Sunday, June 23, 2013

Farewell Talk Bayley

A couple of years ago, I was preparing to graduate from community college and was looking for where to go to continue my education and complete my Bachelors degree.  I wanted to stay in Colorado, and so I had narrowed down my choices to two options: UCCS here in Colorado Springs, or CSU in Fort Collins.  Both options had their pros and cons, and as I was praying to know which school to go to, I decided that the answer lay in my financial situation.  UCCS being the more affordable choice, but CSU being the preferred choice, I decided that I would accept and move forward at both universities, but would only attend CSU so long as certain financial circumstances were to fall into place.  As such, I sent my acceptance to both universities and prepared to go and tour the CSU campus and attend the transfer-student orientation.  As I moved throughout the day, I kept imagining myself living there, attending school there, and I loved it - possibly because of the abundance of pizza and ice cream places, but whatever.  After the orientation ended, I went out and sat under one of the many trees around campus and as I sat there I felt so at peace, so content, and excited, that I knew I wanted to go to CSU.  And when I say that I knew, I’m not referring to the excitement I had felt throughout the day, but to a strong and powerful feeling of peace I received that this was the answer to my prayers, that this was where I should be.  
Soon it became apparent to me that none of those financial circumstances I had earlier based my decision on were going to come through for me, and that by all means UCCS would be the more financially sensible school - but I could not deny the knowledge I had gained that day that I should attend CSU.  Now, after I’ve graduated and my time in Fort Collins has come and gone, I know why God told me that was the place for me.  Though I know that I would’ve been fine - and certainly wealthier - in choosing to go to UCCS instead, my choice to attend CSU led me to meet some of the greatest people I have ever met, to be independent and realize that maybe I should’ve learned to cook something other than Ramen during my time at home, and to face challenges and situations that helped me develop into the person I am today.  I don’t know what would be different should I have stayed in the Springs, and I’m sure it would be nothing drastic - I don’t *think* I’d be dead, who knows, but I know that I am standing before you all today with a testimony that has been tested and strengthened by the experiences I had and by the people I met in Fort Collins.
Allow me to share another story.  During my last year in the church youth program, I decided to go about re-reading the Book of Mormon.  I don’t know exactly how many times I had read through the entire Book of Mormon up to that point, but this time I was going to keep a journal to write down whatever thoughts and impressions I had while reading, or to write out the verses that were particularly powerful to me, or even, in a number of cases, to illustrate scenes - badly though, just with stick figures.  As I finished the Book of Mormon that time, I can remember reading, in the very last chapter, in the Book of Moroni, chapter 10, verse 4, which reads:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Moroni 10:4)
As I read those words, I realized that that was exactly what I had just done.  Though I grew up reading the Book of Mormon, knowing the stories it contained, of heroes like Nephi and Samuel the Lamanite and Ammon, I realized then that I didn’t just enjoy these stories, but I knew they were true - I knew that the Book of Mormon was written by prophets of God, that it was a pure and true testament of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
What do I mean by saying “I knew”?  I mean that as I set that book down that night, I knew that this book was from God, and that this gospel was the true and restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and that as such I knew who I was, where I was from, what I was doing, and where I was going.
Both of these stories are stories of personal revelation - of revelation I received for myself.  In his talk “The Spirit of Revelation,” Apostle David A. Bednar defines revelation as “communication from God to His children on the earth and one of the great blessings associated with the gift and constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.”  We are blessed with the knowledge that this revelation - this direct communication from God - is not reserved for a mere few - for a spiritual elite, but it is a blessing available to all of us.  Though we often think of “revelation” as some dramatic vision or angelic visitation, as Elder Bednar said, it is associated with the gift of the Holy Ghost, and so often it comes to us in the still small voice of the Spirit, maybe as a feeling or impression, a peace of mind or heart, or a sure knowledge.  Now, it is important to understand that in discussing personal revelation, I am not suggesting that we are all prophets of God.  Personal revelation is just that: personal.  Boyd K. Packer, in his talk on this subject in 1994, explained “You may receive revelation individually, as a parent for your family, or for those for whom you are responsible as a leader or teacher, having been properly called and set apart.”  That said, personal revelation is a great and beautiful gift we have been given, but one that - like many of God’s gifts - requires understanding.  And what better place to turn to for such understanding and instruction than the Book of Mormon.
