The missionary zone conference had just ended. The Spirit of the Lord had been present in great power. An elder, who had been in the field four months, told his mission president:
“Today I learned a great lesson. I’d thought I was the one who had made the decision to serve a mission. Today I learned that it’s the Lord who calls us to serve and gives us power to teach his gospel. Unless we receive the Spirit of the Lord, we will never be totally effective. Going on a mission is more than just a chance to go somewhere new and exciting.”
For many years this elder had been taught, encouraged, and regularly reminded that he should plan to serve a mission. Parents, teachers, priesthood leaders, and friends had exercised influence in helping him decide to serve a mission. With all this encouragement to make the right decision, he had developed the idea that whether he served a mission or not was entirely up to him.
Parents pray with their children for many years that they will serve missions. Auxiliary leaders discuss frequently with our youth the value of serving missions. Bishops teach our Aaronic Priesthood young men that they should prepare themselves for missionary service. Returned missionaries share their feelings about the blessings of a mission. Do our youth conclude from all this emphasis that the Lord will take anyone who agrees to go, regardless of preparation, worthiness, or ability? As young men prepare for their missions, they must never forget it is the Lord and his inspired servants who call and assign missionaries. At the Last Supper the Savior taught his Apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). He calls us. We do not call ourselves.
In December 1830, at the dawn of the Restoration, the Lord spoke of those who would carry the message of the gospel to the world in this dispensation.
“Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit” (D&C 35:13).
Notice that it is not really the messenger who will do the thrashing, but rather the Holy Spirit, through whose power we weak things can become instruments in the Lord’s hand to “thrash the nations.”
We must understand that there is a supreme power by which missionary work is done. Effective missionaries work hard, very hard. They focus virtually every waking hour on proclaiming the message. But after all the days, hours, and minutes of their labor, they must recognize that it is the testimony of the truth borne on the wings of the Spirit that is the key to bringing conviction and conversion into the souls of men and women. This marvelous power can be obtained only from the Lord, and it is his to give to those he has called.
The happiness and joy felt by those who obey this call are sublime. But the demands and challenges are also great. In Alma 26 we hear that great missionary, Ammon, discussing his missionary experiences with his former companions. He recalls the challenges, as well as the rewards:
“And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
“And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some” (Alma 26:29–30).
Ammon’s report does not make missionary service sound very enticing. But there is a key in the last verse which will give us a glimpse of the humility required to serve the Lord. Notice the relationship of afflictions to the saving of souls and to a fulness of joy. After many afflictions and much struggle, Ammon exclaims, in words that those who have not enjoyed the same experience will find difficult to understand:
“Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began” (Alma 26:35).
Who is it who should stand as witnesses of the Lord, Jesus Christ, in this day and time? In a general sense, of course, all who have entered the waters of baptism have covenanted “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places, … even until death” (Mosiah 18:9). In addition, some are given a special call for a relatively short term to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel on a full-time basis.
President Ezra Taft Benson has said:
“The question is frequently asked, Should every young man fill a mission? The answer to this inquiry has been given by the Lord. It is yes. Every young man should fill a mission.
“While every young man should serve a mission, we realize that every young man is not physically, emotionally, or morally prepared. As a consequence, some may be deprived of missionary opportunities. But all should prepare to go. …
“‘Every man … should take righteousness in his hands and faithfulness upon his loins, and lift a warning voice unto the inhabitants of the earth; and declare both by word and by flight that desolation shall come upon the wicked.’ (D&C 63:37.)
“Some young men, because of transgression, say they are not interested in serving a mission. The real reason, of course, is feelings of unworthiness. If such young men would go to their bishop, confide to him their problem, and sincerely repent, they may yet fill honorable missions.
“We, your Brethren, sincerely invite you to prepare. Prepare now to serve the Lord. Prepare yourself physically, morally, spiritually, and emotionally.
“Visit with your bishop. Tell him your desires. Confide your problems. Seek his counsel. Then pray to your Heavenly Father about this important decision in your life” (Ensign, May 1984, p. 45).
Every week hundreds of missionaries receive their calls to go to missions scattered across the earth. It has been, for me, a singular privilege to assist the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators as they make assignments to missions. Thousands of assignments have been made while I have been in attendance. A deep conviction has come to me that the Lord’s hand governs the entire sacred process.
It is my counsel to any who receive this call to accept it with full purpose of heart. Whenever one humbly accepts a call and then continues with this same attitude into the mission field, the blessings of the Lord will follow in great power. In my judgment, there are no qualifications to obtain the Spirit of the Lord in our work more important than humility and a sincere, selfless desire to serve.
There are some who have significant physical, mental, or emotional problems that would prevent them from accomplishing the demanding work of full-time missions. These individuals should be commended for their desire to serve. They should also be assured that when such circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to serve full-time missions, they are honorably excused. They should then, of course, be ready to accept, when called, other assignments from their local priesthood leaders. Opportunities to serve in the kingdom of God go far beyond full-time missionary service. Regardless of our health and circumstances, each of us can, with calls from those who preside, find satisfaction in testifying of and assisting the Savior and his kingdom.
