A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday in November 2017 (learn more here).
The Church owns about 3,000 acres of land in Missouri, in an area known as Cravensville, but known to Latter-day Saints as Adam-ondi-Ahman. In 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that Adam-ondi-Ahman was the place where Adam and Eve lived after being exiled from the Garden of Eden, identifying at least two altars built by Adam on hilltops in the area (D&C 116).
Within just a few months of this revelation, the LDS population there grew to about 1,500 Saints. It was recorded that “upwards of two hundred houses had been built in Adam-ondi-Ahman with forty families living in their wagons” (Church History: Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman). This quick growth was viewed as a threat to non-Mormons who, within the year, succeeded in expelling the Latter-day Saints from Missouri. The Saints moved on to Nauvoo, and eventually, to Salt Lake City.
In 1998, I was tour manager for BYU’s Dancer’s Company. We left Provo on a tour bus in late-April and performed and presented firesides throughout the midwest and Church history sites for four weeks.
One of the most remarkable experiences I had on that tour happened at Adam-ondi-Ahman. We stood on a hilltop overlooking farmland and surrounding woods for as far as the eye could see. As is the case with most sites of significance, it was awe inspiring for me to be in that place and consider — even imagine — Adam blessing his posterity there before his death. It was exhilarating to consider the future gathering of the priesthood of God in that place, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Spirit bore witness to me of the truthfulness of what has been revealed by Latter-day prophets concerning the place where I stood. My thoughts, recorded in my journal, remind me of this scripture: “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).
I felt a powerful spiritual confirmation of that location and my connection to it, both through my first earthly father, Adam, and as a place of significance in ushering in the Millennium.
Now, let’s consider this statement from Bishop Dean Davies, first counselor in the presiding bishopric, from General Conference in October 2016: “spiritual experiences have less to do with what is happening around us and everything to do with what is happening within our hearts.”
In other words, that place where I stood was, on its own, a beautiful rural vista, but what made it special was my knowledge and testimony of what has happened and what would occur there.
On that day, 19 years ago, I didn’t set-out to feel a greater connection to the restored gospel or heaven, but that’s what happened. My heart was touched, I felt the Spirit and my eyes watered, which happens most of the time I feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. I felt a sense of communion with the Divine.
For those of us who chose to attend and participate in sacrament meeting today — to partake of the sacrament and renew baptismal covenants — did we make that decision in order to have a spiritual experience, regardless of what may be happening around us, or was it just a habit, a routine for a Sunday morning?
I know it can be challenging, especially when young children are part of the experience. But even children can recognize and feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, which may come through music, the kind words of those around them or from a story or talk shared by others.
Bishop Davies declared: “It is my witness that true worship will transform ordinary Church meetings into extraordinary spiritual feasts. It will enrich our lives, broaden our understanding, and strengthen our testimonies.”
If our Sunday worship isn’t a spiritual feast, what can we do?
What can we do to engage in true worship?
I’ve thought a lot about the idea of true worship for the past few weeks. I’ll share a few thoughts from Bishop Davies, and some of my own, that I hope will be helpful.
What is Worship?
“When we worship God, we approach Him with reverent love, humility, and adoration. We acknowledge and accept Him as our sovereign King, the Creator of the universe, our beloved and infinitely loving Father. We respect and revere Him. We submit ourselves to Him.”
Interestingly, worship in Spanish is adorar, which is to adore.
“We lift our hearts in mighty prayer, cherish His word, rejoice in His grace, and commit to follow Him with dedicated loyalty.”
True disciples are drawn to “worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters—calling upon the name of the Lord day and night” (D&C 133:39-40).
In describing the Restoration, Oliver Cowdery said they were days “never to be forgotten. … What joy! what wonder! what amazement!” Oliver’s words convey the first elements that accompany true worship of the divine—a sense of majestic awe and profound thanksgiving.
“Every day, but especially on the Sabbath day, we have the extraordinary opportunity to experience the wonder and awe of heaven and offer our praises to God for His blessed goodness and overwhelming mercy. This will lead us to hope. These are the first elements of worship.”
Again, some of the first elements of worship are: wonder, awe, praise and hope with gratitude to our Father in Heaven for his goodness and mercy.
Do these words describe our attitude as we prepare for and then participate in sacrament meeting?
