Missionary work: getting in "the zone"

I pointed out in my previous post that the Lord and His servants have made it clear that when it comes to encouraging member missionary work, we need go beyond gimmicks and corporate management tactics. The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need salesmen. Motivating members to occasionally perform missionary actions is not enough. God wants us to become missionaries in our hearts. We don’t need a new program– we need a new perspective.

So… how do we do that? How do we turn missionary work from an activity we do to a lifestyle we live? It all starts with getting “in the zone.”

Principle #1. Greater understanding

This one makes sense– you’re not going to do something if you don’t know you’re supposed to be doing it. We first need to develop a correct understanding of our duties to share the Gospel.

I think most members already are aware of their responsibilities, but just in case you are the odd member that still thinks “missionary work” is all about the ten-speeds and the peanut butter sandwiches, let’s get clear about this. Missionary work is not just one aspect of our duties as members– it’s the big enchilada. Here are a few Prophets who said it much better than I could:

  • Joseph Smith: “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”
  • George Albert Smith: “We will attain our exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom only on the condition that we share with our Father’s other children the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…”
  • David O. McKay: “Every member… a missionary!”
  • Ezra Taft Benson: “We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today.”
  • Gordon B. Hinckley: “Let there be cultivated an awareness in every member’s heart of his own potential for bringing others to a knowledge of the truth. Let him work at it. Let him pray with great earnestness about it.”
  • David A. Bednar: “It is my responsibility and your responsibility to find people for the missionaries to teach. Missionaries are full-time teachers; you and I are full-time finders. And you and I as lifelong missionaries should not be praying for the full-time missionaries to do our work!”
  • Russell M. Nelson: “The Lord’s message is for everyone… to invite all God’’’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior…”

Wait, but what about all those other “most important” works the Prophets have identified throughout the years? We’ll get to that in my next post 😉. But for now, understand that each one of us has entered into a solemn covenant with God to stand as a witness of Him “at all times and in all things and in all places,” and that God is very serious about us keeping that promise.

You need to understand and accept that intellectually before we can move on. It’s fine if you don’t have an innate urge to go bug your friends and neighbors. But if you don’t even have the understanding that sharing the Gospel is your solemn, covenantal obligation, go study the scriptures until you do. I’ll wait.

Principle #2: Greater conversion

Usually, when missionaries and local leaders want to prod more member participation in the cause, they with that intellectual understanding. They get up in stake conference or on a fifth Sunday and try to convince us how important our duty is. Then when the pulpit can’t take any more thumping, they send us home and hope the message sticks. And they’re perpetually disappointed when nothing comes of the efforts and everyone moves on to other things.

Most members already understand, at least intellectually, that they have a responsibility to share the Gospel. But “what we know is not always reflected in what we do.” An intellectual acknowledgment that it is our job to share the Gospel is not enough; we need to be converted in our heart as well:

When Lehi partook of the fruit of the Gospel in his vision, he was immediately “desirous that [his] family should partake of it also.” When Enos tasted of the fruit of forgiveness, he immediately felt “a desire for the welfare of [his] brethren.” When the sons of Mosiah saw the light of God, they “were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature.”

It was more than just a casual wish that motivated these Book of Mormon missionaries. They didn’t just understand that they should share the Gospel– they wanted to share the Gospel. Rather, they didn’t just want to share the Gospel– they needed to share the Gospel. They couldn’t help but share the Gospel:

Nephi “could not restrain” the word of God from spilling out of him. The sons of Mosiah “could not bear” the thought of anyone living without it. Alma the Younger found “he could not rest” in his old age and felt compelled to go out and preach. Ether “could not be restrained” from preaching “because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him.”

This overpowering zeal share the Gospel is not just a privilege of prophets. This burning desire is a natural outgrowth of conversion for everyone who loves the Gospel:

As Howard W. Hunter taught, “a great indicator of one’s personal conversion is the desire to share the gospel with others… any time we experience the blessings of the Atonement in our lives, we cannot help but have a concern for the welfare of [others].” This concern leads inexorably to action. We are promised that “ man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”

I invite you to look inward and evaluate how strong your love of the Gospel is. Have a little interview with yourself– an interview similar to the one we will likely have with the Savior when this life is over. The Prophets have taught that He will be less interested with what we’ve done in life so much as who we’ve become in this life. What is our heart like? What are our motivations? What kind of thoughts do we think when we are alone? “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” after all.

