Sunday, August 9, 2015

Gifts of the Spirit

My husband and I were asked to speak in church (give sermons) on the gifts of the Spirit. When we received our topics, I thought 'how could I possibly talk for 15-20 minutes on this topic?' Once preparations started, however, I found that it could easily be done. 

I learned many things from preparing this talk and I like to share what I learn. Thus, I've reposted my talk here.  Please note that it is geared for practicing members of the Church, as it was delivered in our main worship service. Thus, there may be things that are referred to that are not expounded further because we expect a majority of the congregation to understand many of these basics and regularly used vocabulary. Regardless of your experience with the Church, if you have any questions about what we have referenced in these posts or anything related to it, please feel free to ask in the comment section and I will be happy to clarify as I am able.

                   *                *                *                *                * 

President George Q. Cannon said,
If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the [spiritual] gift that will make us perfect. …no man ought to say ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. …That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives [spiritual] gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be perfect people upon the face of the earth. (Source)

The Atonement of Jesus Christ brings with it the reality of and hope for eternal improvement and progression. Spiritual gifts such as the ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are defined as blessings or abilities given by God to His children that are eternal in nature. Doctrine and Covenants 46 gives us the reminder that, like all things that come from God, spiritual gifts are also to be used not only for our own salvation, but “that all may be profited thereby.” When God gives us a candle, we shouldn’t hide it under a bushel. We are so blessed to live in a time in which such opportunities for eternal progression on earth are possible, but Elder Oaks states a concern regarding this privilege. He says, “We know too little about spiritual gifts. This is evident in our communications, and it is also evident in our failure to seek after and use [them]” (Source).

As I pondered over this quote, I reviewed my knowledge of spiritual gifts. I came to the conclusion that (1) I knew nothing more about them than that there’s a list of example gifts given in 1 Corinthians 12 and D & C 46 and (2) that, as Bruce R. McConkie stated, “[they] are endless in nature and infinite in variety.” That about covered my knowledge on the topic.

An important truth regarding these gifts is that they come only through the power of the Holy Ghost. That’s a big deal. Only those who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands have the privilege of receiving and enjoying spiritual gifts. During the great apostasy (when the authority to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost was no longer present on the Earth), there were no spiritual gifts. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that because these gifts “are obtained through that medium” and “cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost. … The world in general can know nothing about them” (Source).

It is absolutely true that someone who doesn’t have the Gift of the Holy Ghost can have qualities such as charity, respect, high moral values, honor, genuine love for others, and patience—all of which are also spiritual gifts. There were many during the apostasy whom we revere and consider enlightened who received manifestations through the Spirit and had amazing Christ like qualities, but there’s a difference between a quality and a gift. The difference is in the way the Spirit can use it. It’s like learning a new skill: you can work on your own until you figure it out, and if you consistently work at it, you will. But unless you have an expert teacher to guide and direct you in your progress, you will reach a point in which you can go no further. In life, we may be either raised with or naturally have qualities that are eternal in nature, but unless we have the Holy Ghost—the expert teacher—to magnify those qualities and help us use them for our eternal progression, they will remain as qualities instead of evolving into the gifts that as President Cannon said, enable us to overcome our weaknesses, come closer to Christ, be perfected in Him, and prepare for exaltation.

So, what do we need to do to qualify for the gifts of the Spirit? In Elder Oaks’ quote earlier, he said that our communications about the spiritual as well as our failure to seek and use spiritual gifts need some work.

