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“Your mission, if you choose to accept it…. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds….” As a young man, I loved the series and came to see that the secrets to doing what seemed impossible were the key people with special skills, using specially developed gadgets, combined into a plan with perfect timing.
If we don’t know it already, all of us walking this earth long for purpose; our mission in mortality. “If I just knew God’s will for me, I would do it.” Is a large part of life, the discovery of God’s story for us? Or, are we to write our own story and offer it to God as the one thing we really have to offer: our will and what we become while exercising our gift of agency?
Adam S. Miller writes about each of our personal “story you’re always telling yourself about yourself. Your story, like everyone’s, is a bit of a Frankenstein. Without your hardly noticing or choosing, it gets sewn together, on the fly, out of whatever borrowed scraps are at hand. You may have borrowed a bit from your mother, a bit from a movie you liked, and a bit from a lesson at church. You may have stitched these pieces together with a comment over-heard at lunch, a glossy image from a magazine, and a second-grade test score. Whatever sticks. More stuff is always getting added as other stuff is discarded. Your story’s projection of what you should be is always getting adjusted. Your idea of your shadow’s optimal shape gets tailored and tailored again. Like most people, you’ll lavish attention on this story until, almost unwittingly, it becomes your blue-print for how things ought to be. …as a true believer, you religiously assign God a starring role in your story as the one who, with some cajoling and obedience, can make things go the way you’ve plotted. But faith isn’t about getting God to play a more and more central part in your story. Faith is about sacrificing your story on his altar…. Put down the millstone of your story and take up the yoke of life instead. You will find Jesus’ rest only in the work of caring for life. Let his life manifest itself in yours rather than trying to impose your story on the life he gives.”[i]
If you are one of those people who are good at only one thing, God’s story for you may seem easy to determine. But if you struggle with everything or are a “jack of all trades but master of none,” you may be constantly wondering, experimenting, and then left feeling inadequate. How do I purposefully find the happiness that living God’s story for me will certainly bring? “Man is that he might have joy,” right?
Central to the great story metaphor of Lehi leaving his natal home to journey through the wilderness to his covenant promised land, is the Liahona, a divine compass customized for his family’s daily walk. It drew power from God, gated by their faith enough to obey Him and love each other. Wouldn’t it seem reasonable that our loving Father would so endow each of us, as well, with a personal compass that would show us this straight path leading to eternal life. The good news is that He has given each of us this marvelous tool-set.
It would be easy to end here by identifying what seems an obvious analog to our divine compass, since Alma teaches that the compass is the scriptures.[ii] But then, Nephi teaches that it is prayer, The Holy Ghost, the ministering of angels, as well as the words of Christ. Or, could it be all four in some combination. [iii]
Though direction is promised, the problems come in the incremental nature of the process requiring enough faith to “step into the darkness,”[iv] more often than not. In fact, life’s proving ground includes not knowing beforehand how long difficulties or uncertainties will last. It isn’t the difficulty that tests us but enduring the timing uncertainties.[v]
This divine-tool set is mercifully clarified and personalized by a pattern provided in the early history of the restoration. Joseph Smith learned, even before he understood, that when God did His work through weak servants, He manifest His power through gifts of the Spirit.[vi] By the end of his life Joseph, with most prophets, seemed to possess all the gifts.[vii] We are each also invited to seek to acquire these gifts of the Spirit,[viii] whereby God can employ His power through us. But Joseph learned the hard way that there is an order in the kingdom. The first work Joseph was given was difficult and tedious. What he initially asked and wanted was to find and join the true church, but what he was given to do, was to translate an ancient record. It took him eighteen months of struggle, trial and error[ix], etc. before he sufficiently developed this gift and was finally able to translate the majority of the Book of Mormon in sixty-five days.[x] During those eighteen months, Joseph needed to be focused by learning the divine order of gifts:
“And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”[xi]
Like “Mission Impossible,” the key to success is using certain strategically provided skills with exact timing, that synergizes the efforts into plot twisting success. That first gift allowed God to lay the foundations upon which the kingdom would be built, through Joseph. He had to be restrained from seeking other good things in order to do the best thing, the essential thing.
Each of us is also promised at least one gift, a first gift;
“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.”[xii]
Is it possible that the key to our mission, God’s story for us, is to know and understand our first gift? But where can we find this personal Liahona; a spiritual gift that will start us on the path towards our mortal and eternal happiness and act as the key to all other gifts?
