So, tomorrow I have to give a talk on missionary work, and I hope you will endulge me as I share it with you. My Bishop particularly wanted me to focus on how to be a missionary even if you are not an outgoing person. I don’t think I quite acheived his objective, but I tried. No matter what, it was good to sit down and put my thoughts into words. Feel free to let me know you what you think. ~Paul W.
Becoming the Missionary the Lord Wants You to be
by Paul Wilson
I had an interesting experience happen to me while serving my mission in Riverside, California. I was tracking in my third area, in a city named Corona, and it was Halloween. My companion and I came to a door where we could smell the sweat aroma of baking fudge. After knocking, a girl, no older than six or seven, answered the door. She pointed to me, squinted one eye, and read slowly the largest print on my missionary badge, “JESUS CHRIST.” She paused and then very matter of factly stated, “Well it’s about time, we have been waiting for you.” An older woman in an apron, most likely her grandmother, came up from behind the girl and said, “Oh no, sweetie, he’s not Jesus Christ!”
Unfortunately, we were not invited in to teach this family, but this little girl made quite an impact on me that day. She taught me that when we share the gospel we come as a messenger, and in a very literal sense, we speak as the Savior himself. There is nothing that God desires more from us than to save all his children.
For the last several weeks I have been pondering about missionary work, more specifically, my personal style of how I share missionary work. I am not like my beautiful wife, Lindsey, who can openly and eagerly share the gospel with every living thing. I admire this trait, but try as I might, I am not engineered this way.
I am an extremely social person, but I also am hesitant at times to share something so sacred to me with someone who does not desire to hear it. I cannot turn around on a bus and ask someone if they have heard about the Book of Mormon. It was much easier as missionary to do something like this, because, well, I was a missionary.
When I was asked to give this talk the Bishop specifically wanted me to talk about how openly sharing the gospel is not a gift given to only a special few. How the Lord commands all of us to share the gospel and that we all can share it in our own unique way.
As I studied for my talk I came to see a pattern, which if followed can help us share the gospel in a way that complements our unique nature and also follows God’s will. There is a story out of the Wilford Woodruff manual that pulls to light the pattern. In the manual it says:
“Shortly after Wilford Woodruff was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church, he ‘had a great desire to preach the Gospel.’ He recalled: ‘One Sunday evening I retired into the woods alone, and called upon the Lord in earnest prayer, to open my way to go and preach the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. The Spirit of the Lord bore witness that my prayer was heard, and should be answered. I arose from my knees happy, and walked some forty rods, and met Elias Higbee, a High Priest, with whom I had stayed a number of months. As I approached him, he said, ‘Brother Wilford, the Spirit of the Lord tells me that you should be ordained, and go on a mission.’ I replied, ‘I am ready.’”
In this story I found four principles that prepares our hearts and minds to share the gospel in the manner the Lord needs us to share it. These principles are, “Desire, Prayer, Readiness, and Faith.”
For those of you who speak Spanish you may recognize the word ojalá. When you translate this word to English you really lose its deeper meaning. The English translation of ojalá is hopefully, but in actuality it is a deep desire of hope, often associated with God. My own personal translation of ojalá is hope and desire bound together by a love of God.
Wilford Woodruff’s story states that he had a great desire to preach the Gospel. This desire or ojalá is the first step to sharing the Gospel. No matter if you are outgoing or shy if you do not desire to share the gospel the opportunity will rarely be open to you. The real question is, “How do we create this ojalá if it is not there?”
Alma answered this question in his analogy of the seed found in Alma 32. In verses 27 and 28 of this chapter we specifically see the importance of merely beginning to believe in ojalá. To further illustrate my point I’ve made these two verses more missionary focused by injecting “missionary work” in place of “the word.” Alma shares with us,
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare [missionary work] unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that [missionary work] is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
Alma teaches us that to have ojalá in missionary work that we need to begin by having a desire to believe. Let this desire to believe come from knowing that missionary work is the same work the Lord does. We learn this when God tells Moses, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
The second principle to becoming the missionary you want to be is Prayer. In John 17:3 it states, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” It is interesting to note that in this scripture the Greek text uses the word Epignosis to describe how we must know God.
In Greek there are two types of knowledge. The Greek word Gnosis means to know about someone or something; whereas, the Greek word Epignosis depicts knowledge based on experience or close association. To have an Epignosis relation with God is to have an intimate awareness of God’s character and will. It is impossible to have Gnosis relation with the Savior and be able to receive salvation.
Often, I have felt that my prayers, particularly concerning missionary work, have been Gnosis in nature. I pray knowing that I should pray, but often I won’t pray with an Epignosis longing to truly know the will of the Lord. Maybe it is because I know already that the Lord wants me share the gospel and I am not doing as much as I can.
