The greatest gift of all of the gifts given by God is eternal life. I love the words of Elder George Albert Smith: “We spend most of our time, many of us, seeking the things of this life that we will be compelled to leave when we go from here, yet there are the immortal souls all around us whom, if we would, we could teach and inspire to investigate the truth, and implant in their hearts a knowledge that God lives. What treasure in all the world could be so precious to us, for we would have their gratitude here and their everlasting and eternal appreciation in the world to come.” (General Conference, October 1916.)
Moreover, as I understand it, those who serve, those who help save, become candidates for eternal life. Our salvation is intertwined with the salvation of others, and only by reaching down and lifting up can we hope to move ourselves heavenward. Only one road leads to eternal life. We can stay on that path best by helping others find it and walk it.
Fix your mind on this promise of the Master: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:29; italics added.)
I have given you seventeen blessings that result from missionary service. There are more, the list is almost endless. Please understand that these blessings and more can be yours, if you become converted to the service and make yourselves available to respond.
President Kimball said that “the missionary work, like the tithing, will pour out blessings, as Malachi said, so many blessings that there’ll hardly be room enough to receive them. (See Mal. 3:10.)” (In Area Conference Report, Korea, August 1975, p. 61.)
This is the work that will be of most worth to you. I am convinced that if the Lord were to appear before you and interview you this instant, he would say, among other things, “You can’t do anything of greater worth than to go and to serve and to declare repentance unto this people that you may bring souls unto me.” (See D&C 15:6.)
At the beginning of my discussion, I referred to the Prophet Elisha and his servant. I go again to the Old Testament. At the time when Elijah was completing his ministry, he said to Elisha, his successor: “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” (2 Kgs. 2:9.)
I pray with all my heart that a double portion of the missionary spirit will be poured out upon you that you might not only see the urgency of the work, that you might not only have a vision of the blessings that can come, but that you will be committed and go and serve in a pure and divine kind of way.
Few, if any, experiences in the Church have the holding power of a mission. For example, a recent survey of returned missionaries revealed that 91 percent attend sacrament meeting at least three times a month, 89 percent hold at least one Church position, and 95 percent marry in the temple.
Consequently, returned missionaries provide valuable leadership in the Church, especially in the developing countries of the world.
Recently my wife and I were in Colombia. I interviewed some men, hoping that the Lord would reveal who might be the new stake president. The man called was a returned missionary, less than thirty years of age. With those few years, he was long in spirit and experience. He had served a mission. He had been a mission leader. He was prepared to serve and to lead.
A revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith more than 150 years ago includes these words: “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. …
“Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come.” (D&C 65:2, 6.)
How very privileged and elect we are to be a part of fulfillment of prophecy! What an honor to be invited to build the kingdom, to serve in preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior. No work is more urgent, no work more important than building and preparing for Christ’s coming.
President Kimball has referred to missionary service as a great adventure. He did so because the work is stirring and exciting. It is a bold undertaking, and it is one that requires the finest courage.
I once saw an advertisement of a movie that said, “Greatest adventure story of escape.” I thought to myself, “They don’t know what adventure is until they have tried to help someone escape from sin, or have pulled somebody back from the brink of a spiritual death, or have wrestled with evil forces, or have marched with the army of God.” There is no greater adventure, no more excitement, nothing more stirring than full-time service in the work of the Lord.
Virtually every missionary has the privilege of living and laboring with at least five or six companions. In the course of eating and praying and teaching together, they develop special bonds of friendship. Some of those friendships persist throughout life.
In the mission field where I presided there was a young man who was having severe adjustment problems. I carefully selected a companion for him. The two knit their hearts perfectly. I watched the one infuse the other with his virtues and strengths, and when they left the mission field, both were whole and strong and filled with a desire to serve God. A few years after they had returned home, I heard that one had suffered some severe problems with his family. As I began to investigate to see if I might help, I discovered that the former companion had already made the contact and was doing all that was necessary.
Think also of all the lifetime friendships that missionaries establish with people they teach and baptize. I will never forget an experience I had in Texas. When I called one of the young men to report to the mission home for a closing interview prior to his return home, he asked if a brother he had taught and baptized might bring him in.