I can tell you, by way of personal experience, that wonder, awe, praise and hope accompanied the birth of our daughter and son. That feeling that comes to new parents and grandparents is similar to how we ought to feel on the Sabbath, when we worship the Lord. Think about how that level of excitement and gratitude could change our Sunday worship experience.
An Example, from the Day of Pentecost
“On the blessed day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered into the hearts and minds of the disciples of Christ, filling them with light and knowledge. Until that day they were at times unsure of what they should do. Jerusalem had become a dangerous place for a follower of the Savior, and they must have wondered what would become of them.
“But when the Holy Spirit filled their hearts, doubt and reluctance vanished. Through the transcendent experience of true worship, the Saints of God received heavenly light, knowledge, and a strengthened testimony. And that led to faith.
“From that moment on, the Apostles and Saints acted with determined direction. With boldness they preached [about…] Jesus [Christ] to all the world. When we worship in spirit, we invite light and truth into our souls, which strengthens our faith. These too are necessary elements of true worship.”
So, we add to wonder, awe, praise, hope and gratitude, these additional elements of worship: light, truth and faith.
I think part of what Bishop Davies was teaching is that true worship must, by definition, include truth. Or, in other words, true principles. Things that are universally, eternally true, and not conventions of men or women.
When I think of light and truth, I think of studying the scriptures. Does our worship in church give us the same thoughts and feelings as when we devote time to scripture study?
One way we can engage in true worship is to become ‘energetic disciples.’ This is, in Elder Bednar’s vernacular, how we act and don’t just sit around, waiting to be acted upon.
“True worship transforms us into sincere and earnest disciples of… Jesus Christ. We change and become more like Him. We become more understanding and caring. More forgiving. More loving.
“We understand that it is impossible to say that we love God while at the same time hating, dismissing, or disregarding others….” Because, the way we treat others — especially those who may misuse or minimize us — is an outward indication of an inner commitment.
“True worship leads to an unwavering determination to walk the path of discipleship. And that leads inevitably to charity.”
“…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Bishop Davies said: “…even if we are exceptional managers of our time, callings, and assignments — even if we check all the boxes on our list of the “perfect” individual, family, or leader — if we fail to worship our merciful Deliverer, heavenly King, and glorious God, we are missing much of the joy and peace of the gospel.”
To our growing list of true worship characteristics, which already includes wonder, awe, praise, hope, gratitude, light, truth and faith, we add: being energetic, sincere and earnest disciples, being more understanding, caring, forgiving and loving. We add charity, the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47).
It sounds like all this incorporates what it’s like to strive to become more like the Savior in thought, word and deed.
Perhaps there’s more to this idea of true worship than we might have imagined.
The idea of true worship made me wonder: How many times do the scriptures talk about true worship?
There’s this from the online guide to the scriptures, under the heading of Thankful, Thanks and Thanksgiving, which I thought was appropriate for November: “Gratitude for blessings received from God. Expressing gratitude is pleasing to God, and true worship includes thanking Him. We should give thanks to the Lord for all things.”
Even giving thanks for experiences that may be challenging — or seem like obstacles or setbacks, or struggles or disappointment — because, like the Lord lovingly told Joseph Smith, “…all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7).
The online guide entry also says to see Bless, Blessed, Blessing and Worship. So, again, gratitude plays a key role in true worship.
There’s also this, from Fourth Nephi:
“Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ… were called Nephites… Jacobites… Josephites, and Zoramites” (4 Nephi 1:37), associating true believers — those who have faith — with true worshipers.
This suggests to me that there’s a true and a false, or incorrect, way to worship and believe.
And there’s this, from the New Testament:
“…true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23).
Again, we have the concept of truth alongside worship, as we’ve already discussed.
Worship at Church
Now, let’s talk about worship at church.
Bishop Davies taught: “Go to church with an attitude of humility; of ‘reverence and peace.’ Be ready to learn and be taught by the Spirit. True worship brings joy into our lives.”
If we’re not feeling joy before, during and after our Sunday worship, perhaps we’re doing something wrong or there’s something amiss in our lives. Maybe we can each ponder what we can do to make Sunday worship more joyful for us and for those around us.
Bishop Davies continues: “Being spiritually renewed from attending church is your responsibility.”
