Serving in the Kindom: It’s not where but how

I keep rediscovering things that I have written but have disappeared- so for now while life is hectic I will post some of the oldies- this one was originally posted in November 2011. It’s still as true today as it was then- even though life at Church got busier last year when I was called as Bishop.

This blog post’s title was given to me by the blog editor: the lovely John. It is “Serving in the Lord’s Kingdom- it’s not where but how”. Why would he suggest such a title? This weekend has been an emotional one for me, after seven years of serving on the Stake Presidency I was released and as of this moment have no calling (this probably won’t last long- at least I hope not). I really enjoyed my service and all the people I was able to meet and work with. Prior to my service on the Stake Presidency I served as a Bishop for 5 years- and so my service has been quite intense and visible. It’s a very strange feeling to have been released- I am very happy but it is tinged a little bit with anxiety and worry.

Why this feeling of anxiety and worry? I fully expect my phone to stop ringing so much, my email volume to reduce but is this the end of the world? In reality, no- I’m actually quite looking forward to it. But therein lies the problems, does this reduced communication mean that the relationships and friendships I developed over the last few years are based on the calling I held, rather than the person I am? Before you get the violins out, I have the same responsibility to maintain and develop these relationships as much as anyone else. As I reflect on this I remember that it is the formation of relationships that is the purpose of this life, and our callings (whatever they may be, and how “visible” they are) help us draw closer to the Saviour and to each other. Whatever calling I receive in the coming weeks I know that as I focus on developing a relationship with the Godhead and the people around me I will find peace and success. This very theme was discussed in last General Conference by President Uchtdorf who spoke of his time in a small town:

At the time, Big Spring, despite its name, was a small, insignificant, and unknown place. And I often felt exactly the same way about myself—insignificant, unknown, and quite alone. Even so, I never once wondered if the Lord had forgotten me or if He would ever be able to find me there. I knew that it didn’t matter to Heavenly Father where I was, where I ranked with others in my pilot training class, or what my calling in the Church was. What mattered to Him was that I was doing the best I could, that my heart was inclined toward Him, and that I was willing to help those around me. I knew if I did the best I could, all would be well. And all was well. The Lord doesn’t care at all if we spend our days working in marble halls or stable stalls. He knows where we are, no matter how humble our circumstances. He will use—in His own way and for His holy purposes—those who incline their hearts to Him.

Wherever I serve I must incline my hear towards Him. I love Him, and I want to be like Him. The Saviour developed and showed his love for others as he washed their feet, tended their wounds and healed their broken hearts. This is just as, if not more, easily as a Home Teacher as a member of a Stake Presidency. Our lives should be about developing a unity with our Saviour wherever we find ourselves. Exaltation as a unity with the Godhead is therefore possible, as exemplified through the life of Christ. Christ became one with the Father through obedience to his commandments and the aligning of his thoughts and goals to the Father. As joint heirs with Christ to receive the same inheritance of Christ (salvation), we  must strive to develop this unity throughout our lives. Prayer is an example of how this unity is important for the development of our relationship with Christ:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationshi: Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other (BD: Prayer).

The example Christ set, in terms of his eternal destiny and the way he achieved the unity with the Father is crucial. If we hope to receive exaltation we must develop a relationship with Christ during mortality to hope for a continuation of that relationship beyond the grave. To receive exaltation we must know what, and behave as, Christ taught. This is not dependent on the calling we hold, rather the devotion we give, and the way in which our hearts are inclined towards Him.

The Church (including the ward and the stake) plays a crucial role in the development of this relationship. The structure of the Church has been established by God as a means for the achievement of salvation: “Ultimate salvation, in Mormon terms, is a corporate venture; it depends on relationships to other people” (Nuckolls, 2004: 315).  The structure of the Church is crucial. Our relationships to other people are formalised within the Church; as Church members are given the opportunity to serve one another, whatever that service might be. Through these service opportunities we are able to “work out [our] salvation” (Philippians 2:12):

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by labouring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day (Jacob 1:19).

The service that is given by all members of the Church is a prelude to the service and unity that can be found within exaltation (unity with the Godhead):

In the [Godhead] the three are one God, yet each is fully personal; in the Church a multitude of human persons is united in one, yet each preserves her or his personal diversity unimpaired. The mutual indwelling of the persons of the [Godhead] is paralleled by the coinherence [or cooperation] of the members of the Church (Ware, 1993: 240).

