I have always loved the parables of the Master, particularly two that focus on our brothers and sisters who have temporarily lost their way. The parables were given at a time when the Lord was chastised by the scribes and Pharisees for his work with “publicans and sinners.”
“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
“And he [Jesus] spake this parable unto them, saying,
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
“And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:2–7)
What a powerful message! This parable of the Lord is an assignment of love for us to search out and rescue individuals in need—particularly in this instance, those who have strayed from the fold. The message of the parable was of such importance that the Master reinforced it with another parable on the same theme, the parable of the lost piece of silver:
“What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
“And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:8–10.)
Our responsibility as brothers and sisters in the Church is to help those who may be lost to find their way, and to help those who have lost that which is precious to find their treasure again. The scriptures clearly teach us that every member has the obligation to strengthen his fellow members.
The Savior lovingly yet pointedly emphasized this when he said to Peter, “When you are converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). May I say the same to each of you: When you are converted, please strengthen your brethren and sisters. There are so many who hunger, sometimes without knowing the cause of their hunger. There are spiritual truths and principles that can be as a strong foundation for safety to their souls, peace to their hearts and minds if we would but turn our prayers and active concern to them.
I remember a couple who promised themselves that when they were married they would get their lives in order and go to the temple and have their marriage eternalized. They loved each other very much, and they had some faith in the strength of the marriage covenant made under the binding power of the priesthood. But there were some reasons, they felt, why they could not attend diligently to these matters.
Time passed. Children came. The couple became active in community affairs. The man loved his family. The wife, Jennie, grew more lovely. Motherhood made her beautiful. Family cares expanded her vision and enlarged her soul, and she appealed to her husband many times, saying, “Let’s go to the bishop and receive a recommend for the temple.” But he declined.
As time passed, there came a conflict between her Sabbath services and his Sabbath interests. Finally, she felt that it was more peaceful to be with her husband on Sunday. Thus, they did little church work, and as their children entered the teenage years, they also began to enjoy the carefree and leisurely activities of their parents.
One sad day it all came to an end. The family was off on a Sunday picnic and activity. There was an automobile accident and Jennie and one of the couple’s children died.
After the funeral, this man found life limited and lonely. The house seemed empty without his wife. His days were barren and life seemed desolate. Although he devoted himself to his work and to his remaining children, his suffering did not cease. His thoughts were constantly of Jennie, his companion. Neither comfort nor peace came upon him, and he remembered that he had obtained no priesthood sealing that could hold him to Jennie and Jennie to him throughout eternity. His tears and deep pain and anxiety went unrelieved.
Then one night, there came a dream. But unlike other dreams which faded into oblivion, this one stayed with him powerfully all day. It seemed to him that he was in a different locality looking through a wide, open gate, where the central figures were a woman and a young girl.
Suddenly, he became conscious of their identity and he felt a warm glow. Jennie was even more lovely that before. Then to his great joy, his loved ones saw him. They beckoned him to come through the gate. They seemed so anxious to be with him. But it was clear to him that it was his effort that was needed. He tried to move in his dream, but he seemed to have no power. Then, as he struggled even harder, the great gates began to close.
Both he and Jennie knew that he must urgently act. He looked again at Jennie, a final glimpse. He saw the terror in her face as she realized that the gates might close without her dear husband inside.
It was then that he awakened. He felt that he would give his life, give anything he possessed if he could be with his wife and with his dear children, if he could have the full blessings of those who receive eternal life and all that it means.
Was it only a dream? Had he missed one of life’s greatest opportunities—or was there still time if he acted quickly before the cares and tares of the world again crowded in and choked out his righteous desires?
The Lord knows the power of righteous motivations, the power that can come to us when we learn the truths about the purpose of earth life and about conditions beyond the veil. Thus, he gave two other parables, trying to impress his message indelibly upon the hearts of those who cared enough to listen and ponder:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
“Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matt. 13:44–46.)
Jennie’s husband had come to recognize deeply the meaning of these parables. He would have sold everything he had for the peaceful assurance that he and Jennie would be together forever. Happily, he knew exactly what he needed to do and how he needed to live thereafter in order to bring it about. However, there are others of our brothers and sisters in need of these temple and other Church blessings who need our assistance to obtain the promises of the Lord.
In seeking to help those in such need, my first questions, when appropriate, are: “What about your prayers? How often? How deeply involved are you when you pray?”
I remember one young man whom I wanted so much to help. Among my questions, I asked, “What do you do in your leisure? What do you read? What activity do you have? What are your associations?” The answers showed him how he had let go of the iron rod. He was largely associating with unbelievers. He had ceased to pray fervently to his Heavenly Father.
I asked him, “How many times since your mission have you read the New Testament? How many times have you read the Book of Mormon?” For a long time he had not partaken of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
And he wondered why his spirit seemed dead. He paid no tithing, but he wondered why the windows of heaven seemed closed and barred to him. He was not receiving all the things he could have had.
Sometimes some of our people have felt that they were too busy for Church attendance and activity, too rushed for family prayers, too involved in other things for home evenings, too tired for scripture study. Sadly, they deny themselves their daily and weekly manna that can sustain them through life and all its uncertainties. But if they and each of us will work and pray together, they can come to experience great joy now and forever. In such challenges as these, we must remember the Lord’s advice to each of his servants: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:21.) If someone does not seem ready at the moment, would it not be well to follow the advice of the Lord to fast and pray? If someone wishes to change but faces difficulties that seem insurmountable, would it not be well for him or her to follow the same advice? And we who are their helpers, could we not add our prayers and fasting to theirs?
We know with great assurance that our Father in Heaven has ways to touch hearts. Remember Alma? Remember Paul? Great changes can occur if individuals are sincere in their desires.
There may be someone who will say, “Well, we know a man or a woman who can never be touched.” Of course he or she can be touched. He or she can always be blessed and helped! There is the promise of scripture. It reads, “Charity never faileth.” (1 Cor. 13:8.) Never! Charity, applied long enough, never fails to work its miracle either in the individual, in us, in both of us, or in others around the individual.
Like President John Taylor, I believe there is none who cannot be converted—or I might say reactivated—if the right person makes the right approach at the right time in the right way with the right spirit. I know that the blessings of our Father in Heaven will attend our efforts if we prepare ourselves, and if we happily live gospel principles, and if we will seek our Heavenly Father’s assistance.
There are millions of people in the world, and many persons in the Church, who would urgently ask for the blessings of the priesthood and of this Church and all that it offers to them if they knew its advantages. Our calling is to help our brothers and sisters, both nonmembers and inactive members, to see and understand the blessings that can be theirs if they will begin to try gospel teachings in their lives. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30.) “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,” the Master has said. (John 7:17.)
Let us be as Nephi and say to ourselves, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)
Let priesthood quorum home teachers, Relief Society visiting teachers, husbands and wives, parents and children, and members everywhere who love the Lord and desire to do his will, reach out and with love and inspiration do the righteous labors required by helping those in need. Temporary flashes of interest and enthusiasm will not achieve the desired results. But our desired results can come, and will come more often than any of us imagines, if we will prayerfully enlarge our efforts. Not only will choice blessings of the Lord come into your lives and the lives of others, but we will draw closer to the Lord and feel the presence of His love and His spirit.