What is it about our communications that needs to change? In Elder Hales’ talk, Gifts of the Spirit, he recalls a time in which he was in conversation with President Marion G. Romney. He said

For some reason, I asked a question that, at the moment I asked it, I realized was inappropriate. The question I asked President Romney was “What is the most spiritual experience you have had as an Apostle of the Lord?” There was a pause. It seemed like an eternity. Then he said, “I believe what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught, that if we would keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, many more spiritual experiences could be shared with us. (Source)
I was an ordinance worker in the Provo temple for 2 ½ years after returning from my mission. It’s wonderful to be in the temple for five hours each week, but after a while, you start to become very comfortable with everything that goes on. It becomes easy to talk casually about it, especially in the temple with your fellow workers. I remember more than a couple of times in our pre-shift prayer meeting in which we were reminded that being in the temple doesn’t give either workers or patrons carte-blanche on spiritual discussion; even though—and very likely because—the temple is the most sacred house of the Lord on Earth, that which is sacred still needs to be carefully guarded in our hearts and discussed only as the Spirit directs. Because we have the fullness of the gospel, we know that the Holy Spirit is an intelligent being; a person, not a formless entity. How are we showing both him and the Lord through our communications that we respect the experiences and gifts they have enabled us to have? If we are too casual about spiritual things, we will continue to know little about them because the Spirit will not deem us worthy of more knowledge.

When it comes to our failing to seek after and use gifts, I believe there are a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, are we even asking for gifts? Are we searching within ourselves to discover which gifts we need? If we know which gifts we need, are we making the necessary changes in our lives to receive them? We don’t get something from God without effort on our part.

Perhaps we’re not actively seeking out gifts of the Spirit because we tend take Holy Ghost for granted. Most of our conversation regarding him are as one who bears witness in our hearts to the truth of all things or provides inspiration to either do or not do something. Do we fully understand his capabilities? How often do we think of actively working with the Holy Ghost to find and use spiritual gifts? Do we recognize him as a key player in the Atonement, being the medium through which we can receive the gifts that will eradicate our weaknesses? Until I began preparing this talk, I had never even considered that. We regularly talk about having a happy, loving relationship with the Father and the Son. How often do we strive to develop a happy, loving relationship with the most sacred heavenly messenger in existence? Spiritual gifts come through him to help us get back to God. That’s a relationship we should definitely be working on.

Sometimes we fail to seek after certain gifts because we don’t understand that we can have them. There are those who believe that gender or a priesthood office are determining factors in the receipt of spiritual gifts. It is true that within the church, we receive specific gifts to help us fulfill our callings, but they can only be used within said calling. Outside of the church structure, however, the who-does-the-Lord-allow-to-receive-what-and-when question comes up quite a bit. To this, Elder McConkie very strongly stated that

“Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness […] in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons.” He then used the example of the Lord’s revelation to Rebekah regarding her unborn twins, Esau and Jacob. He explains, “Though she was the wife of a prophet and [the] patriarch [of their family], Rebekah [the matriarch] inquired of the Lord and the Lord instructed her directly on a matter of great personal concern to her, to the children she would bear, and to generations unborn.” (Source)

There is no gift of the Spirit that a faithful member should feel unable to seek.

I believe that another downfall in our lack of understanding is that we, at times, expect gifts to manifest themselves differently than they do. Joseph Smith reminded us that most eternal things are not tangible, and spiritual gifts are no exception. He says

There are several gifts mentioned [in 1 Corinthians chapter 12], yet which of them all could be known by an observer …? [Wisdom and knowledge] are as much gifts as any other, yet if a person possessed both of these gifts… who would know it? Another might receive the gift of faith, and [others] would be as ignorant of it. Or suppose a man had the gift of healing or power to work miracles, that would not then be known; it would require time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation. (Source)

Who would know it? No one. And that’s okay. Not everyone needs to know. We won’t be able to use our gifts all the time but if we’re in tune with the Spirit, we will always use them at the right time. Those who have the Holy Ghost and are in tune with the Spirit will recognize it as a gift when it’s being used. Good people don’t have the Holy Ghost with them will still be able to profit from its use without knowing from whence it comes.

