Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thoughts on President Eyring’s April 2016 talk :Where Two or Three Are Gathered

When I read through President Eyring’s talk “Where Two orThree Are Gathered,” my heart went out to the two individuals whose problem he described of wanting to feel nearer to God:

I know of at least two people listening today who want that blessing with all their hearts. They will try earnestly to draw nearer to the Lord during this conference. They each wrote to me—their letters arriving at my office in the same week—pleading for the same kind of help.
Both of them are converts to the Church and have previously received clear testimonies of the love of God the Father and of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. They knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Church by direct revelation from God and that the keys of the holy priesthood were restored. Each felt a witness that keys are in place in the Church today. They bore to me their solemn testimony in writing.
Yet both lamented that feelings of love for the Lord and His love for them were lessening. They both wanted, with full heart, for me to help them regain the joy and the feeling of being loved that was theirs as they came into the kingdom of God. Both expressed a fear that if they could not regain in full those feelings of love for the Savior and His Church, the trials and tests they faced would finally overcome their faith.
They are not alone in their concern, nor is their test a new one.

I noticed that President Eyring’s talk is full of helpful doctrine and admonitions for those who might be going through this same difficulty.

Note that he says they are not alone in their concern and their test isn’t a new one.  I would almost say the problem is endemic to the fallen mortal condition. We are prone to wander and leave the God we love. Even as members of the church we are still liable to relax and forget the Lord.  And on top of that, we have the challenges of mortality, as President Eyring lists elsewhere in his talk:

All of us have had our faith tested by precious blessings delayed, vicious attacks of those who wanted to destroy our faith, temptations to sin, and selfish interests that reduced our efforts to cultivate and soften the spiritual depths of our hearts.

--Blessings delayed (These can make us feel forgotten by God. Our resentment can rise and it takes faith and patience to overcome this.)
--Vicious attacks (These can make us feel unsupported by God. We want God prove we are right or defend us. Or we might wonder where we can find answers to sudden questions.  It takes courage and trust and patience to overcome this.)
--Temptations (These can make us feel like God’s way is unattractive or not enticing. It takes trust and the capacity to sacrificially mortify the flesh to overcome this.)
--selfish interests  (These can make us feel like God doesn’t want us to have our way or that He doesn’t care about our individuality. It takes humility and sacrifice to overcome this.)

Probably the main point President Erying wanted to make about how we can overcome the tendency to stray and lose our connection to our Heavenly Father comes even before he mentions the problem:

Where and when we feel the closeness of the Savior depend on each of us. He gave this instruction:
“And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:62–63).

President Eyring included a quotation from Christ’s parable of the sower about the four different types of ground receiving seed. The seed is the same; it is the ground that is ready to receive it or not.  Likewise, the word is the same, it is our hearts that are ready to receive it or not.

What I really liked was that in his talk he outlined some very quick and immediate steps that everyone could take during conference to soften our hearts and receive and nourish the word.  He suggested we pray throughout conference:
--Pray with those who are praying
--Pray as a speaker approaches the pulpit to receive the Spirit of truth
--Pray as the choir is about to sing
--As speakers are about to end talks, pray that God would give them of right words of testimony to lift everyone

I remember when he suggested this I was very touched, and I tried to do that throughout conference. It did help me feel increased closeness to God.  It also helped me pay extra attention to the speakers’ ending testimonies, and I appreciated them much more than I had done before.

I learned through this experience how important prayer is to increasing our closeness to God.  I extrapolate that this practice of personal, silent prayer can be used not just during general conference, but at all our church meetings as well.

But prayer isn’t the only way that we can do our part to draw near to the Lord. While I was reading this talk, I ended up making a quick list of things I have found help me draw nearer to the Lord:
--Taking the sacrament
--Remembering Christ at various times and places
--Daily scripture study
--Diligent service to others
--Temple worship

Drawing closer to God takes effort on our part. We can’t just drift and wish He were closer. We have to take action and move closer ourselves.

At a very young age (in late elementary school) I noticed the pride cycle pattern in my life, though I didn’t know enough to call it that. I noticed that after a period of trying hard to be good, I would start slacking off and then my spiritual life would go downhill.  With that slacking off would come a feeling of apathy that made church activity annoying.  I didn’t like being in that spiritual condition. 

Each time I noticed this, I had to make a choice to try to live right again.  When I did, I felt closer to the Lord, I felt I was progressing, I felt better about life, I felt happier.

As I got older, this cycle continued in my life, and I began to look for ways to avoid falling into the negative part of the cycle.  When I was in high school, I stumbled across a scripture that said “Weary not in well-doing” and I knew that was the key to escaping the pride cycle and staying on the good side.

President Eyring says something really insightful about our condition when we notice we’re feeling distanced from the Lord:

Those who are saddened by the loss of the joy they once had are the blessed ones. Some do not see the withering of faith within themselves. Satan is clever. He tells those he wishes to be miserable that the joy they once felt was childish self-delusion.

Satan tries to make us think that losing that closeness to God is irreversible. Or he tries to make us think that we’re progressing beyond the need for it.  Both of those messages are lies.

If we notice we’ve lost what we once had, we’re blessed because seeing the problem is the first step toward fixing it.  But to fix it, we have to do our part seeking after the Lord.

We’re more in trouble if we don’t see our own faith withering or if we think we’ve outgrown faith or joy from the gospel. 
1)   The only way we outgrow faith is if we know for certain the truth of the things we once simply believed. 
2)   Since the eternal destiny of Heavenly Father’s righteous children is eternal joy, it is not possible to outgrow joy.  A fullness of joy is our coveted end, not a temporary waystation.  There is nothing childish or self-delusive about true joy.

This talk has been a good reminder for me how much I need prayer in addition to the other practices for drawing closer to God.

Suggestions for teaching:

Read class members the account of the two members writing letters to President Eyring.  Ask them if they have ever gone through that kind of challenge.  Ask them what they would advise those two members if they had been in President Eyring’s position.

Ask class members to brainstorm lies that Satan tells us about our lessening feelings of love from the Lord.  What is false about those thoughts, and what is the truth?

Ask class members what life experiences or circumstances have challenged their faith or made it more difficult for them to feel the love of the Lord in their lives.

Have class members look up the scriptures that Elder Eyring quoted in his talk. What do those scriptures teach that can help with the problem of feeling distanced from the Lord and His love?

Ask class members to share what things they do that help them draw closer to the Lord.  How do these things help?

Ask class members if they followed President Eyring’s counsel to pray for those speaking, singing, praying, or testifying in conference.  Ask them to share what they felt when they did.  Challenge them to try praying at other church meetings similarly.