The prophet Alma the Younger spoke with fervor of his desire to preach the gospel “unto every people.” His submission to the Lord was clear as he said:
“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3).
Alma’s name transcends time because he was willing to accept the will of the Lord in this and all other facets of his life. The Lord pours out his blessings upon those who will serve when, where, and in what capacity he, through his servants, directs. Some assignments may seem small to us; some locations may not appear as exotic as others; but we cannot always foresee the end result of faithful effort in the Lord’s service.
President Benson spoke of the necessity “to be worthy to serve the Lord.” Does the Lord require that we be perfect? No, he does not. But he does make clear what is expected. In the forty-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord speaks of the gifts of the Spirit:
“For verily I say unto you, they [the gifts of the Spirit] are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me” (D&C 46:9; emphasis added).
Note carefully, the Lord asks that we love him and keep all his commandments, or that we “seek so to do.” Surely this must be a sincere effort and not some halfhearted glance toward the things of the Lord. He has promised if we seek him with all our hearts, we shall find him (see Deut. 4:29). We must ever remember that the Lord knows the heart (1 Sam. 16:7) and does not give his blessings based upon appearance, but upon the thoughts and intents of the heart.
“And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning” (Alma 18:32).
It is not possible to deceive the Lord. He knows us. He knows our desires. All he requires is that we honestly and sincerely seek to love him and keep his commandments. For example, each Sabbath as you receive the sacrament, do you pause, remember his offering, and measure the intent of your heart before him? No posturing, no pretense, no artificial attitudes nor counterfeit goodness? Do you feel humility, meekness, mildness, lowliness of heart, all encased in a firm determination to love him and keep his commandments?
In opposition to our righteous desires and efforts, Satan will extend himself with great effort to hinder us in our eternal journey; he will seek to nullify our ability to influence others. Those who are wise will listen to the prophets and will prepare for the battle.
President Spencer W. Kimball described the menace when he said:
“Whoever said that sin was not fun? Whoever claimed that Lucifer was not handsome, persuasive, easy, friendly? Sin is attractive and desirable. Transgression wears elegant gowns and sparkling apparel. It is highly perfumed; it has attractive features, a soft voice. It is found in educated circles and sophisticated groups. It provides sweet and comfortable luxuries. Sin is easy and has a big company of pleasant companions. It promises immunity from restrictions, temporary freedoms. It can momentarily satisfy hunger, thirst, desire, urges, passions, wants without immediately paying the price. But, it begins tiny and grows to monumental proportions—drop by drop, inch by inch” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 229).
Referring specifically to our day and time, President Ezra Taft Benson has said:
“The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality. This, the Prophet Joseph said, would be the source of … more buffetings, and more difficulties for the elders of Israel than any other” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 4).
In preparing for missions, for temple marriage, for building an eternal family unit, we will be fortified if we keep uppermost in our minds President Benson’s statement on the “plaguing sin of this generation.” Can we measure the blessing it is to have a prophet warn us of the spiritual pitfalls that lie ahead?
In the face of these challenges, the promises of the Lord are certain, and the blessings will follow if we approach him with full purpose of heart, with a true desire to serve, and with a determination to be clean before him.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). What a marvelous promise! Each of us can truly seek to love him and serve him. With that sincere effort come eternal blessings.
The Lord does inspire his servants to call missionaries and to assign them to fields of labor. He does protect us from destructive temptations, from soul-destroying idols, and from any snare that can deny us his eternal blessings. It is required that we be wholehearted participants in this effort.
Let all our youth prepare themselves to join the mighty army which the Lord is even now sending across the earth, calling out the righteous. Our individual preparation must be such that we have claim upon the power of the Spirit of God as we go about preaching the gospel to the nations of the world.
At the conclusion of a recent regional conference, I met two missionaries. One of the elders handed me a note, which read: “I am returning home next month with my mission completed. These two years have been the best two years of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
This is a simple statement, filled with sincerity and honesty, one which is repeated by virtually every missionary who has given himself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work. I am certain it is the desire of the Lord and his prophets that every missionary have those same feelings at the conclusion of his mission. This young man had obviously lost himself in the service of the Master. But this depth of commitment often has its genesis in the years of preparation before a mission begins, when preparation goes beyond the clothes, the interviews, and the good-byes. It must include preparation that will permit the Holy Spirit to take the “weak … unlearned and despised” and through them “thrash the nations”—all of this for the blessing of mankind and the glory of the Lord and his work.
The instruction of the Lord given in 1831 has never been rescinded and rests in full force upon the Latter-day Saints today.
“Behold, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should proclaim my gospel from land to land, and from city to city, yea, in those regions round about where it has not been proclaimed” (D&C 66:5).
To be born on the earth at this time, to be part of the great army of God moving with majesty in the earth, to be called out from among the people by the prophets of God—how many souls over how many centuries have longed to be part of this magnificent work during the concluding scenes of this earth’s existence!
“The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth. …
“Call upon the Lord, that his kingdom may go forth upon the earth, that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, and be prepared for the days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth” (D&C 65:2, 5).
God help us honorably fulfill the destiny which he has given us. This is our day and time. This generation will succeed in fulfilling its divine destiny.