I have served in past years as both a mission president and as a temple president. I have watched the young people as they have come to the missions in South America and come to the temple for their endowments and sealings.
I have seen those who were well prepared, and those who were not so well prepared for these blessings. But, most of all, I watched anxiously for those who were not prepared—those who did not come at all—and wondered why.
A few of them were from families where every effort had been made to prepare them for missionary service and for the blessings of the temple. Most of them, however, were from homes where they did not receive what was required to qualify them and to give them a desire to serve.
In order to prepare youth for missionary service and for the temple blessings, parents must have more in mind than schooling. They must have more in mind than preparing for a career. They must have more in mind, really, than just to be a missionary—as though attendance was all that was required.
There are three words which must be kept in mind: covenants, ordinances, and service.
The training for covenants, for ordinances, and for service belongs in the home. If these are paramount in the minds of the parents, the youth will be prepared. And they will not, because of this, miss any essential training for their careers.
Fathers and mothers are under divine instruction to take care of their parental responsibilities. The things we have done in past years are not now sufficient to protect our children in these critical times. It has long been taught in this Church that the day will come when no one will be able to stand without an individual testimony of the divinity of this work. That day is here. We are seeing some who lack testimonies turn away from the truth and become prey to error. While we mourn their loss, sorrow will come to those who, by failure to put true principles solidly into place, or by creating doubts in the faith of the weak, or openly teaching falsehoods, caused them to stray. Too many of our youth fail to receive their covenants and ordinances and give service. The onslaught of wickedness against our homes is at once more subtle and more brazen than it has ever been. It is taking its toll among our families. It will be difficult to escape these influences.
However, if we act more wisely, we will be safe. “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) The solution is simple. The results are certain. No longer can we expect the Church to assume the major role in teaching our children—parents have this prime responsibility. Parents will be held fully accountable by the Lord to teach their children the principles and ordinances of the gospel and inspire them to serve. The Church, of course, will support parents through home teachers, visiting teachers, classes, counseling, and other assistance. No single parent in this Church needs to feel abandoned in carrying out the duties imposed by the Lord.
Recent studies by the Church have identified some things that parents can do to achieve our goals. Elder Dean Larsen reported the results:
“The factor that has by far the greatest effect on the private, religious life of our youth and upon their achievement of the desired outcomes is home religious observance. If a young person lives in a home situation where there is regular family prayer, regular family study of the gospel and the scriptures, and agreement on basic values, the likelihood of going on a mission and being married in the temple is greatly enhanced. This home and family influence is much more significant than that exercised by peer groups or by programmed participation. In fact, the influence of the home, whether it be positive or negative, is overwhelming.” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 1 April 1983.)
Did you notice that the three key elements are regular family prayer, regular family study of the gospel from the scriptures, and agreement on basic values between parents and children? These are the things, more than anything else, that will lead to a proper understanding of covenants, ordinances, and service.
Parents, we must start each day by kneeling in family prayer. Children need to pray and gain knowledge for themselves from the Holy Ghost. Nephi said, “For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray.” (2 Ne. 32:8.)
Our opportunity to study the scriptures as a family has been strengthened by the consolidated meeting schedule. A good part of the Sabbath can very appropriately be used for both personal and family scripture study.
Few things sponsor spiritual growth more than studying from the scriptures. The Savior said, “He that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see. …” (3 Ne. 10:14.) The Lord has promised that if you will search, you shall see marvelous spiritual truths that will persuade you to turn to Christ as your great exemplar. You will be strengthened in your desire to make covenants with the Lord, to receive the ordinances, and to serve. Alma taught a great principle when he said to Helaman, “My son, … see that ye look to God and live.” (Alma 37:47.)
Parents, when you desire to really teach, what do you do? Should we not do as the Savior did? He used questions. He quoted the scriptures, used parables, told stories, and he testified. He drew on everyday experiences to teach spiritual truths, using all kinds of occasions for teaching. He created an environment for learning—drawing out instead of pouring on.
I know a man who teaches his children at mealtimes. He has a habit of asking two or three gospel questions. He says he can always get the attention of his teenagers when he says, “I have a dollar question for you.”
As we seek to teach by the Spirit, we set a high priority on the importance of covenants, ordinances, and service.
A covenant is a mutual exchange of enforceable promises. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10.)
Gospel covenants are made between God and man. The terms are stipulated by the Lord. Gospel covenants have been given to us by revelation. He has given us those covenants and ordinances that are essential to bring us back into his presence.
Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins is an essential covenant to make with the Lord. Faith and repentance precede this ordinance. Confirmation and the gift of the Holy Ghost follow baptism. Acceptance of these first principles and ordinances may obtain for us a remission of our sins and assure our salvation. In the ordinance of the sacrament, we regularly renew this and other covenants, and by complying with our part of the covenant, we receive the Spirit of the Lord to be with us.
The holy priesthood is likewise received by covenant. In essence, priesthood is power—to serve. Additional covenants are made with the Lord when we receive our endowment and when we are sealed in the temple. These are the covenants of exaltation. Teach your children that only by receiving these ordinances and making these covenants can they be exalted and become like our Heavenly Father. As we endure in faith to the end and serve and love our fellowmen, we can develop the virtues and qualities necessary to qualify us to live with the Lord.
Service, then, becomes one of the highest virtues. The Savior is our example of unselfish service. Service is a divinely appointed duty. King Benjamin taught that service to others is the same as service to our God. (See Mosiah 2:17.)
Parents, if you will keep in mind that you are preparing your sons and daughters to make covenants, receive ordinances, and render service, you will do things differently. You will have different priorities. You will teach with clearer vision and more productive effort. Missions and temples will see youth coming, not only in greater numbers, but also better qualified for these blessings. And they will embark early on a lifetime of service.
And when your children do these things, they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall arise and call you blessed—because you led them to eternal life.
When we as parents have a genuine desire to teach the gospel to our children, the Lord will give us entrance into their hearts. Then may we know that as we enter there we stand on holy ground. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.