How Can We Prepare to Be Part of Zion?
By Darla Isackson
See the Other Articles in This Spiritual Preparedness Series:
Spiritual Preparedness–the What’s and Whys
He Did Deliver Me from Bondage: An Introduction
Springing the Comparison Trap
Bite-sized Bits of Family History
The word “Zion” resounds in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints. In the early days of the Church, building Zion was on the mind of every true believer. Yet Zion was not established. Why? D&C 105: 3-6 spells out the reasons: “But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them: And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom: And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom: otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself. And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.”
Have we suffered enough to learn obedience? Zion is still the goal: the Lord would have a Zion people. Are we any closer than the early members of the church in regard to becoming a Zion people?
Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We may not yet be the Zion our prophets foretold and toward which the poets and priests of Israel have pointed us, but we long for it and we keep working toward it.” (“A Handful of Meal and a Little Oil,” Ensign May 1996, pp. 30-31)
Exactly what are we working toward? What characterizes Zion? D&C 97:21 says, “Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion–THE PURE IN HEART; there, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” Dictionary definitions of purity include, “Free from the presence of any other substance. Free from contamination. . . Free from moral guilt.” D & C 38:27 says, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” A Zion people are one because there is not one unrighteous among to contaminate the whole; their unity too is pure. Moses 7:18 says, “and the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.”
Are there poor among us? How can we become “of one heart and one mind –united in purpose?” How can we prepare spiritually to be united as a Zion people?
Did the Lord Give Us Music to Help Us Understand Unity?
My partner Judy and I visit teach Kathy Birdsall. The Birdsalls are a musical family, and as we sat in her homey living room in February we got into a discussion about music. Kathy said, “I believe one of the main purposes the Lord gave us music is to teach the spiritual principle of unity and oneness. In a choir, band, or orchestra, each works in perfect harmony for a common goal.” I had to agree! I recognized that any time I’ve been part of a fine music group, the feeling of oneness during a performance is exhilarating. Can that kind of experience give us glimpses into the spiritual oneness possible when we work together to live Zion principles?
I love memories of family songfests around my piano, love to revisit the good feelings we experience singing together. As we harmonize on the great hymns of the restoration we DO feel united–for that hour, we are one.
Many kinds of music rampant in the world today, however, do not bring peace, do not edify, do not bring unity or harmony. Much modern music reminds me more of the tuning up part of a symphony orchestra, than of the symphony!
Chaos Until the Conductor Is Followed and His Score is Played
I recently heard a professional orchestra tune up before a concert. Instead of harmony, I heard a cacophony of sound. They were each “doing their own thing” and the result was chaos. Then the conductor appeared; there was silence as he took the stand and raised his baton. The next second, this group of musicians became one. The contrast stunned me. As wave after wave of beautiful music reached my ears and thrilled my soul, I was impressed to carry Kathy’s analogy further. The cacophony could be likened to the world. The chaos is evident when every man goes his own way, and follows after his own desires instead of listening to the Spirit and following the direction of his Creator.
Following the “Score”
The opposite of worldly contention is to become a Zion people, of one heart and one mind. We can accomplish this only by following the “score” God has written–the Book of Mormon and other scriptures–and by following the lead of our “Conductor”–the Lord Jesus Christ.
I cut myself off from Zion when I insist on playing a different instrument than His orchestra needs, when I want to play a solo when the music calls for me to blend in, when I get distracted and don’t play my part as it is needed to create harmony and beautiful blend. I create discord if I’m so busy noticing the mistakes of other musicians that I don’t practice and perfect my own part. I can create chaos when I don’t keep the love of God uppermost in my heart–don’t watch the Conductor. I contribute to the problem even more when I start trying to conduct those around me myself–distracting them from the Great Conductor.
For a few years after the Savior appeared to the people on this continent, they all followed the Great Conductor and lived pure lives because they followed the same “Score.” 4 Nephi 1:2-3 “The people were all converted unto the Lord, upon the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.”
They were pure in heart, they were one–but were they all identical in occupations, gifts, contributions? No. In Romans 12:6-7 we read, “And so we, being many, are one body in Christ. . . Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” We can re-read Paul’s discourse about the need for every member in the body of Christ where he reminds us, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? . . . But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (I Corinthians 12: 17-18).
In Salt Lake City, hundreds of people join together to create the Orchestra on Temple Square and the Tabernacle Choir. When they give concerts they don’t become one by all playing the same instrument or all singing the same part. However, they all follow the same conductor, and all read off the same score of music. In like manner, we can each contribute our own voice, play our own instrument, and still be one if we are all following Christ.
