Why Not Ask?
June 13, 2017
Elder Larry R. Lawrence
General Authority Seventy
Elder Larry and Sister Laurel Lawrence grew up in Tucson, Arizona. They married in the Arizona Temple. After medical school, Elder Lawrence moved his young family to Fresno, California, where he established his medical practice. He worked as an eye surgeon while his wife worked as a full-time mother. They are the parents of six children and have 30 grandchildren.
Elder Lawrence has served as a bishop, stake president, mission president in Russia, and area seventy in California. In 2010, he was called to serve as a general authority. Elder Lawrence recently presided over the Eastern European area of the Church. He and his wife have spent a total of seven years living in Russia to fill church assignments. They were reassigned to Salt Lake City last year. Elder Lawrence is chairman of the Scriptures Coordination Committee and leads the Middle East and Africa North areas of the Church.
We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come more spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.
Pre-devotional Preparation and Discussion:
- 1) Review the October 2015 conference address What Lack I Yet? by Elder Larry R. Lawrence
2) Watch the YM/YW 2017 Mutual Theme Video Ask of God.
3) Read your patriarchal blessing, looking for the mention of specific spiritual gifts you are blessed with.
4) Have you ever asked the Lord, "What Lack I Yet?" Would you be willing to share your experience in doing so on the discussion board in three or four sentences?
Try to imagine yourself in the nation's capital, meeting in the Oval Office with the president of the United States. The president has your bio in front of him and sees that you are a Latter-day Saint. He asks you, "How is your church different from other churches in our country?" What would you say? How would you answer him?
Many years ago, in 1839, Joseph Smith traveled to Washington D.C. and met with Martin Van Buren, the president of the United States. The men engaged in a long conversation, and at one point President Van Buren posed the same question to Joseph: "How does your church differ from the other religions of the day?"
Joseph's answer was surprisingly simple. He explained, "We differ in the mode of baptism, and in the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands." Joseph concluded that all other considerations are contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost (HC 4:42).
President Van Buren was no doubt familiar with the New Testament, so he must have realized that the gift of the Holy Ghost was the very same gift and power that the early Christians once enjoyed. It made possible all the spiritual gifts that Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians, gifts like wisdom and knowledge and charity (1 Corinthians 12:5-11).
Do you and I fully appreciate what it means to have the gift of the Holy Ghost? Not only can we invite a member of the Godhead to be our personal companion, but, if we are worthy, receiving the Holy Ghost is accompanied by at least one customized spiritual gift. (D&C 46:11) This way, every member of the Church can better contribute to the kingdom.
Without priesthood authority, the gift of the Holy Ghost could not be bestowed. We would be like any other church on earth. With the help of spiritual gifts, Latter-day Saints have increased confidence to accept callings, teach classes, speak in meetings, give priesthood blessings, serve missions, or learn foreign languages. This direct access to heavenly power enables the "lay ministry" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to succeed.
The Lord really wants us to appreciate the precious gifts of the Spirit--to understand that they are far more valuable than material gifts. Let me share a story in the Old Testament to illustrate: When King David died, his son Solomon inherited the throne. Scholars estimate that Solomon was only around 20 years of age at the time. The young king was completely humbled by his new responsibility as chief of state.
One night, while Solomon was sleeping, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Ask what I shall give thee." What an opportunity! The Lord was offering him the wish of his heart! Solomon could have asked for riches or for honor or for a long life. He could have asked for power over his enemies. But as you may remember, young king Solomon asked for a spiritual gift--for "[a wise and] an understanding heart to judge [the] people." This request pleased God so much that he not only agreed to bless Solomon with great wisdom but with all those other blessings that he might have asked for as well (1 Kings 3:5-14).
Wisdom is a valuable spiritual gift, and the Lord is happy when we seek it. In the epistle of James, we read, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:5). This counsel applies to all the gifts of the Spirit; we are invited to ask God for any that we lack. We can ask for faith, for discernment, for personal revelation--for any spiritual gift.
Heavenly Father is much more generous than most of His children realize. He is never annoyed at us for asking for divine help. On the contrary, He "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not". (James 1:5) "Upbraideth not" means God won't scold us for asking.
The scriptures teach that every worthy member is given at least one spiritual gift (D&C 46:11). These personal gifts are often mentioned in our patriarchal blessings, so I would encourage each of you to review your blessing often. However, keep in mind that Church members are not limited to just one gift or to those listed in a patriarchal blessing. We can seek and ask for more--as long as we remember what the gifts are for. They are to be used for the building of the kingdom, "for the benefit of the children of God" (D&C 46:26).
