Sunday, February 08, 2015
Discussions in small groups “give a large number of people the opportunity to participate in a lesson. Individuals who are usually hesitant to participate might share ideas in small groups that they would not express in front of the entire group”
“Agency has been given to all of us to make important decisions that will have bearing on our salvation. Those decisions affect our happiness in eternity.”
Living and working on a farm, Ezra Taft Benson learned about the consequences of good decisions. He recalled: “I grew up believing that the willingness and ability to work is the basic ingredient of successful farming. Hard, intelligent work is the key. Use it, and your chances for success are good.”1
At a young age, Ezra learned that he and his family would have more to eat if they chose to take care of their garden. He learned that if he wanted the family to be successful in their dairy business, he had to decide to get out of bed early every day to milk the cows.2 He saw that when he made the choice to work hard, local farmers hired him to thin their beets and pitch their hay.3 He saw that trials come even to the faithful, but he also saw that individuals and families could decide to respond to trials in a way that would help them be happy and successful.
* How do some professions reflect the effects of effort and attitude better than others? Which are based mostly on hard work and effort, which on social connection and personality?
* What choices do we have in dealing with trials? What choices do we not have?
With this experience as a foundation, President Ezra Taft Benson frequently reminded Latter-day Saints and others of the importance of agency—the freedom “to choose the course they should follow.”6 His teachings about the principle of agency included more than just a reminder to “choose between right and wrong.”7 He spoke of agency as the ability to “make important decisions that will have bearing on our salvation” and that will “affect our happiness in eternity.”8 He encouraged Latter-day Saints and others to use their agency to “act on their own,” without waiting to be commanded in all things.9 The principle of agency, he said, “runs like a golden thread throughout the gospel plan of the Lord for the blessing of his children.”10
* How easy is it to think of “free agency” as only choosing between right and wrong?
* What do we miss when we don’t think of other choices we make in the same way?
Ezra Taft Benson’s testimony:
I testify that we are the spirit offspring of a loving God, our Heavenly Father. He has a great plan of salvation whereby His children might be perfected as He is and might have a fulness of joy as He enjoys.
I testify that in our premortal state our Elder Brother in the spirit, even Jesus Christ, became our foreordained Savior in the Father’s plan of salvation. He is the captain of our salvation and the only means through whom we can return to our Father in Heaven to gain that fulness of joy.
I testify that Lucifer was also in the council of heaven. He sought to destroy the agency of man. He rebelled.) There was a war in heaven, and a third of the hosts were cast to the earth and denied a body. Lucifer is the enemy of all righteousness and seeks the misery of all mankind.
The central issue in that premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force.
* Have you ever considered the concepts above as things you would bear testimony of?
* Are there other gospel principles that might fit into areas you might have a testimony of?
* How often do people try to govern by coercion and force?
Abraham was shown the spirit children of our Heavenly Father before they came to earth. He, too, was shown the creation of the earth, and the Lord said to him: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25.) In that divine statement is embodied also the right of choice.16
This life is a probation: a probation in which you and I prove our mettle, a probation that has eternal consequences for each of us. And now is our time and season—as every generation has had theirs—to learn our duties and to do them.17
That the Lord is displeased with wickedness is true. That He desires that it not occur is also true. That He will help those who oppose it is true. But that He allows wickedness to occur at all through His children here in mortality is proof of His having given them their freedom to choose, while reserving for Him a basis for their final judgment.18
There is no evil that [Jesus Christ] cannot arrest. All things are in His hands. This earth is His rightful dominion. Yet He permits evil so that we can make choices between good and evil.19
* How important is choice?
* What happens if there is no choice?
SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION:
* In what ways have you seen that “the war that began in heaven … is not yet over”? What can we do to continue to stand for the principle of agency?
* People often wonder why God allows evil to exist in the world. How do President Benson’s teachings help to answer that question?
* Why or why not?
* What can we do to help those younger than ourselves understand how the decisions they make (and the decisions we made) have affected our happiness and our lives? What can we do to help children and youth understand the impact of the decisions they make?
* How can we teach from our own lives?
[We ran out of time before this point, but]
More reading and large group discussion:
If we are to make proper, Christ-like decisions, we must first of all live so we can reach out and tap that unseen power without which no man can do his best in decision making.
The Lord said, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you” (3 Nephi 14:7; Matthew 7:7). In other words, it requires effort on our part.30
Wise decisions are usually arrived at following work, struggle, and prayerful effort. The Lord’s response to Oliver Cowdery’s ineffective effort makes this clear: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:8.)
Let us begin, therefore, by saying that earnestly seeking our Father in heaven, having faith that he will answer our prayers, is a comforting base on which to begin. … The Lord will not take water from a dry well, so we must do our part. Sometimes attempting to find a correct decision takes great amounts of energy, study, and long-suffering.31
In decisions of crucial importance, fasting combined with prayer can bring great spiritual insight.32
* In reviewing what the lesson manual refers to as President Benson’s counsel about making “proper, Christ-like decisions” what have you learned about combining prayer with diligent effort in making decisions?
* What else do you consider part of a proper, Christ-like decision?
* What does it mean to you to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”?
* How does your life change when you do good things “of [your] own free will” rather than waiting to be commanded?
* What would you consider a good cause?
In 1831 the Lord said this to his Church:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
“But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.” (D&C 58:26–29.)
The Lord wants us to use our agency to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27).
The purposes of the Lord—the great objectives—continue the same: the salvation and exaltation of his children.
Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded “in all things.” This attitude prepares men for godhood. …
Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward.33
We should be “anxiously engaged” in good causes and leave the world a better place for having lived in it.34
What does it mean to you to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”?
* Any final comments?