Spiritual strength frequently comes through selfless service. Some years ago I visited what was then called the California Mission, where I interviewed a young missionary from Georgia. I recall saying to him, “Do you send a letter home to your parents every week?”
He replied, “Yes, Brother Monson.”
Then I asked, “Do you enjoy receiving letters from home?”
He didn’t answer. At length I inquired, “When was the last time you had a letter from home?”
With a quavering voice, he responded, “I’ve never had a letter from home. Father’s just a deacon, and Mother’s not a member of the Church. They pleaded with me not to come. They said that if I left on a mission, they would not be writing to me. What shall I do, Brother Monson?”
I offered a silent prayer to my Heavenly Father: “What should I tell this young servant of Thine, who has sacrificed everything to serve Thee?” And the inspiration came. I said, “Elder, you send a letter home to your mother and father every week of your mission. Tell them what you are doing. Tell them how much you love them and then bear your testimony to them.”
He asked, “Will they then write to me?”
I responded, “Then they will write to you.”
We parted and I went on my way. Months later I was attending a stake conference in Southern California when a young missionary came up to me and said, “Brother Monson, do you remember me? I’m the missionary who had not received a letter from my mother or my father during my first nine months in the mission field. You told me, ‘Send a letter home every week, Elder, and your parents will write to you.’ “ Then he asked, “Do you remember that promise, Elder Monson?”
I remembered. I inquired, “Have you heard from your parents?”
He reached into his pocket and took out a sheaf of letters with an elastic band around them, took a letter from the top of the stack, and said, “Have I heard from my parents! Listen to this letter from my mother: ‘Son, we so much enjoy your letters. We’re proud of you, our missionary. Guess what? Dad has been ordained a priest. He’s preparing to baptize me. I’m meeting with the missionaries; and one year from now we want to come to California as you complete your mission, for we, with you, would like to become a forever family by entering the temple of the Lord.’ ” This young missionary asked, “Brother Monson, does Heavenly Father always answer prayers and fulfill Apostles’ promises?”
I replied, “When one has faith as you have demonstrated, our Heavenly Father hears such prayers and answers in His own way.”
Clean hands, a pure heart, and a willing mind had touched heaven. A blessing, heaven-sent, had answered the fervent prayer of a missionary’s humble heart.
President David O. McKay, ninth President of the Church, advised, “I implore you to think clean thoughts.” He then made this significant declaration of truth: “Every action is preceded by a thought. If we want to control our actions, we must control our thinking.” Brethren, fill your minds with good thoughts, and your actions will be proper. May each of you be able to echo in truth the line from Tennyson spoken by Sir Galahad: “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.”
You and I have within our souls something like what might be said to be a counterpart of those radio tubes. We might have what we call a ‘go-to-sacrament-meeting’ tube, a ‘keep-the-Word-of-Wisdom’ tube, a ‘pay-your-tithing’ tube, a ‘have-your-family-prayers’ tube, a ‘read-the-scriptures’ tube, and, as one of the most important—one that might be said to be the master tube of our whole soul—we have what we might call the ‘keep-yourselves-morally-clean’ tube. If one of these becomes worn out by disuse or inactivity—if we fail to keep the commandments of God—it has the same effect upon our spiritual selves that a worn-out tube has in a radio.
Could there be among us embryo poets and novelists like Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832)? Have we explored as much as we should? Of the creator of Faust, Emerson said, “The old eternal genius that built the world had confided itself more to this man than to any other.” But Goethe was not the greatest nor the last. There may be many Goethes among us even today, waiting to be discovered. Inspired Saints will write great books and novels and biographies and plays.
Can we not find equal talent to those who gave us A Man for All Seasons, Doctor Zhivago, Ben Hur? This latter book I read when a small boy and many times I have returned to it. Critics might not agree with me, but I feel that it is a great story. My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music and such have pleased their millions, but I believe we can improve on them.
We have the great Rembrandt (1606–1669), whose style is original, founded on the work of no other artist, whose coloring is somber and reaches its highest achievement in combinations of browns and grays. There are few paintings about which so much has been written as Rembrandt’s The Night Watch or his self-portraits. His morals also have been subject to criticism.
And we have the Italian painter Raphael (1483–1520), generally accepted in the European world as the greatest of religious painters.
It has been said that many of the great artists were perverts or moral degenerates. In spite of their immorality they became great and celebrated artists. What could be the result if discovery were made of equal talent in men who were clean and free from the vices, and thus entitled to revelations?
