Small and Simple Things

M. Russell Ballard

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


M. Russell Ballard
 

Brothers and sisters, I suppose you are as amazed as I am with the monumental world events that we see unfolding. As Latter-day Saints, we recognize the hand of God working to bring about his purposes in the earth. We know that the “stone [that] was cut out without hands” will continue to roll forth to fill the whole earth. (See Dan. 2:34–35.) These are exciting times to be alive.

We observe vast, sweeping world events; however, we must remember that the purposes of the Lord in our personal lives generally are fulfilled through the small and simple things, and not the momentous and spectacular.

Alma, teaching his son Helaman about the importance of the record written on the plates of brass, said:

“Behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

“And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 37:6–7.)

To illustrate, let me read from a letter written by one of our faithful sister missionaries, serving in South America, to her brother who had just received his mission call. She wrote:

“It’s really interesting with the people from the country—they are so quiet, timid, shy, and embarrassed. You are never sure exactly how much they understand. They will live and die in this small town. They are so poor and so simple and so childlike. They may never see a General Authority, never attend general conference, never go to BYU. They’ll never be Boy Scouts, never play basketball in a huge Church gym, never drive a car to stake conference, regional basketball finals, or anywhere. Many of the things we think about when we think of the Church—and take for granted—they may never see. [Now, the point.] But they have faith, they repent, they are baptized, they receive the Holy Ghost, and they renew their baptismal covenants each week when they partake of the sacrament. They pray and read the scriptures daily. They know God lives and that Christ is our Savior. And, I believe, they are going to the celestial kingdom. I do all the things they never will, but I’m not so sure about my own salvation.

“At first glance, the Church here looks absolutely nothing like the Church in downtown Orem, Utah. I have to keep reminding myself it is the same church and we all follow the same prophet. We have a sacrament meeting in the country each week because the members there really can’t afford to come into town. And as I sit there outside on a wooden chair on the plain ground, with the sun setting and the six people in attendance, as we sing hymns, pray, and partake of the sacrament, I wonder if that isn’t closer to Christ’s church than at home. But I guess it is really the same. The things that matter, the true elements of the gospel as Christ taught in 3 Nephi 11, are the same here as they are in Orem, Utah.” [3 Ne. 11]

The Lord has graciously provided the means for conversion even in the most simple and humble of circumstances. Unfortunately, some of us look beyond the mark and depend too much on buildings, budgets, programs, and activities for conversion rather than on the small and simple things that are central to the gospel. We need not look beyond our own hearts to experience the sweet spiritual feelings promised to those who obey God. That is why a new member in the most humble conditions can experience the gospel as deeply as a lifetime member who was raised in the shadow of Church headquarters.

As I meet with some of these humble members, I observe that the Church is, by necessity, being established among them in the most simple way possible. The gospel is taught from the scriptures and from the Gospel Principles manual. The people feel the Spirit and bear testimonies as they come unto Christ and are baptized in his name. Their love for the Lord radiates from their faces. They know that faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, service to others, and keeping the commandments are the essentials for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

Last month, Elder Charles Didier and I visited the Saints and missionaries in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. We dedicated each of these lands for establishing the Lord’s work.

We see a vast difference between the humble circumstances in areas where the Church is still in its tender infancy and the circumstances we are accustomed to in areas where the Church is stable and mature.

When we visited Suriname, we met most of the members and learned that the missionary couple serving there, Elder and Sister Limburg, had taught them the gospel using a series of simple teaching and learning methods. They had no momentous or spectacular events or activities, only daily spiritual experiences resulting from their sensitive response to the promptings of the Spirit.

A new missionary couple, Brother and Sister Don Rapier, arrived in Suriname one day ahead of Elder Didier and me, so they met the Saints for the first time along with us. We held four sacrament meetings in homes of the Saints on the Sunday we were there. Elder Rapier shared his feelings about blessing the sacrament in the humble home of one of our new converts. He said:

“This was the most humble circumstance that I had ever been in in my life. The house was made of mostly short pieces of lumber. No electricity, no running water. The roof was corrugated sheets. The house and the yard were clean. The place where we held our sacrament meeting was under the overhang in front of the house. The members and the Brethren sat on wooden boards that were laid on bricks. The sacrament table was a small wooden stand that was set on top of a piece of linoleum covering the dirt floor. The sacrament cloths were very simple and very clean.

“As I knelt down to bless the sacrament, I was overwhelmed with the spirit of love that I had quickly developed for this people. I thought surely our Savior was pleased that He was being remembered in such humble circumstances. I thought of our chapels at home. I could never have appreciated the sacrament there like I can now after this special experience. I also observed that it might take several years before these sweet, humble members would fully realize the significance of having two General Authorities, one an Apostle, in their home, blessing them and their family.”

