D&C 138:56 tells us that in the premortal realm, we were prepared and trained and ordained to rescue.
This was our premortal covenant: that He would make atonement for us, and we would testify of that atonement.
If we are covenant keepers, then we will be people who testify.
This is the evidence that we are members of the kingdom of God: our work at rescuing is the sign of the covenant, and those whom we rescue are the token.
I was rescued.
I was in an awful state, living in a depraved world, drowning in misery and bondage.
I was so very sick.
Alma 36:12-15 says it this way:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
I was rescued by someone who became my friend through their work.
They testified by how they treated me.
They testified by what they did and didn’t do, and explaining to me why.
They taught me principles without using church-ey words, and helped me practice those principles by inviting me to make good choices that would make me happy.
They answered my questions about the church directly and simply, and only when I asked or when I had been prepared by practicing principles.
It took two years of this before I began my missionary discussions.
That was three years ago today.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. Yea, me thought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there. But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.
I was born of God.
My heart was healed and softened, so that I might repent and submit and let Him teach me.
My ears were restored and opened, so that I could hear and obey.
This is my testimony.
Like Lehi wanting to share the fruit with his family, so did I want to share this new life with my family. Except I didn’t know them, and had gone far from them, and did not know what to do or how to do it. But I was empowered by Temple blessings, I did my best to begin to gather my family.
I began to write to my parents every Sunday.
I wrote to my father every Sunday since I was baptized, up until he died three months ago, testifying of the atonement and sharing my love for him, our Father’s love for us. It was the atonement that built a bridge between us, and his last words to me were to “do what God tells you to do”.
My mother responded to my letters, and just a few months after I was baptized, she went with me on a road trip to see Nauvoo where she accepted a Book of Mormon at the Carthage jail. She already knew much of the history of the Church, and taught me along the way. A year later, when she was laid off her job and became sick and needed spinal surgery, we moved her into my home so that I could help provide and care for her just as the Savior had done for me. Through these experiences our friendship was restored, and our time together is precious and sacred. Now we pray together every morning and every night, and each day we read a chapter from the New Testament. This is the process of our conversion, together, and the evidence of it being in process.
I also found my brother, and we did the work to make peace through powerful repentance experiences. He was my best friend when we were little, and we are best friends again. He was baptized a year after me, and a few months ago he received his endowment in the Temple and the Priesthood was restored to my family. The week after that, he was sealed in the Temple to his new wife, and now he will be serving a mission like mine, except on the Tech team.
Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors; For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God. And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.
I was rescued, and I will testify of it.
Nothing is more important that the testimony we share by what we do and say and how we interact.
This is how we show that we are of the covenant, and how we testify of the atonement: by explaining and showing how we are set apart and made holy by it.
Within the organization of the church, we have callings that help us practice this and do this in order to minister to each other. Home teaching and visiting teaching is how we rescue within the church, but this rescuing will not happen if we do not go – and if we do not let our teachers come to us.
Home teaching must be in the home.
Visiting teaching must include both visiting and teaching.
Hallway check-in’s are not enough, and as of the new handbook (and all of us are responsible for knowing this since Sister Beck instructed us at the last General Conference), we should be reporting a service done for our families and not just a lesson taught (see Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010), 9.5.4.).
Outside of the church, the same principles apply: we should be doing something, not just talking.
These principles are who we are.
These principles are what make us Zion.
President Hinckley said (November 1996 Ensign),
I would pray each of us would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the Spirit of love into the embrace of the Church (TEMPLE!), where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them (welcoming!), comfort them (no hating, no neglect, no abandoning), sustain them (no contention or drama), and put them on the way of happy and productive lives.
I tell you that I was in desperate and difficult circumstances.
I tell you that I was loved into the Church by the people of that ward.
- They did not speak my language.
- It was not convenient to get to where I lived.
- It took a team of people to make arrangements for me.
- I was as difficult as the circumstances in which I lived.