Today I’d like to look at three stories in the Book of Mormon that teach us about personal revelation.  The first of these is found in the first book of Nephi, chapter 4.  Nephi and his brothers have returned to the city of Jerusalem, at their father, Lehi’s, request, to obtain the plates of brass - a sacred record - from the man Laban, who has thus far proved unwilling to give up the plates.  One night, after being refused and cast out of Laban’s house, Nephi returns to the house, where he comes across a drunk Laban and slays him, enabling him and his brothers to obtain the plates.  However, Nephi didn’t just kill Laban on a whim.  In fact, he writes “I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.  And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands,” (1 Nephi 4:10-11) he continues, “Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword” (1 Nephi 4:18).  This was a moment of personal revelation, in which Nephi was open to, received, and followed revelation given to him by the Holy Spirit.  This revelation to slay Laban was instruction from God specifically, and personally, to Nephi.  
This story has always impressed me because the revelation that is received is not warmly welcomed - Nephi says he “shrunk” from the voice of the Spirit.  And yet, he recognized it as the Spirit, not as his own thoughts.  Rodney Turner, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU, wrote “Nephi was a righteous man; he was well acquainted with the promptings of the Holy Ghost and knew the difference between his own thoughts and divine revelation,” for those concerned by God’s commanding his servant to kill, Dr. Turner compares the story of Nephi and Laban to the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, writing “the incident may well have been a trial of faith for Nephi. The Lord could have helped him procure the record in some other way. Instead, the Lord allowed Nephi to struggle....The God who proved Abraham is the same God who proved Nephi.  Like Abraham, Nephi obeyed and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.”
So what does the story of Nephi and Laban teach us about personal revelation?  Well, Nephi’s actions lay out a pattern for us to follow.  He received personal revelation only after he proved himself faithful and obedient - “Let us be faithful,” he counseled his brothers, “in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (1 Nephi 4:1).  The night as he entered Laban’s house, he demonstrated faith in declaring “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).  Thus Nephi teaches us that obtaining personal revelation requires consistent faith and obedience.  It makes sense, if you think about it - why would God entrust us with personal revelation if we have not shown ourselves worthy to hear it, recognize it, receive it, and obey it?
Similar principles are taught in the second Book of Mormon story I would like to share, which is the story of Enos, a young man who went out and prayed to God asking for forgiveness for his own sins and also for his brethren, the Lamanites.  After earnest prayer, he heard the voice of the Lord, forgiving him of his sins and granting unto him his righteous desires.  This story is a perfect story of personal revelation - of an answer to a prayer, and, just as with Nephi, revelation came to Enos because of his faith.  Enos himself wrote “Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.  And I had faith, and I did cry unto God” (Enos 1:15-16).  When he hears the Lord’s voice granting him forgiveness, Enos asks “Lord, how is it done?” to which God replies “Because of thy faith in Christ” (Enos 1:7-8) and later promises “I will will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith” (Enos 1:12).  Just as Nephi trusted in God and demonstrated faith, so did Enos.
In addition to this, the story of Enos teaches us that personal revelation requires diligence and hard work.  “My soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker,” he writes, “and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication,” (Enos 1:4) and also “I had prayed and labored with all diligence” (Enos 1:11).  Throughout the Book of Enos, Enos also describes this experience of prayer as “a wrestle which [he] had before God” (Enos 1:2) and a “struggling” - and “many long strugglings,” - “with the Spirit”.  This prayer is not just a mumbled recitation given after Enos is already lying in bed, ready for sleep.  The phrases “mighty prayer,” “labored with all diligence,” “a wrestle,” and “struggling,” all imply that this prayer is a real spiritual - even physical - ordeal, a difficult task that requires hard work and diligence.  If we desire or even expect answers to our prayers, personal revelation from God, then so too must we work for it.  I’m sure we all know from experience that we can desire a good grade in school all we want - but unless we work for it, we won’t receive it - unless of course, you are some sort of of Ferris Bueller, but most of us at least cannot coast through life on likeability, I know I can’t, and we have to work for what we want.  So it is with personal revelation.  God will not grant revelation to those who merely want it, but are unwilling to work for it.
So far, these Book of Mormon stories have taught us that personal revelation comes from faith, obedience, and diligent hard work.  The last story I would like to share with you combines all these principles, but then also shows us that these blessings of personal revelation are available to all.  It is the story of the sons of Mosiah, who was the righteous king over the land.  The sons of Mosiah were four brothers - Aaron, Omner, Ammon, and Himni - who stand apart from many Book of Mormon heroes in that they spent their youth years, along with their friend Alma the Younger, son of the prophet, “seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king” (Mosiah 27:10)  However, their fathers prayed much to God on their behalf, and those prayers were answered when an angel appeared to the five young men and commanded them to cease their wicked ways.  Alma and the sons of Mosiah repented, and then all went on to become great missionaries of the Lord.