Paul encouraged the early Saints to "desire" spiritual gifts and even to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). To me that means that if I notice a brother or sister who magnifies a gift of the Spirit, I am invited to seek that same gift myself. This is the only place in the scriptures where we are actually instructed to "covet." If you have a roommate, a sibling, a mission companion, or a spouse who really seems to understand the scriptures, you can covet that gift yourself and then ask for it.
I sometimes visualize a large storehouse up in heaven, completely filled with spiritual gifts, available to all Saints who have the faith to ask for them. Unfortunately, not too many are asking, so the storehouse is always overstocked.
The prophet Moroni taught that three of these gifts (faith, hope, and charity) are necessary for exaltation (Moroni 10:20-22). He explained that the greatest of all the gifts is charity, or the pure love of Christ. Is it presumptuous to ask the Lord for charity? Not at all! Mormon challenged us to "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love" (Moroni 7:48).
My wife and I have a friend who took this challenge to heart. Later, she wrote about her experience and described how she was forever changed by it. She wrote: "I have been praying specifically for an increase of charity for several months. I have prayed daily, out loud, several times a day, for this important gift. Gradually my perception of others has changed: it seems as if I had been watching people on a little old black-and-white television for all these years. Now I am seeing them in 3D on a plasma HD big-screen TV. I have begun to not just love the people around me but to enjoy them. Before, I may have kept my distance, but now I am genuinely interested in everyone."
In the New Testament, and also in the Doctrine of Covenants, many useful spiritual gifts are listed. Among these are the "faith to heal" and the "faith to be healed," the "working of miracles," the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, and the gift of discernment. In the Book of Mormon, others are added to the list, including the gift to teach and "the beholding of angels and ministering spirits" (1 Corinthians 12; D&C 46; Moroni 10).
Several years ago, Apostle Marvin J. Ashton spoke about spiritual gifts at general conference. He explained that there were many more gifts available to the Saints than those which are listed in the scriptures. He cited several other gifts for us to consider, including "the gift of asking; the gift of listening; ... the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable," the gift to calm others, and the gift to care (Marvin J. Ashton, "There Are Many Gifts," Ensign, Nov. 1987). Brothers and sisters, the list is "endless in number and infinite in variety" (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 371).
As you search the scriptures, you will discover that Saints in every dispensation have been blessed with marvelous gifts of the Spirit. Reading about their lives can motivate us to "desire spiritual gifts," which is exactly what the Lord wants us to do.
For example, shortly after Adam was baptized and received the Holy Ghost, he was given the "gift of prophecy." As a result, he "began to prophecy concerning all the families of the earth" (Moses 5:10). Later we read about Enoch, a man who was blessed with the faith to perform miracles. At his word, the earth trembled, the mountains fled, and rivers were turned out of their course (Moses 6:34).
Abraham was also known for his unwavering faith. Faith is a spiritual gift that we can ask for. Abraham's wife, Sarah, was blessed with the gift of patience. She waited patiently on the Lord until she was past 90 years old before her only son, Isaac, was finally born. Another righteous woman mentioned in the Old Testament was Ruth, a convert to the gospel. She was blessed with the gift of loyalty. Ruth set an example for us all by her loyal devotion to her mother-in-law.
In the New Testament, we are introduced to Joseph the carpenter. Joseph received the gift of dreams to help guide his personal decisions. Following instructions given in a dream, he took Mary to be his wife. Later, he received a dream warning him to take his young family and flee to Egypt (Matt. 1:20-25). The gift of dreams is given to many faithful Saints in our own day.
The apostle Peter was blessed with the gift of healing. Believers would bring their sick into the streets on beds and couches, hoping that the mere shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow their loved ones and heal them (Acts 5:15).
The Book of Mormon is full of examples of righteous Saints who used their spiritual gifts to build the kingdom. The brother of Jared enjoyed the gift of asking and was never afraid to ask the Lord for what he desired (Ether 1:43).
And what about the prophet Mormon--what spiritual gifts did he receive? Among other things, we are told that he was "quick to observe" (Mormon 1:2). This helped him to learn from the mistakes of others and to remain righteous in the midst of a wicked generation.
Alma the Senior enjoyed the gift of recall. In other words, he could remember words of truth long after he had heard them. After listening to Abinadi's powerful testimony, Alma was able to recall the prophet's exact words from memory. He then took the time to record these precious teachings while he was hiding out from the wicked King Noah (Mosiah 17:4).
In our own dispensation, Wilford Woodruff was blessed with the same valuable gift. Because he magnified his gift, many of the Prophet Joseph's sermons are available to us today.
Brother Woodruff explained: "Whenever I heard Joseph Smith preach, teach, or prophesy, I always felt it my duty to write it ... and when I had no pencil or paper, I would go home and sit down and write the whole sermon, almost word for word and sentence by sentence as it was delivered, and when I had written it down, then it was taken from me. I remembered it no more. This was the gift of God to me" (Matthias Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, 476-77).
