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The following is a talk I gave in another ward this morning:
The Importance of Home in Worship
Nearly two decades ago, Elder Maxwell wrote of the importance of being instructed in the temple on spiritual matters. Pointing out the need for frequent temple attendance in order to receive necessary spiritual instruction, he said:
The ways of the world receive constant reinforcement—should not the ways of heaven? (Neal A. Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine”, 1988, 133-34)
In our media-saturated world, we are inundated from all possible angles with messages promoting, as Elder Maxwell termed it, “the ways of the world.” According to one study, children view approximately 20,000 commercials on TV per year. With high levels of media consumption from television, magazines, the internet, and movies, there is clearly a need for balance, or what one might call “righteous reinforcement”.
To achieve this reinforcement, however, the other side of the scale should be of equal or greater weight. In what ways do the "ways of heaven" receive reinforcement in our lives? Elder Maxwell was referring to temple activity in his talk, but how many of us spend more than a couple hours per week in the temple?
With the ways of the world being constantly promulgated, there arises a need for a setting in which the ways of heaven can receive equal—if not greater—reinforcement in our lives. Elder Faust suggested such a setting:
In addition to temples, surely another holy place on earth ought to be our homes. The feelings of holiness in my home prepared me for feelings of holiness in the temple. (James E. Faust, "Standing in Holy Places," Ensign, May 2005, 62)
Numerous Church leaders have attested to the fact that the home is to be the main setting for spiritual instruction. In an intimate home setting, our children are best able to learn by example how to worship our Lord.
It is important that we understand the role that temples and churches play in our worship. Why are we here today at Church? Why do we go to the temple? Can we not worship God in our homes, thus saving a few dollars each month in gasoline and eliminating the need to dress up?
Temples and chapels play an important role in our worship because they are where we are able to make covenants and participate in ordinances that are necessary for proper worship. But while necessary, they in no way diminish the role of the home. Describing the connection between the house of the Lord and our own house, Elder Washburn once said:
We go to the temple to make covenants, but we go home to keep the covenants that we have made. The home is the testing ground. The home is the place where we learn to be more Christlike. The home is the place where we learn to overcome selfishness and give ourselves in service to others.
I hope you will not think it simplistic to suggest that it is the "little things" like family prayer and family home evening that are important. Little things like a father helping his children say their nightly prayers and telling them a bedtime story instead of watching TV. Little things like making time in the family schedule for reading the scriptures. Little things like a husband being big enough to say, "Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I should not have said that. I’m going to do better." Or a mother saying to a child, "I’m sorry I became angry. Please forgive me." Yes, it is the little things that we do each day and each week that make the difference.
By keeping the temple covenants, all of God’s children may be exalted. I say again that we go to the temple to make the covenants, but we go home to keep those covenants. (J Ballard Washburn, "The Temple Is a Family Affair," Ensign, May 1995, 11)
Thus we learn the distinction between covenant making and covenant keeping, as well as the settings in which each of these take place. The fleeting moments we spend making covenants in the temple or in church do not provide sufficient opportunity to honor these same covenants. The home, then, is where our worship of the Savior must take root.
How to Worship at Home
In what form does proper home worship manifest itself? Do a few minutes of prayer and scripture study suffice? Does hanging a painting of Jesus on the wall count?
I submit to you that our homes, in order to be places of proper worship, must be patterned after the temple and church. I will leave it up to those who are endowed to observe what practices and principles from the temple may be properly applied to the home. Instead, I offer an observation on church worship that can likewise be implemented.
The first hour of the block, schedule permitting, is Sacrament meeting. During this focal hour of church worship, we gather together reverently to ponder key gospel principles: how we can better apply the Savior’s atonement in our lives, what we need to improve in our lives to more effectively take His name upon us, and how we can better fulfill the promise to remember Him always.
This time for reverent reflection is important to worship in the home. Similar opportunities should be provided for each family member, whether individually or collectively, to silently ponder important principles.