Brother Rapier’s experience touched deeply each one of us who was there. After the fourth sacrament meeting, my mind reflected upon the words of the Lord: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” (D&C 64:33).

Another example of the importance of small things comes from Elder and Sister Jackson, missionaries serving in Guyana: “When we first arrived in the mission field in Guyana, we saw in the local Georgetown newspaper the report of the ‘Teenager of the Month.’ In the report he said his favorite food was macaroni. We took the newspaper clipping, a Book of Mormon, and a box of macaroni and knocked on his door. We have taught and baptized seven of the family since our first visit.” This small thing resulted in a great benefit in establishing the Church in Guyana.

While having these tender, spiritual experiences this past month, I was sobered by how small and simple things can be negative and destructive to a person’s salvation. A series of seemingly small but incorrect choices can become those little soul-destroying termites that eat away at the foundations of our testimony until, before we are aware, we may be brought near to spiritual and moral destruction.

This past month, one of the missionaries who served with Sister Ballard and me in Canada shared the details of how small things can compound into near destruction unless the course is corrected. He wrote:

“When I returned from my mission, I married and went to work in the construction industry. Over the next few years we had three children, and during this time I remained active in the Church. The demands of my business became much greater, and I became more determined to do whatever it would take to succeed financially. The effects of this were felt immediately at home; but with the support of an understanding wife, we felt we could endure until things ‘picked up.’”

He went on to say that because of financial strains, his wife began working. He began working long hours and neglected his family and Church duties. His demanding work schedule left him emotionally drained and physically exhausted. He became critical of others, including his family members and Church leaders.

His letter continues:

“As my debt continued to mount, the destruction of my peace and happiness increased. The love and tenderness we once knew as husband and wife had diminished to only memories. We found character flaws in each other and began to focus on them, wounding each other over the smallest incident. I began to blame everyone but myself, taking no responsibility for failures. A great feeling of hopelessness began to fill my heart, and I felt a cloud of darkness envelop me in my desperation.

“We knew our marriage could not endure under such conditions and began to talk in terms of divorce. I decided to get some financial counseling; and after reviewing my finances, it became the joke that I was worth more dead than alive, which seemed funny and rather innocent at the time. After continuing for a few more weeks, the threat of divorce as well as the very real threat of complete financial collapse seemed only a matter of time. The innocent joke of being worth more dead than alive developed into the appearance of a very real solution. I found myself alone at home, facing the crossroads of my decision. The thought came to me to reach out to the Lord one last time. Kneeling, I wept uncontrollably as I cried to the Lord for his mercy and help in my desperate hour.

“A few minutes later, word came that my mission president was in town and wanted to see me in an hour. As I sat with you, I wanted to hide my problems as I had done from everyone else. But your questions came, asking:

“‘How are you?’

“‘Fine.’

“‘How is your wife?’

“‘Doing good.’

“‘How are the children?’

“‘Great.’

“Then came the pause, and you looked into my eyes and asked, ‘How is your business?’ I began to weep as I told you my story.

“During the course of our meeting, you asked me to make you a promise: that I would read the Book of Mormon. After committing to you that I would, you blessed me, telling me to rivet myself to the gospel and to keep the commandments. I left you knowing the Lord had heard my plea for help.”

Can you see, brothers and sisters, how many small and simple things took their toll in the life of this fine young man? Like weak fibers that form a yarn, then a strand, and finally a rope, these small things combined together can become too strong to be broken. We must ever be aware of the power that the small and simple things can have in building spirituality. At the same time, we must be aware that Satan will use small and simple things to lead us into despair and misery.

I am grateful that the Lord answered the prayers of this young man by prompting me to do the seemingly small thing of asking to see him. I did not know of any of his problems at the time but was able to help him to once again take hold of the iron rod of the gospel to guide his life. We must never ignore or pass by the prompting of the Spirit to render service to one another.

Great and marvelous events seem to motivate us, but small things often do not hold our attention. Noting that the Liahona worked by faith, Alma stated, “Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means … [the people of Lehi] were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.” (Alma 37:41.)

Is our journey sometimes impeded when we forget the importance of small things? (See Alma 37:46.) Do we realize that small events and choices determine the direction of our lives just as small helms determine the direction of great ships? (See James 3:4; D&C 123:16.) Are we ever like Naaman, the leper, expecting some great thing before we will pay attention to prophets? (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–14.)

May the Lord bless each one of us to follow the counsel of our prophets. We need to have family and personal prayers; study the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon; hold family home evenings; follow the admonition of the Savior to love one another; and be thoughtful, kind, and gentle within the family. Through these and other similar small and simple things, we have the promise that our lives will be filled with peace and joy.

I know that Jesus Christ lives and that this is his Church. I testify that his gospel will continue to fill the world as it continues to fill the hearts of the individual members of the Church. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.