Even now, I depend on my priesthood brothers to guide me and counsel me, and my sisters to love me and be my examples, all while doing my part of the work to be self-reliant physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But still, all these people worked to love me.
It was a labor of love, and it is one that continues.
Through their labor, not only was I rescued, but so was my family, and my brother’s family, and those I visit teach – even the ones I still visit after having the door slammed in my face for two years. There are also those I serve at LDS Family Services, and those I serve at the Temple, or people all over the world through my mission – not because of me, but because this is what the Lord has done.
When we rescue one, it is always exponential.
A Sacrament Hymn says:
Rev’rently & meekly now
Let thy head most humbly bow –
Think of me, thou ransomed one,
Think what I for thee have done.
What He has done is rescued me.
What He has done is kept His promise to atone for me.
Now it is my turn, to testify of that atonement, both in words and in service.
This is the evidence of covenant keeping: that we are willing to do for others what He has done for us.
To deny our duty is to deny the atonement.
To refuse service is to refuse our covenants.
When we fail to magnify callings, or when we are not willing serve, we grieve the Spirit of God – which includes those around us who are tuned in to the Spirit, such as our leaders and the faithful members around us, as well as the non-members and others we should be rescuing.
This also puts at risk the relationships and blessings that otherwise would be gifted to us.
That is why it grieves the Spirit, because there is mourning in what was lost and what will not be.
Our Father knows what each of us needs, and He provides opportunities for us to receive what we need – through service to others.
These opportunities are assigned through His organization of His church – even the Priesthood and auxiliary leaders.
When we refuse their callings or counsel, we are “stoning the prophets”, and denying the atonement of Christ by denying its application in our lives.
D&C 18:10 reminds us that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” We should be about the work of gathering them, not destroying them. We gather souls by testifying of the Savior and loving them unconditionally, while inviting them to meet the conditions of His presence, one principle at a time.
The parables in Luke 15 teach us how this is to be done. We must clean up our own lives, so that we can find the one we lost through neglect and carelessness, like the lost coin. We must do the work of going out and finding the inactive that has wandered away and gone astray, like the lost sheep. We must be willing to celebrate like the Father when the prodigal does return, welcoming them home with open arms.
This is the testifying and gathering of souls we give as evidence that we are covenant keepers, and not just playing church.
At the last General Conference, President Uchtdorf said, “We must learn to love our Heavenly Father and become His disciple in word and deed.”
Whom have I lost, or nearly lost, because of my own actions or neglect or by failing to keep my own life, words, deeds, and body as a Temple of God? How will I seek forgiveness from them, make peace, and show them how much their Father in Heaven loves them?
Whom have I noticed is not here? Whom do I miss? Where are they, and what I am going to do about it?
Who has returned that I must welcome and embrace, even celebrate?
In the Order of God, established before we ever came to Earth, we were organized according to the bounds of time and place, even as we are now. He knew how we would best be able to rescue those He has assigned to us, while also having our own experiences that we need to call us to repentance, to refine and sanctify ourselves, and to edify each other by the power of God.
This power comes through applying the atonement, is received in the Temple, and is granted us by the Spirit… in-as-much-as (to the degree) that we are worthy of it.
This is how we receive the knowledge for how to rescue, and the power to accomplish the rescue.
This is how we establish Zion.
This is how we become Zion.
Brigham Young said (JD 1:1, Salvation. January 16, 1853):
Zion is here. Whenever we are disposed to give ourselves perfectly to righteousness, to yield all the powers and faculties of the soul… when we are swallowed up in the will of Him who has called us; when we enjoy the peace and the smiles of our Father in Heaven, the things of His Spirit, and all the blessings we are capacitated to receive and improve upon, then we are in Zion – that is Zion. If… every mouth would be filled with blessings, every… hand be put forth to do good, and every woman and child… praising God, and blessing each other… would Zion not be here? What hinders you from doing this?
I testify that it is by repentance that we rescue ourselves,
and that it is by service that we rescue others.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.