Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ
January 12, 2014, 8:43 pm - James Farrer
Preface: This is my talk from church today. (For our friends that aren't part of our church, members of the congregation are asked periodically to prepare talks or lessons to share from the pulpit during the main meeting and this week was our turn. More info here)
I served my mission in the Baltics speaking Russian. I spent almost a year and a half in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. 10 years before I arrived in Lithuania it was part of the Soviet Union. It was the first country to declare its independence. Lithuania had a majority of native Lithuanian speakers, but during Soviet rule a significant population of Russian speakers immigrated there, particularly to Vilnius.
During the two years that I was on my mission the language dynamics were changing. While most people spoke Russian at some level, many native Lithuanians refused to acknowledge it. Of the Russian families many children were learning Lithuanian in schools and spoke it natively better than their parents Russian. To work in most places you had to speak Lithuanian. To get citizenship you had to pass a Lithuanian test that most natives couldn’t pass.
Put all of this together and it necessitated a change in the number of missionaries that spoke Lithuanian and Russian in Vilnius. So while I was there we went from having 6 or so Russian speaking companionships down to having just me and my companion.
Due to this we spent a lot of time going through the area books and looking up what had been done in the other areas that we inherited. At one point we came across a man named Genadii. He had met with the missionaries 3 or 4 times before and wanted to be baptized but each time progression had stalled and the missionaries had moved on.
We started meeting with him and found he was happy to meet with us, come to church, and still wanted to be baptized, but he had a problem, he couldn’t quit smoking. He had tried many times to quit but each time fell back to his old habits.
After meeting with him him for a long time it came down to the same point it had each time before. He needed to make the leap, quit smoking and get baptized so he could continue to progress and it was time for us to move on and teach others.
As we went in and started talking with him about the situation the feeling in the room was full of despair. Complete and utter despair. He obviously wanted to do better, to be better, but again had come up short. In the midst of that despair I had a moment of inspiration that turned the whole tide of the meeting and of his life.
Each time he had tried to quit he would be strong for a while and then when it got tough and he was faced with temptation, he would forget what he was working for and fall back to his old habits. So as we talked with him we started to identify when and where that temptation presented itself and we started making signs to remind him of what he was working on. We scoured the place for any cigarettes that he had around him and threw them away. And in their place we put signs of encouragement and instruction. Most of the signs were very simple. “Don’t smoke”. But we made dozens of these and walked through his apartment placing them in any place that might present temptation.
As we worked the feeling in the room changed from deep despair to hope and excitement and was accompanied by the presence of the Spirit guiding us all along.
Genadii had a serious weakness, but we were able to help him build spiritual and physical fortifications to help him in his process of repentance. I’m sure there were many times that he was discouraged and tempted but with those reminders and a change in his life to actively live the gospel, serve others, and participate in the branch he was able to fully repent, get baptized, and a year later go to the temple. This man became a great strength to the branch and just being around him you could feel of his happiness and hope.
He helped others repent and get baptized and was a great example.
In the Book of Mormon when the Nephites were threatened by the Lamanites, Moroni took the opportunity to built great fortifications for each of the cities to protect them. He built walls on top of walls with massive spikes on top of that and towers above it all to be able to actively defend against their adversaries. Particular effort was made to strengthen the weakest cities.
Just like Moroni, we have an adversary fighting against us. For us that adversary isn’t in the form of an army coming to attack. Instead of a physical battle we have a spiritual one. For some of us the battle can take a physical form, for others it’s an inner battle. But all of us have a battle to fight. That’s the reason we’re here in this life. It is a test to prove we will be faithful and are worthy of greater blessings.
If we’re facing a physical threat then building a fortification is mostly straightforward. Put something strong between you and the enemy. That may be armor, shields, walls, pits, as well as having weapons to fight back with.
When the threat is spiritual, when it’s temptation that faces us on the inside where we can’t build a wall or hold up a shield, what do we do?
I know I’ve struggled with this and watched many others in my life with similar struggles. So what do we do?
In October conference of last year Elder Scott talked about this. He talked about the people of Ammon and how they buried their weapons to remove temptation. In their case the sin was a very physical one and they could do that. They knew that they had to avoid even coming close to their previous actions and gave up using weapons altogether. This caused them and the Nephites hardship as the Lamanites attacked time and again and wore the armies down.
When the people of Ammon were about to break their covenant and pick up their weapons again Helaman told them to stop. It wasn’t worth losing their souls even if it meant physically protecting their families. We know the story, because of their faithfulness and the faithfulness of their sons, we have the miraculous story of Helamen’s Strippling Warriors. Those sons who should’ve been too young to fight, went in the strength of the Lord and helped change the tide of the war.
When Genadii built his fortifications both physical and spiritual, and proactively engaged at church and in the gospel he was strengthened and was able to overcome his weakness through the atonement. He was physically and spiritually strengthened. Did he still face temptation? You bet.
Elder Scott said “It is a fundamental truth that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can be cleansed. We can become virtuous and pure. However, sometimes our poor choices leave us with long-term consequences. One of the vital steps to complete repentance is to bear the short- and long-term consequences of our past sins. Their past choices had exposed these Ammonite fathers to a carnal appetite that could again become a point of vulnerability that Satan would attempt to exploit.
“Satan will try to use our memory of any previous guilt to lure us back into his influence. We must be ever vigilant to avoid his enticements. Such was the case of the faithful Ammonite fathers. Even after their years of faithful living, it was imperative for them to protect themselves spiritually from any attraction to the memory of past sins.”
So what do we do in our lives to fortify against our weaknesses? When building a wall isn’t enough, what do we do?
We start with repentance. It must be “sincere, thorough, and complete.” But then we must do more to protect ourselves from temptation and the long-term effects of our previous sins.
Elder Scott counseled:
“Father in Heaven has provided us tools that help to build the fortifications between our vulnerabilities and our faithfulness. Consider the following suggestions:
- Make covenants and receive ordinances for yourself. Then steadily and consistently work to provide ordinances in the temple for your own ancestors.
- Share the gospel with nonmember or less-active family members or friends. Sharing these truths can bring a renewed enthusiasm into your life.
- Serve faithfully in all Church callings, especially home teaching and visiting teaching assignments. Don’t be just a 15-minutes-a-month home or visiting teacher. Rather, reach out to each individual member of the family. Get to know them personally. Be a real friend. Through acts of kindness, show them how very much you care for each of them.
- Most important, serve the members of your own family. Make the spiritual development of your spouse and children a very high priority. Be attentive to the things you can do to help each one. Give freely of your time and attention.
“In each of these suggestions, there is a common theme: fill your life with service to others. As you lose your life in the service of Father in Heaven’s children, Satan’s temptations lose power in your life.”
I know that we all face temptation and at times are very vulnerable. I also know that through the atonement of Christ we can repent and be clean again. This is a great feeling and a great blessing. I believe that by following these suggestions we can fortify ourselves in our weak and vulnerable places and we can be strengthened through the atonement so we can reach the goal of exaltation with our Father in Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.