard, and it is poised to become even more so.
Some of you may not know that not too long ago the Church hired a new manager for FamilySearch, a man with a vision honed by a decade of being in the top echelons of one of the most successful and transformative tech companies in the world. Under his short tenure, since 2013 FamilySearch has seen a 234% increase in its LDS patrons and a 1035% increase among non-members. Record collections on the site have nearly doubled since 2012, and the searchable indexed names have grown from 750 million to 5.2 billion in the past five years. At this year’s BYU Family History Conference, he announced many new and upcoming features on FamilySearch, all designed to make this mission of the church fun, exciting, relevant, and easy for everyone. This man truly has a vision of the work of redeeming the dead.
Have you completed your basic four generation chart? Do you even have an LDS Account? Do you regularly set aside time to search for your ancestors, or write down your memories of loved ones who have passed, or keep a personal journal, or attend the temple, or submit names for temple work? Have you completed the Stake indexing challenge?
Do you have a vision of the work of redeeming the dead?
In my home ward today I was sustained as a Family History Consultant. When the call was extended to me last week, I squealed in delight and literally jumped up and down in my chair. The counselor who extended the call laughed and commented that this was a strange reaction – apparently most people are not very excited by being called as a family history consultant. But I was overjoyed. I love family history. Last year I added over 7000 people to my family file, indexed 2000 names, and found 240 relatives for my two best friends. So far this year I have added 3400 more, started three family history books, organized two family name societies and joined several others, and submitted 1400 names to the temple. As I said, I love family history.
I have a vision of family history work. But I didn’t always. I started researching my family when I was about fourteen, and played with it off and on over the next 26 years, and by 2013 had found about 12 000 relatives. Now that number has doubled. But I have regrets – huge regrets – that I did not catch the vision sooner. When I think of all the information, the stories, the pictures, the memories that have been lost with the passing of loved ones, sometimes I just want to cry. So many people in my family tree will just be names and dates to me – they weren’t famous, they weren’t mentioned in newspapers, most of them didn’t have wills or keep journals, their personal effects were scattered or destroyed upon their death.
Are you doing all you can to preserve your personal family history, and to find and preserve the details that remain of your loved ones? Do you attend the temple regularly? Do you submit names for others to do on your behalf? Do you participate in indexing?
Do you have a vision of the work of redeeming the dead?
Caring for the poor and needy is a relatively new addition to the four-fold mission of the church, but that doesn’t mean that this work has not been a focus since the beginning. The Relief Society itself was founded in 1842 to provide relief to those in need and to inspire the priesthood to be diligent in their duties towards the poor and needy. Bishops storehouses have been another feature of this mission of the church almost since the beginning. Many members might think of welfare as a program to help members in temporarily difficult circumstances. But the intent of the Church’s welfare plan is much more vast; it also involves promoting self-reliance as a way of life so that we can minimize our chances of becoming the poor and needy. President Thomas S. Monson has taught that self-reliance—“the ability, commitment, and effort to provide the necessities of life for self and family” – is an essential element of our temporal and spiritual well-being. The church has always taken this mission to heart, including the donation of almost 1.5 billion dollars worth of humanitarian aid overseas. From humanitarian aid to employment resources to the addiction recovery program to the perpetual education fund to the provident living websites and many other projects too numerous to name, the church takes it responsibility to minister to the poor and needy among its members and around the world very seriously. The question is… Do you?
Elder Robert D. Hales has said, “All of us are responsible to provide for ourselves and our families in both temporal and spiritual ways. To provide providently, we must practice the principles of provident living: joyfully living within our means, being content with what we have, avoiding excessive debt, and diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies.”
Do you participate in any of the church programs or read the resources designed to help those with the specific difficulties you may be having? Do you share with others that these programs are available? Do you volunteer at local charities or community organizations and facilities? Do you contribute to the humanitarian fund or the perpetual education fund of the church? Do you give an honest and generous fast offering? Do you have your own house in order – your food storage, your financial reserve, your education – so that when family members need help, you are ready to help them? Do you do your home teaching and visiting teaching? After all, the purpose of both of these programs is not to ‘give a lesson’, as many of us may think of it, but rather to “watch over the members of the Church” and “establish a relationship of trust…so that the[se] families can call upon [you] in times of need”? Do you want them to call upon you in times of need?
Do you have a vision of the work of caring for the poor and needy?
I know that Bro Rob Givler has a vision of caring for the poor and needy, and that he has done an amazing job volunteering his time at the food bank in Tyrone. How do I know this? Because when a person I met on the street while I was walking my dogs one day found out that I was Mormon, he told me that he knew a wonderful Mormon man who works at the food bank, and then told me about the many good things he had seen Bro Givler do there. Bro Givler’s vision of influencing the poor and needy in the community is evident. Is yours?
Elder O. Vincent Halek of the Seventy gave a talk in General Conference in April 2012 entitled “Having the Vision to Do” He said:
How do we, amidst the challenges of our lives, gain the vision necessary to do those things that will bring us closer to the Savior? Speaking of vision, the book of Proverbs teaches this truth: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If we are to prosper rather than perish, we must gain a vision of ourselves as the Savior sees us.
The Savior saw more in those humble fishermen whom He called to follow Him than they initially saw in themselves; He saw a vision of who they could become. He knew of their goodness and potential, and He acted to call them. They were not experienced at first, but as they followed, they saw His example, felt His teachings, and became His disciples….
With that vision these faithful and devoted disciples were able to do hard things as they traveled to preach the gospel and establish the Church after the Savior had departed….
What did He see in Peter, James, and John and the other Apostles that prompted Him to act to invite them to follow Him? Like His vision of them, the Savior has a great vision of who we can become. It will take the same faith and courage the first Apostles had in order for us to refocus on the things that matter most in bringing lasting happiness and great joy….
When we emulate Him and do the things we see Him do, we begin to see a vision of who we can become…. During His ministry among the Nephites, the Savior asked, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” He replied, “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). [End quote]
Do you have a vision of who you ought to be?
Brigham Young once said, “We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God. If we don’t care much about these basic things, then such not caring carries over into the work we do, and our work becomes shabby and shoddy.”
So let me ask you again…. And honestly reflect in your mind on all that I have said: Do you have a vision of the work? Are you striving for excellence in your commitment to the four-fold mission of the church, the outline of how we can become more Christlike – to proclaim the Gospel, perfect the Saints, redeem the dead, and care for the poor and needy? Has your work in any of these areas become shabby or shoddy?
I testify to you that if you commit or recommit yourselves to these four things, that your eye will be single to the Glory of God, that you will develop love and enthusiasm for each of these areas, that you will reflect the countenance of Christ in all that you do, and you will regain your vision of who you can become. As you emulate the Savior, you will become like Him. You will be blessed. And you will catch a vision of this great work, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
This I leave with you in the name of our Savior, even Jesus Christ. Amen.