Thus, a participation in the work of the Church is a necessary preparation for exaltation. In the novel, The Shack, an explanation of what the Church is, by Jesus, could have been written to describe the Latter-day Saint ideal: “It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now− just doing this− and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships” (Young, 2008: 178).The unity with the Godhead and others in this life and in the next is the nature of exaltation. The Church functions as a place where an individual’s relationship with the Godhead can be similarly worked out and centred. The Church’s most important function is as a channel for the blessings of the atonement of Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

If we hope for exaltation we must spend life developing relationships. The most important is with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But one important way that we do that is in relationship to other people. The Church (including the ward and the Stake) is organised to help us develop unified relationships that prepare us for exaltation. Each of us is an integral part of the Ward and we should each make every effort to develop this service and unity, without which we cannot hope for exaltation. This may be a bold claim to make: that our exaltation depends on how we contribute to the Ward and relate to those people around us. It is nonetheless true, as each of these are indicative of the grace we have received in our lives.

Having established the doctrinal basis of the importance of service in the Ward let me now offer some practical ways that we can prepare for exaltation.

1. View each person as a child of God.  How is this possible, and why is this beneficial? In every aspect of our lives we stand as a witness of Christ.  We stand in his stead; do what he would do, say what he would say and place him at the front and centre of everything we do. We place him, and our relationship with him, before everyone and everything else. This may seem a bold statement to make, but it echoes President Joseph Fielding Smith:

Who should we love above everything else in the world? … The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Love him more than we do our own lives, or our own fathers and mothers or children; … because without his blessings we would have nothing (Take Heed to Yourselves, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971, page 296).

How is that possible? Surely it is impossible to love anybody more than we love our spouse and children. I remember pondering on the quote, and praying that I could have an understanding of such an instruction. I then heard wonderful instruction, that as we love the Saviour our capacity to love other people so much more. Loving Jesus enables me to have a deeper and more abiding love for all those people around me. At a very basic level, I am able to love my family longer (for eternity) as I place the Saviour in the forefront on my life. However, the quality and expression of my love becomes so much more sincere and deeper as I focus on the Saviour. This love is not just limited to our families, our ability to love others and show that love is enhanced.

Using our family as a template is very useful, as we understand a person’s motivations, and look beyond their faults, we give them the benefit of the doubt, we do not hold grudges. We build a relationship which is built on a mutual relationship with the Saviour. This would make our relationships here, and beyond, more pleasant, more forgiving and enriching.

2. If we feel on the periphery it is because we have moved. When we do not feel the Holy Spirit it is usually because we have moved ourselves away through our actions (whether we recognise them or not). The best way to get the Spirit back is to do things that move ourselves back towards him. This can be replicated on a ward or stake level. If we do not feel a part of things, then we may have imperceptibly moved away in thought or deed. What is our responsibility- to do things that involve us and move us back towards the centre. We fulfill the calling that we have been given to the best of our ability. If we do not feel a part of Relief Society- we attend Relief Society meetings. If we do not feel close to certain people, we make the effort to get to know them. If we do not feel as though others are serving us- we serve them. The list could go on- at certain times, I have felt like a visitor at the ward, and out of the loop- what can I do- well, I could sit and moan, or I could offer to help.

3. We pray for and sustain our leaders. We kneel down as families and pray for our Bishop and other leaders to be strengthened, and have the inspiration necessary. I think it is impossible to have unkind feelings for someone who we pray for. We fulfill our responsibilities, covenants and callings to the very best of our ability. We never criticize our leaders- if we disagree with the way something is being done, rather than muttering to others who share our discontent, we speak to the leader involved in a spirit of love, and share our concern. If they still feel the need to go ahead in the same direction, we do our very best to help the initiative succeed.

Through these small acts, our relationships with the Godhead will be improved and we will qualify, through Christ’s grace, to receive exaltation. Doctrine and Covenants 130 talks about how the same sociality will be in the Celestial Kingdom. If we cannot make the best of that sociality here, then we will not be prepared for it in the Celestial Kingdom.

I do not matter any less to my Father in Heaven just because I have been released. I am still his child, he still loves me. I must ensure that my relationship with Him is not based on the calling that I hold, rather on who I am striving to become through my service and obedience. My service as a Home Teacher is just as important to the Lord as any other service I have ever given. The most important calling I have ever held is the calling I hold now (or will do soon). I am where I need to be at this time both for the Lord and for myself. Let me conclude with more words of President Uchtdorf:

…[N]o matter where you live, no matter how humble your circumstances, how meagre your employment, how limited your abilities, how ordinary your appearance, or how little your calling in the Church may appear to you, you are not invisible to your Heavenly Father. He loves you. He knows your humble heart and your acts of love and kindness. Together, they form a lasting testimony of your fidelity and faith.

I desire nothing more than to incline my heart towards the Saviour and form a lasting testimony of my fidelity and faith. I love my Saviour Jesus Christ and I want to return and live with him.

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