Monday, March 31, 2014

Setting Spiritual Goals

In Preach My Gospel it states "Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action" (PMG 146).

Our goals are a reflection of our dreams, and are set in order to help us make those dreams come true. As we learn from Cinderella, "a dream is a wish your heart makes." Yet if we are ever to make our dreams become a reality, we need to set goals and make plans.
Elder L Tom Perry spoke on the importance of goals to BYU students. In his address, he highlighted four categories of importance that he used as he set goals: physical, emotional and social, intellectual, and spiritual. I would imagine most of us are accustomed to setting goals to some degree, whether short term and small, or life long and challenging. 

Elder M. Russell Ballard taught on the importance of goal setting: “I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.”

In the scriptures, we are given examples of goal setting, and the action taken in order to achieve these goals. Recorded early in the Book of Mormon is Lehi's vision of the tree of life. In this vision, Lehi saw different groups of people, each headed in various directions. We can learn a lot about goals by observing the different groups. There were two options, two destinations that the people could move toward: the tree of life, or the great and spacious building. I'm going to focus more on those whose goal was, as is ours, to reach the tree of life, and partake of the fruit. With these people we can see that they, "were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree" (1 Nephi 8:21). With the dream of ultimately reaching the tree of life in view, they set goals to help them get there, by first getting on to the path. Then they "came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron," which led to the tree, "and they did press their way forward, clinging to the rod of iron" (1 Nephi 8:24). And they did all of this, until at last they "came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree" (1 Nephi 8:30). 

Those who were able to reach the tree of life set goals, and worked to achieve their goals, and because of their hard work and diligence, they were able to partake of the fruit, which is "desirable above all other fruit" (1 Nephi 8:12). 

Just as the people in this vision, we too are on this journey. We are on the path that leads to the tree of life, but if we are to arrive safely we cannot be like those "who had commenced in the path" that "did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost" (1 Nephi 8:23). If we are to continue to progress, and learn and draw closer to the tree, then we "must continually hold fast to the rod of iron" (1 Nephi 8:30). We need direction.

How do we continually hold fast? How we do endure in faith, even when we are surrounded by mists of darkness? 

We learn from Preach My Gospel that "carefully considered goals will give you clear direction," and that "challenging goals will help us work effectively and lead us to stretch and grow" (PMG 146). 

It has always been relatively second nature to me to set temporal goals. If I wanted to buy something, I would set goals and make plans to earn the money. It was effective, and made sense to me. Setting spiritual goals however can be a bit more difficult, things are much less tangible, and milestones are a lot less recognizable. However, I hope to shed some light on how we can set spiritual goals that will enable us to progress and draw closer to Heavenly Father, and our ultimate dream of eternal life. 

The very first suggestion that Preach My Gospel gives for setting goals is to "follow the Spirit" (PMG 146). The scriptures tell us, "ask and ye shall receive." I know that Heavenly Father will help you and inspire you if you turn to Him for guidance in setting spiritual goals. After all, His work and glory is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39). It is definitely an act of faith any time we ask Heavenly Father for specific answers to specific questions, but I know that He will help you in your righteous efforts to follow Him. 

Another suggestion that Preach My Gospel offers is to "be specific and realistic, but set goals that will make you stretch" (PMG 146). When we set goals that will make us stretch, it is a test of our faith. To believe that with Heavenly Fathers help we can become something more than we currently are. However, as He promised Moroni, "my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27). 

Lastly, Preach My Gospel suggests we, "measure our progress day by day, week by week" (PMG 146). As we constantly review and analyze our progress honestly and sincerely, we will recognize ways that we can continue to grow. President Thomas S. Monson stated: "when performance is measured, performance improves." By measuring our progress, we can witness the change that is taking place in us. We can literally see the Lords hand working in our lives, making us something more refined and magnificent than we currently are. 

So, go and set some goals!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lots of Missionaries

Pictures of the zone and district!! We'll start with the serious, good looking missionary photos. Then, things get wild.

Scranton Zone!

Scranton District

We have fun.
(the Elder on the far right is from WA. typical)

We're electric. Yes. That is a can of whipped cream. 

On Saturday we made green sugar cookies and delivered them to a bunch of people!
It was a lot of fun, and everyone (most everyone...) loved them!

First day of spring = free water ice at Rita's!! 
It was Elder Thomas' (on the right of me) first time! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Light of the Gospel

We learn a lot from the prophets and apostles about revelation. Elder Bednar's series, Patterns of Light, teaches us a lot about light, revelation, and receiving inspiration. 