President Monson taught, “The same Lord who provided a Liahona for Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives…. The gift to which I refer is known as your patriarchal blessing. Every worthy member of the Church is entitled to receive such a precious and priceless personal treasure.”[xiii]
President Eyring added, “The patriarch led me to a chair, placed his hands on my head, and pronounced a blessing as a gift from God…. That blessing of my possibilities has shaped my life, my marriage, and my priesthood service. By the Lord revealing to me a gift, I have been able to recognize and prepare for opportunities to exercise it to the blessing of those I love and serve.””[xiv]
Sometimes, we read our blessings without knowing what to look for as our first gift. There is no comprehensive list of all the possible spiritual gifts, or even a maximum number[xv], but there are in scripture and conference talks a good starter list of forty-three gifts[xvi] that can help us identify ours.
Each of these gifts are endowments of divine power to the individual enabling them to do good things without limiting agency or narrowly defining some specific career or location:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things… Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” [xvii]
Receiving the gifts opens a process that engages our agency and yokes us in divine partnership through which we come to know the Master as He empowers us to bless others.[xviii] But having and accepting a gift is more than just reading a label. This begins a process that will initiate true discipleship.
“Spiritual gifts are not visible to the natural vision, or understanding of man…” it “requires time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation.” (Teachings, pp. 246.)
Elder Hales instructed, “To find the gifts we have been given, we must pray and fast. . . . I urge you each to discover your gifts and to seek after those that will bring direction to your life’s work and that will further the work of heaven.[xix]
Elder Oaks summarized, “When we believe and seek spiritual gifts to benefit others “and not for a sign” (D&C 46:9), we are told that signs will follow. “Behold, … signs follow those that believe. Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God. Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works.” (D&C 63:9–11.) The Holy Ghost “maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.” (Jarom 1:4.) [xx]
The wife of one of my teaching colleagues was told in her blessing that she had received the gift of believing on the testimony of others. She recognized the gift but was filled with the desire to have her own witness. In seeking this new additional gift, she applied this principle of magnifying and developing her starter gift. She not only made it a matter of prayer and fasting but began a systematic scripture study of everything she could find about belief and hearing the words of others. One morning during her study, her husband recounts that he heard her shout for joy. He quickly ran to the room where she was studying and found her in tears. When she saw him, she exclaimed, “I know of myself! I know of myself!”[xxi]
When we accept and magnify our promised compass of a first gift we open the door to divine guidance that incrementally keys us to doing our life’s mission, wherein we may then seek other gifts as they are needed. As we lose our life in His story for us, we find Him, and us.
[i] Miller, Adam S.. Letters to a Young Mormon (Kindle Locations 153-170, 212-213, 194-5). Neal A. Maxwell Institute. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Alma 37:44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
[iii] 2 Nephi 32:1-3 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts? Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
[v] DC 98:11-12 And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.
[vi] Moroni 10:7-8 …he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever. And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
[vii] D&C 107:92 …a prophet, having all the gifts of God.
[viii] DC 46:8-9 …aseek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; See also-1 Cor 14:1
[ix] Book of Mormon Central, https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/did-jerusalem-have-walls-around-it
Also: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/12/understanding-textual-changes-in-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng With the help of Oliver Cowdery, the Prophet prepared the second (1837) edition. At this point, they made over one thousand corrections—most of them grammatical and added some minor clarifications. By this time, the Prophet, who had limited formal schooling, was learning the rudiments of Hebrew, and English grammar. (See History of the Church, 2:390, 474; 3:26.)
[x] John Welch, Ensign January 1988; https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/01/i-have-a-question/how-long-did-it-take-joseph-smith-to-translate-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng
[xi] DC 5:4
[xii] DC 46:11-12
[xiii] Thomas S. Monson, Oct 1986 Conference; https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1986/10/your-patriarchal-blessing-a-liahona-of-light?lang=eng
[xiv] President Henry B. Eyring, Ensign Nov 2012, p67
[xv] “Spiritual gifts are endless in number and infinite in variety” (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985], 371)
[xvi] 1 Corinthians 12; DC 46; Moroni 10:9-16;
[xvii] DC 58:26-28
[xviii] Mosiah 5:13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
[xix] “Robert D. Hales, “Gifts of the Spirit,” Ensign, February 2002, 16
[xx] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign Sept 1986, “Spiritual Gifts”
[xxi] As told by John Lund with whom I taught at the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion