Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home Teaching & Visiting Teaching: Letting Love Change Your Heart

“As I have fulfilled my assignment regarding you, fulfill your assignments regarding one another.”

You’re right – that’s NOT how the hymn goes.  That’s also not how John 13:34 reads – the scripture upon which that hymn is directly based.  Doesn’t quite have the same spirit the way I sung it, does it?

Unfortunately, many of us in the Church regard home and visiting teaching as nothing more than an assignment to be reluctantly fulfilled – another item on our seemingly-endless to-do list that we begrudge doing.  But it’s actually a critical component of our covenant obligation to love one another – a covenant we took upon ourselves at baptism.

When we are baptized, we promise to keep God’s commandments, and God promises to bless us – particularly, He will bless us with His Spirit.  More specifically, the covenant we make is one in which we agree (for our end of the contract), to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…and…mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and…stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God...” (1)

Those things – bearing one another’s burdens, mourning together, comforting one another, and standing as witnesses of God at all times and in all places – those are not mere assignments from earthly leaders.  Those are promises to God that inherently require us to love one another.  They cannot be done effectively without love, and there is not much motivation (beyond a sense of duty) to do those things unless prompted by love.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught us about six different motivations for giving service; including selfishly seeking reward, a sense of duty, and fear of punishment.  The highest of the motivations of which he spoke was love. (2)

So, how do we come to love those people who we are asked to home teach and visiting teach?  The kind of love expected of us by the Savior cannot simply spring into existence in our hearts by looking at a list of names on a slip of paper we’ve been handed by our Elders Quorum President or Relief Society President, and then stuck on our refrigerator.  But those names do represent real people – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our neighbors.  Why should we value those names – those people?

“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.  And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.  And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation. Ask the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men.” (3)

This brings to mind a couple of thoughts.  First, every soul is precious to God, even more than our own children are to us.  I think we all know that, intellectually.  But how can we make each soul precious to us?  How do we come to actually love others?  Think about your own relationships – the people you love.  Certainly, spending some time with those people plays an important role in developing love for them.  You come to get to know them over time and exposure to them – you begin to care about them more and more deeply, and have desires for their welfare.  The same is true when you home teach and visiting teach.

Second, I notice that at the end of that scripture quote, the Lord says that if you ask for help, you’ll get it!  He’ll send the Holy Ghost to help you know how best to proceed.  That’s a priceless promise and a glorious gift.  You need never worry about what to say or how to make your visits “work.”  Bringing the Spirit with you is all you need to concern yourself with.

Now, as with any principle of the gospel, you cannot gain a testimony of home teaching and visiting teaching in any other way but to do it.  You can hear your leaders each week offer the obligatory admonition to “get it done,” but those words alone will never convince you.

What’s required is a change of heart.

It is my hope that the Spirit of the Lord will work in your heart and help make any changes to your heart that may be necessary to instill in you an unwavering testimony of home teaching and visiting teaching.  Or at least stir your heart that you may take those first steps toward gaining a testimony – that is, to go try it for yourself over a period of time, until you do have that testimony.

Alma pointed out that nothing had a more profound effect on influencing people’s behavior than the word of God: “The preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just — yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them — therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (4)

So do I – that’s why I love to quote the scriptures.  Here are a few relevant ones:

“Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (5)

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (6)

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (7)

“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”  (8)

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (9)

“Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep. … Feed my sheep.”  (10)

“When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (11)

“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” (12)

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (13)

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (14)

We know that actually living a gospel principle is the most effective way to gain and grow a testimony of that principle, so my object today is to just influence you to “give it a try” for a few months.  No, a single visit will not be sufficient – only a few consistent months of regular, faithful home teaching and visiting teaching experiences will be enough to truly get the testimony of it rooted in your heart.  Going out once just because we’re having a one-off “contest” or other gimmick is great, but it has about the same effect as going on a diet for “one week only” or working out for “one month only” – no lasting change takes place.  Trust me on that one.

If you really want to gain a testimony of this vital aspect of discipleship, I encourage you to pray about it with real intent, ask Heavenly Father to touch your heart.  Study the scriptures and seek your answers.  Go to the temple and ponder it while you’re there.  Fast about it.  Prepare your heart to carefully listen for the promptings of the Spirit by living worthily – and you will receive those promptings.  And then you will have the necessary desire to do His will – then you’ll commit to being a 100% home or visiting teacher for the rest of your life.

Sister Julie B. Beck said, “Visiting teaching becomes the Lord’s work when our focus is on people rather than percentages. In reality, visiting teaching is never finished. It is more a way of life than a task.” (15)

I believe the same words can be applied to home teaching.

Now, not to take away anything from visiting teaching, as we all know it is a vital component of the ministering to the needs of the ward members; but I want to focus a moment on home teaching, since it differs in some ways from visiting teaching.  And I’m not just talking about the delicious treats.

One important distinction is that home teaching is a priesthood duty.  We men who have the great privilege of holding the priesthood of God are under a solemn obligation to accept the calling to home teach and then to magnify that calling.  “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” (16)

The oath and covenant of the priesthood states that “whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.” (17)  That’s a pretty awesome promise.

In the revelation found in D&C 20, we are commanded to “visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.”  We’re also instructed to “visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.” (18)  Yes, the Lord said it twice – either it was a mistake, or it was very important.  I’m going with option two.

Further, priesthood holders are commanded to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” (19)

If someone warned you that a dangerous storm was coming, once your family was sheltered, would you not also warn your neighbors?  A storm is coming – a spiritual storm, from which only the gospel can provide the necessary protection.  The Lord said, “Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.”  I think it’s safe to say we have all been warned.  We should use our priesthood to warn others. (20)

Elder David A. Bednar spoke on priesthood power in the most recent general conference priesthood session.  He said, “Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently. Men who hold the priesthood should not only receive priesthood authority but also become worthy and faithful conduits of God’s power. ... Receiving the authority of the priesthood by the laying on of hands is an important beginning, but it is not enough. Ordination confers authority, but righteousness is required to act with power as we strive to lift souls, to teach and testify, to bless and counsel, and to advance the work of salvation. In this momentous season of the earth’s history, you and I as bearers of the priesthood need to be righteous men and effective instruments in the hands of God. We need to rise up as men of God.” (21)

I testify that one of the most effective and profound ways we can use this power, on a regular and ongoing basis to lift souls, to teach and testify, to bless and counsel, and to advance the work of salvation – right here in our own neighborhood – is by choosing to become 100% home teachers every month.  

As a wise leader once explained to me: since you’ll be a priesthood holder for the rest of your life, it makes sense to commit now to be a 100% home teacher for the rest of your life.  It’s not going away, brethren!  Think how much more pleasant it will be each month when it’s time to report your home teaching, to be able to always confidently report “100 percent” and provide an update on the well-being of your families!

Returning to my opening remarks, I do believe it all comes back to love.

In 1840, the Prophet Joseph Smith sent an epistle to the Twelve wherein he taught that “love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (22)

Well, “ranging through the whole world” can begin right in your own ward – through the inspired program of home teaching. 

As I count my blessings, I am humbled.  That humility drives in me a desire to somehow show my gratitude by doing my Father’s will.  I fall short so often, and in so many ways.  But I figure one easy way to show my gratitude is to try to bring the Spirit to the families I home teach. 

I don’t even like the phrase “do my home teaching.”  It sounds like such an arduous task when put that way!  And it removes important components such as “people” and “souls” and “love” from the equation.  I “do the dishes” or “do the laundry” or “do the yard work.”  Home teaching is different.  If I had my way, we’d never again tell the brethren to “do their home teaching.”  Instead we’d say “go and love the souls the Lord has commanded you to love.”  Put that way, who would shirk?  The power of words is phenomenal.

Elder Wirthlin said, “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. It comforts, counsels, cures, and consoles. It leads us through valleys of darkness and through the veil of death. In the end love leads us to the glory and grandeur of eternal life. For me, the Prophet Joseph Smith has always exemplified the pure love of Christ. Many asked why he gained so many followers and retained them. His answer: ‘It is because I possess the principle of love.’” (23)

If we possess the principle of love, we will have a true, unwavering desire to “do our home and visiting teaching.”  Or, as I prefer to phrase it, we will want to “go and love the souls the Lord has commanded us to love.”

