Sunday, February 12, 2017

Listening to the Spirit - sacrament talk - 22 Jan 2017

Listening to the Spirit will save all our lives
22 Jan 2017 – jjp

Fifteen years ago, Tara was back East visiting my parents with the kids.  I was busy at work with a large time sensitive data center migration project, working some long hours so that we could get done before the start of Fall semester.   One Sunday, in Priesthood, I was talking with a few brethren in the ward about the possibility of going to the park on Saturday and playing baseball.  After a long week at work, Saturday came around, and I should have been doing some work around the house, but like some sort of adult Tom Sawyer, I decided I would rather be playing baseball. 
                As I was grabbing my mitt and bat, the thought came to me that I should stay and do the work around the house that I needed to finish. I ignored it, left the house, and walked over to Dick Keele’s house, to see if him and his boys wanted to play.  They were too busy that morning to play.  The thought came again that maybe I shouldn’t go.  I shrugged it off and walked over to someone else’s house that said they wanted to play.  They too were too busy to play, and again came the thought that maybe I shouldn’t go.  Again I shrugged it off, and walked down the street. 
                On the site where Provo Peaks Elementary is was a school called Farrer, which had a ball diamond where people played pickup games on Saturdays.  I figured I could walk down there and just play with whoever was down there, and if no one was playing, it was a nice day, I would at least enjoy the weather.  The ball diamond wasn’t in the best shape.  When it was wet, mud was everywhere.  When it was dry, the ground was hard, with all kinds of divots and the like.  I got down there, there were some people playing, so I joined them.   Somewhere in the pickup game we were playing, I decided to try to turn a single into a double.  I rounded first base, started running to second, and decided I needed to slide into second base.  Unfortunately, the girl covering second base was standing over the plate, and instead of ramming into her, I rammed my foot into the hard uneven ground right in front of the base.  I ended up shattering my ankle.
                I was carried to a car, and eventually got to the hospital.  Within short order, I was in surgery getting my ankle repaired.  For not the last time in her life, Tara got a call from someone that started “I am with John at the hospital…”  I spent the night in a hospital room, not able to sleep, alternating between: thinking about how dumb I was, asking the nurse if it was time to go, wondering what they did with my pants, and lamenting that I hadn’t listened to the small promptings to not play baseball that day.
                Tara had to drive back home on short notice.  I spent the first couple of days not able to do a whole lot, I even slipped and fell once trying to get the mail, and was stuck in the doorway while I figured out how to get up safely.  I spent a month in a wheelchair, a few months on crutches, and still had the large work project to work on.  This gave me plenty of time to think about the consequences of not listening to a prompting of the Spirit when it came. 
                I hope I have learned that lesson.  I try harder to listen when the promptings of the Spirit come.  I’m not always perfect at it, but since that incident so many years ago, I hope I have been better at listening.  I certainly have tried.  While learning that lesson didn’t save me from the consequences of what happened, I am a better person for having learned. 

The purposes and mission of the Holy Spirit       
All those that are baptized into the church afterwards had hands laid on their heads and given the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For those that have received that gift, and try to live the life of a disciple of Christ, the Holy Ghost becomes a constant companion.  He is with us, active and constant.  He is there with us, to comfort us in times of trial and sorrow, to testify of truth when hear it, to inspire us when we are ready to listen.  The Holy Ghost also helps to protect us from danger, both physical and spiritual, he strengthens us as we try to do what is right, he helps us stay close to the Savior, helps us know when we need to apply the Atonement in our lives, and we are sanctified, made clean again through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, and he works to help us on the path to return to our Heavenly Father again.

1 - The Holy Ghost testifies of truth, helps us to remember those truths.  He inspires and is a conduit for revelation
                Joseph Smith describes his search for truth prior to the restoration, and in response to the reading of James chapter 1 verse 5, describes the influence of the Holy Ghost, testifying of truth.  He said:
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.”
I won’t pretend to know what he felt at that moment, but I know what I have felt, as I have read scripture, and I have heard truth - in sacrament meetings, Stake and General Conferences, in the temple, in countless church meetings, in quiet reflect times, and in other settings.  In Moroni 10:5 we read that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”  I have felt truth in my mind and in my heart.  Over and over again in my life, the Spirit has testified of truth to me.  Every Sunday here in this room, I feel the Spirit as I listen to you and as I partake of the Sacrament. 
On my mission I saw over and over, people who had just come in contact with the Gospel.  They started to read the Book of Mormon, and wanted to know if it was true.  I have knelt in prayer with them, and have seen and felt as their prayers were answered.  It is kind of miraculous.  Their lives were changed.  I have prayed to know the Book of Mormon is true.  I know it is true.  The Gospel is true.  All of it.  That has been testified to me over and over in my life, through the Spirit.  If there ever is a doubt, the Spirit reminds me that I know.    