The next hour of church finds us in a Sunday School class. Here we learn historical events and gospel lessons, and find allegorical applications to them in our lives. In addition, the class setting allows us to learn from each other in a discussion format, allowing each person to offer their own insight and share unique perspectives.
Applied to the home, we see the need for personal and family scripture study. Individual study is crucial, but there is equal importance of study in the family setting, where each person can learn from the other, share thoughts and ideas, and grow in knowledge together.
Communion with Others
Finally, we gather together in like bodies to learn things specifically applied to our situation. Women unite in Relief Society, men in their quorums, or children in primary, all to learn how to be better men, women, fathers, mothers, and children. This categorical communion allows us to better learn how to fulfill our divine roles.
Integrating such communion in our homes might be more difficult, as there is usually only one father and one mother. However, the principle may still be applied, where each person takes the time to study the scriptures with the intent of learning how to be a better spouse, parent, or child. With this objective, our scripture study will take a new meaning, as this specific application will encourage us to observe patterns and principles we otherwise might have glossed over.
Following this pattern of church worship is one of many ways we can invite the Savior into our homes. Regardless of the structure we follow, activities and attitudes should be such that the Savior would feel welcome to observe and participate.
In all of this, let us remember that the initiative for inviting the Savior is ours. We read in the scriptures:
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you… (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63)
We learn here that we must first draw near to the Savior before He will draw near to us. We cannot expect the Savior to go where He is uninvited, for He does not dwell in unholy places. Part of drawing near to Him, then, clearly means creating a home environment where His presence might be welcome.
Inviting the Savior into our homes is not a far-fetched idea. We read in the book of Revelation that:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Imagine having a messy home, when you hear a knock at your door. You hurry to tidy things up a bit before you open the door to your visitor. Taking a few minutes to do so, you feel rushed and frustrated at having to make your visitor wait outside while you clean and organize. The visitor, wondering what is taking so long, knocks again, this time a little more loudly.
Now imagine knowing ahead of time that the visitor would be coming. Having more time to prepare, you easily accomplish the task of creating a clean home where the visitor will feel welcome and at peace.
Do we hear the Savior knocking on our doors? Is the TV always on, or the stereo constantly blaring, making it difficult or impossible to hear his gentle knocking? When that knocking occurs, will we be ready to welcome Him in, or will we be frantically rushing, like the unwise virgins without trimmed lamps?
No Other Gods
As we worship the Savior in our homes, we must be aware of His jealousy. When the Lord says that He is a jealous God, what does He mean? In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster defined jealousy as:
That passion of peculiar uneasiness which arises from the fear that a rival may rob us of the affection of one whom we love, or the suspicion that he has already done it; or it is the uneasiness which arises from the fear that another does or will enjoy some advantage which we desire for ourselves.
Worshipping the Savior in our homes requires casting out any competing gods, for I doubt that a jealous God would enter and remain in a home while we are entertaining competing company.
What form do these gods take? Surely we are not building altars to imagined gods in our living rooms, nor keeping a golden calf hidden in the closet. President Spencer W. Kimball taught us nearly thirty years ago which false gods attract our attention and adoration:
As I study ancient scripture, I am more and more convinced that there is significance in the fact that the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" is the first of the Ten Commandments.
Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the "arm of flesh" and in "gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know" (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols. This I find to be a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.
It is my firm belief that when we read these scriptures and try to "liken them unto [our]selves," as Nephi suggested (1 Ne. 19:24), we will see many parallels between the ancient worship of graven images and behavioral patterns in our very own experience. ("The False Gods We Worship," Ensign, June 1976, 4)
Allow me to repeat the focal point of this quote:
Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.
Whether knowingly or not, it is all too often that we as carnal men place our trust in things other than the true and living God of Israel. Do we overwork ourselves, feeling that temporal security comes only from making money? Do we go into debt for unnecessary items that will bring us the praise of our peers? Are we infatuated with pop culture and celebrity worship, fanatically viewing "american idols" weekly on our television? Do we go to great lengths to secure our homes from would-be intruders, only to drill a small hole in the wall for a cable that potentially may allow the enemy of all righteousness to enter in?