Part 1: The Light of Christ
Part 2: Discerning Light
Part 3: Spirit of Revelation

From the scriptures we learn that "whatsoever is truth is light" (D&C 84:45). We learn of truths that fill our souls with light and understanding. Elder Bednar explains receiving this light with two examples: the sunrise, and the flipping of a light switch. The example with the light switch teaching us that we will sometimes see the whole picture at once, and the revelation will come clear and powerful, and our understanding will be immediately enlightened. An "at last I see the light" experience similar to Rapunzel. With the sunrise however, it is gradual, and becomes "brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24). 

We learn, "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (2 Ne. 28:30).  I would like to suggest a third example. An additional way that we receive light and truth. 

Think of a grove of trees. During the summer it is beautiful to see the way that the light filters through the leaves and lights upon the forest floor. It's fascinating to watch the light dance upon the ground and between the trees. I believe we can also receive revelation and inspiration similar to this. Sometimes while we're learning, the spirit will illuminate or clarify certain doctrines. Something new will jump out at us, and will teach us something specific and personal. It is instant, and direct, and pertains to us in that instant. It is awe-inspiring how it comes so personal, so attuned to us.

Our lives, our circumstances, our thoughts and feelings represent the leaves. The light of the gospel, is always the same. It is always constant. Sometimes we can block it out, but hopefully we will choose to let the light strike through to the forest floor, to our understanding. In our different aspects and walks of life, in order to be guided along, the light of the gospel filters through us, and we learn something we need at that moment.

This story from earlier in my mission shows how this can happen. I was in a meeting, and role playing with another elder. I could sense he was struggling in some way, but I wasn't sure how, and I didn't know what I could do to help. The purpose of the role play was to help someone using the scriptures. I opened my scriptures, and stumbled upon something that I had highlighted. I felt that this was the scripture that I needed to share with this elder. As I read it aloud, the Spirit was there so strong. As we further discussed it, I could see that this scripture was exactly what that elder had needed at that exact moment. It was perfect; and it was because of the spirit. The spirit had lighted upon this one scripture, had even opened my scriptures straight to it, to provide the insight and encouragement that was necessary. 

I know that Heavenly Father knows us and loves us. That the light that he sheds on our lives will help us with our specific needs. The gospel helps individuals, perfectly. I have seen it time and time again, in my own life and in the lives of others. The spirit gives "that portion that shall be meted unto every man". If we let it through, if we invite the Spirit into our lives, it will light upon the things we need in "the very hour" that we need them (D&C 84:85). I know that The Lord does answer our prayers, in a very special and personal way. Seek Him out, and let him work miracles in your life, and in the lives of others.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I'm Getting Old

Hey! I have been really bad at taking pictures, but here's what I got. OH, and other update, we had transfers, and I'm still here in Scranton.

Bacon. Kevin Bacon?

Alexandria and I have a good time. 

Elder Fawcett!! He was transferred. 
Which makes me the longest standing missionary in Scranton!

Elder Smith playing bag pipes under trees.
It's art.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Becoming a Butterfly

Throughout our lives, we are confronted with myriad trials and temptations. Some of the pain and sorrow we endure is the self-inflicted result of sin, while most of it seems to merely stumble across our path, with the aim to knock us off our course. Whatever the source of our trials or tribulations however, we can often wonder, "why me?"

Joseph B. Wirthlin compared our experience in mortality to the emergence of a butterfly. "Wrapped tightly in its cocoon, the developing chrysalis must struggle with all its might to break its confinement. The butterfly might think, 'Why must I suffer so? Why cannot I simply, in the twinkling of an eye, become a butterfly?'" (Finding a Safe Harbor)

As sons and daughters of God, we were sent to this earth to learn and to grow. We knew we would encounter hardships beyond our imagination, yet we chose to follow the plan regardless. In fact, we shouted for joy! We knew then, that in order to become the beautiful butterflies we have the potential to be, that we had to struggle and suffer. Yet how often we forget, like the Prophet Joseph Smith, that "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (D&C 122:7)

"The struggle to break out of the cocoon develops the butterfly so it can fly. Without adversity, the butterfly would never have the strength to achieve its destiny. It would never develop the strength to become something extraordinary." (Finding a Safe Harbor)

Rather than serve as stumbling blocks, we can transform our tribulations into building blocks. Our greatest trials can become our greatest blessings! What a marvelous gift! What a loving Heavenly Father. He knew we would struggle, fall, and lose our way, and so He sent His Son, even Jesus Christ, to overcome all things. "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows... He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah: 53:4,5) He has endured more than we could ever endure, "that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:12) Whatever we are going through, He knows us. Jesus Christ knows you personally, He has "graven thee upon the palms of [His] hands." (1 Nephi 21:16) 

Through the Savior, we can become extraordinary. We have talents, gifts, and potential greater than we can imagine. We can transform our trials, and ourselves, through Him. Whenever the pressure mounts, don't let go, don't back down, and don't give up. Be of good cheer, Christ overcame all things; and through Him, so can we. 

"Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high." (D&C 121:7-8)