2 - The Holy Ghost strengthens us as we try to do what is right 
                In the book of Mormon, we read about the people of Alma, who after being converted and baptized, left their lands, and found themselves subject to the king of the Lamanites, and Amulon, who put burdens on the people.  The scriptures say that Amulon began to persecute Alma and his brethren, and put tasks upon them, and taskmasters over them.  Here is what happened:
And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.
And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.
 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

                What burdens do we have?  Do we have the faith to ask for help?  When we struggle, and call on the Lord, He always helps.  The Spirit can sustain us, comfort us, and help our burdens become light.

                Do we worry about how well we serve?  The Spirit can help us be better at our callings, no matter the calling.  In the New Testament, we see the change that comes over Peter after receiving the Holy Ghost.   Peter becomes the rock the early church needed after the Savior ascended into heaven.  We have been taught today about the Gifts of the Spirit.  They are wonderful, and help us be better people than we might be otherwise.  Through the gifts of the Spirit, we are made better disciples.  We are better at whatever calling we are serving in, better home and visiting teachers, better parents.  Those gifts can give us strength at important times in our lives.  Our burdens can be lifted.

3 - We are sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost  
                What role does the Spirit play in purifying our lives, in making us clean?  In 3 Nephi 27:20, the Lord said: 
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

We are made clean through the workings of the Spirit.  Each week, if we are prepared through repentance, we can walk out of Sacrament meeting clean, having renewed our covenants, through the sanctification of the Holy Ghost.

                2 Nephi 31:17-20:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

                It is possible, Brothers and Sisters, if we live in a way that we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

4 - Have the Spirit with us constantly 
In a recent General Conference talk, President Eyring talked about the need to live in a way to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.  He said:
“For many reasons, we need the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. We desire it, yet we know from experience that it is not easy to maintain. We each think, say, and do things in our daily lives that can offend the Spirit. The Lord taught us that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion when our hearts are full of charity and when virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly (see D&C 121:45).
For those who are struggling with the high standard needed to qualify for the gift of the Spirit’s companionship, I offer this encouragement. You have had times when you have felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. It may have happened for you today.
You can treat those moments of inspiration like the seed of faith that Alma described (see Alma 32:28). Plant each one. You can do that by acting on the prompting you felt. The most valuable inspiration will be for you to know what God would have you do. If it is to pay tithing or to visit a grieving friend, you should do it. Whatever it is, do it. When you demonstrate your willingness to obey, the Spirit will send you more impressions of what God would have you do for Him.
As you obey, the impressions from the Spirit will come more frequently, becoming closer and closer to constant companionship. Your power to choose the right will increase.
You can know when these impressions to act for Him are from the Spirit rather than from your own desires. When the impressions square with what the Savior and His living prophets and apostles have said, you can choose to obey with confidence. Then the Lord will send His Spirit to attend you.”  (End quote)

