Sunday, October 11, 2015

Elder Pickett's Sacrament Meeting Farewell

Good afternoon Brothers and Sisters. I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. In 17 days, on October 28th I will be entering the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah where I will prepare to teach the people of the Czech Republic by studying the scriptures, the lessons in Preach My Gospel, and learning Czech. I am extremely excited and wouldn’t be at all upset if they moved my report date to tomorrow instead.
Two scriptures served as the foundation of my talk today. The first comes from the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28:30 “For Behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” The second is D&C 50:24 “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light: and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” These scriptures talk about the process we go through as we strengthen our faith and work to draw nearer to God. It is important to note that it is a process for us, not a singular event. And it is a long process; strengthening our faith and testimony is something that we will continue to do all throughout our mortal lives. It happens “line upon a little and there a little.”
So where do we begin? And how to continue to learn this way? The foundation of this knowledge and this growth is faith. The Bible Dictionary says “Faith is to hope for things with are not seen, but which are true. To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone.” By this definition, we can and do have faith in many things. I have faith that when I turn on a light switch a light will turn on. And I have faith that this microphone will project my words out to all of you in the congregation. While these are helpful examples of faith, they are not what we are striving in this life to have faith in. The focus of our faith must be Jesus Christ. That is the essence of our journey in life: coming to a better knowledge of, and faith in, the Savior. In the Book of Mormon while the prophet Alma is serving a mission, he teaches us a little bit about faith. Alma 32:26-27 reads “Now, as I said concerning faith-that it was not a perfect knowledge-even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” Alma teaches us about how to begin our journey of faith. It starts with something that isn’t yet strong enough to be considered “belief.” It starts with a desire to believe. Although we can grow mentally and physically through various exercises and routines, spiritual growth does not begin until we have the desire to learn and to grow our faith. For example, eating healthy will improve physical health. Regardless of whether or not the person who is eating healthier believes it be a good idea, it will prove beneficial. The same cannot be said of spiritual matters. If we read the scriptures without that desire, the words and verses will enter our mind while we receive only a fraction of their significance or actual meaning.
This “desire to believe” brings up another important aspect of faith. Faith is a principle of both belief and action. To draw upon my previous examples, I can believe that a light will turn on or a microphone project sound, but it is hardly productive to have that belief without flipping the switch or speaking into the microphone. If we are truly working to strengthen our faith, it will drive us to act. I would like to suggest several different actions that we can take in order to exercise and increase our faith. The first is personal scripture study. Studying the scriptures can be an excellent way to learn about Jesus Christ, to ponder spiritual principles, and to refocus us on what is truly important in our lives. The second is prayer. Prayer is such a great blessing in our lives. It gives us the opportunity to communicate with our Father in Heaven directly, to ask Him questions and seek His guidance. The third is following the commandments. These help to protect us and keep us safe, and help to keep us attuned to the Holy Ghost in our lives. The fourth is frequent and sincere repentance. As we work toward becoming more faithful, and more spiritual individuals we will not live without mistakes. When we make these mistakes we can and should use the Atonement of Jesus Christ to repent and be made clean from our sins. Repentance is a great blessing in our lives that allows to again draw nearer to God when we have made mistakes. Sometimes the actions that we are asked to do to strengthen our faith can seem like a personal burden or a risk in our lives. Getting onto our knees to pray could yield nothing but disappointment and confusion if our prayers are not answered, and following the commandments would be restrictive and limiting if they do not come from God. But the only way to find out for sure is to try it for ourselves. Neither the testimonies of some nor the mocking scorn of others should shape our beliefs in God or define our relationship with Him. While it is good to rely upon others as teachers and examples, ultimately spiritual knowledge must come from the Lord directly to us. It is a manner of gaining knowledge that is something more than intellectual understanding or emotional definition. It is the process of revelation. Revelation is the way that God communicates with individuals living upon the earth. All revelation comes through the power of Holy Ghost, who helps to guide and direct us through the difficult and sometimes uncertain path of life. There is not one precise formula or method of revelation. Because it comes from God, who knows us so well and loves us so much, it is a highly personal method of communication. It may be manifested in a feeling of peace and comfort while listening to a talk. It may take the form of a scripture that applies so perfectly and profoundly to our lives that it seems it was written just for us. It can be a simple thought during a moment of reflection and pondering. I know that in my life, the Spirit has manifested itself in all three of these ways. I have grown to love General Conference, not just for the inspired messages shared, but also because of the feeling that accompanies the talks and testimonies of the speakers. The Spirit has also used the scriptures as a source of revelation for me. After being challenged about by beliefs from several different directions in one day and feeling exhausted and confused I happened upon 1 Nephi 15:23-24 in which Nephi is talking to his brothers Laman and Lemuel about their father Lehi’s vision. “And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.” This verse of scripture was exactly what I needed to read during the trial I was going through, and finding it then helped to strengthen my testimony to know that God was aware of my circumstances and would not leave me to struggle through things alone.
