A year or so ago, I wanted to get more water to the plants on the south side of our house. On a hot, sunny afternoon I dug a trench, nice and deep, connected it to the sprinkler system, installed a pipe and three sprinkler heads. All I had left to do was fill the trench in.
But I was exhausted.
There was a time – many, many years ago – when I could do anything. I was a marine. I was a forest ranger. I was even a Librarian. It’s true! I had thick, golden blond hair all over my head, and my waist was smaller than my shoulders.
But those days are past and gone. After I installed the final sprinkler head, I was sitting on the edge of the trench with my feet down inside it, and I realized I would have to rest a while before I could stand up and get out. I decided filling in the trench could wait until another day - Maybe a month - or two.
Most of you know that Liz and I are planning to move to a townhouse a little ways up Custer Road, in McKinney. We love our current house. We love Plano stake, and especially the Plano 8th ward. We love worshipping here with you. But incidents like filling in the trench have convinced us that we need to downsize. After much searching, we found a place that suits us quite nicely, and there are no sprinklers to maintain - no trenches to dig. It gives us much sadness to do it, but it is time for a change for us.
Back to the trench. I was sitting on the grass with my feet in the trench when Mark Morrell came strolling around the side of the house. He was out for a walk and happened to stop by to see us.
Back in the olden days, we called him our home teacher. The olden days - you know – more than 2 weeks ago - before President Nelson changed our World. Mark and I chatted for a while and the result was that Mark Morrell filled in my trench for me. He said it was no big deal. But I saw it differently. He filled a need that I had, and was happy to do it. Mark hadn’t come by to make a checkmark on the home teaching report. He came ready to minister to us. He saw an opportunity for service and he grabbed it.
We use some particular words in the church in ways that most people don’t quite get. We have our own usage of those words. Fast meeting. Word of Wisdom. Garments. Recommend. Endowment. These are just a few. I’ve been thinking about SERVICE because that is what my assigned topic is today. As I thought about Service, I couldn’t help thinking about our newest buzz word, Ministering. And about whether, and how, ministering is different from Home Teaching.
Is ministering merely home and visiting teaching with a new name? No, I don’t think so for one second. So, how is it different? Isn’t it true that we will still have assigned families and a charge to see those families? Which charge is not much different than our charge as home and visiting teachers back in the olden days? Yes! The charge is not MUCH different. But the emphasis is WAY different. I think our eyes are just beginning to open to this new emphasis, but Brother Morell’s service to me was a forshadowing of what is to come.
All my adult life I’ve sat through Priesthood meeting opening exercises and heard the following announcement: “Brothers, we are at the [fill in the blank: beginning, middle, end] of the month. Be sure to get your home teaching done before the end of the month.”
If you heard this one time, you would naturally assume that the key thing about “home teaching” was the month. Did you get it done this month? Yes. CHECK!
I don’t expect we’ll be hearing that any more. The expectation is no longer a check for the month. The expectation is that we will be ministering the way the Savior taught his apostles to minister. Now we will begin to associate a lot more things with the simple word, Minister.
Our ward has been very good at providing service to our fellows. Service and ministering are very closely related. So closely related that you could substitute one word for the other and not stray too far off the mark, in most cases. You could say that our new charge is to give an extra helping of service to our assigned families. But it is hard to know when to offer service and hard to know what service can be rendered. There has to be some preparation before we will be ready to make it work.
To become ministers and provide service as it is needed, we need to be listening to the spirit. That is how we will know what service to render. I don’t think it was coincidence that Bro. Morrell came by my house just when I needed a hand with that trench. I think he was prompted by the spirit to stop by.
We all need to have the spirit with us to effectively execute our ministering assignments. And how do we do that? Simple, by doing all the things we are supposed to do to be perfect in the gospel. Only that one small thing, right? Only we all know none of us are perfect in that way. Nobody expects us to be. But we are asked to try to be. We need to be doing our best to do all the things we are taught to do. Prayer, fasting, tithing, temple work, scripture study, Family Home Evening, etc., etc., etc. It is overwhelming to think about all of it. So, we just work on it a little at a time. And as we do, we keep adding the next thing, and the next. And the spirit will help us as we work on them. And as we work on even the very first thing, he will tell us what we can do to provide service to those around us.
