Imagine with me that you’re sitting in the chapel. The meeting has just started. The youth speaker stands up and begins reading her talk word-for-word from a piece of paper, not looking up once. Maybe the next speaker stands up, walks to the microphone and says, “I was asked to give a talk on faith.” “Again?”, you think as you roll your eyes. Or perhaps you find yourself looking at the clock for the tenth time in as many minutes during the meeting. What’s going on here? Has the frequency of our meetings made them too commonplace? What can we do to fix this? How can we get the most out of our meetings? Let’s look at some answers.
The first step is preparation. What can we do before we even set foot in the building on Sunday? Let’s look at the Institute manual, which gives us just a really beautiful answer. It says the following:
There is a way that you can prepare during the week to partake of the sacrament, for God would never issue such strict commands about the sacrament without providing a way for the commands to be obeyed. (See 1 Nephi 3:7.)
The process is outlined here:
- 2 Corinthians 13:5. Make a list of your most serious sins and temptations. This should not be done in a class or in public. It is a private matter between you and the Lord.
- Next, classify the things you have written on your list. Rank them in order of seriousness or difficulty. You can enjoy the blessings of the Spirit of God only according to the level of your most serious unrepented personal sin. So if you start working on less serious matters first, you still will not receive the blessings you desire. Sometimes men will repent of less serious matters, outward things, and then complain that they do not feel any more spiritual, when, in reality, they
should start with the most serious sin or temptation in their life. Can you see why it is necessary that you work on the most serious or difficult first?
- 3 Nephi 12:23, 24. If there are some things on your list that need to be discussed with your bishop, or if there are those whom you may have offended, what must you do? And after you have done that, what promise does the Lord make to you, in verse 24? (Compare Matthew 5:23, 24.)
- Treat each day as a stewardship. In your morning prayers, plead with the Lord to help you overcome that most serious problem. Report to him each night. And as you strive to overcome it, continue to pray for forgiveness for past mistakes.
- D&C 59:9, 11, 12. How would this process prepare you to participate in the sacrament on Sunday? Would renewing your covenants be more meaningful if you prepared in this way?
- Ether 12:27. There is a great power that comes from Christ to a man who is trying to overcome sin and weaknesses. Without that power man could never overcome the world; but with it, weaknesses can be overcome and replaced by strengths.
Why does the Lord give you an understanding of your weaknesses? When you feel that you have conquered your most serious problem, seek the Lord’s witness. He has ways to let you know if you have really mastered your most serious sin. President Harold B. Lee taught this:
“The most important of all the commandments of God is that one that you’re having the most difficulty keeping today. If it’s one of dishonesty, if it’s one of unchastity, if it’s one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you’ve been able to conquer that weakness. Then you start on the next one that’s most difficult for you to keep.” (Church News, 5 May 1973, p. 3.)
The biggest problem that you will have as you try to overcome your weaknesses is that Satan will try to discourage you. But if you make up your mind to do it, if you “search diligently, pray always, and be believing, [then] all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant.” (D&C 90:24.)
(“How Can You Prepare” (1979) in The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pp. 292–293.)
Another thing that is very helpful is to arrive 10-15 minutes early. Have you ever heard the saying, “If you’re not early, you’re late”? Use that time to settle down your thoughts – refocus your mind on the purpose of being in Sacrament Meeting. Get there with enough time to just sit and mentally ponder over what is going to take place. Spend a few minutes thinking about what the Sacrament means to you. Think about why you are taking it. Ponder the preparations you’ve already made.
During the Meeting
Let’s read from The January 2007 Ensign, from an article entitled “To Be Edified and Rejoice Together.” Its author, A. Roger Merrill states the following:
“Consider the response of President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) when someone once asked him, ‘What do you do if you find yourself caught in a boring sacrament meeting?’ President Kimball thought a moment, then replied, ‘I don’t know; I’ve never been in one.’ With his long years of Church experience, President Kimball had undoubtedly been to many meetings where people had read their talks, spoken in a monotone, or given travelogues instead of teaching doctrine. But most likely, President Kimball was teaching that he did not go to sacrament meeting to be entertained; he went to worship the Lord, renew his covenants, and be taught from on high. If he attended with an open heart, a desire to be ‘nourished by the good word of God’ (Moroni 6:4), and a prayer—rather than judgment—for the speakers, the Spirit would teach him what he needed to do to be a more effective and faithful disciple. President Kimball was teaching the principle of learning by the Spirit.”
