What’s the best advice you could give someone who’s embarking on a mission—and life?
(A letter to my friend Jacob Pitt on his 19th birthday.)
You asked for my “best advice” on your 19th birthday as you prepare to leave on your mission. Here it is:
1) A copy of a letter I recently wrote to Jason on his mission,
2) A book,
3) A few supplemental comments,
4) One more book, and
5) One final comment.
I hope this will help in your “quest of a lifetime” that will only end when we meet before the Lord at that great and last day. (See Boyd K. Packer, “Introduction,” Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual, iv.)
I know that if you will follow this advice the Lord will bless you with “exceeding great and precious” blessings.
The best advice always comes from through and from the Holy Spirit. Everyone needs something different. The Spirit can tell us precisely what we need. The question is, will we listen? Will we obey? (Will we “hearken?”)
With that in mind, I start with a letter I recently wrote to my son Jason on his mission.
“I know what you mean about humility. My mission has already been a very humbling experience. One of the hardest things for me is humbling myself. It’s been hard. It’s easiest for me to fix a problem if I can SEE the progress and track it on a chart. The thing about humility is that it’s not a goal that can be achieved by writing numbers on a chart or watching the progress. The more progress we think we make, or the more humble we think we are, the less progress we’ve actually made. In the end, only the Lord can tell us if we have made an adequate effort in humbling ourselves.”
I guess you’re right about that. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, we can’t really measure it well.
Something occurs to me. When we were in Kentucky, I started doing family history like never before and driving 6 hours to attend the temple weekly. My faith was also strengthened from personal testimonies of people who I knew were receiving great spiritual blessings, and I began asking for spiritual gifts for the right reasons. A flood of spiritual blessings began flowing into my life. The return wasn’t nearly proportional to the effort, it was way beyond the effort once the sacrifice and obedience level was great enough.
Well, the thing I want to share about that is this. During that time and beyond, I began to feel the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. It was truly as Nephi said, “If ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne 32:5.) I literally had it given to me, at the very moment, what should be said in difficult interpersonal relationships, or when approaching someone about the gospel. A power far, far beyond my own flowed into my life.
The flip side of that was that when I began to veer off the path, even slightly, I could immediately feel it. If my humility wasn’t quite right before the Lord, I would feel uncomfortable inside. If I persisted I could feel the Spirit begin to grieve and want to leave, taking the tremendous peace with him that he had brought to my life.
I discovered that the true basis of humility is, I believe, seeking the glory of the father and the Son, not my own. Any good thing that happened, I looked to them in my heart and thanked them, acknowledging that they brought it to pass or made it possible for me to do my part. I was continually giving them glory in my heart, though not always vocally as it seemed like “casting pearls before swine” in many instances.
I believe this is the key to our success in this life in anything spiritual, in any Christlike attribute, any godly gift, including humility. Only the Lord knows and can judge if our hearts are right before him, but–and this is huge–he will tell us from moment to moment, like a precision beacon leading us to a distant landing strip, whether we are on that path or not. To receive this blessing (and I think there is almost none greater in this life) we have to pay the price.
A critical part of price is “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” and sacrificing accordingly. Elder Eyring has added that an additional requirement is an undeviating determination to obey the promptings of the Spirit when they come–that is how we get the constant companionship of the Spirit. Fully repenting of all our sins, even those we cannot remember, is another part of the price. Asking the Lord what we have done or left undone that displeases Him, so we can repent immediately, is another part. Scripture study is a part of this and becomes easier once we start down this path.
Once we get the Spirit and follow it undeviatingly, our eternal success is assured. We are blessed with greater joys than we thought possible, which confirms our faith and assures us that we are on that path, and speaks peace to our hearts.
“And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 12:6.)
“Repent, therefore, of those things which are not pleasing in my sight, saith the Lord, for the Lord will show them unto you.” (DC 66:3. This verse was a bit hard to find because of the vast number of times that the Lord says something like “I will show it to you” in the scriptures. Interesting to ponder that for a moment….)
“And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.” (DC 84:47.)
“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.” (DC 50:24.)
“But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” (DC 59:23.)
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (DC 11:21.)
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.
“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.
“Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.” (DC 88:67-69.)
I believe these promised blessings are well within the reach of all of us if and when we will just follow this path that the Lord has laid out for us.
