There is a lovely road that runs northeast from Mesa, Arizona into the mountains. These mountains are tree-covered and jagged, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs hundreds of miles into them, to a small mountain city called Payson; and from there you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Arizona. About you there are trees and rocks and you may hear the forlorn crying of the red-tailed hawk. Beneath your feet is the Mogollon Rim, a 200 mile wide cliff rising sharply from the desert valleys. It is upon this cliff you can look down from forests of pine onto the red and gray rocks that are softened by rich greens and browns. It is lovely beyond any telling of it. If you look off the rim before the dawn, you can look down at the darkened valleys. The sun first lights the mountain tops. The valleys are filled with darkness but the dawn’s light will come, just as it has for millions of years. The sun then reaches part of the valley, leaving part in darkness. The light will come there too, just as it has for millions of years. Eventually the light of the sun chases away all the darkness of night.1Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1
After rising out of the valley, you can contemplate the vastness of creation upon this wind-swept plateau. You can marvel at the beauty of the earth — mighty mountains, towering trees, and whispering wind. You can marvel at rising from dark desert valleys into the sunlit mountains. This elevation gain comes from traveling a twisting trail up away from dark valleys towards sunlit mountaintops. Without knowing the destination it is easy to doubt the journey. Why does this road turn here instead of going straight there? Wouldn’t it be faster and shorter to head straight up? What might seem fastest is not always safest. Engineers designed the road to provide safety while traveling. We too, can travel twisting roads in life. Prophets talk of strait and narrow roads. If we pay attention, most of the time the reference is to a strait — S – T – R – A – I – T — rather than straight — S – T – R – A – I – G – H – T — road. The first strait means narrow. The second straight means without turns. Our safest road through life to return to the Savior, who is the light of the world, might twist and turn; some of the turns might even appear to move us away from our destination.
This year  we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s enlightening vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Pres. Nelson asked us to prepare for the upcoming General Conference by immersing ourselves in the light of the restored gospel of Christ. Pres. Nelson wrote: “The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital.”2 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng We are in the midst of a hinge point — an adjusting turn — in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is neither a course-correction nor an unplanned deviation. This turn is part of an exalting, covenant path. This hinge point will provide safety as it elevates us from darkened valleys into God’s everlasting light. The Lord doesn’t want us to wait in dark valleys until His light eventually reaches us, He wants us to rise into His light. We are to act and not wait to be acted upon. We are to seek additional light and knowledge and not just wait for it.
It is no coincidence that we study the illuminating Book of Mormon as a church this year . Alma the Younger was one of the great Book of Mormon prophets. He was a rebellious son of the prophet Alma, who previously served a wicked king but was converted to the Lord. Alma the Younger also was converted under miraculous circumstances through faith in Jesus Christ. All conversion, all repentance and forgiveness, is a miracle even if the circumstances seem less noteworthy than Alma’s. Alma repented and became a great church and political leader. He later gave up the accolades of the world to serve full-time as missionary and prophet. One mission brought him to people who had established an apostate church. The members of this church denied the coming of Christ. They set themselves up as lights to the world rather than basking in the light of Christ. They coveted riches and cast out the poor.
It was among these poor and cast-off that Alma and his missionary companions found people who were willing to listen. “They began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel…therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.”3Alma 32:2-3
These humble people gathered to hear the words of a prophet. They said to Alma, “[the priests] have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?”4Alma 32:5 When Alma heard this, he turned to them to teach them in their humility. Alma said, “I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye. Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?”5Alma 32:8-11
There is a lesson here as we continue to learn what worship means as part of a home-centered church. Worshiping God is not just once a week, two hours on Sundays; it can occur in our homes throughout the week. We can worship God when we live as disciples of Christ, ministering as He did. We worship Heavenly Father when we pray and when we study the words of ancient and modern prophets. As we always remember the Savior, we can always have His Spirit to be with us.6Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77 With our lives and homes built on a Christ-centered foundation, we then come to church to be strengthened together as we partake of the sacrament, participate in lessons, and serve one another. We then minister to others as the Savior would — caring for them, helping them feel the Spirit and the love of Christ, and inviting them to receive ordinances.