I was in the mission office when the two arrived. They obviously loved each other; they talked and they talked. I began to get a little impatient because I had a crowded schedule and needed to interview the boy. I pressed the young man to come in. As he looked at the new convert, the tears welled in his eyes, and he said, “Thank you so much for bringing me down.” The new convert quickly said, “Oh no, Elder, thank you for lifting me up.” What a sermon in those words, and what love expressed between the two! The friendships we establish in the mission field with companions and converts become eternal.
No one loves the Armenian people as I do. Why? Because I served among them. I learned a little bit of their language. I have studied their history, and I have tried to save some of their souls. I love them with all of my heart.
One returned missionary, now a physician, who interrupted his academic studies to serve a mission, felt that “full-time missionary work brought about an increased love and concern for others. ‘Intelligence alone is not enough. … Intelligence plus a Christlike love for mankind is the perfect combination for a successful and respected physician.’” (Tambuli, February 1981.)
Missionaries gain a love and understanding of others through their service.
You all know King Benjamin’s teachings. Among other things, he said regarding service: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. …
“If ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. …
“He hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
“And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:17, 21, 23–24.)
The Savior has said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9.) Elder N. Eldon Tanner spoke these words: “If every member of this Church would accept the call of our prophet today and live the gospel and keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father and become missionaries in very deed, we could contribute more to the cause of peace than all the power that might be gathered together by all the governments and all the men in uniform.” (General Conference, October 1962; italics added.)
The greatest peace movement is the one that involves full-time missionaries or representatives of the Lord.
Stephen L. Richards of the Council of the Twelve talked about the influence of missions upon the Latter-day Saints. “The fundamental character of our manhood and womanhood has been improved,” he said. “Sacrifice has taught self-control. Giving has made for generosity as it always does. Teaching the virtues has brought them into application, and high spirituality has ingrained testimony and soul development.” (General Conference, October 1945.) How true that is.
If my understanding of character is right, it is in part made up of habits and inclinations that we have developed over the years. Just think of the habits, the tendencies, the inclinations, the virtues one can acquire in the mission field. Who has not seen the reflection of sterling qualities in the faces of missionaries who have grasped such habits? Who has not observed firsthand the polishing that occurs in such a few short months of service?
President Spencer W. Kimball stated: “The Lord has told us that our sins will be forgiven more readily as we bring souls unto Christ and remain steadfast in bearing testimony to the world, and surely every one of us is looking for additional help in being forgiven of our sins.” (Tambuli, November 1977, p. 5.)
In James we read: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
“Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20.)
I’ll never forget an experience I had at a mission conference in Australia a few years ago. One young man had such a special glow upon his face that my wife said to me, “I’ve never seen anyone sparkle with the truth as he does.”
When the meeting finished, before I could even leave the stand, this young man came up to me and said, “Elder Asay, may I speak with you?” I said to the young man, “Go down to the bishop’s office and wait; I’ll be there shortly.” He turned and walked down the aisle.
When I arrived at the office, he looked at me and said, “Elder Asay, you have forgotten me, haven’t you?” That made me feel terrible. I said, “Yes, I guess I have; please forgive me.”
Then he said, “Several years ago, I came to your office with my bishop and stake president. I came because I had done foolish things in high school; I had made myself unworthy of my priesthood, and I required some special cleanup and a special clearance before I could serve. In fact, you may recall that when I gave you a listing of my transgressions, you said, ‘I will never allow you to serve.’”
Then I remembered. He was the only one I had ever said those words to. But he cried, and his bishop cried, and his stake president cried, and they pleaded and they pleaded; and finally I weakened. I said, “Yes, you may, on two conditions: first, that you go and live every commandment strictly; you will cut no corners; and second, that you will seek to become the best missionary in your assigned mission.”
Well, after he had recalled all of that to my memory, he said, “Elder Asay, it thrilled me to know that you were coming. You see, next week I go home, and I just wanted to tell you that for two years now I haven’t stretched or bent or broken a single rule or commandment.” Then he added, “I may not be the best missionary in this mission, but I’m awfully close.”
I loved that. I embraced him and thanked him, and then after a tear or two, he turned to leave. As he stood there, he looked at me again and said, “Elder Asay, for the first time in many, many years I feel perfectly clean morally.” “You are,” I said. “You have been sanctified by your service. Now, please go home and stay clean.”