                Brothers and Sisters, I am grateful for the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life.  At the beginning of December, I was away on a work trip.  On Thursday afternoon that week, I was in a session of the conference I was at, and suddenly felt terrible and exhausted.  I’m not sure that description does the feeling justice, I felt horrible.  I got out of my seat, climbed over some people, and went out into the hall.  My CIO, who was on the trip with me, just happened to be walking by then, and told me I looked terrible.  I had missed breakfast and lunch, so I went and found something to eat and drink, and sat down for about an hour.  I figured I had done too much without eating.  After an hour, I felt a bit better, and went back to the conference.  That night I sat through a long dinner still not feeling totally well.
                On Saturday, when I woke, I felt bad again.  I was home then, Tara said I didn’t look good.  This was the morning of our Ward Christmas party.  I went to the party, still not feeling great, didn’t eat much, and tried to stay busy helping clean up after.  Later that afternoon, Tara was shopping for groceries, I was home with the little kids working on my computer.  All of the sudden, I wasn’t able to type or use my mouse.  I had no control of my right arm.  It felt like the circulation in my arm had been cut off.  The first thing I did was to make sure my shirt wasn’t cutting the circulation off.  It wasn’t.  I stood up, and was very dizzy and wobbly.  The first thing I thought was “did I miss lunch?  Should I eat something?”  I have a long history of just ignoring physical issues, and that weekend was certainly no exception.  Immediately after that, came a clear and distinct prompting that said “There is something incredibly wrong here.”  That was all the prompting was, but I listened.  Tara didn’t answer her phone.  My home teacher was out of town.  Bishop Ringer was in North Orem, I called our Home Priest Group leader, Jason Ensign.  I said “I think I am having some sort of medical problem, can you come over?”  He was at my house in no time.  We went to the emergency room, and I was very quickly taken in.  I had suffered a stroke. 
                This isn’t a story with a bad ending.  After all, I am standing here sharing it with you.  I had gotten to the hospital quickly, the doctors and nurses took care of my quickly, and I got the medicine I needed quickly.  I had a small pea sized stroke in a sensitive area of the brain.  It was on the border between the inner capsule, which sends signals back and forth to and from the body, and the hypothalamus, which does all kinds of stuff for us.  If I had waited, the stroke likely would have gotten much worse, if I survived it at all.  Modern medicine saved my life.  Well trained doctors and nurses saved my life.  Jason Ensign saved my life.  Before any of that, listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit saved my life.
                As far as strokes go, I guess you could say I had a good one.  I am back at work now.  You see a LOT of doctors when you have a stroke, and most of them have cleared me to return to day to day life.  I still struggle a little with light sensitivity, with noise and talking behind me, with people that talk very fast, and for some reason, I get a bit cold for a little while after I eat a meal, but I am certainly on the mend.  I will always be grateful to those that helped me on December 3, 2016; to that the prompting of the Spirit that came; and that I listened. 
                I was recounting this to the Stake President while I was waiting to be discharged from the hospital a few days later.  One of the things he said in response was “listening to the Lord’s prompting will save all our lives.”

Listening to the Spirit will save all our lives
                    Brothers and Sisters, the companionship of the Holy Ghost is important enough to our Father in heaven that he allows for us to enjoy the constant companionship of the Spirit as early as eight years old, if we are lucky enough to be baptized that young.  Weekly, we come to Sacrament meeting to partake of the Sacrament, renew our covenants, and a part of the associated promises include that we may always have his Spirit to be with us.  It is important enough that it is part of both sacrament prayers.
                The Spirit is our tether to the Savior and His atonement.  No matter what our circumstances, and what all we feel like we need to work on, we can always turn to our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ for help.  They love us, and want the absolute best for us.  Our Savior truly understands our pains, our trials, our struggles, and is always there to help us.  He knows us, and knows how to help.  He can help us see clearly both where we are, where we need to be, and can show us the progress we are making along the way, even when that progress is small amounts at a time.
                Specific and clear promptings of the Spirit come at important times along the way.  When we listen, we are always blessed.  When we follow, we are always blessed. 
                Brothers and Sisters, I am grateful for the influence of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I have certainly been blessed when I have listened to those specific and clear promptings, no matter how small they may be.  I am grateful for the constant companionship, always there, whether I think about it or not.  His influence is there, as a kind of undercurrent in the flow of my life.  Steady, strengthening, and comforting.  It is a wonderful gift from our Father in Heaven.
                The atonement of Jesus Christ is real.  Yes, it is available to us when we make mistakes.  The atonement is also available to us as we try to live the way we should, is a strength to us when we try to do what is right. 

                Having the Spirit in our lives is our bell weather.  I testify that we will never go wrong by following the Spirit.  I testify that we can get better than we are today at listening for, recognizing, and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  I have tried in my life and have been blessed for it.  Listening to the Spirit saved my life.  Listening to the Spirit will ultimately lead me and you to Eternal Life, and help save us, if we allow him.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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