As we minister to others, we nourish their faith and our faith. As faith is nourished, it will grow into a tree of everlasting life, as Alma taught.7See Alma 32:28-43 This tree, as Lehi saw, is found at the end of a strait and narrow road.81 Nephi 8:20-21 It is at the tree we partake of God’s loving grace and worship Him. It is at and by that radiant tree that we are filled with an eternal light. Lehi saw in his vision one tree of life. Alma taught that each person needs to plant and nourish a seed of faith that will grow into a tree of life: “If ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”9Alma 32:40-41 Lehi saw an iron rod representing the word of God. Alma compared the word to a seed of faith. As we hold to that rod, as we plant and nourish that seed, we gain access to a tree of life and can partake of the fruit. We each need to plant and nourish our own tree of life. We plant and nourish the seed but God gives us the tree and fruit. He blesses us with His Spirit and His love.
We can nourish this seed of faith as we regularly pray in our fields, in the wildernesses of our lives, in our homes, our church buildings, our closets, and our hearts. As we do so, we will be filled with the Holy Ghost. Having the Spirit of God in our hearts and homes is necessary for us to arise from the dark valleys of life and bask in the Savior’s light. Pres. Eyring encouraged us to “never delay an impression to pray.”10 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng Prayer invites revelation. In prayer we can seek and receive a changed heart. A one-time change of heart is not enough. In prayer, as we plead daily for forgiveness of our sins, we will receive enduring change. King David was a man after the Lord’s heart but he made mistakes, sinned, and fell from the light of grace.11 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39 Salvation is not a single event; following the covenant path requires enduring faith, repentance, service, sacrifice, and prayer.
Another way to nourish the seed of faith and follow the strait and narrow road is regularly reading the scriptures. In 1 Nephi 1 we read of one of Lehi’s visions; he saw Jesus Christ and the twelve original apostles: “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”12 1 Nephi 1:11-12 The first of these heavenly visitors gave Lehi a book to read. This book was filled with prophecy and revelation — it was scripture. When Lehi read the revelation-filled scriptures, something important happened — “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” When Lehi read the scriptures he not only felt the Spirit but also was filled with the Spirit. That’s the difference between being thirsty and having a few drops of water fall on you and being thirsty and drinking your fill of refreshing water. Feeling water doesn’t satisfy thirst like drinking and being filled does. That is one reason why it is important to read the scriptures regularly – so we can be filled with the Spirit each time we read. The scriptures are filled with prophecy and revelation. As we feast upon them, we will be filled with the Spirit of God, receiving personal prophecy and revelation.
I’ve met people who refused to read the Book of Mormon. I can understand the hesitancy. People are busy and reading a long religious book isn’t a high priority for many people. There are many reasons why people refuse but I wonder if some were worried what would happen if they read it. If they read and felt or were filled with the Spirit, that would require change. When people read the scriptures, they invite the Spirit to fill their hearts. When people see the scriptures, hear the words of prophets, and understand, they will be converted and healed. This healing is simple. Because it is simple, many people, like the ancient children of Israel, refuse to look and be healed. We should read and invite our families to read the scriptures. As we read the scriptures individually and as families, we will see, hear, and understand the words and be filled with the Spirit. We should invite those to whom we minister to read the scriptures. As we love, serve, and share scripture with others, they will be filled with and lightened by the Spirit. They will be healed. The Spirit will fill their hearts and start the softening process of conversion.
It is with the great love of Christ that I urge you to use this hinge point in our church to experience greater individual and family conversion. If you are not filled with the Spirit of God, make the necessary changes. Start by reading scripture and praying. As we read and study the teachings of ancient and modern prophets, we will invite the Spirit into our lives and homes. As we pray, we will receive revelation. As we minister to others, we and they will nourish our seeds of faith. The Spirit will provide the guidance needed to help us stay on the strait and exalting road, even if it twists and turns. As we actively strive to follow the living prophet, we will rise into the light. We will see the light of the Son chase away the darkness of night in our lives. Jesus Christ lives and loves us! He is the light of the world.
Notes and References [ + ]
|1.||⇡||Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1|
|6.||⇡||Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77|
|7.||⇡||See Alma 32:28-43|
|8.||⇡||1 Nephi 8:20-21|
|11.||⇡||1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39|
|12.||⇡||1 Nephi 1:11-12|