Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 3: “Lifelong Conversion: Continuing to Advance in the Principles of Truth” (Lorenzo Snow Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on February 2, 2013

(The lesson can be found online here.)

Overview and teaching strategy

The last two sections of this lesson were the most striking and meaningful to me, so I will focus my comments on just those two sections.

In fact, I usually have the most success in my quorum when I plan to discuss only about 3-4 quotes from the lesson. I carefully (and prayerfully) pick these quotes, and I commit to writing ahead of time some probing questions pertaining to these quotes.

I also try to anticipate what kind of answers my quorum members will give, and I brainstorm follow-up questions that will push quorum members to think more deeply about the ideas and tensions at work in the quote and in the lesson, as well as the obstacles in their lives that make living in accordance with the quote a challenge. This helps prevent the lesson from devolving into cliche answers and trite responses.

Quorum discussion usually veers off in a direction I couldn’t have anticipated. Nevertheless, I find that preparing in the way I have described is very helpful to improving the chances of the lesson being meaningful to the other quorum members. Also, if I’ve read the lesson over a few times, highlighting passages and phrases that strike me, then I can let the lesson flow naturally by interweaving comments from quorum members with quotes from the manual (“interesting that you say that, Brother Jones, since Pres. Snow says something similar here on p. ZZZ…”).

If we desire to increase in our faith and spiritual knowledge, we must exert ourselves.

In the first paragraph of this section, we read the following:

A man can get information by the operations of the Holy Spirit, and he approaches to God and increases in his faith in proportion as he is diligent.

What does Pres. Snow mean by the word “diligent” here? What does it mean to be diligent in “get[ting] information by the operations of the Holy Spirit”? If we were more diligent, in this sense, how would our actions, thoughts, and habits change?

I anticipate replies that will ultimately center around rather conventional principles: we need to read the scriptures more, have more family home evenings, pray more, etc., etc. So, what are the challenges that actually prevent us from being more diligent?

Interestingly, several scriptural passages that use the word “diligence” anticipate these kind of challenges in an interesting way. Alma 38:10 teaches that we should “be diligent and temperate in all things.” In Mosiah 4:27 we read that it is “expedient . . . [to] be diligent,” but also that “all things must be done in [wisdom and] order.” In both of these scriptures, a sense of balance is implied. But how do we maintain a proper balance, without letting worldly concerns crowd out spiritual concerns (and diligence)?

I use the word “concern” in the above question purposefully. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Latin root in the word “diligence” means “to value or esteem highly, love, choose, affect, take delight in (doing).” To diligently seek God, and the Holy Spirit, as Pres. Snow teaches, requires more than just perfunctory obedience. Rather, we must be concerned with spiritual things. We must learn to esteem God’s word, to value it, and to love it. This can be challenging, especially since the scriptures are less exciting than, say, sitcoms, Facebook, sports (the Super Bowl is tomorrow, on the day I’m writing this…), etc.

For me, the biggest obstacle right now to being diligent is the daily grind of taking care of 4 highly needy kids. There are never enough hours in the day, and it can be extremely difficult to prioritize spiritual diligence over so many other pressing and urgent demands on my time. Because of this, as a practical matter, it takes an incredible amount of faith and commitment to find time on a weekly (let alone daily!) basis to engage in meaningful prayer, meditation and study of spiritual things.

After describing Oliver Cowdery’s experience around the time when D&C 9 was received, Pres. Snow says:

So in regard to us, respecting the things which we are undertaking. If we expect to improve, to advance in the work immediately before us, and finally to obtain possession of those gifts and glories, coming up to that condition of exaltation we anticipate, we must take thought and reflect, we must exert ourselves, and that too to the utmost of our ability.

Pres. Snow goes on to make an analogy with the exertion required in learning the flute. I like this analogy because it drives home the sense in which I think it is often easier to prioritize practicing an instrument or practicing sports to practicing spiritual skills (like praying and studying scripture, but also listening carefully and empathically to other family members).

I remember when I used to turn in practice sheets to my band teacher each week, reporting how many minutes I had practiced the saxophone. I wonder if I had to turn in a spiritual practice sheet each week how many minutes I could report, and whether the anticipation of knowing I’d have to turn in such a practice sheet would improve the kind of spiritual practice I engage in each week.

As we dig deep into the things of God and remain faithful, our religion becomes a part of our being

Whereas I find the quotes in the first few sections of this lesson, frankly, rather uninspiring, I find every paragraph in this section rather soul-piercing. Consider, for example, this paragraph:

There are men among us upon whom the Spirit of the Almighty once rested mightily, whose intentions were once as good and pure as those of angels, and who made covenants with God that they would serve Him and keep His commandments under every and all circumstances.… But how is it now with some of those Elders? They do not feel so to-day. Their affections are set upon the things of this world which the Lord has enabled them to acquire, that they wait now until they are called, and in many instances when called, they obey more out of a desire to retain their standing and position, than a real heart-felt love of the labor to which they may have been called.

I think it’s interesting to contrast the idea implied in the quote above, that we should act with sincere and heart-felt motivation, to a passage in the opening section of the lesson where Pres. Snow writes:

The spirit of prayer had departed, and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.

After praying simply “as a matter of formality,” Pres. Snow describes a powerful spiritual experience he had. Why, if doing things in a heart-felt way is so important, did Pres. Snow have such a powerful experience when he prayed merely “as a matter of formality”? How can we transition from mere formality, or “a desire to retain [our] standing and position” in the Church and before God, to a more “heart-felt love of the labor”?

I think these are hard questions. In a later paragraph, Pres. Snow talks about becoming “pickled” in Mormonism. This paragraph reminded me of Elder Bednar’s talk from April 2007 (I can’t believe it was that long ago already…) where he talked about the pickling process as an analogy to how we are to obtain a mighty change of heart. I will simply close with a recommendation to read that talk and compare it with Pres. Snow’s teachings, your own life experiences, and the whisperings of the Spirit as they are delivered to you.

12 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 3: “Lifelong Conversion: Continuing to Advance in the Principles of Truth” (Lorenzo Snow Manual)”

  1. Carlyn said

    Thank you so much for your time and effort. Your insight gives me food for thought.

  2. Mike Smith said

    Robert, thank you for taking the time to go over this lesson I will use your information in my teaching and enjoy your help. thanks,Mike

  3. Kelli said

    I stumbled onto your post after Googling “pickled in Mormonism” because that analogy from this lesson really struck a chord. My daughter plays the flute, so I also latched onto the flute analogy as well. Enjoyed your comments and insights.

  4. Julia said

    I was having the hardest time preparing a cohesive and focused discussion for this lesson. Luckily, I stumbled onto your insights in the nick of time. It has greatly helped my preparations and the women of my Relief Society will be the benefactors. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a light hearted teacher and I know that others enjoy my lessons but I always struggle getting up there. Your lesson has given me more confidence this week.

  6. Jolene said

    Thank you so much for your time. I am always eager to find material and others ideas on their lesson study as it helps me with mine.

  7. Robert C. said

    Thanks for the encouragement, everyone — it helps keep me motivated to write something thoughtful each month. And good luck to everyone teaching today!

  8. Eric said

    Thank you for your insight. Very uplifting and thought provoking.

  9. Robert C. said

    As a follow-up (I’ll try to do this semi-regularly): I ended up reading the introductory section on Pres. Snow’s spiritual experience and asking if quorum members if they’d mind sharing an experience that either gave them a testimony or strengthened their testimony. Three quorum members shared some pretty powerful and somewhat personal experiences.

    This took about half the class time, so I then read the quote about serving in a heart-felt way and I asked how, in light of Pres. Snow’s perfunctory prayer, we should understand this tension between serving or obeying out of habit (or guilt) vs. doing so in a heart-felt way. We also discussed the practicing-the-flute analogy and it helped us in thinking about the relationship and feedback loops between our actions and desires.

    I closed by reading a quote the manual that actually didn’t quite fit like I was hoping it would–c’est la vie….

  10. Sherri said

    Thank you for the follow-up as well as your valuable insight on this lesson.

    Does “c’est la vie” mean something like, it is what it is? I need to work on that.

    I often regret not having enough time to address some of the things I wanted to discuss in the lesson. I’ve been seeking direction on whether to open the lesson, as you did, with members sharing experiences on gaining a testimony, knowing that it will surely bring the spirit and be uplifting, but that it will also take half the class time. I had about decided to forgo that approach and go for the meaty questions, when I read your follow-up.

    Just wondering how you felt about not having the time to “dig deep” into some of the great ideas you had planned.

  11. Robert C. said

    Sherri, this concern about having time to “dig deep” fascinates me. It’s a question I’ve done a lot of wrestling with.

    My short and somewhat trite-sounding answer is that I try really hard to follow the spirit when I give a lesson. I have frequently made the mistake of trying too hard to deliver to the class my own supposedly brilliant insights about the lesson. Having fallen flat on my face in this way so many times, I now try very hard not to become attached to any particular idea that I’ve prepared ahead of time (“And it shall be given thee in the very moment what thou shalt speak,” D&C 24:6).

    In my particular case last Sunday, I had a fleeting thought ahead of time that I might ask other quorum members to share an experience, but I didn’t actually decide to do this until right as the lesson was starting. It worked out well, but for reasons that I think were very quorum- and situation specific to our meeting last week. In particular, we have a new presidency, and a couple of the new presidency members shared some rather personal experiences that served to draw the whole quorum closer together. Also, in general, we have a very good quorum, and when I challenge other quorum members to share thoughts and experiences, the insights are usually quite thoughtful and helpful.

    Now, I’ve taught in other quorums where class participation hasn’t worked out nearly as well. And, my wife has complained a few times about instances in a Relief Society meeting when sharing stories devolved into a kind of pity party that isn’t very edifying. However, that said, I’m a pretty firm believer in an active, engaged, participatory learning experiences, and I like to think hard about ways to get class members involved and thinking about the relevance of the lesson to their own personal lives. Otherwise, I think there’s a greater risk that class members will be merely passive observers during the class and no matter how good the “lecture content,” it is unlikely that the lesson will have much meaningful impact.

    (But, I should mention that Joe Spencer, on this site, often likes to frame Sunday lessons as a chance to get away from our normal, worldly lives, to immerse ourselves in the scriptures and communion with other saints, etc. So, he doesn’t like this way of describing participation, of having members thinking about “application to their lives.” I think he and I nevertheless agree that it’s quite important to somehow get class members involved in actually thinking about the meaning and significance of the lesson, so the lesson isn’t just a kind of boring, go-through-the-motions kind of experience. Keeping this aim in mind might help in deciding which particular approach would work best in your particular situation–though, in some ways, this is just restating the trite notion that following the Spirit is crucially important.)

    I hope something I’ve said here is helpful. Good luck!

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