One way I have worked on overcoming the Gnosis prayer is to pray differently. I have devised for myself a sacred way to pray. Basically, I will take time to write down all the things I want to discuss with the Lord. I then write the questions I have for Him. Finally, I will write out the answers I believe I will receive to my prayers. After all of this, I will begin to pray with my notes before me. I will pray about all the things I have written down. When I receive guidance to one of my questions I will stop and write down the answer given to me.
I can truthfully state that every time I chose to pray in this manner I have been given different answers than what I originally wrote down. For me, it has become a beautiful and sacred way to pray. Due to the detailed nature of this prayer it does take much time, and I can honestly say that I do not pray like this every day. However, if you do struggle with a Gnosis type of prayer I challenge you to try this method of praying. It has sincerely helped me gain a deeper Epignosis relation with my Savior.
The reason I share the importance of the Epignosis prayer, is that missionary work becomes much easier knowing the will of the Lord. Often times, we prejudge people, believing that they are not the type of individuals who are open to hearing the gospel. By spending the time and energy coming to have a deep prayerful relationship with God the layers of judgment are removed and we are able to see people in the same way God does.
Once we have created a deep desire and offered sincere prayer for missionary work the next step is to be actively engaged in our desires, or to be Ready. Wilford Woodruff stated “I am ready” when told to serve a mission. It is the “Woodruff Readiness” that the Lord truly desires from us. This type of readiness I believe is putting action to your desire and being ready to serve in any compacity that Lord expects from you. It’s this readiness which shows the Lord we truly want to bring souls to Christ.
However, there are so many ways to be active in missionary work. One of the best and easiest ways is to offer as referrals all the non-members you know to the missionaries. Let the missionaries approach these people and let your friends decide whether they want to hear the message or not.
Oftentimes, we want to prepare our friends before jumping right into sharing the gospel. Being a friend is important but sometimes it is easier to let the missionaries approach those who we know and allowing them to open up opportunities of sharing the gospel. There is a great talk by Clayton M. Christensen and his wife titled the “Seven Lessons on Sharing the Gospel,” which reveals how they almost missed sharing the gospel with several people. They had initially excluded a few people in sharing the gospel because they hadn’t really become friends with these people first.
Elder and Sister Christensen’s talk also shares another way to be active in missionary work. The action they mention is to use Church lingo in our every day conversations. This has been something I’ve done most of my life and it really helps open doors in sharing the gospel. For me, having moved from Utah allowed me to do exactly what the Christensen’s talk about. I share with people that I am from Utah, and almost every time I will receive a question wondering if I am Mormon.
Lindsey and I had a great experience doing this when we went to a dinner for my graduate program. We were seated at a table with my program director and his wife. When we shared that we had just moved from Utah both the director and his wife started peppering us with questions about the church. We spent a wonderful evening sharing our values, and in no way was either my director or his wife offended by us being so open about our religious beliefs.
The final principle in helping you share the gospel is Faith. For me, this is a tough principle. Not because I don’t have faith in God, but rather, I don’t have faith in myself that I deserve God’s blessings. It reminds me of a quote from my favorite philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, when he states, “It is hard to believe because it is hard to obey.” We are all flawed with sin and Satan will use this fact against us. Do not believe in this pernicious lie. If we truly desire, pray, and act, God will keep his promise and guide us to those who want to hear the gospel.
I witnessed this first hand when I was a teenager. I met my best friend, Logan, at the age of 11. Logan and I were as opposite as two boys can be. He was a talented athlete and I was, well…not. We had vastly different interests from each other but for some reason we became good friends. We would participate in each other’s interests and have fun doing it (though, I never did become any good at sports).
It wasn’t long before Logan was coming with me to Stake dances. We had a lot of fun, but more importantly he came in contact with the Church. When he was 16 he asked his parents if he could be baptized, but they did not consent. The church was foreign to them and they were not yet ready to allow their only son to join. I was devastated; I so badly wanted Logan to feel the joy and peace of having the blessing of baptism and the constant companion of the Holy Ghost.
It took another two long years before Logan was baptized. He was baptized one week after his 18th birthday and one year later he was called to serve a mission in Switzerland, French speaking. However, the story does not end here. Upon serving an honorable mission Logan and I moved to Utah and became roommates for college. It was here that Logan met my cousin Lauren. Lauren had left the church, but through Logan’s friendship and diligence she returned and they were married in the Saint George Temple.
They now have two beautiful children and are both stalwart in the church. I think of how sharing the gospel not only touched Logan’s life, but all the people he taught on his mission, my dear cousin Lauren’s life, and in turn touched my own life. The ripple effect of sharing the gospel is an eternal ripple. Logan’s eternal ripple began with the faith of his 11 year old friend. It was this faith that carried both Logan and I through seven years of waiting before he could be baptized.
Brethren and Sisters, sharing the gospel is not easy, but I testify that it is worth it. I promise you that if you have desire, if you pray, are ready, and have faith that you will see, as the little girl from the beginning of my talk did, that we are saviors to those who accept the Lord’s gospel message.
This I say in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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