29 May 2019

Some of the things I have learned about serving in the Kingdom of God

These thoughts are based on a talk given at the Brackenfell Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 19 April 2019 about things that I have learned while serving in the Church, and then about my new calling as stake patriarch. 

Preparing the talk gave me much about which to think. I have served the Lord for many years, with the first of my formal callings being about 1967 as youth class or quorum leader and secretary. I reckon I was not the greatest example of service in those days. We all need to start somewhere.

I reflected on the words of King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:9-26, particularly verses 17 to 19, and expressed the wish that we could have leaders in our communities and nations that were even a little bit as humble as this king.
17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. 
18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? 
19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!
Then, I thought of Jesus Christ who said in Matt 20:26-27 that we need to be the servant of all, and in Matt 10:39 that we need to lose our lives for His sake in order to really find our lives. This does not necessarily mean dying for Him, but living for Him - giving up our own will and aspirations for His better will and aspirations - living for Him rather than living for ourselves.

I read the section Service from For the Strength of Youth.

As I contemplated the Lord's work and glory declared by Him in Moses 1:39, I contemplated the Ward Council that comprises a team of leaders with many years of experience and insight, and diverse talents, skills, interests, insights, strengths, weaknesses, and a whole bag of individual attributes. This is a wonderful training ground for learning to be like the Saviour as a council works in unity to aim for a shared goal. I shared an instance recalled by sister Lisa Harkness, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, who recently visited our stake, shared in 2015 by president Russell M Nelson.
Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit? A superb stake president told me of a stake council meeting in which they were wrestling with a difficult challenge. At one point, he realized that the stake Primary president had not spoken, so he asked if she had any impressions. “Well, actually I have,” she said and then proceeded to share a thought that changed the entire direction of the meeting. The stake president continued, “As she spoke, the Spirit testified to me that she had given voice to the revelation we had been seeking as a council.”
Another wonderful example was shared by M Russell Ballard in 1994, involving a response by a Primary president when a bishop in a ward council expressed concern about reverence in sacrament meetings, and humility and unity in that council.

What a wonderful thing if a ward council can focus on growing individual members rather than running programmes. I recalled a General Conference talk by Elder Loren C. Dunn in which he said to a neighbour who was pointing out errors that he and his brother were making on the farm, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys and not cows.”

I then mentioned the Family Council and our responsibilities where President Russell M Nelson said 'It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.' Another very simple, yet important aspect of serving in the Church is our opportunity to minister to our brothers and sisters.

I included portions of the section 19.1 'Determining Whom to Call' in Handbook 2
A person must be called of God to serve in the Church (see Articles of Faith 1:5). Leaders seek the guidance of the Spirit in determining whom to call. They consider the worthiness that may be required for the calling. They also consider the member’s personal or family circumstances. Each calling should benefit the people who are served, the member, and the member’s family. 
Although service in Church callings requires sacrifice, it should not compromise a member’s ability to fulfill family and employment responsibilities (see 17.2.1). Before calling a married person to an assignment that requires a significant time commitment, Church leaders consider the effect of the calling on the marriage and family.
Then, from section 19.2, a bit about the person who is extending the call
'conducts a personal interview to determine the member’s faithfulness and willingness to serve. If the member is willing, the leader extends the calling.'
I recall the story shared by my sister Judy of a call being extended to a young sister in the 1960s wherein an effective exploratory interview preceded the call which, when extended, felt like a sacred call from the Lord - a sacred experience. I have tried to conduct interviews in such a way that the members will have a sacred experience where they feel that it is the Lord extending the call, not just me - a call of inspiration and not a call of desperation.

I have been greatly blessed in my years serving in the home, community, work, Church, Scouts and other settings that have helped me to develop wonderful skills that have increased my abilities to serve in the other spheres. For example, I have developed skills doing administration in the Church that enabled me to give improved service in my employment and vice-versa.

My service has helped me to a small degree to learn empathy, compassion, selflessness, a Zion spirit. Hopefully I have become more fitted for Zion through my service than I would otherwise have been.

I love the words of the hymn Love one another (136 in our Childrens Songbook and 308 in the Hymn Book) Listen and watch
As I have loved you,
Love one another.
This new commandment:
Love one another.
By this shall men know
Ye are my disciples,
If ye have love
One to another.
I know that the Lord is merciful and gracious. His greatest desire is for each of us to soften our hearts and become like Him, learn of Him, come unto Christ to become perfected in Him. I cannot picture our Heavenly Father saying of any one of His children, even the most difficult of characters, 'I am glad to get rid of him!' I am fully confident that His greatest desire is for each of us to be worthy of His saying to us, as He said in the parable of the talents in Matt 25:14-30 'Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' He said in D&C 38:27, 'be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.'

I am sure that the greatest success that any team will ever have, such as a hockey team, is for each team member to work as one with the team having a single vision of success, rather than trying to get the ball and score goals without involving others in the team. Somehow, I cannot see a team of individuals competing with each other ever winning a world cup! Anyone who wishes to 'exalt my throne above the stars of God' as in Isaiah 14:12-17 is losing the game for the team - that was Lucifer's plan - let us not make it our plan.

Now I have a different focus since my recent call as stake patriarch. I am not part of any council - the only counseling that I have is an occasional one-on-one meeting with the stake president. But I have been really impressed by how my thoughts for the recent while have been on the seed of Abraham and the house of Israel - and that is an important part of the work of a stake patriarch as he declares the lineage of the recipient of a patriarchal blessing. My study has brought me to this subject for a while, and I have been particularly struck in so many chapters in scripture by their relevance to the seed of Abraham, Israel, and gathering them in these latter days.

I had occasion to find out about the learning process that my father had when he was called to serve as a stake patriarch in 1970. I have been able to read patriarchal blessings of many members of my family in preparing for my service. I think that my father's personal experience with patriarchal blessings was possibly limited to being present when he, my mother, one sister and I received our blessings while visiting the London Temple in 1969.

I remember elder Marion G. Romney telling my father when he ordained him to the office of patriarch in the Melchizedek priesthood, that he was the first patriarch on the African continent since the days of Abraham. That struck me then, and came to mind again when I chatted to Louis Groenewald who had been the first to receive a patriarchal blessing from my father, the first recipient of a patriarchal blessing on the African continent since Abraham, and who is now serving as a stake patriarch in the Pretoria area. I was asking for any advice that he might give that could help me in my new assignment. One thing that he said struck me - he said he realised that this is a calling of trust. The Lord and the quorum of the twelve trust that I can do it. Now I need to trust myself and be humble and in tune with the Spirit to receive the revelation that the member needs who comes seeking the blessing of their Heavenly Father, to learn of their life mission and possibilities as a child of the King of Kings.

In conclusion, the blessings that I have come to understand that we receive from serving in the Church, are that we come to know the doctrine, whether it be of man or of God, because we are doing the will of the Father and Christ as inspired by the Holy Spirit. This was a promise made by Christ. I love the Lord's declaration in John 15:8 'Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.' My hope and prayer are that I will receive the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to help me to be a useful chisel in the hands of the creator, and adding glory to the Father as I serve and bear fruit. I pray that I will be worthy enough to have pure and blessed water flow from this rusty old tap to bless others as the Lord would do if He were here, serving in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.