But there must needs be opposition in all things. Where there is a great outpouring of heavenly gifts, there is also an outpouring of satanic attacks to keep us from utilizing them. Thus, one of the gifts that I saw receiving a great deal of attention in my studies was the gift of discernment: being able to recognize what comes from God and what doesn’t. Let’s be real, here: if Satan really did have bright red horns and a tail, no one would ever be deceived. But he doesn’t. He’s the most flattering and enticing person anyone will ever come into contact with. The warnings I found from various general authorities on the gift of discernment all focused on the fact that we are not seeking to have it like we should be.

Satan knows how important the gift of discernment is in our eternal progression; if we’re always so in tune with the Spirit that we easily know what comes from God and what doesn’t, Satan will never have power over us. Thus, he will do anything to keep us from accessing it.

When most of us think about the importance of discernment, we think about recognizing immorality in the world, false prophets, and things like that. One place we usually don’t think about needing too much discernment is within ourselves. In early Church history, David Whitmer recounted the following:

One morning when [Joseph Smith] was getting ready to continue [translating the plates], something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful. (Source)

The opposite of humility is pride. Proverbs 13:10 states that “only by pride cometh contention.” Joseph was put out by something Emma did. Synonyms for put out are annoyed, irritated, angry, offended, and irked. All of these things cause contention, and that one thing—whatever it was—that caused Joseph to be put out also caused him to completely lose the gift to translate. I’ll bet Satan was fairly pleased with himself for having made the prophet lose an hour of that sacred work. Imagine if Joseph had been so unable to control his own emotions that he didn’t make amends for the rest of that day? What if he and Emma had started an argument over what was probably no big deal? How much longer would it have taken for the gift of translation to be restored?

I believe the reason he was able to realize his mistake and repent so quickly was that he had the gift of discernment; he could recognize Satan’s attack and put a stop to it so that his gifts could return.

While I’m pretty sure most of us here don’t have the need for the gift of translating dead languages, there are gifts that our families need that Satan works overtime to keep us from accessing because he know how important they are. Elder Hales listed some of these gifts, which are (1) a testimony, (2) love of God, (3) love for [God’s chosen] servants, and (4) a love of the Scriptures. These aren’t just good qualities for parents to instill in their children or the usual bullet points on a list of desirable traits for a spouse. Elder Hales said that these are among the gifts “that are eternal in nature.” They are essential to protecting our families and are among the building blocks of a strong foundation in a world of rapidly deteriorating values.

Yet, it should come as no surprise that these are also the gifts that we give the most excuses for not doing. We say we love the scriptures, yet we don’t actively study them because we “just don’t have time”; we say we love the prophet and apostles, yet we get annoyed or stressed out when they remind us that we’re not going to the temple enough; we say we love God, yet we put late-night Netflix binging before personal prayer and then get so tired because of “unwinding” that our prayers aren’t meaningful.

Elder Hales said that “Satan is mindful of each of us. He is committed to our destruction. He hopes we will fail to keep the covenants we have made to our Heavenly Father at baptism and in the temple. That is the only joy and satisfaction he and his disciples will ever have—when one of us falls. Think about it” (Source).
Before preparing this talk, I didn’t really have a testimony of the gifts of the Spirit. How could I? I hardly knew anything about them. I wasn’t seeking them, and I wasn’t making an active effort to use them. I didn’t understand how they were supposed to be used or why they were so important. I didn’t even know that some of the things I hold dear are, in fact, spiritual gifts. But I know now and I can honestly say that I have begun to develop a testimony of the gifts of the Spirit. I still don’t know as much about them as I’ve realized I need to, but I do know that they are from God. I know they exist to help us get back to Him and have eternal life. I know that they come through the power of the Holy Ghost and that only by being in tune with him can we benefit from these sacred gifts. I also can most definitely testify that Satan wants to keep us from everything that is of God. I know that he knows our weaknesses and does everything in his power to exploit them for his benefit. I know that as we seek those spiritual gifts that protect us from the adversary, we will become ever closer to God and ultimately enjoy exaltation with our families in His presence.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing - great points to ponder


I welcome fun, civil, and respectful discussion. See "The Blog and House Rules" for what that means to me.