In the Book of Alma, chapter 17, they are finally reunited after years of preaching and teaching the gospel, with many more years of missionary service ahead of them.  Verses 2-3 read: “Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding, and they had searched the scriptures diligently that they might know the word of God.  But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught they taught with power and authority of God.”  
The word “therefore” is important here - it tells us that the sons of Mosiah having the spirit of prophecy and revelation is a direct result of their diligent scripture study, their prayer, and their fasting - all of which demonstrate faith, obedience to God’s commandments, and hard work.  For me, this story of personal revelation is especially powerful because it is not the story of a single choice experience - such as hearing the voice of the Lord.  Rather, the sons of Mosiah “had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation.”  Though there is no voice or angel appearing (at least not at this time) to these missionary brothers, it is still a story of personal revelation.  Because they had that spirit, we know that they were guided by the Spirit, trusting in God, wherever they went, and that they lived lives guided by the Spirit and by God - even though they were not perfect, even though they had worked against God in their past.  After they came unto God and repented, that didn’t matter.  They were no less worthy than Nephi or Enos to receive personal revelation.
I’ve always loved the story of the sons of Mosiah, but recently its gained an added measure of meaning and significance to me.  The sons of Mosiah are siblings who all went out and served their missions together, all in different places, but all united in their service to God.  You can see why I’m particularly fond of this story right now.  Though my brothers and I never went out actively seeking to destroy the church of God, which I think certainly puts any challenges we may have presented in perspective, we didn’t walk a perfectly paved road up to this point.  There was the time Rhys and I decided to booby trap our upstairs playroom in an imitation of Home Alone.  Though at the time the tacks hidden in the carpet and the Play-Dough-trap on the ground (intended to catch any would-be invaders - apparently we thought Play-Dough had adhesive properties) seemed like a good idea, I can see now why our parents were less than thrilled.  That particular bit of movie-inspired mischief is rivaled only by the time Mom and Dad discovered the hard way that their shampoo, mouthwash, and hydrogen peroxide had all traded bottles at the hands of a few of us Dennis-the-Menace fans.  Then of course was the time I hit a baseball through the dining room window shattering glass all over Dad and his computer, there are the many holes Kegan has punched in walls over the years, and there is the time Rhys yanked his own tooth out, unwilling to be one-upped by his twin’s missing teeth.  The three of us may have spent many Easters and Christmases conning our younger siblings out of the good candy, and we may have worried our parents with our many hours obsessively smoothing our hair (the boys) or our collection of empty tiny airplane liquor bottles (me) but now we are all here today, all called and prepared to serve our missions and to serve our Heavenly Father.  I hope to be a missionary of the likes of the sons of Mosiah, to have that spirit of revelation with me to guide me, and to one day “rejoice exceedingly” in the righteousness of my brothers when we are all reunited once again.  Of the sons of Mosiah it is said that they “traveled throughout all the land, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church...explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.  And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 27:35-36).  That is the kind of missionary I want to be, and I am grateful for their example.
Just as the sons of Mosiah, we are all entitled and capable of having that spirit of revelation us always, so long as we follow those examples given to us in the Book of Mormon and are faithful, obedient, and hard working.  In addition to these three, I would like to add one last attribute we should nurture in order to be receptive to and worthy of personal revelation, and that is desire.  We must have a deep and real desire to receive and follow any revelation we may receive.  Allow me to read again Moroni 10:4:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.”  
This is promise given to all of God’s children, not to just some select few - personal revelation is available to all, so much as we have faith, are obedient, work for it, and desire it, having “a sincere heart, with real intent.”
I bear my testimony to you all that these things are true.  That this gospel is perfect, and true, and joyous.  I am so excited and so humbled by the opportunity I have been given to share these things I know with the great people of Texas and Louisiana, and to share with them the joy and peace I have found in my Savior, Jesus Christ, and in this great restored church.  Personal revelation is real.  God is our loving Heavenly Father, and he is always there for us, whenever we need His help, His comfort, or His guidance in our lives.  I urge you all to seek out the great blessings of personal revelation that are available to each and every one of us, and may God be with you till we meet again.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

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