Here’s another thought from Elder Henry B. Eyring:
“Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father, whose name is the same as my own, Henry Eyring. He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a terrible talk. I watched my father, and to my amazement, his face was beaming as the speaker droned on. I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.
“Our home was near enough to the ward that we walked home. I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road that wasn’t paved. I kicked a stone ahead of me as I plotted what I would do next. I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting. He said it was wonderful.
“Now I really had a problem. My father had a wonderful sense of humor, but you didn’t want to push it too far. I was puzzled. I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.
“Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind because he started to laugh. He said: ‘Hal, let me tell you something. Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting. When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say. Then once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.’ He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along. Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, ‘Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.'” (“Listen Together”, BYU Speeches, September 4, 1988)
Sometimes, when a speaker walks to the podium, I size him up a bit. I might say something like, “Oh that’s Brother Smith, he really knows his stuff, I’m going to take super awesome notes on what he says.” Do not do this. Brother Smith is not the teacher, the Holy Ghost is the teacher. In your mind, focus on the things that the speaker is saying, pondering over them, examining them from every angle. Ask the Lord if there is anything he wants you to know about that concept. You will learn every single time, even if it’s a topic you have been taught over and over.
Write It Down
Elder Richard G. Scott, in his October 2009 General Conference talk entitled “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” said the following:
“One Sunday I attended the priesthood meeting of a Spanish branch in Mexico City. I vividly recall how a humble Mexican priesthood leader struggled to communicate the truths of the gospel in his lesson material. I noted the intense desire he had to share those principles he strongly valued with his quorum members. He recognized that they were of great worth to the brethren present. In his manner, there was an evidence of a pure love of the Savior and love of those he taught.
“His sincerity, purity of intent, and love permitted a spiritual strength to envelop the room. I was deeply touched. Then I began to receive personal impressions as an extension of the principles taught by that humble instructor. They were personal and related to my assignments in the area. They came in answer to my prolonged, prayerful efforts to learn.
“As each impression came, I carefully wrote it down. In the process, I was given precious truths that I greatly needed in order to be a more effective servant of the Lord. The details of the communication are sacred and, like a patriarchal blessing, were for my individual benefit. I was given specific directions, instructions, and conditioned promises that have beneficially altered the course of my life.
“Subsequently, I visited the Sunday School class in our ward, where a very well-educated teacher presented his lesson. That experience was in striking contrast to the one enjoyed in the priesthood meeting. It seemed to me that the instructor had purposely chosen obscure references and unusual examples to illustrate the principles of the lesson. I had the distinct impression that this instructor was using the teaching opportunity to impress the class with his vast store of knowledge. At any rate, he certainly did not seem as intent on communicating principles as had the humble priesthood leader.
“In that environment, strong impressions began to flow to me again. I wrote them down. The message included specific counsel on how to become more effective as an instrument in the hands of the Lord. I received such an outpouring of impressions that were so personal that I felt it was not appropriate to record them in the midst of a Sunday School class. I sought a more private location, where I continued to write the feelings that flooded into my mind and heart as faithfully as possible. After each powerful impression was recorded, I pondered the feelings I had received to determine if I had accurately expressed them in writing. As a result, I made a few minor changes to what had been written. Then I studied their meaning and application in my own life.
“Subsequently I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit. When a feeling of peace came, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, ‘Was there yet more to be given?’ I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated. Again I was prompted to ask, ‘Is there more I should know?’ And there was. When that last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could hope to obtain in this life. Had I not responded to the first impressions and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance.
“What I have described is not an isolated experience. It embodies several true principles regarding communication from the Lord to His children here on earth. I believe that you can leave the most precious, personal direction of the Spirit unheard because you do not respond to, record, and apply the first promptings that come to you.”
Record impressions that you receive from the Holy Ghost. Ask the Lord if there is more that he would like you to know. As promptings come to you, commit to the Lord that you will act upon them.
You may even think about your own particular needs. For example, I have been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. This means that when I hear noise other than the speaker, I can get distracted, annoyed, and frustrated very quickly. To combat this, I wear earplugs that are designed to block out a lot of the sound, but not all of it. I can still hear the speaker clearly, but other things like crying children or other sounds affect me much less. I’m able to focus and retain the Spirit.
The frequency with which we attend Sacrament Meeting does not need to mean that it needs to be a commonplace experience. Prepare ahead of time. Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before so that you’re not drowsy. Pray for the speaker. Pray for the Spirit. When you receive impressions, record them. Promise the Lord that you will act appropriately on them. Sacrament Meeting will never be the same for you again.