He has since been married in the temple; he is now a father, and is completing a professional degree.
One of our modern Apostles, Elder George F. Richards, promised: “In the name of the Lord I want to promise you that in the acceptance of the mission call and the dedication of yourself to the work, the Lord will forgive you of past transgressions, and you can start out life with an absolutely clean sheet.” Who wouldn’t want to claim that promise?
Many years ago, while serving as a bishop, I invited a young man to serve a mission. He refused. It set me back; I had not anticipated his refusal. He claimed that he did not have a testimony, and he felt that it would be hypocritical of him to serve without a testimony. Six months later I issued the invitation again and received the same response. This time the Spirit came to my rescue. I said, “Young man, answer me some basic questions. Is there a God in heaven?”
“Well, of course there is. If I didn’t believe there was a God, I wouldn’t pray.”
I said, “Thank you. Is Jesus the Christ?”
“Yes, of course He is. I’ve never doubted that fact. He is the Son of God; he is my Savior.”
“Was Joseph Smith the Prophet of the Restoration?”
“Oh certainly, Bishop,” he said. “I feel certain that he received a divine commission from God to perform his work.”
I said, “One more question. Is David O. McKay a Prophet today?” (This was many years ago.)
A big smile crossed his face, and he asked, “When do I leave?” He had the testimony all the time. He just had not realized what a testimony was and how to verbalize it.
Missionaries teach and testify, teach and testify, teach and testify. Each time they do, they invite the Spirit, and the truths they proclaim become more and more deeply ingrained in their own souls. The witness they voice becomes brighter and clearer and more effective.
I love the words of Elder Thomas S. Monson: “When we share the gospel with others, we unavoidably get outside of ourselves: we think and pray and work for the blessing of others, and this only further enriches and quickens us by the Holy Spirit.” (Ensign, October 1977, p. 11.)
The Spirit of the Holy Ghost pervades this work. He is the testifier, the converter. Missionaries teach under his influence, and investigators are touched by his influence.
Of all the companionships established in the mission field, the most cherished is the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Accept a call to serve, become acquainted with this member of the Godhead, and court his influence the remainder of your days.
When I think of missionary work, I am often reminded of King Benjamin who asked: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13.) No one will ever know truly that Jesus is the Christ, and no one will ever fully understand the Savior’s work until he has invested in the business of saving souls, for that was the Savior’s role.
President Spencer W. Kimball has told us that the “priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things pertaining to the salvation of men.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], p. 494.) The priesthood is the means whereby the Lord acts through us to save souls. When we use this power to lift and to save, we draw nearer to the source of our power, even Jesus the Christ.
Elder James E. Talmage describes belief as passive agreement or acceptance of truth. Faith, however, he defines as active and positive acceptance of truth that leads to good works. “Faith,” he states, “is vivified, vitalized, living belief.” (Articles of Faith, 12th edition [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924], p. 97.)
Some accept mission calls because of belief. They believe the Church is true; they believe they should serve. But during their service, as they pray for contacts, plead for help in teaching, and struggle for the right words and the right approaches, their belief is transformed quickly into faith.
Full-time missionaries not only see, but participate in miraculous healings. They see people forsake sin and become Saints. They receive answers to prayers, feel the promptings of the Spirit, observe the gift of tongues and many other operations of the Spirit. They also feel that unseen powers are sustaining them. These and many other experiences plant seeds of faith in their hearts.
Missionaries are asked to study two hours every day—one hour of individual study and one of companion study. By simply following the approved missionary gospel study plan, a missionary will read the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, and parts of the Old Testament several times. Additionally, he will study basic gospel topics in depth as he masters the missionary discussions and related doctrines.
Teaching these lessons over and over again, responding to questions and objections along the way, the missionary has an additional opportunity to learn. You never really clinch your learning until you have taught. Yes, indeed, missions are schools of gospel learning, even schools for the prophets.
Peace of conscience is a quiet, calm feeling that comes to a person who has done the right thing at the right time for the right reason. When we err or offend, the spirit is disturbed. When we do that which is right and good, the spirit is calm. The conscience can be smothered through willful disobedience, but it also can become finely tuned through willful obedience. I believe all of us can live almost errorless lives if we nurture properly the voice of conscience.
