21 September 2008

On Being Missionaries

My time during the interval between my last post and this one has been largely filled with thoughts geared toward my current calling as Ward Mission Leader. I brought upon myself a flurry of activity in that regard by suggesting that we challenge our Ward to engage ourselves as member missionaries more actively during the month of September, and most specifically during the week between today and next Sunday. As a part of this, the Bishopric gave me opportunities to teach the August 31 fifth Sunday lesson to our priesthood and Relief Society on this topic, and followed that by asking my wife and me to speak in Sacrament meeting today. I also presented a musical number on clarinet, engaging me in the meeting from several angles as I prepared the music and arranged "Hark All Ye Nations" and "Rejoice, the Lord is King" into a unified medley.

That said (and with apologies for my delay in writing), I have had several thoughts that might be of use to any who might read this post, and from which I may benefit for having written. Foremost is the focus on being missionaries rather than on doing missionary work. Elder Bednar's talk about preparing for missionary service by being missionaries now rather than any "one true and living missionary preparation regiment" informed this train of thought greatly. I find myself responding with more enthusiasm to a challenge to be a missionary than a challenge to do missionary work. In viewing the command to be missionaries this way, I have focused on 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 wherein Paul sets the Saints up to be the epistles (or letters of introduction) of Christ to those around them. They are epistles written not with ink, but with the Spirit of God; written not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart. In this way, we become witnesses, missionaries in the true sense of having been sent on a mission. As we integrate the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ into our lives, our instinctive response, forming a part of the pattern of the plan of happiness, becomes a missionary response. Thus, our interactions with others naturally gravitate toward our experiences with the Lord from time to time, creating opportunities to share our witness without any awkwardness, stiffness, or discomfort. 

The notion of being a missionary and of sharing our testimony or sharing our witness turns the mind to what being a witness truly entails. The notion of testimony and witness becomes particularly significant to one trained in the law, and conditioned to view experiences and events in terms of evidence. In the legal profession, effective witnesses must give competent testimony, must limit their testimony to relevant topics, and must convey credibility to their testimony such that a skilled advocate may use their testimony together with that of other witnesses to craft an entire case.

Similarly, the Lord, acting as our Advocate with the Father, creates a case. Our testimony must first be competent. This means that it bases itself on actual events and experiences with which we have firsthand knowledge. We give testimony about what we have experienced. Thus, our personal experiences with the Lord form the foundation of our testimony. It is important to note that we need not be every kind of witness. Not every witness in a legal trial gives expert medical evidence, expert forensic analysis, eyewitness accounts and character evidence. Nor need we feel obligated to check every box in giving our witness of each facet of the gospel each time an opportunity arises to bear testimony. We merely need to impart our experiences with the Lord.

Related to this concept, witnesses are to limit their testimony to relevant evidence. Statements about a witness' family might be accurate and true; however such statements would have no relevance to what that witness observed about her workplace in the days leading up to an incident. In the same manner, we need not testify to every gospel principle during every opportunity to bear testimony of which we avail ourselves. In conversations relating to our family, we can limit our testimony effectively by sharing how the gospel has given our family a foundation on which we find stability despite the tumultuous times surrounding us, perhaps including an anecdote about family prayer or family home evening and inviting those hearing the testimony to join us the next time. Or we can talk about how blessed we feel to have a living prophet who can issue warnings, as did President Hinckley in October 2001 when he made reference to Joseph's dream almost exactly seven years prior to our current economic turmoil. Relevant testimony need not be formulaic--in fact it loses power when reduced to trite, contrived or repetitive statements rather than a sincere and simple statement of our experience.

We find our testimony through our own experience with the Lord. Zechariah recounts a vision with which each of us can identify in Zech. 3. In this vision the accuser, Satan, points to our filthy garments; whereupon the Lord replaces those filthy garments with clean white clothing and a royal crown upon our heads. He invites us to walk in His ways and keep his charge. If we so do, he promises us that we will judge his house and keep his courts and that he will give us places to walk among those that stand by. In effect, our Advocate with the Father opposes Lucifer, the prosecutor seeking the spiritual death penalty for our sins. Jesus pleads our cause (Isaiah 51:22), entering a plea of not guilty by reason of atonement. At this point, we become witnesses of Jesus Christ--his epistles and missionaries.

When we have genuine experience upon which to draw and we give relevant evidence, our witness may be joined with others to form a compelling case, sufficient to meet any standard of proof, whether it be more than a scintilla of evidence, or beyond a reasonable doubt, or anywhere in between. 

Peter admonished us to "sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us] with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). As we become missionaries and understand the mission we have been given (Jacob 1:17), we can act on the calling that we have each received as a result of our desires to serve God (D&C 4) and share our witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places that we may be in (Mosiah 18). Then we take upon us the image of Christ, even to the point of having that image engraven upon our countenances (Alma 5) as the Lord engraved us upon his palms and his feet.