The sacramental prayer can remind us every week of how the gift of unity will come through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we keep our covenants to take His name upon us, to remember Him always, and to keep all His commandments, we will receive the companionship of His Spirit. That will soften our hearts and unite us. But there are two warnings which must come with that promise.
First, the Holy Ghost remains with us only if we stay clean and free from the love of the things of the world...
The other warning is to beware of pride. Unity which comes to a family or to a people softened by the Spirit will bring great power. With that power will come recognition from the world. Whether that recognition brings praise or envy, it could lead us to pride. That would offend the Spirit. But there is a protection against pride, that sure source of disunity. It is to see the bounties which God pours upon us not only as a mark of His favor but an opportunity to join with those around us in greater service. A husband and his wife learn to be one by using their similarities to understand each other and their differences to complement each other in serving one another and those around them. In the same way, we can unite with those who do not accept our doctrine but share our desire to bless the children of our Heavenly Father.
Is not puffed up--is humble and teachable. Does not seek attention. Praises others. Does not murmur, and never belittles. Does not treat spouse with a "holier" or "smarter-than-thou" attitude. Doth not behave itself unseemly--is courteous, well mannered, reverent, respectful, and mindful; is clean, neat and considerate of other's property and feelings. Is not crude or indecent or improper. Seeketh not her own--is tender hearted, caring, sharing, sensitive, compassionate, generous, and united; sacrifices by putting desires of spouse first; considers money ours and not mine; thinks we not I; listens; Seeks to please God and others; is not demanding, controlling, or manipulative; does not blame; says I'm sorry; does not withhold affection. Is not easily provoked--is forgiving, patient, calm, gentle, respectful; is a peacemaker and does not get angry; is not irritable or vengeful; is not abusive in word or deed; does not swear or quarrel. Thinketh no evil--is not judgmental, but respectful and trusting, pure and obedient; does not think evil of others by gossiping or finding fault; is modest in thought, dress and speech; is not deceitful, cruel or dishonest; avoids inappropriate music, pornography, and dirty jokes. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth--has a temple recommend and wants an eternal marriage; stays close to the Spirit through regular scripture study and prayer; is responsible; is not light-minded. Beareth all things--is bold and patient with affliction and trials (this does not mean that abuse victims should silently bear cruelty, or follow a spouse disobedient to God); is grateful; does not insult others; is not defensive, irritable, touchy or grouchy; is not weary in well doing; is easily entreated or approachable and willing to listen empathetically and communicate without any contempt. Believeth all things--sees the eternal potential of spouse like Johnny Lingo saw in Mohana for those of you who remember that story; makes the least of the worst and the most of the best; shows by actions that there is a firm belief in eternal families; holds fast to the iron rod. Has goals, dreams, a vision and plans for a happy successful life together. Is cheerful. Hopeth all things--is an optimist and looks for the best; praises and builds up; expresses and shows affection. Spouse is best friend. Continues courting throughout marriage. Is not a pessimist, nagger, or faultfinder. Endureth all things--doesn't complain or murmur; is steadfast; accepts responsibility and is industrious, for the man a provider; shows initiative. Charity never faileth.
Keeping some commandments has greater power to build your foundation on truth and light. You could think of those as enabling commandments, because they build your power to keep other commandments. Whatever invites the Holy Ghost to be your companion will bring you greater wisdom and greater ability to obey God. For instance, you are promised that if you always remember the Savior, you will have His Spirit to be with you. You are commanded to pray that you may have the Holy Ghost. You are commanded to pray that you might not be overcome by temptation and so be clean and worthy of the Holy Spirit. You are commanded to study the word of God that you may have His Spirit. I would not set one commandment above another, but I might put some earlier in my efforts if they carry with them the promise of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The Comforter will lead us to truth and light and will help us obey our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. We will come to love Them and those around us as we serve Them, and thus we will keep the great commandments.
For this reason, I encourage every young man and every young woman to get acquainted with Preach My Gospel. Young people have the obligation to enlighten themselves, to understand for themselves the doctrines of the Restoration. That preparation is every bit as important for a girl as it is for a boy. Whether the young woman gets married or serves a full-time mission, the gospel has to operate in her life.
Youth ought to get acquainted with what goes on in missionary work. They would find it helpful, if possible, to assist the missionaries and get a feel for the work.
I also recommend that youth study and follow the guidelines in For the Strength of Youth. Missionaries need to be morally clean and spiritually ready. If they live the principles in For the Strength of Youth, they will be spiritually prepared to be great missionaries.
If you seek His help, be sure your life is clean, your motives are worthy, and you’re willing to do what He asks—for He will answer your prayers. He is your loving Father; you are His beloved child. He loves you perfectly and wants to help you.