Why are we here in this life, if not to love and serve others, and thereby learn to be more like Jesus Christ?  Laying aside the blessings we can provide others, why would we choose to deprive ourselves of the blessings that come from service and from teaching and testifying of truth, and of magnifying our priesthood – of loving others?  Why would we not do something easy that helps us become more like the Savior?  Alma warned, "Do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way." (24)

And visiting a neighbor really is an easy – even a “small” thing, but one that can have miraculous impact.  “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.  And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (25)

Now, I could stand here and give you suggestions for how to set up appointments with your families – such as the benefits of establishing a standing monthly appointment . . . or I could explain the best ways to minister to your families, such as praying with your companion before the visits; or using the First Presidency message from the Ensign for some people, or tailoring your message to the specific needs of each family you visit – even contacting the father of the family in advance to find out if there’s a subject he would like addressed – these are all great methods.  But the how won’t really matter if the commitment to do it is not rooted in your heart.  Once that desire is there, and the commitment made, then all the rest of the details will fall into place as you are guided by the Spirit.

So instead of telling you how to do it, I’d like to just share a couple of my own experiences.  I’ve gotten to know and love some great families from home teaching over the years.  There were some families where it was clear they were doing great – strong in the gospel, active members who faithfully magnified their own callings – and from those families I feel I was the one who gained something by visiting them.  Then there were some other families – less active, or just struggling spiritually – for whom I think my monthly visits were (for them) a rare opportunity to feel the spirit in their home – and I felt honored to be the one to bring that spirit to them.  I know I was an instrument to help make a difference. 

I’ve established friendships through home teaching where I feel I was really able to have an impact in people’s lives.  Recently, I reconnected through Facebook with a guy whose family I home taught several years ago.  One of the first things he wrote to me was that he has, as a result of what I taught him through precept and example, maintained his own home teaching record of 100 percent over the past few years.  I found that heartwarming, just because it means that many other families were blessed by his faithfulness, and I had the blessing of playing some small role in his decision to serve. 

And we’ve all heard stories of families reactivated as a result of faithful home teachers – and how it positively affected generations that followed.  Those stories are real, and I believe they are less rare than you may think.  Likewise, a missed opportunity can have negative effects across generations.  President John Taylor warned, “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty.” (26) That would be a heavy burden to bear.

When we love others, we are made better people, and become more Christlike.
President Monson said, “Love is the catalyst that causes change.” (27) Home teaching and visiting teaching is an act of love.  I challenge you to commit immediately to becoming a 100 percent home or visiting teacher.  If you don’t feel the desire right now, look into your own heart, pray, fast, go to the temple, ponder the scriptures, receive a prompting and then act upon it and make that commitment.  Imagine what a transformation we could have in our ward, in our community. 

Our stake’s current average sacrament attendance is about 48% of the membership.  Think what a difference you can make by loving your neighbors and making church the place that they want to be on Sundays.  Your efforts may not “pay off” immediately – it could take years, and you may not even get to witness the results for yourself.  But know this: no good deed is ever in vain.  It is always worthwhile to love one another.  The Lord does not give useless commandments.  And as we know from Nephi, “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (28)

In March, in  my ward, there were 40 families who did not get a home teaching visit.  That’s almost as many families as were in attendance at sacrament today.  

As Ward Mission Leader, I have put an emphasis on home teaching as a part of our missionary responsibility – to bring back the one sheep to the ninety-and-nine in the fold – everyone, even the most faithful member – even our good bishop’s family – needs to have home teachers and visiting teachers visiting regularly. Even if our sacrament attendance were 100% - home teaching would not stop. It can help strengthen us all, and then KEEP us strong.

President Monson said, "I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish — and in effect save their lives." (29)

So, with all that said, I offer two final scriptures: “And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.” (30)

“Choose you this day whom ye will for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (31) 

I testify that God loves each of us individually, and He will bless us as we go out and love others through our dedicated service of home teaching and visiting teaching. 

“As I have LOVED you . . . LOVE one another.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(1)      Mosiah18:8-11
(3)      D&C 18:10-18
(4)      Alma 31:5
(5)      Matthew 25:40
(6)      D&C 58:27
(7)      Matthew 22:36-40
(8)      Mosiah 2:17
(9)      John 14:15
(10)    John 21:15–17
(11)    Luke 22:32
(12)    D&C 64:34
(13)    2Cor. 9:6–7
(14)    Moroni 7:48
(16)    D&C 107:99
(17)    D&C 84:33
(18)    D&C 20: 47, 51
(19)    D&C 20:59
(20)   D&C 88:81
(23)    ibid.
(24)    Alma 37:46
(25)    Alma 37:6-7
(28)    1Nephi 3:7
(30)    Alma 34:33
(31)    Joshua 24:15

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