Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Covenants

Following the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail, the latter-day Saints were poised for a time of great change. As the saints faced yet another expulsion from their settlement, they continued work on the temple. Brigham Young began administering the endowment to as many Saints as possible. Elder James E. Faust recounted in his April 1997 General Conference Address, the following diary entry from Brigham Young.
“Notwithstanding that I had announced that we would not attend to the administration of the ordinances, the House of the Lord was thronged all day. … I also informed the brethren that I was going to get my wagons started and be off. I walked some distance from the Temple supposing the crowd would disperse, but on returning I found the house filled to overflowing.“Looking upon the multitude and knowing their anxiety, as they were thirsting and hungering for the word, we continued at work diligently in the House of the Lord.” 1And so the temple work continued until 1:30 A.M.”

Then Elder Faust added another facet of history to Brigham Young’s account:

The first two names that appear on the fourth company of the Nauvoo Temple register for that very day, February 3, 1846, are John and Jane Akerley, who received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple that evening. They were humble, new converts to the Church, without wealth or position. Their temple work was their final concern as they were leaving their homes in Nauvoo to come west.”

In the midst of the turmoil that the Saints were experiencing, I think it is deeply significant that so much effort was made to actually administer the ordinances to the people. Once these ordinances were performed, many of those saints were able to leave behind their lives, property, and security behind, knowing that they could move forward with the Lord’s work.

What is the purpose of a covenant? I believe there are many purposes for covenants. However I wish to address only one, which is that covenant-making deepens and improves our relationship with Heavenly Father.

There are three ways in which covenant making enable us to become closer to God.

  1. Covenant making binds us to God.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland says that “a covenant is a binding, spiritual promise.” Elder Holland points out that we make covenants personally and individually. Alma the Elder in preparing his people for baptism says that they “are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people.” As a young woman, I recited the Young Women’s theme every Sabbath day and declared with my fellow sisters, “We are daughters of Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love Him.” In boldly saying this declaration we were acknowledging that we weren’t just spiritual daughters of Heavenly Father, but that we had made covenants making us part of God’s kingdom.

When Moses had his powerful encounter with God, God tells Moses, “I have a work for thee.” I believe that God has a work for each of us to perform. It may not be on the grandiose scale of Moses’ calling as prophet, but it is real and significant. And when we enter into a covenant with God, we are more likely to fulfill that calling.

  1. Covenant making and keeping helps us determine and dictate our actions and choices.

Covenant making not only binds us to God, but sets about determining our actions and choices. Consider Alma the Elder’s words to his people as he prepared them for baptism.  (Mosiah 18: 8-10)
Willing to bear one another’s burdens
Willing to mourn with those that mourn
Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things
Serve God
Keep the commandments

In the temple, we make specific covenants which dictate our actions in specific and profound ways. Seeking to align our lives in accordance with these covenants helps us remember God, deepens our “binding” to God as well help us draw closer to Him.

  1. Covenant making helps us REMEMBER God in our lives in a personal and intimate way.

An essential component of covenant making and keeping is remembering. For that reason, we renew our covenants weekly when we partake of the sacrament. In the temple, we also remember our covenants as we perform proxy ordinances for the dead. As we remember our promises, we are more likely to act upon them. When we act upon them we are improving our personal relationship with God, it becomes easier to feel the Spirit and God’s great and deep personal love for us. We are more likely to be inclined to do what is right about deep conviction and genuine love.

I’d like to share a story with you about my Dad. My dad was raised in a good, but non-religious  home. Shortly after high school he got married and together he and his wife had three little girls. My dad is a deeply devoted family man, but he also deals with a lot of anxiety and stress. He often drank and chewed tobacco. Shortly after his third daughter was born, his wife became very ill and died. He was a widower at 25 years old with three young daughters to raise. To say he was scared and worried would be an understatement.

My dad told me that as he left the hospital following his wife’s death, he had a powerful witness that he needed to join the church. Now this prompting didn’t come out of the blue. He had many LDS friends, and his wife had been an inactive member of the church. Joining the church meant making major life-style changes. He quit chewing tobacco and drinking cold turkey.
He attended church meetings and tried to learn the culture and the doctrine. None of this was easy for him. Two years later, he met my mother and they were married in the Provo Temple.  I was the first girl of five girls that they would eventually have together. And just in case you were counting, yes that means there are 8 girls in my family and no boys. Don’t pity my dad, he has lived the life of a King.

Now I didn’t know my dad as a non-member. I only know him as a faithful, active member of the church. But I do know that my dad is very grateful for his membership and often recounts ways in which being a covenant member of the church has changed his life. I’d like to recount a couple of those ways.

  1. My dad committed himself to keeping his covenants and to the Lord. He has always striven to be worthy of the Priesthood. During the first 20 years of his life as a member, he always kept a current temple recommend in his wallet, despite being very far from a temple. He couldn’t attend more than once or twice a year, but he always made sure that he was worthy of those blessings. Now my parents are temple workers and drive four hours round trip to work at the temple once a week.
  2. Through keeping his covenants, my dad has been able to combat his weaknesses. He still copes with anxiety and stress, but because he keeps his covenants he knows to turn to the Lord as opposed self-medicating with alcohol or chewing tobacco.

Now, I’m not claiming my dad is a perfect person, but I know that because he has made and is keeping his covenants, he is a great husband, a wonderful father, and a true disciple of Christ. My dad’s own faithfulness and commitment to his covenants has inspired me in tough times to hold true to the covenants I have made. I can see how making covenants has helped my Dad bind himself to God, dictates his actions and choices, and helps him remember his responsibilities and obligations to God.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make covenants with God through baptism and in the temple. I am grateful for the power of covenants to bind us to God and help us come closer to Him.  

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