I am a Relief Society lesson leader in our ward and as I was preparing my lesson for tomorrow, I thought I would post my lesson plan. I’m not very good at presenting lessons, so I always write it out like a talk. I try not to present it like a talk and make sure to lead discussions, but I do it this way as a safety net in case something happens and I don’t know what to say next or how to lead into the next section. And when I write it out like this, I always feel much more prepared and able to answer questions. So in case there are any other lesson leaders out there who may be looking for more references or thoughts at the last minute, hopefully this will help. If anyone has any thoughts or comments about my lesson, please feel free to comment and share them with me! I would love to hear them!
*All quotes below are directly from the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow manual unless otherwise stated.
Lifelong Conversion: Continuing to Advance in the Principles of Truth
From the Life of Lorenzo Snow
As I was preparing this lesson, I realized that this topic could become very personal. I would like each of you to ponder about where you are in your spiritual lives and to evaluate what you need to do personally to grow spiritually. It is not a time to beat up on yourself and compare your spirituality with the person sitting next to you or to anyone of our ward, stake, or general leaders. (To clarify, there should never be a time to compare your spirituality with anyone else’s.)
President Benson explains it so clearly: “The…point I wish to make about the process of repentance (or conversion, or building a testimony…you name it) is that we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, and almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically in an instant…Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance (or as stated earlier, conversion, testimony, etc.) much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the lamanites, who the lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)” [A Mighty Change of Heart, President Ezra Taft Benson. Ensign, Oct 1989.]
Each of us is at a different place spiritually, no matter our age. I hope this lesson can be uplifting and motivating to help each of us become who we want to become spiritually.
Quote 1: Lorenzo Snow was baptized and confirmed in June 1836. Recalling his developing testimony, he later said: “I believed they [the Latter-day Saints] had the true religion, and I joined the Church. So far my conversion was merely a matter of reason…I was perfectly satisfied that I had done what was wisdom for me to do under the circumstances…I had had no manifestation, but I expected one.
“This manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism as I expected…but although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate. One day while engaged in my studies, some two or three weeks after I was baptized, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work – that I had not realized the fulfillment of the promise: ‘He that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine;’ [See John 7:17] and I began to feel very uneasy.
“I laid aside my books, left the house and wandered around the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer to a grove, a short distance from my lodgings, but at this time I felt no inclination to do so.
“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.
“I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness in to a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and the fullness of the gospel.
“It was a complete baptism – a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; …I was perfectly satisfied as well I might be, for my expectations were more than realized, I think I may safely say, in an infinite degree.
“I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of this blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element, which filled and surrounded me, began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, with my heart swelling with gratitude to God beyond the power of expression , I felt – I knew that he had conferred on me what only an Omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow.”
Lorenzo Snow remained faithful to the witness he received that day, and he worked diligently to increase in his spiritual knowledge and help others to do the same. He then said, “From that time on, I have tried to live in such a way as not to lose His Holy Spirit, but to be guided by it continually, trying to get rid of my selfishness and any wrongful ambition, and endeavoring to work in His interest. As long as memory continues and reason shall assert in its throne, I never can permit the powerful testimony and knowledge that was communicated to me to remain silent.”
As we go through this lesson, I would like you to ponder about these questions up on the board:
Do you yearn for something more spiritual in your life?
How did your testimony become real for you?
Consider sharing your experience with a family member or a friend, or maybe even in the next fast and testimony meeting.
Gaining a testimony is a good starting point for Latter-day Saints
The foundation upon which we have placed our faith is grand and glorious. Gaining a testimony that there is a God, that he has a Son, Jesus Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God is a good starting point for a Latter-day Saint, and it is something that every person will need at some time or other. We will all come into circumstances of such a nature that we will need strength, and that strength will come from a knowledge of the fact that the path in which we are traveling will lead us to our Savior.
President Snow says that gaining a testimony is “a very good starting point for a Latter-day Saint” Why is a testimony only a starting point – and not a final destination?
Quote #2: Lorenzo Snow said, “Brethren and sisters, there are some things that you and I ought to think about. The time is come when it behooves every man and every woman to know for themselves in relation to the foundation on which they stand. We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little and obtain a full knowledge of those things which we should more fully understand. It is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint.”
I like that: “We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little…” I like the emphasis of incremental change. “We get a little nearer.” “Advance a little.” That seems doable, within grasp, and realistic. But in the same sentence we get a sense of the expansiveness of this progression we need to work toward. We need to “obtain a full knowledge.” Full knowledge is a pretty lofty vision of what we need to get.
What are the advantages of having this focus of incremental change and progress?
Regarding the idea of incremental change, Relief Society leader Ardeth Kapp said, “Sometimes we feel that we need to do it all – and all at once. But that is not the case. When we give what we have according to our time, according to our energy, according to where we are at this moment in our development, then the Lord will take what we have to offer and he will make up the difference.” (Women and the Power Within p. 46).
We can increase in our faith and spiritual knowledge
Men and women can increase their spiritual knowledge; they can grow better as they grow older.
Quote #3: I feel that Latter-day Saints are advancing; that they are receiving an education. We are getting up higher and higher. We are advancing to a higher condition and sphere and to a higher plane, and we are receiving such an education that the wisdom of the world with all its attainments and false doctrines and principles, will have no effect upon the Latter-day Saints, for they are rising above the theories and hypothesis of human inventions and soaring in things of truth that raise the mind, exalt the understanding, and establishing themselves more and more fully in the true principles of life and glory. We are filled in our hearts with these truths and we cannot tell the day or the hour in which our faith has been increased, but we feel, when we look back over the last week, month, or year, that we have increased in faith and in the knowledge of faith and power of God; we know that we have got nearer our God and we feel that we are in fellowship with God our Father.