Read the Book Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence by John M. Pontius. I know that this humble, ordinary man is right.
I am loaning you a copy of this book with this gift of advice. Read it before you go on your mission. (I need that book back!)
The Supplemental Comments
I share these comments because I’m not certain Bro. Pontius explains them adequately. You will probably encounter the following questions and issues as you embark on the journey he maps for you. You must choose correctly or suffer grief-even, perhaps, as the Lord simultaneously blesses you for your willingness to obey, even if your obedience was misdirected!
I hope this will help you enjoy the blessings without the grief.
How do you discern true from false revelation or non-revelation?
When should you obey a prompting?
If there is question whether inspiration is of God or from an uninspired or unworthy source, look before you leap. Nephi did so when facing Laban, sword in hand, and the Spirit painstakingly stepped him through the logic and principles of righteousness regarding what he was being asked to do. (1 Nephi 4:10.) There was no longer any doubt in his mind when he did that difficult thing.
The following standards are not only ways of discerning true from false revelation, they are standards by which inspiration must be interpreted. By applying these additional standards to any impression, the message comes into crystal clear focus, so there is no mistaking!
The standards are:
1) “All things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil.” (Moroni 7:12.) Carefully analyze the good and the evil in the situation.
2) Revelation to you will never contradict the words of the prophets or the revealed scriptures as interpreted by the prophets.
3) Obey at the first appropriate moment, no sooner, no later. (Read President Thomas S. Monson: Always “on the Lord’s Errand”. Abraham arose “early the next morning,” which was quickly and diligently, but not immediately, as a three day journey requires some preparation.)
4) The doctrines of the kingdom are never established by single, isolated pronouncements in obscure places. They are repeated over and over. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (DC 6:28.)
5) Revelation “by way of commandment” is limited to the boundaries of your stewardship. However, inspiration “by way of wisdom” may come to almost anyone with the spirit of prophecy; in that case it is not binding on the recipient unless they pray and have it confirmed to them, but “a word to the wise is sufficient.” (DC 28:3-6.)
6) You will not be asked by the Lord to violate the laws of the land. (DC 58:21. Note: Nephi slaying Laban was consistent with local law at the time.)
7) “In the Church we are not exempt from common sense.” (Packer, Prayers and Answers, Oct 1979 Conference.)
8) Your bishop and stake president, if they seek it, are entitled to the spirit of discernment. (DC 46:27.) Counsel with them if you are still uncertain. Their direction will be binding eternally on you, so if you follow their counsel when uncertain you need not fear.
The Other Book
I also commend to you the following book:
The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation, with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon, by Avraham Gileadi.
The “New Translation” part you can ignore.
The “Interpretive Keys” will give you precious tools by which your eyes can be better opened to all of the scriptures. They really, mostly, expound the “manner of prophesying among the Jews.” One of those keys mentioned in the Book of Mormon the “spirit of prophecy,” which as you know is “the testimony of Jesus” (2 Nephi 25:1,4; Revelation 19:10.)
The Final Comment
The disciples “were given to understand” the parables of Christ, but only after they asked.
I once gave a talk in which I explained the importance of asking, then mentioned an insight that came to me by the Spirit concerning an experience recorded in the scriptures. I did not expand on what the insight was.
Now, to be sure, “that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit” (DC 63:64). However, that same verse makes it clear that such things can be discussed with those who honor them, at the right time, as the Spirit allows, “and in this there is no condemnation.”
In the case of this talk, the Spirit assured me that I could pass on those insights that had come to me, as I understood them, “by way of wisdom,” to anyone that asked me about them.
Only one person asked. Why?
The most important source to ask is of God. How often do we fail to ask Him because we think that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto [me]?” (1 Ne 15:9.)
“If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things-that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (DC 42:61.)
Nevertheless, sometimes the Lord directs us to others or others to us to help us with our answers, especially at first. Why?
“We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based which excited the inquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God; and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this inquiry, in the first instance, in their minds. It was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers, this testimony having aroused their minds to inquire after the knowledge of God; the inquiry frequently terminated, indeed always terminated when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries and eternal certainty.” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 2:56, emphasis added.)
How often do we not ask of others?
Jacob, I hope these thoughts prove as valuable to you as they have been to me.
Enjoy the journey!