All of us know that missionary service is expected of every Latter-day Saint and that a living prophet has made an appeal for more missionaries, including the service of every worthy young man. These facts are registered in our minds and hearts; we know they are true. Therefore, full peace of conscience will not come until we have obeyed the command, heeded the call, and served.
Elder George Albert Smith taught that performing this obligation “will purchase for those who are faithful, for those who discharge that obligation as they may be required, peace and happiness beyond all understanding, and will prepare them that, in due time, when life’s labor is complete, they will stand in the presence of their Maker, accepted of Him because of what they have done.” (In Conference Report, April 1922, p. 53.)
All of us are familiar with the scripture: “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15.)
Now joy in this context is not a fleeting feeling or a passing pleasure; it is deep and abiding happiness. President Heber J. Grant testified: “[I] had more joy while in the mission field than ever before or since. Man is that he may have joy, and the joy that I had in the mission field was superior to any I have ever experienced elsewhere.” (Improvement Era, October 1936, p. 659.) This is from a man who had traveled worldwide and who had participated in almost every phase of gospel activity.
I invite all of you to read of Ammon’s joy when he reflected upon his missionary experiences. Among other things, Ammon said: “My joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. … I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” (Alma 26:11, 16.) Joy, joy beyond description!
In the Old Testament, we read of a time when the king of Syria waged war against Israel. On two occasions the Syrian army was positioned for a surprise attack and certain victory. The victories, however, did not come. Elisha, a man of God, warned the king of Israel and revealed the place of the Syrian encampment.
When the king of Syria learned that Elisha was the cause of his frustrations, he sent spies to locate the prophet. He was informed that Elisha was at a city called Dothan. Under cover of night, he sent a great host of horses and chariots and surrounded Dothan and its inhabitants, hoping that he might capture Elisha.
Very early in the morning, Elisha and his servant arose and discovered that they were encircled by the enemy. The frightened servant exclaimed: “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” Elisha answered in a reassuring voice: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Then, Elisha prayed and said: “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” The young man’s eyes were opened, and he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (See 2 Kgs. 6:8–18; italics added.)
There are times, I suspect, when Latter-day Saints (both young and old) develop fears about missionary service, fears that cause them to ask, “Should I accept a call? Should I serve?” They, like Elisha’s servant, have limited vision of the work; their eyes have not yet been opened to the prospects and blessings of serving God and one’s fellowmen full-time. Hence, they stand apart and wonder whether to become involved.
As Elisha prayed for his frightened servant, I would also pray for you and for all prospective missionaries that God would open your vision, open your eyes, and enable you to catch the spirit of missionary service. I would pray that you would sense keenly the need to embrace and to share the truth and to invite all men to come unto Christ. I would pray that you could feel the urgency of a living prophet’s plea for more missionaries and that you could catch a glimpse, as did the servant of Elisha, of the heavenly powers invested in and surrounding this work.
The prophet Alma taught that God grants “unto men [and women] according to their desire, … according to their wills.” (Alma 29:4.) This, I believe, is a true principle. If we desire something strongly enough and seek it with all our hearts, we will likely obtain it; for a determined will on our part rallies the inner strengths and draws claim on heavenly assistance.
Perhaps your desire or will to serve would increase if you understood more fully the blessings associated with missionary service. God often reveals commandments and blessings together. For example, he gave the Word of Wisdom listing the commandments, and, at the same time, he recited a number of blessings that those who obeyed the commandments would receive. I would like to discuss with you some of the blessings associated with full-time missionary service. I can’t list everything, for there are so many blessings that I cannot number them all, but I will share those that appear to be most common.
Before I discuss these blessings, let me just add one word of caution. At a critical point in his ministry, the Prophet Joseph Smith was warned in these words: “[You] must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom.” (JS—H 1:46.) In other words, the Prophet Joseph was warned against harboring selfish motives in doing his divine work. Selfish motives run contrary to the Savior’s life and teachings. Unselfish motives, on the other hand, bring a purity and innocence to the work that invites the Spirit. If we unselfishly lose ourselves in this holy calling and seek only to save souls, we will gain a multitude of unexpected blessings or benefits along the way. These are but a few.