Thus we see the importance of ridding our homes of these "gods" which would compete for the presence of our Savior. Inviting Him into our homes that we may worship Him requires first turning away all those gods that entice our worship and attention.
Elder Franklin D. Richards once said that “People are inclined to become like those whom they admire.” Whom do we admire?
Similarly, a wise Bishop in a ward I visited last year taught that the ultimate level of adoration is emulation. Think about that for a second. Whom do we emulate?
Do we understand why the Lord said that if we followed Him, we would be a peculiar people? Choosing to follow and obey the true and living God will most certainly set us apart from the current culture, for we will not follow after the popular gods of our day.
But having no other gods before the true One is not so much about God’s jealousy as it is about our effective worship. King Benjamin taught this in the form of a question, when he asked:
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? (Mosiah 5:13)
Worshipping Through Serving
This scripture points out an interesting component of worship: serving others. Given that we cannot directly serve the Lord, we are charged with serving Him vicariously by serving our brothers and sisters.
The Savior taught:
…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
Our worship of God, modeled upon the two great commandments, is inadequate and ineffective if it does not have a solid component of service.
How can service-oriented worship be introduced in our homes? Elder Boyd K. Packer explained:
The spirit of service does not come by assignment. It is a feeling that accompanies a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Boyd K. Packer, Called to Serve, Ensign, Nov 1997)
Our service should not rely upon Church-wide programs nor top-down initiatives. We should be, as we all well know, anxiously engaged in good causes.
Proper worship includes service projects in the home that allow us to “succor those that stand in need of [our] succor”. Were the Savior to enter our homes, do we think He would prefer to kick up His legs and watch a movie, or engage in a meaningful activity to benefit those around Him? He whose life was the very model of service on behalf of others would surely rather spend His time uplifting others. Should not our worship of Him be patterned after the things He Himself would be doing?
Worshipping the Savior and inviting Him into our homes through service to others might take many forms. Perhaps we decide to tie quilts for African orphans, organize a benefit concert for a local food bank, invite a lonely widow over for a family activity, or bake some cookies for a sick neighbor.
Whatever form our service takes, this practice of “pure religion” will establish a permanent invitation for the Savior in our homes.
Perhaps the best description of worshipping the Savior in our homes comes from Elder Ballard, who emphasized the blessings that result:
The home and family have vital roles in cultivating and developing personal faith and testimony. The family is the basic unit of society; the best place for individuals to build faith and strong testimonies is in righteous homes filled with love. Love for our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ is greatly enhanced when the gospel is taught and lived in the home. True principles of eternal life are embedded in the hearts and souls of young and old alike when scriptures are read and discussed, when prayers are offered morning and night, and where reverence for God and obedience to Him are modeled in everyday conduct. Just as the best meals are home cooked, the most nourishing gospel instruction takes place at home. (M. Russell Ballard, Source: "Feasting at the Lord’s Table," Ensign, May 1996, 80)
Inviting the Savior into our homes is not so much for Him as it for us. Indeed, the entire gospel plan was drafted to benefit each individual child of God. By creating a home environment where the Savior would be welcome, we stand to benefit by enjoying the fruits of the Spirit on a daily basis.
I testify that when we enhance our worship of the Savior in our homes, great blessings will follow. We will enjoy a more noticeable peace, we will have a deeper love for one another, and the Spirit will permeate everything we do.
As Elder Maxwell said, the ways of heaven should receive constant enforcement in our lives. In our fast-paced, media-saturated world, we must create our own “Zion in the midst of Babylon” where the Savior may be invited.
I know that as we do so, the many blessings promised us will be realized, and best of all, we will be worthy of and entitled to the Lord’s companionship throughout the daily affairs of our lives.