On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the resurrected Lord asked Peter three times, “Lovest thou me?” Each time Peter’s reply was the same: “Thou knowest that I love thee.” To Peter’s declaration the Lord responded: “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep. … Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).
The Lord’s instruction to Peter applies to all who have been called to His service. President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote: “There is hunger in the land, and a genuine thirst—a great hunger for the word of the Lord and an unsatisfied thirst for things of the Spirit. … The world is starved for spiritual food. Ours is the obligation and the opportunity to nourish the soul” (“Feed the Spirit, Nourish the Soul,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 2; see also Amos 8:11–12).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ: Lasting Nourishment for the Soul
Just as we need nourishing food to survive physically, we need the gospel of Jesus Christ to survive spiritually. Our souls are nourished by whatever speaks of Christ and leads us to Him, whether it is written in the scriptures, spoken by latter-day prophets, or taught by other humble servants of God. The Savior Himself said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Teaching that is nourishing to the soul uplifts others, builds their faith, and gives them confidence to meet life’s challenges. It motivates them to forsake sin and to come to Christ, call on His name, obey His commandments, and abide in His love (see D&C 93:1; John 15:10).
Some Teaching Does Not Nourish the Soul
Many topics are interesting, important, and even relevant to life and yet not nourishing to the soul. It is not our commission to teach such topics. Instead, we are to edify others and teach them principles that pertain to the kingdom of God and the salvation of mankind.
Teaching that stimulates the intellect without speaking to the spirit cannot nourish. Nor can anything that raises doubts about the truth of the restored gospel or the need to commit ourselves to it with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie counseled: “Teach the doctrines of salvation; supply spiritual food; bear testimony of our Lord’s divine Sonship—anything short of such a course is unworthy of a true minister who has been called by revelation. Only when the Church is fed the bread of life are its members kept in paths of righteousness” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:178).
The Challenge of Nourishing Others
Some people may not seem interested in hearing the principles of the gospel. You should prayerfully search for a way to teach them those principles anyway. You should always remember the goal to help others be “nourished by the good word of God” (Moroni 6:4).
Those you teach may be like the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s Well. When Jesus first spoke to her, she did not know who He was. However, He knew her. He was aware of her cares, responsibilities, worries, and concerns. He knew of her need for the “living water” that only He could give. He began by asking her for a drink of water. Then He told her, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Her interest quickened. She took a sincere interest in what He had to teach her. When He testified that He was the Messiah, she believed Him and went and testified of Him among her people. (See John 4:1–30.)
Sister Susan L. Warner, who served as second counselor in the Primary general presidency, shared the following experience: “In our family we have tried to hold early-morning scripture study. But we were often frustrated when one son complained and had to be coaxed out of bed. When he finally came, he would often put his head right down on the table. Years later, while serving his mission, he wrote home in a letter: ‘Thank you for teaching me the scriptures. I want you to know that all those times I acted like I was sleeping, I was really listening with my eyes closed.’”
Sister Warner continued: “Parents and teachers, our efforts to help our children establish a heritage of rich spiritual memories are never wasted. Sometimes the seeds we plant may not bear fruit for years, but we may take comfort in the hope that someday the children we teach will remember how they have ‘received and heard’ the things of the Spirit. They will remember what they know and what they have felt. They will remember their identity as children of Heavenly Father, who sent them here with a divine purpose” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 109; or Ensign, May 1996, 79).
If you teach youth, you may sometimes think that they do not want to talk about doctrines and principles of the gospel. You may be tempted to simply be friendly to them, keeping them entertained and talking with them about their social activities and their experiences at school. This would be a serious mistake. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said:
“The youth of the Church are hungry for things of the Spirit; they are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. …
“These students as they come to you are spiritually working on toward a maturity which they will early reach if you but feed them the right food. …
“… You do not have to sneak up behind [them] and whisper religion in [their] ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with [them]. You do not need to disguise religious truths with a cloak of worldly things; you can bring these truths to [them] openly, in their natural guise. … There is no need for gradual approaches, for ‘bedtime’ stories, for coddling, for patronizing” (The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. [pamphlet, 1994], 3, 6, 9).
One Church member was called to teach the 12- and 13-year-olds in Sunday School. Her husband later recorded that she had spoken with him at length about what would be the “right food” for those she would be teaching, even if they “might demand a more entertaining ‘dessert’ portion.” He wrote of the experience she had as she nourished the souls of the youth in her class:
“She taught them the food of nourishment and growth, encouraging them to bring their scriptures and to consider the grand doctrines of the kingdom.
“Such a shift took time, but more important, it took trust that the students really needed and wanted the nourishment of the gospel and that the presentation of the food through the scriptures and the Spirit really was what would sustain them. Over the next few months a gradual change took place wherein the students began to bring their scriptures regularly, began to discuss the gospel more freely and willingly, and began to sense the wonder of the message.
“Parents began asking [her] what was happening in the class, why their children were insisting on taking scriptures to church, and even, kiddingly, how to answer the questions being posed by their children at the Sunday dinner table concerning the doctrines and principles of the gospel taught that day in class. The students were craving the gospel, because they had a teacher who … understood … what food was nourishing and the way it needed to be presented” (Jerry A. Wilson, Teaching with Spiritual Power , 26–27).
If you teach little children, you know that it can be a challenge to teach them the gospel. But little children want and need to hear gospel truths. They will respond to your efforts to present warm, varied, and enthusiastic gospel lessons. A Primary teacher shared the following experience:
“Admittedly, what happened was unusual. But it showed what really mattered to the nine-year-olds I was teaching. Without realizing what they were doing, they took over the class discussion on their own. It began with Katie. She responded to a question in the lesson manual about the plan of salvation. Then she followed up with her own question. Another class member volunteered an answer that helped clarify Katie’s understanding. Then John asked a question on the same topic that seemed to probe deeper than Katie’s did. An answer was given, and then Carly asked a follow-up question. For the remainder of the class period, the children kept asking questions and answering them, with an interest and thoughtfulness far beyond their years. There were no disruptions or speaking out of turn. Their honest and forthright insights, occasionally supplemented by me, covered the lesson material. They were curious; they wanted answers; they were truly interested; what they said required thought and understanding. I knew then that these children of our Father in Heaven were ready and eager to learn the truths the gospel has to offer.”