Would you like the gift of recall or the gift of courage or the gift of dreams? Why not ask? I testify that the Lord won't scold you for asking. Does a member have to be perfect to ask for spiritual gifts? The Lord answered that question in the scriptures.
He explained that gifts are given for the benefit of "those who love me and keep all my commandments," and then he added, "And him that seeketh so to do" (D&C 46:9). That likely includes all of us here today.
The Lord's one stipulation is that we don't come seeking gifts for "a sign" or "to consume it upon [our] lusts" (D&C 46:9). In other words, we should not be seeking gifts to build ourselves up in the eyes of others or for personal financial gain. Spiritual gifts are given to help us build the kingdom so "that all may be profited thereby" (D&C 46:12).
Those who are called to serve as bishops are blessed with the gift of discernment. The Holy Ghost helps them to discern when someone is telling the truth and also helps them see the good in ward members. Years ago, I was preparing to set apart a newly called bishop. Before I laid my hands upon his head, he turned and asked in great humility, "President, while you are setting me apart, could you bless me with the gift of remembering names. This is a weakness of mine, and I want to improve myself. I believe this gift would help me magnify my calling." I was struck with his childlike faith. The Spirit whispered to me that the Lord was pleased with such a righteous desire.
President George Q. Cannon, counselor to several Presidents of the Church, said, "If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect." Since the most important callings in the kingdom are that of mother and father, President Cannon encouraged parents to ask for spiritual gifts. He suggested to young mothers, for example, that they might ask for "the gift to govern children" or to "organize households" (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truths, 156). If you want to be a better parent or spouse or roommate, there is heavenly help available. Why not ask?
Many years ago, I served as a mission president in Russia. Our missionary team was small because of quotas imposed by the Russian government. I considered our small numbers to be a blessing, because it was easy to get to know each missionary very well.
As the months went by, I observed that every elder and every sister in our mission was uniquely gifted. I saw firsthand how their various gifts complemented each other. No missionary possessed every gift, but each possessed at least one. There were a few missionaries who were peacemakers. They could get along with the most difficult companions and could help unify any district. There were some missionaries who were courageous, in fact fearless. They could talk to anyone, and they did--everywhere they went. Some had the gift of tongues and quickly mastered the complex Russian language.
Some had the gift of creative ideas and kept the mission fresh and exciting. Several were blessed to understand and expound the scriptures. Many missionaries had the gift of making friends. Some were good listeners. Others were gifted problem solvers. Fortunately, there were a few who had a gift for organization, and they kept our mission office running smoothly. I remember a native elder from Russia, Elder Sergei Afanosov, who was blessed with a constant smile. His optimistic spirit brightened every room that he entered. From watching him, I learned how the gift of a cheerful heart can help build the kingdom in a significant way.
Imagine for a moment that you are a child again. It's Christmas morning, and your home is filled with the spirit of the season. Christmas music is playing. Your father passes out a special gift to each member in the family. Each gift was carefully selected; each is something very useful. After the presents are received with thankfulness, your mother disappears into the kitchen to cook up something special.
While you are enjoying this beautiful moment, you notice that there are many unopened gifts left under the Christmas tree. You can tell what's inside, because the gifts are clearly labeled. You realize that you could use some of these valuable gifts yourself.
Reluctantly, you approach your father, not wanting to appear greedy. "Father," you ask, "whom are these other presents for?" He smiles warmly and explains, "For whoever wants one." That sounds way too good to be true. You think to yourself, "There must be a catch." Then your father explains, "Just ask for what you need. I won't scold you for asking."
This Christmas story is not as farfetched as it may seem. Jesus taught His disciples that our Father in Heaven is a very generous parent. He encouraged them, "Ask, and it shall be given [unto] you" (Luke 11:9). This phrase, encouraging us to ask, is repeated over and over in the standard works. Remember that God grants "whatsoever ye ask that is right" (Mosiah 4:21).
Our Heavenly Father is willing to give us what we need to help us progress and become like Him--and to help us build the kingdom.
Let me share with you a personal example. I was baptized when I was a young adult, the first one in my family to join the Church. After my conversion, the Holy Ghost helped me recognize some of my weaknesses. In response to my question "What lack I yet?" the Spirit told me I needed to overcome my fiery temper.
I was overly competitive when playing basketball or racquetball or anything where someone was keeping score. I had embarrassed myself a few times by losing my temper over a ballgame. I asked the Lord to help me overcome this weakness, and He heard my prayers.
Gradually, I was blessed with more patience in all areas of my life. I knew I was making progress when my mother said one day, "You have really changed ever since you joined the Mormon church. You won't even argue with me anymore." I considered that a great compliment. If you should find yourself challenged in the same way, if you find you could use more patience--why not ask? Patience is a spiritual gift.
