My family has been in the Stake for a little over a year now. We have three young children. For the past six years, I’ve worked for Google as a software engineer. Before that, my wife, Elisabeth, and I attended Brigham Young University.
While at BYU, around the time I was completing my bachelors degree, preparing to start a graduate degree, and simultaneously contemplating proposing to Elisabeth, I received an unsolicited email from my father. It started off, “Congrats on graduating here shortly. With your graduation comes a little bit of fatherly advice whether you like it or not.” I appreciated his congratulations as I felt a bit of pride for having completed a difficult degree in computer engineering and securing a fully-funded spot in grad school. That was short-lived, however, as his email moved on quickly from congratulations to his fatherly advice.
A couple lines later, I read, “Jaren, although God blessed you with great intelligence and you have worked hard on improving your talents throughout your life, God does not need a computer engineer. God needs faithful eternal family units for his children to be blessed through.” This caught me a little off guard as I was still dwelling on my academic success, though it rang clear and true. Though I had not revealed that I was contemplating proposing to Elisabeth, my father was aware of me and delivered a timely message. A couple months later, Elisabeth and I were married.
Since then, I completed a masters degree in electrical engineering and have spent six years as a software engineer at Google. Every day at work, I am faced with challenging problems, and I find satisfaction in providing solutions. However, I can easily notice that I am not the only one who could provide those solutions. There are hundreds of thousands of engineers in the world that could perform just as well. When I come home at night, I am faced with a different scenario. At home, I have a spouse and three children, and I am faced with the task of faithfully presiding over that family through this life and into the eternities. It is not clear that anyone could replace me in that role. To fulfill “[his] work and [his] glory to bring to pass the...eternal life of man,” God needs us, whether in this life or the next, to assume our roles in faithful family units (Moses 1:39).
In the order of heaven, husbands and wives covenant to obey God’s law, and children are commanded to obey their parents. In that arrangement, if everyone obeys, then the family unit will be eternal. Lucifer is well aware of that arrangement and strives in his fury to destroy it. However, God does not leave families helpless and alone. Nay, our Father sends messengers to besieged families to check on them, comfort them, instruct them, and defend them from the attacks of the adversary.
I ask you to consider: who are those angels, those messengers from the Father, charged with such a noble duty? Who are they that hold stewardship over the individuals and families of the church? It is the duty of the parents to teach the children, but whose duty is it to minister to the parents?
These messengers from the Father have been known to us by several names over the years, as the church has adapted programs to best deliver on the Lord’s intent, “to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them,” “exhorting them to pray...and attend to all family duties” (D&C 20:51,53). In the recent past, you may have recognized your messengers from the Father as home or visiting teachers. Today, you should recognize them as your ministering brothers and sisters.
When President Nelson announced these recent changes, he stated that the intent was to implement a “holier approach to caring for and ministering to others” ((Russel M. Nelson - General Conference April 2018). With that, he invites us to consider what we can do to sanctify our ministering. As I have contemplated the change, a principle of motivation has personally stood out to me.
Our obedience to the commandments may be motivated by a very wide array of feelings. We may be afraid of the judgement of our peers or of the consequences of sin. Alternatively, we may be in pursuit of promised blessings. We may be obedient out of a sense of duty to our family, to our priesthood leaders, or to God. Or, we may be obedient out of habit and going through the motions without any desire motivating us at all. When tested by trials, such motivations do not endure. Those motivations may be likened to the stony ground, which with joy receiveth the seed but by and by when tribulation ariseth in the heat of the day, the seed is scorched because it hath no root (Matthew 13).
Several years ago, I participated in a particularly grievous instance of a common elders quorum activity: assisting a member with a move. My family was scheduled to clean the church on the morning of the move, so I attended to that, anticipating that the move would be completed before we completed cleaning. After a couple hours of cleaning, the move was not completed. It had not even begun. My elders quorum president, Tyler, was still waiting at the church for the member to arrive with an anticipated moving van. The member was a widow with a less-than-stellar record of reliability. By that point, all of those who had volunteered for the move had left to attend to other engagements.
As I was preparing to leave the church, I made the mistake of asking Tyler if he could still use any help. Of course he did. What elders quorum president doesn’t? He related that he finally got in touch with the widow and discovered that she expected us to secure a moving truck. And so began the move. We helped her to secure the only truck still available that Saturday and drove to her storage unit.
I’m not sure what we expected, but we were not prepared for what we saw when we cracked open that storage unit. It was filled wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with decades of accumulation but nary a box in sight. She wanted all of it on the truck, but the volume of the storage unit handily exceeded that of the truck. When we tried to explain the physical limitations, she replied that we’d just have to have more faith. Unable to appeal to reason, we just started on the task, hoping that she’d come around or another solution would present itself.
About an hour into emptying the unit in the mid-summer heat, noticing that the unpacking and repacking would take longer than I had time for, I let Tyler know of my other impending engagements. He said, “I know, I’ll have to go too. I wish that I could stay here.”
Based on my own motivations, I assumed that he misspoke. I asked, “You said that you wish you could stay here. Don’t you mean you’re willing to stay here?”
He re-asserted, “No, I want to be here. I wish I could stay.” You see, my elders quorum president, Tyler, had a holier motivation than I. While my motivation was scorched and failing in the heat of the day, his was not, for “charity never faileth” (Moroni 7:46).
I recognize in the holier approach to ministering, less emphasis on duty, reporting, and recognition of ministering brothers and sisters and a greater focus on the individuals and families ministered to. Those of us that minister have an opportunity to re-evaluate our motivations, and seek to be motivated as our Savior is, by love.
Such love begins with prayer. Mormon taught us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with [that] love” (Moroni 7:48). We also learn from the Savior that should we desire the love requisite to fulfil the second great commandment, “to love [our] neighbor,” we ought to fulfil the first great commandment, “to love the Lord [our] God” (Matthew 22:36-39). As we strive for personal righteousness and loving our Father in Heaven, we qualify for revelation through the Holy Ghost. What love our Father feels for one of his children, we begin to feel. When he is mindful of one of his children, we will know. When he has identified an action to take, we will be prompted. He will show us how to love as he does.
God loves differently than the world. While the world would teach you to love an individual as he or she is, the Lord loves individuals as they may become. The Lord is not content to let someone exist eternally in his or her current state. The world would submit any of the Lord’s counsel to change as evidence of failed love. But the world is short-sighted. The Lord has perfect vision and loves us wholly, both as we were, as we are, and as we are to become.
If we are to take a holier approach to ministering, we must love as God does. When God spoke to Enoch, he introduced himself saying, “Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name” (Moses 7:35). Like my earthly father, who offered his timely, unsolicited email years ago, our Father in Heaven, the embodiment of love and holiness, does not shy away from counsel, but offers it eternally. Our actions to love those we minister to will certainly include many items that the world would define as loving. But ministering brothers and sisters are called to go beyond what the world can provide.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that our Father needs loving ministers, faithful messengers, to extend his love and and deliver vital instruction to his children. There are families and individuals out there in what can sometimes seem a lone and dreary world, and—welcome or not—the adversary is always lurking nearby. Time and again they dismiss him with the assertion that they are waiting for messengers from their Father. They await us, those ministering brothers and sisters, who will love and befriend them, teach them, uplift and encourage them, and remind them that they are not forsaken, but that their Father is yet mindful of them.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.