I’ve had the privilege of attending Relief Society at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on a number of occasions. I say privilege because it is always an exquisite spiritual experience to be in the presence of full-time missionaries. But on one Sunday morning in particular, the experience was unique. There were more sisters at the MTC than ever before, so in sheer volume that meeting was distinctive. And the exuberance of those youthful sister missionaries was electrifying. Then, before the meeting began, the large audience of missionaries stood and sang “As Sisters in Zion.” At least, I thought it was “As Sisters in Zion.” The melody by Janice Kapp Perry was the same, but it quickly became apparent that the text was different.
I’ve sung that hymn in dozens of countries and languages and in literally thousands of congregations of sisters, and I’ve been moved by it again and again. But this meeting was different. Sister Perry had retitled the hymn “The Sisters of Zion” and written new words especially for sister missionaries:
The sisters of Zion are called to God’s labor,
We willingly serve Him with spirit and might!
We go to the nations with truth everlasting,
We teach of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us,
We trust in his words and our purpose is clear.
The angels of heaven are walking beside us,
We’ll share our glad message with all who will hear.
We go forth enlisted with Helaman’s Army,
In numbers far greater than ever before.
With power and spirit we’ll faithfully witness
The heavens have spoken, and truth is restored!
As we sang these words in what was a deeply moving experience, I looked out over the vast audience of young-adult-age women who had stepped forward to serve the Lord full-time. The presence of the Spirit was palpable. But as we sang, I couldn’t help but feel that Sister Perry’s inspired new lyrics were just as relevant for all the women and men of the Church.
We have all been called to labor, to serve the Lord with spirit and might.
More than 17 million strong, we are scattered throughout the nations of the earth, positioned to share our testimonies of Jesus Christ by what we say and do.
We have a prophet to guide us and heaven to help us.
We form a battalion in the army of the Lord greater than ever before.
With access to the power of God, we may each witness that the heavens are open and that truth has been restored.
These lyrics highlight a simple but profoundly significant truth: Converted women and men can change the world.
Truths That Should Interest Us
There are fundamental truths that ought to interest every one of us living in the latter part of the latter days.
First, the Savior really is going to come again. And though we don’t know the day or hour of that remarkable event, we do know that the time is getting closer, not further away. We also know that “something is going to be asked of this dispensation that’s never been asked before,” as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained. “Those of this dispensation must be ready to present the Church of the Lamb, to the Lamb, and when that happens we must be looking and acting like His Church.”
Second, we really are going to live forever. Where we live, how we live, and with whom we live is largely up to us. In large measure, we control our eternal destiny. Because our Father gave us agency, we have the freedom to choose how to spend our time, how to behave, how to treat others, what to care about, what to devote ourselves to, and what to learn in this life. It is up to us. And what we choose is key to how we will live forever.
Third, there isn’t much we will take with us when we leave here. My father spent his life, like his father and grandfather before him, building and operating a large agricultural operation in the Midwest. He loved everything about farming. But when he passed away, that farming operation—all the land, the machinery, the farmsteads, everything—became insignificant to his eternal life. As it will be for each of us, he was able to take with him the covenants he had made, the sum total of the person he had become in terms of character and integrity and Christlike attributes, and the knowledge and testimony he had acquired and cultivated.
Our Father will not force us to love Him or to follow His Son. He will not force us to obey or learn about Him. He will not force us to choose to return and live with Him. Our agency is far too important to Him.
For one reason or another, I have spent a fair amount of time in recent years talking with individuals who are struggling with their testimonies. At the risk of oversimplifying the earnest struggle or seeking of any sincere person, may I say that often the root cause of the confusion some have about the gospel comes from the combination of a steady diet of the philosophies of the world juxtaposed against a superficial understanding of the gospel. That combination is spiritually deadly. But it is a combination that can develop easily.
The world is noisy, entertaining, and easily accessible. Most of us carry with us some kind of device that can interrupt us constantly and download anything, anywhere, anytime. But things of the Spirit come more quietly, often in solitude, and typically over a period of time after much supplication. They tend to take work and time. There is a simple reason for this:
Conversion requires immersion. Immersion in truth. Immersion in the word of God. Immersion in the teachings of prophets, seers, and revelators. And immersion in the Spirit.
True conversion doesn’t just happen. It takes sustained spiritual work, and it takes desire. What do you and I really want?
When life starts to crowd in around me, I try to ask myself that question: What do I really want and hope for long-term?
I really do want to be exalted. I don’t want to run the risk of living forever without the people I love and care about. That wouldn’t be heaven. I don’t want to face the agony of knowing I could have had all the privileges our Father has offered us but I chose to care more about something temporary and less important. I don’t want to “settle” for something less. I want to be in the presence of the Father and the Son and be able to learn from Them forever. I want to learn to access fully the enabling power of the Atonement to help me continually repent so I don’t have to pay for my own sins. I want to keep learning and growing rather than be stopped in my progression. I want to learn more and more about what the Lord has offered us through holy ordinances found only in His house. As flawed as I am, and as difficult as it seems some days to even consider what could lie ahead, I want to eventually become what our Father has said we can become.
Understanding who we are, why we are here, where we may ultimately go, and what our Father has given us in terms of knowledge and privileges and power is a vital key. It is a key to dwelling with God in “never-ending happiness,” and it is a key to having the influence we are capable of having forever!