How Satan Introduces Discord
What ruined the beautiful Book of Mormon picture of unity and continues to sow discord today? The Lord had prospered them greatly, and verse 26 says “they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ. ” In the space of only 300 years from the time of the coming of Christ, both the people of Nephi and the Lamanites ceased following the Great Composer/Conductor.
Author J.R.R. Tolkien tells us, symbolically, how the Lord presents his “Themes” and Satan introduces discord: “And he [God] spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad . . . they came to deeper understanding and increased in unison and harmony . . . Then Iluvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.'”
But Melkor [Satan] began to “interweave matters of his imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Iluvatar for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself . . . Straightway discord arose about him.” (The Silmarillion, p. 3)
Discord rises in great waves of dissonance all around us today. D&C 84:49, 51 summarizes well the conditions we see: “And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin . . . For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.” The Latter-day Saints need not suppose that they are home free. President Benson made it clear that the Lord was also speaking of us today when he continued, ” And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received–which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation restest upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written–That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.”
Church history is replete with examples where the plain counsel of the prophets was not obeyed. What about today? When the Brethren speak is the debate over–or just begun? What happened after President Benson’s lanmark talk telling the women of Zion to “come home”? Regardless of the evil in the world we still have the option to choose oneness with Christ. As a people and individually, to what extent are we doing it?
Purposeful Tuning Up
This month when I visited Kathy, I told her about this article I was writing, and about my experience hearing the orchestra tune up. She is a musician and I asked her how a musician’s sensitive ears can tolerate that cacophony of sound. She surprised me by saying that tuning up is one of her favorite parts of an orchestral performance–that it is far from random. Each instrument must find its “perfect A” or “C,” and make certain his or her own instrument is in tune and ready to blend with the rest of the orchestra. The tuning up is purposeful, and if even one instrument is not tuned, the purity of the music can be ruined.
After receiving this new view of tuning up, I recognized that each of us must tune ourselves spiritually to be able to contribute our part in the symphony that is Zion. When we pray and read the Book of Mormon, we are “tuning up” –but if we read and do not apply, it is like ignoring the Conductor when He lifts His baton. When we attend church meetings and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament and attending the temple, we are “tuning up.” But if we participate in the “external observances” yet suffer the poor and needy to go unattended, are we following the Lord’s “Score”? Are we any closer to becoming Zion people than the early Saints whom the Lord chastened? Only when our spirits are in tune and listening to the Still Small Voice and the voice of our leaders, can we be one. Are we improving in obedience? Are we repenting and remembering the new covenant and the former commandments which the Lord has given us? Are we in tune with each other as we seek to fulfill church and family responsibilities? Are we working and serving harmoniously together?
The Key: Becoming One with Christ
I’ve always loved the song,”Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” The desire, to be His instrument burns in the heart of every Zion-seeking person. As His instruments, we can only play beautiful music when His fingers touch our strings. We must have that spiritual connection. Our first goal then, in becoming one with each other, is to become one with Christ. We need to follow in His footsteps, apply His atonement in our daily lives. We are so far from the goal of becoming a Zion people; we have so much to repent of. We must remember that if we are to play His music, we need His Spirit to be with us not just every hour, but every minute. We seek to remember him–ALWAYS.
Any moment we choose to remember Christ and keep his commandments, to be one with Him, we also feel united with all others who love and accept Him–and with all nature and the universe which He created. When we feel one with Christ, loneliness is unknown. We feel at home in the world–a part of everything beautiful–of every hill and flower and tree and drop of water, of every living creation–of every molecule of God’s creation that hearkens to His commandments. We no longer fight “what is,” no longer waste our energy trying to control, trying to make our will be done, but accept His will in absolute trust. We find peace in this unity, for when we submit to His will, fear passes and leaves us.
Obedience As a People Brings One-ness
The Lord has said there will be one fold and one shepherd. (3 Nephi 16:3) In 4 Nephi 1: 15-18 we find a “how-to” formula for living as one in Christ: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
There were no robbers, not murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (emphasis mine)
Our world society seems the direct antithesis of all those descriptions of oneness in Christ. Still, we have God-given agency and can choose to follow the Brethren who speak for Christ. They are the “watchmen” who will lead us aright. Mosiah 12:22 says, “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”
Let us make our highest priorities faith, repentance, obedience, keeping in tune, being the Lord’s instruments, following His themes, avoiding the discord of the world by seeking moment by moment to be one with Christ. Let us renew in our hearts the burning desire to become a Zion people!
Note: Check out www.rosehavenpublishing.com for more of Darla’s work