President Snow contrasts the world’s education with the “higher” education the Lord offers. How can we pursue this “higher education?” What blessings have come to you as you have done so?
Talk about putting everything through a gospel filter and not filtering the gospel into a worldly filter.
If we desire to increase in our faith and spiritual knowledge, we must exert ourselves
President Snow said, “Every man has got to learn to stand upon his own knowledge; he cannot depend upon his neighbor; every man must be independent; he must depend upon his God for himself entirely.” This statement resonates well with our belief to become self-reliant. I think we can all see the benefits of learning to stand upon your own knowledge, and not to depend leaning on others’ knowledge as we grow spiritually. He goes on to say, “It depends upon himself to see if he will stem the tide of trouble and overcome the impediments that are strewn in the pathway of life to prevent his progress. A man can get information by the operations of the Holy Spirit and as he approaches to God and increases in his faith in proportion as he is diligent.”
What can we do as parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. do to help youth stand upon their own knowledge?
Quote#4: It is impossible to advance in the principles of truth, to increase in heavenly knowledge, [unless] we exercise our reasoning faculties and exert ourselves in a proper manner. We have an instance recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants of a misunderstanding on the part of Oliver Cowdery, touching this principle. The Lord promised him the gift to translate ancient records. Like many of us today, he had misconceptions in regard to the exercise of the gift. He thought all that was necessary for him to do, inasmuch as this gift had been promised him of God, was to allow him to wait in idleness without effort, until it should operate spontaneously. But when those records were placed before him, there was no knowledge communicated, there still remained sealed, as it were, for no power to translate came upon him.
Although the gift to translate had been conferred, he could not do the work, simply because he failed to work toward developing that gift. But the Lord was merciful and informed Oliver Cowdery of his mistake, teaching us all a very important principle.
D&C 9:7-8 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
“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.”
Gifted, talented people in whatever area did not become gifted or talented by waiting for that talent to come. It required a lot of work. President Snow compared this principle to a person learning how to play the flute, which relates to anyone attempting to master any skill. “An individual undertaking to learn to play upon a flute at first finds a difficulty in making the notes, and in order to play a tune correctly there is a great deal of diligence and patience required. He has to go on, to pause, to turn back and to commence afresh, but after a time he is enabled, through a great deal of exertions, to master that tune. When called upon to play that tune afterwards, there is no necessity for remembering where to place the fingers, but he plays it naturally. It was not natural at first; there had to be a great deal of patience and labor, before it became natural to go through with the tune.”
And so it is with each of us. We have to take it upon ourselves to put into action our spiritual goals so that they may become a natural part of ourselves. As President Snow said, “Our religion should be incorporated within ourselves, a part of our being that cannot be laid off.”
As we dig deep into the things of God and remain faithful, our religion becomes part of our being.
Quote #5 There is a danger of our being satisfied with a superficial advancement, with merely advancing on the surface. We talk of walking in the light of the Spirit and of feeling it upon us, but do we do these things? We ought to dig deep into the things of God, lay our foundation upon the rock, until we come to that water which shall be in us an everlasting fountain of eternal life.
What do you think it means to “dig deep into the things of God?” What are some ways we can “dig deep into the things of God?”
Quote #6 I will [present a] figure in regard to bringing about and getting this spirit in us, and digging deep that we in the time of storm, may not be driven off. Place a cucumber in a barrel of vinegar and there is but little effect produced upon it the first hour, nor in the first 12 hours. Examine it and you will find that the effect produced is merely upon the rind, for it requires a longer time to pickle it. A person’s being baptized into this church has an effect upon him, but not the effect to pickle him immediately. It does not establish the law of right and duty in him during the first 12 r 24 hours; he must remain in the church, like the cucumber in the vinegar, until he becomes saturated with the right spirit, until he becomes pickled in ‘Mormonism,’ in the law of God; we have got to have those things incorporated in our systems.
President Snow also said, “Stick to the ship of Zion. If boats come to the side, showing beautiful colors and making wonderful promises, do not get off the ship to go to the shore on any other boat; but keep on the ship. If you are badly used by any of those that are on the ship, who have not got the proper spirit, remember the ship itself is all right. We should not allow our minds to become soured because of anything that the people on the ship may do to us; the ship is all right, and the officers are all right, and we will be right if we stick to the ship. I can assure you it will take you right into the land of glory.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, each of us are at a different place spiritually. Some of us may be struggling to get started and feel stuck, and some of us may be successfully progressing, and everywhere in between. In my studies and preparation for this lesson, I came across some words of wisdom from a former 1st Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, Chieko Okazaki.
“What builds your spirituality may be different from what builds someone else’s…You should do what works for you. It’s okay to consult your own needs and wants. Growth comes when we feel ourselves drawn in certain directions, when we feel unsatisfied needs in ourselves and reach out to meet those in needs of righteous ways…Ask yourself:
‘What do I want out of my attendance at church? Am I getting it?’
‘What kinds of experiences with the scriptures have brought me the most joy in the past, or been most satisfying to me? Is there a way to have those experiences more regularly?’
‘What kind of prayer life do I have?’
‘Do I consciously invite the Holy Ghost to ‘come along’ in my daily activities?’
Spirituality is individual. Find things that work for you as you develop spiritual strength.” (Lighten Up! P. 193-194)
I invite each of you to take some time in the near future to evaluate where you are and what set some spiritual goals. Share your goals with someone for support. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at the Personal Progress program. There are a lot of great resources and goals to help you draw closer to our Savior.
Close with Testimony.