What did the Savior say?
So, for our ministering assignment, we will be assigned to love (that is brotherly love) a family or two or three, or perhaps some particular individuals. Can we love someone that way - simply because we are assigned to? Yes, but it’s easier to think of it like the Savior said, “love thy neighbour as thyself”. And then we need to start thinking that way about everybody. All the time. When we get ourselves focused so we can love everybody, then the assignment is simple. We just pay a wee bit more attention to those to whom we are assigned.
If working in the garage or office and you suddenly think of your neighbor, that is likely a BING Moment. The spirit is saying, “Pay attention to that person.” So do. Call, text, email, or stop by. Make the contact and see what the spirit has for you to do.
Earlier I said that service is almost the same thing as ministering. What I meant by that is service always counts as ministering, and a good portion of ministering is providing service. But there is more ministering we can do that isn’t providing service, exactly.
I remember a time when I was feeling really low and discouraged. A nice person said to me, “It’s going to get better.” That’s all. A simple thing, but it absolutely made my day. When I heard that, it was like a load was lifted off my shoulders, and things WERE better! Sometimes ministering is no more than sharing a smile or a friendly word. It is incredible the difference you can make in someone’s life when you offer one of those simple, little things. A smile, or a friendly word.
I used to work in an office with a lot of people you might describe as downtrodden. I noticed that a lot of them walked around with their heads down, a frown on their face, kind of listless. They acted like they expected to get kicked any second.
Bob Brigman worked there, too, and I noticed that when he walked down the hall many, many of those people brightened up when he came in sight. He always had a bright smile and a happy word for them, and they responded in kind.
President Monson used to speak of going out to “Brighten someone’s day”. The New Era includes “Brighten someone’s day with a smile,” in a list of simple Service suggestions. I think of it as lighting them up.
I decided Bob had set a great example I could follow. I often walk around with a smile on my face anyway, so it wasn’t too hard. When I’d see one of those people who looked ready to be kicked, I’d give them a really big, friendly smile and say hello. Sometimes they had their head so far down they couldn’t see me, so I’d swerve into their path and when they looked up I’d give them a warm smile and say hello. Sometimes they’d act surprised, and one time I got a hostile response, but usually it seemed to pick them up. It picked me up too.
I noticed a thing about this, though. I couldn’t light someone else up, unless I had the light in me. If I was down, the light was too dim to shine. So the first step was to pray and let the spirit shine in me. Then I could light people up.
After I’d been doing this for a while, a big dour guy at work that I’d never spoken to before, stopped me in the hall and asked me if I was a pastor. I hadn’t even tried to light him up but I had been smiling, as usual. His question took me back a bit. I told him that I’m not a pastor, but that I had been volunteering at the temple the night before, and I explained briefly what that was. And he said, “Well you looked like you were glowing.” And then he walked away. I was surprised by that, but it made me feel my efforts were working. My light HAD been shining.
Just a month or so ago, I had a similar experience with the guy at the cash register at the local drug store. He said he had noticed me talking to people in the store and he thought I had a light about me. I’m a bit embarrassed to share this, because it is NOT about me. It is only about letting the spirit of Christ shine through me, just as it does through so many of you. I often see it in you when I come to our ward.
Our new program of ministering may sometimes be no more complicated than sharing a smile and a friendly word with one another, Picking each other up, supporting each other. Usually it will take more effort than that, but it will always be about Being brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Conference a couple of weeks ago was an amazing experience. In my opinion, the most amazing thing of all was how strongly I felt the spirit letting me know that President Nelson‘s bombshells were exactly the right things for the church to be doing and that they came from a Prophet of God. In this morning’s inaugural meeting of the new High Priest’s Quorum, President Martin said the same thing. I think the changes we are making in our ministering efforts will bear fruit in the most important ways imaginable.
I bear my testimony that President Nelson is a prophet of God, and that we will become more Christ-like as we strive to implement the emphasis on ministering to each other, and to ALL those around us.
And I say this . . . . .
So, light ‘em up!