A number of years ago I was talking to a young teenager and asking him what he had been reading recently. He said that most of his spare time had been spent in reading "canonized scripture." I was amazed at his answer. I can almost guarantee that if someone had asked me or someone from my generation what we were spending our time reading at that young age, our answer likely would not have been "canonized scripture."
My good friend, Bishop Brian Ritter, sent me an e-mail the other day informing me that his oldest son, Danny, had just received his mission call to the Dominican Republic. In a recent conversation he asked Danny how many times he had read the Book of Mormon. