RS/MP Chapter 19: Missionary Work: “To Reach Every Human Heart” (Lorenzo Snow Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on October 8, 2013
This lesson can be found online here. Below, I will write a few comments on each section of the lesson.
1. From the life
As an academic, the opening vignette of this lesson is especially meaningful to me, since Pres. Snow lays aside his studies to serve a mission. I don’t think the lesson is anti-academic; rather, I think the lesson is that everything we do should be done with the aim toward serving others and building the kingdom. (I don’t think this means that we can’t enjoy some activities, including study, for their own sake, but such activities should find a place within the larger framework of a meaningful life of service.)
I also like the particulars of this story, how Pres. Snow received very customized counsel, that his friend “would not give anyone else . . . under the circumstances.” And how this counsel is “the very thing [Pres. Snow] wanted him to say, and it pleased [him]. Nevertheless, in the end, Pres. Snow “felt that there was a responsibility resting upon” him that compelled him to serve.
What I like about this part of the story is that it recounts how Pres. Snow developed his own intrinsic motivation to serve his mission. This reminds me of a part of Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk during the recent priesthood session of conference. Since the talks aren’t up yet, I’ll quote from Kent Larsen’s excellent summary:
If we see healthy eating and exercise as something only our doctor expects of us, we will likely fail. If we see these choices as who we are and who we want to become, we have a greater chance of staying the course and succeeding. If we see home teaching as only the stake president’s goal, we may place a lower value on doing it. If we see it as our goal—something we desire to do in order to become more Christlike and minister to others, we will not only fulfill our commitment but accomplish it in a way that blesses the families we visit and our own as well.
I Pres. Uchtdorf’s comment here about intrinsic motivation serves as a nice framework to think about several of the themes mentioned in this lesson.
2. We desire to help others
If we truly desire to help others, we will not just “put in our time,” so to speak, but we will stretch ourselves and tailor our missionary efforts to the specific needs of our friends and neighbors:
Go and make friends among the individuals by whom you are surrounded; or select one and try to start his feelings, his faith, his circumstances and his mind and try to enlighten them . . . for in this way you can do good through the information which the Lord has imparted to you.
In light of the introductory passage I focused on, I think this suggests a nice way to channel mental efforts in missionary work. Pres. Snow also admonishes us, in efforts “to be saviours of our fellow man,”
to learn how to save them; to communicate to them a knowledge of the principles that are necessary to raise them to the same degree of intelligence that we have ourselves.
Oftentimes we think of missionary work only in terms of the “social” work required to befriend others and to invite them to here the Gospel message. But this would be a mistake. Missionary work also takes mental work, and preparation, as well as the emotional work required to care for and love others. Emotional and mental work are intertwined because if it takes mental work to think about how the Gospel applies to the concrete circumstances of our friends’ and neighbors’ lives—and if we haven’t done this kind of work in our own lives, or in the lives of our families and ward members, then we won’t be very effective missionaries.
3. Missionaries . . . make sacrifices
Having four young children of my own has made the sacrifices of the early Church missionaries astounding to me:
Under the adverse circumstances in which we were then situated, with our families almost destitute, this was a great undertaking for us; but the Lord had called, and we felt to respond, no matter what sacrifice it involved.
This quote sounds kind of bland to me, frankly, until I start contemplating what those sacrifices really were.
I think the nature of the sacrifices required has changed. There were several talks from Saturday’s afternoon conference (see Kent Larsen’s summaries here) that touched on issues relevant to this lesson, esp. the talks by Elder Nielsen and Elder Ballard. Although not as directly focused on missionary work, I liked Elder Valenzeula’s discussion of small and simple things. I think this idea nicely complements later points in the lesson (as I will discuss below).
4. Bearers of good and glad tidings
I like how the word “indifference” is used in this quote:
Never mind the indifference of some of those amongst whom you will labor, and the little disappointments you will meet with; the Spirit of the Lord will be upon you, and you will stir up the spirits of those to whom you minister, and conquer their indifference; … you will be satisfied you have accomplished the work you have been sent to perform….
Indifference, it seems to me, is a real problem in modern society. One of the challenges I feel about missionary work is that I think my friends are mostly indifferent with regard to spiritual matters. And yet Pres. Snow promises that the Spirit will help us to “stir up the spirits of those to whom you minister, and conquer their indifference.” This is a great blessing.
But how can this happen? Although we might be tempted to just tighten our belt and become more bold in our proclamations of the Gospel to our neighbors and friends, I think there’s a danger in this attitude of being overbearing (see Alma 38:12). And it’s this danger that I think Elder Ballard was getting at (quoting again from Kent Larsen’s summary):
We must demonstrate our faith and watch for opportunities to introduce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our Heavenly Father’s children, and surely the opportunities will come. These opportunities will never require a forced or contrived response. They will flow as a natural result of our love for our brothers and sisters. Just be positive, and those you speak with will feel your love. They will never forget that feeling even though the timing may not be right for them to embrace the gospel. That, too, may change in the future when their circumstances change.
5. Our hearts rejoice
I think the following quote from this final section is quite powerful:
This love begotten in the hearts of the missionary Elders of our Church for the peoples of the earth . . . is in itself testimony sufficient to convince the honest heart that its source is divine, and that God is with us. This sacred and holy feeling . . . is the feeling that will yet revolutionize the whole world.
I like how this quote focuses on love as the most important part of missionary work, and on the revolutionary power of this simple idea.
Coupled with this love, however, must be patience. From my own sad experience, I know that impatience is not conducive to the Spirit or to missionary work. Our job is to prepare ourselves, to be mindful, to be ready, to be in tune with the Spirit and faithful enough to act on its promptings. Our duty is not to convert our friends and neighbors:
We expect . . . much patience, faith, diligence, perseverance, and long-suffering will necessarily have to be exercised and experienced; but in the cities … in which thousands ultimately received the Gospel, in several instances many months were spent in seemingly fruitless labors before a proper attention and observance to those principles could be procured. . . . We may in some [cases] have not only to employ months, but perhaps even years; but we feel assured, that through faith, prayer, works, and the blessing of the Lord, we shall ultimately overcome and triumph over all these difficulties to the honour and glory of God; and besides, we also ourselves shall have the gratification that we have done our duty, and cleared our garments of the blood of all men.
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