Do you get discouraged easily? Could you use a big infusion of optimism and hope? There is one thing you should know: Hope is also a gift of the Spirit. If you want to be filled with hope, why not ask?
A young adult named Hannah was invited to the bishop's office one Sunday and was called to teach the Gospel Doctrine class in her YSA ward. She was terrified at the idea. Being naturally shy and introverted, and having never served a mission, she felt very inadequate when it came to explaining the scriptures.
Hannah accepted the calling, but with many misgivings. The bishop assured her that the Lord would help her to succeed. He quoted President Monson, who has said many times, "Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies."
That night, Hannah opened the lesson manual and read the upcoming lesson. Then she knelt down and humbly prayed: "Please bless me with the gift of courage. Help me not to be afraid to teach."
As she pondered the task ahead, this thought came into her heart: "You don't have to do all the talking. If you will ask a few inspired questions, the Spirit will help teach the class."
She responded to that prompting, preparing several good discussion questions based on the lesson material. By the time Sunday came, Hannah felt at peace. She threw out one question after another, and members of the Gospel Doctrine class were quick to respond. The more that class members participated, the more they all learned. As the weeks and months went by, Hannah began to look forward to those Sunday lessons. She realized that courage to "teach in the Savior's way" is a gift that God is happy to give us--if we will just ask.
Let me share another story of a Church member who tried hard to magnify his calling and was blessed with an amazing spiritual gift. Brother John Macfarlane was called to be a choir director in St. George, Utah, in the 1860s. One year, he decided the choir needed a new carol for their Christmas program. He had little experience at writing hymns, but he was not afraid to pray for help, for the gift to compose.
"One night it came, suddenly, in a dream. John was awake instantly. He shook his wife, Ann, into wakefulness, crying out: "Ann, Ann, I have the words for a song, and I think I have the music too!" (Lloyd Wayland Macfarlane, Yours Sincerely, John M. Macfarlane).
The song that John was given in his dream has become a beloved Christmas hymn played and sung all over the world. We know it as "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains." The music and the lyrics were inspired of God, given in the form of a spiritual gift to a dedicated choir director.
One of the first pioneer Saints to receive a patriarchal blessing was Elizabeth Ann Whitney. The patriarch blessed her with the gift of "inspirational singing" (Hyrum Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, 45). Whether they realize it or not, thousands of Latter-day Saints are blessed with this same spiritual gift. Their singing inspires us to be better. It's no wonder that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the most famous choir in all the world. The credit goes to the Holy Ghost.
Can home teachers and visiting teachers ask for spiritual gifts? Of course! What are some gifts that would help Church members magnify these important callings to watch over and strengthen their brothers and sisters? How about discernment, to look into another's heart and see how you can be of service? How about charity, to love a person enough that you are not afraid to help? The scriptures teach that "perfect love casteth out all fear" (1 John 4:18).
Years ago, when we were young parents, we had a home teacher who had a gift for relating to children. He knew how to talk to them, how to teach them simple gospel lessons, and how to let them know that he was their true friend. Our children looked forward to his visits, and so did I.
Joseph Smith possessed this same gift, and it was a blessing to all the families of the early Church. He played games with the young boys, picked wildflowers for the little girls, and calmed the most rambunctious toddlers. He knew how to listen with love and to teach by example. As a result, no one was more loyal to the Prophet than the children in Nauvoo. Would you like to be blessed with the same gift, to influence the rising generation for good? Then why not ask?
Whenever I read the Book of Mormon, I am struck by the important mission given to the prophet Moroni. He wandered all alone for many years, hiding from his enemies, safeguarding the record of his people. Since it was not easy to engrave on the sacred plates, Moroni recorded only the things of most importance in the final chapters of the Book of Mormon.
Consider the very last chapter of the book, Moroni 10. More than half of the verses in this final chapter are teachings about spiritual gifts. Moroni believed that seeking the gifts of the Spirit was a very important message--and so do I! Listen to these parting words from the prophet: "Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ....
"Remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men" (Moroni 10:18-19).
How can you and I follow the admonition of Moroni to "lay hold upon every good gift" (Moroni 10:30)?
After we have asked the Lord "What lack I yet?" and after we have received an answer from the Spirit, then we will know for sure what we need to improve. Then we can come boldly before the throne of God and ask for the gift that would help us overcome our weakness. In this way, our weaknesses will truly become our strengths.
For example, if the Holy Ghost whispers to you that you need to be a more conscientious student, you might then ask for the gift of organization or for the gift of knowledge or for the gift of recall.
God is waiting to hear from you. So why not ask? He still expects you to do your part, but He also wants you to use your heavenly resources.
I testify that miracles are still happening every day, that angels are still ministering, and that spiritual gifts are still available to those who seek them, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.