Ask yourself, “How often during the day do my thoughts center on the Savior? Do I ‘always remember Him?’ Is the Gospel the driving power behind everything I do? Or is it just one of many influences in my life? What could I do to better treasure the Atonement of the Savior during my everyday activities? In what areas am I truly converted? And in what areas do I lack?”

These questions make me squirm in my seat sometimes, and that’s a good thing. We all fluctuate in our feelings and need to ask ourselves Alma’s poignant question: “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”

Please note that I’m not implying that if you are nervous to put yourself out there, you must not be truly converted. There are many other blockers that can stop us from acting on our desires to share the Gospel. I will address these in upcoming posts. But perhaps part of the reason we aren’t anxious and eager to help others experience the transforming nature of the Gospel is because we haven’t recently experienced that transforming nature ourselves. If that is the case, that is where we must start.

Principle #3: Greater immersion

Even when we are fully converted, it can be hard to keep the Gospel at the forefront of our minds throughout the day. I write computer programs for a living. Whether I’m designing a new system, hunting down the cause of an error, or faking my way through another meeting, my focus is on my work– not directly on the Gospel. From the time I leave the house to the time I put the kids to bed, I usually haven’t thought much about the eternal.

You may be able to identify with my predicament. You and I and other faithful Saints have made solemn covenants with Christ to “always remember Him,” yet during the hustle and bustle of the day, we find that He is “far from the thoughts and intents of [our] heart[s].” The solution is to immerse ourselves in the Gospel more than we currently are. I would offer two suggestions:

Suggestion #1: Continual pondering

I’ve started commuting to the office again. That 30 min drive each way gives me an opportunity I had sorely missed these past 18 months: uninterrupted time to sit back and listen to something. It has been a delight for me to get back into the daily news, the latest technologies, new audio books, or even just fun music during my drive.

But while all those things are “good” to one degree or another, “good” is just not good enough. I felt impressed that if I want to share the word of God more, I need to be immersed in the word of God more. I need to emulate the example of Nephi who “ponder[ed] continually” on the word of the Lord. I need to start my day with an influence that isn’t merely wholesome and entertaining, but that invites the Spirit.

I decided I would listen to whatever I want on my way home to unwind, but I would listen to faith-promoting materials on the way in to work– to reject the tempting allure of the political podcast and instead fill the car with Conference addresses, BYU devotionals, and Sunday School lessons.

Suggestion #2: Continual prayer

Not long ago, I set a goal to develop a certain Christlike attribute I admired in others but found seriously lacking in myself. Despite my efforts over a considerable time, I found my personal weakness still there and strong as ever. In frustration, I asked God why I did not see the change I had hoped for. I was surprised by His response. As usual, He communicated to me by impressing my mind with the words of scripture:

Remember my words to Oliver Cowdery? “You have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.”

But at least Oliver actually asked me. You, on the other hand, didn’t receive “because ye ask not, neither do ye knock.”

To anyone who feels discouraged because they are not “in the zone” and seeing missionary opportunities throughout the day, I would echo the words of Nephi: “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”

If there is nothing else in this post that you read, read this: Experience has convinced me that it is nearly impossible to sincerely pray every day for missionary opportunities and not see them frequently.

This isn’t some “prosperity Gospel” or “power of positive thinking” baloney. There’s nothing mystical about the effect of prayer on missionary work. There are missionary opportunities all around, there are Gospel connections in our everyday lives, but we aren’t going to notice them unless we make them our focus. And there is no better way to make them our focus than to sincerely, earnestly pray for them every single day.

What life is like in the zone

There is power in these two ideas to increase our immersion in the Gospel. I have not always been consistent, but every time I have prayed sincerely and studied during my morning commute, I have been surprised at the unexpected opportunities that have fallen in my lap without any effort on my part. Studying means I start the day with the words of the Prophets ringing in my ears and an added measure of the Spirit. Daily, sincere prayer opens my eyes to opportunities and loosens my tongue. And the missionary opportunities seem to jump out at me like never before. It’s not every single day, and it’s certainly nothing dramatic, but I notice many chances to share “small and simple things” that I would otherwise have been blind to or unprepared for.

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