As we begin to notice the influence of the Lord in our lives, and begin to recognize revelation, our faith will be strengthened, and our lives will be changed. Alma compare faith to a seed and teaches us in chapter 32:28 that “ye will begin to say within yourselves-It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginning to be delicious to me.” When we continually strengthen our faith we will go about life filled with hope. Hope that is centered in Christ; who is a sure foundation that will never crumble. We will feel of the joy that comes from striving to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We will live a richer and more fulfilled life; one full of meaning and based upon eternal truths and principles.
As we continue down this road of faith, we will undoubtedly be confronted with opposition and difficulties. Some of this will come from our own shortcomings, but we will also be confronted with and influenced by what the world has to say. Faith, as something that does not come from physical observation or evidence is increasingly attacked as a fantasy and a form of self-deception. Many will question the credibility of the church, using historical questions or the imperfections of leaders to deny what we have to teach. When these opinions are presented they can be troubling, leading to uncertainty and doubts. Two statements from General Conference last week help to teach us how to respond to such situations. The first is from a talk given by Elder Vern P. Stanfill “When faced with questions or tempted to doubt, we should remember the spiritual blessings and feelings that have penetrated our hearts and lives in the past and place our faith in Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ...To ignore and discount past spiritual experiences will distance us from God.” It is important that when questions about our faith arise we do not forget the significance of past spiritual experiences in our lives, or forget the blessings that we have received from trusting in the Lord and being obedient to his counsel and commandments. The second statement comes from President Uchtdorf’s talk during the Priesthood Session of conference, “I wish I could help everyone to understand this one simple fact: we believe in God because of things we know with our heart and mind, not because of things we do not know.  Our spiritual experiences are sometimes too sacred to explain in worldly terms, but that doesn’t mean they are not real.” We do not have faith in God simply as a means to explain what happens in our lives, we have faith in Him and seek to build a stronger relationship with Him, one in which we are more obedient, more joyful, and more complete as individuals.
As I think about my own personal journey of faith up to this point in my life and contemplate what lies ahead of me, I have come to several realizations. The first is that I began my personal scripture study and sincere prayer far later than I should have. Although I had a fair amount of knowledge about the scriptures, I did not truly study and ponder them until well into high school. I am filled with regret when I consider the spiritual experiences that I missed out on by not starting to study earlier. There is power that comes from reading the Book of Mormon every day. A power to resist temptation, to keep one’s mind focused upon the Lord, and to see what is truly important in life. The second is that I could not be at the point in my life I am at now without the help and support of so many individuals over the years. I have been blessed with great friends, who have served as examples to me of how I should live in a world of increasing confusion. I have had great leaders and teachers over the years, both in the church and at school, who have helped me to better understand my own abilities and challenged me to think more deeply about truth and learning. I have had friends and extended family members who have taught me about life, and have offered support and encouragement as I prepare for my mission. And of course, I have had my family, whom I cannot thank enough for all the blessings that they have given to me. They have taught me, uplifted me, loved me, served me, and been examples to me, and I love them.

When I consider the thought of leaving behind everything familiar for two years to serve the Lord, I am confronted with an enormous amount of happiness and excitement, mixed with a healthy dose of nervousness. I believe that missions are one of the greatest examples of the quote spoken by President Monson when he said “do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your task.” It is a great comfort to me to recognize that the Lord has entrusted me with such a sacred responsibility; it helps me to know that He has great confidence in me. I do not know why the Lord has chosen to send me to the Czech Republic, but I am confident that there is a reason and that in the next two years I will discover what that reason is. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the tremendous blessing I know that this will be in my life, in my personal journey to increase my faith in Jesus Christ, in teaching me about service, about loving others, and about myself. ...testimony… In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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