That’s right, it’s up to each of us to accept responsibility for our own spiritual nourishment. It’s not the bishop’s job, the teacher’s job, or even my job as the sacrament meeting speaker. Well, it may be partially my job, and the bishop’s and teacher’s, to provide a certain type of environment for gospel learning and true worship:
‘…that all may be edified of all…’ (D&C 88:122) and an experience where ‘…both are edified and rejoice together…’ (D&C 50:22).
Did you catch that word: rejoice? There’s the idea of joy again. Of all people, because we have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ — a fulness of truth — we should be most joyful, happy and enthusiastic.
Bishop Davies’ counsel is to be purposeful. Don’t just go through the motions. Participate in church being mindful of the holy attitude of true worship. “…without that, we are missing an incomparable spiritual encounter with the infinite — one we are entitled to as children of a loving Heavenly Father.”
Being mindful means you’re aware of the present moment. You acknowledge and accept thoughts, impressions and feelings. Mindful meditation is appropriate for Sunday worship.
How many of you attended stake conference in September when Elder Renlund spoke? About 55 percent of the stake attended, by the way.
When you came to those meetings, were you prepared to be taught by the spirit? Were you engaged in true worship? And if so, what did you learn? How are you different and changed to be more like the Savior after that experience?
Something that impressed me was Elder Renlund’s testimony that we’re led by a living prophet who holds all priesthood keys. Even though President Monson faces the challenges that come with age, we know he’s the Lord’s prophet and we sustain him.
I also appreciated this gospel tidbit: “Agency is operative. We can’t force or guilt people, and we shouldn’t have guilt ourselves.”
And in keeping with my message today, Elder Renlund said we should “work in joy and happiness” and not overload yourself or others.
As part of our discussion of true worship, let’s talk about temple worship.
Again, I’ll return to Bishop Davies’ teachings:
“As we worship, our souls are refined and we commit to walk in the footsteps of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. And from this resolve, we acquire charity. When we worship, our hearts are drawn out in praise to our blessed God morning, noon, and night.
“We hallow and honor Him continually — in our meetinghouses, homes, temples, and all our labors [and I’ll add, even at work]. When we worship, we open our hearts to the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Our lives become the token and expression of our worship.”
Building on this, it’s interesting to consider how our very lives reflect both how often and honestly we worship Heavenly Father. This led me to reflect on an experience President Hinckley shared in 2005:
“Following the renovation of the Mesa Arizona Temple some years ago, clergy of other religions were invited to tour it on the first day of the open house period. Hundreds responded. In speaking to them, I said we would be pleased to answer any queries they might have. Among these was one from a Protestant minister.
“Said he: “I’ve been all through this building, this temple which carries on its face the name of Jesus Christ, but nowhere have I seen any representation of the cross, the symbol of Christianity. I have noted your buildings elsewhere and likewise find an absence of the cross. Why is this when you say you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“I responded: “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian colleagues who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.”
“He then asked: “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”
“I replied that the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship” (First Presidency Message).
Note how President Hinckley said our lives exemplify our faith and serve as the symbol of our worship.
Are we living in a way that is true to our covenants? A true life is necessary for true worship. Are we being true to those we love, to Heavenly Father? Are we engaged in true worship, on Sundays and everyday?
I’ll conclude with Bishop Davies’ final thoughts: “Through sincere and heartfelt worship, we blossom and mature in hope, faith, and charity. And through that process, we gather heavenly light into our souls that infuses our lives with divine meaning, abiding peace, and everlasting joy.”
At the outset of my preparations for this assignment, I didn’t appreciate all that worship entails. It seems to be the embodiment of being a true follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.
I suspect we can all benefit from a conscientious examination of the attitude in which we worship, what our thoughts, feelings and emotions are while we’re in Church, and becoming more energetic, proactive, purposeful, joyful disciples through true worship.
Remember that “spiritual experiences have less to do with what is happening around us and everything to do with what is happening within our hearts.”
I can’t think of a more compelling reason to express gratitude through true worship than that of the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we have the opportunity to not only be immortal, but to return to live with Him and Heavenly Father for eternity. Because of Him, we have a companion in every earthly experience. Because of Him, we can become complete, or perfect, like He is and like our Heavenly Father. Because of Him, grace fills the gaps of mortality and beyond.
I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
(I Stand All Amazed, Hymn #193)
How can we not worship in reverence and awe, in praise and adoration?
May we find spiritual strength and renewal, and may we find joy in the journey, as part of our weekly true worship. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Blessings of Worship, Bishop Dean Davies, October 2016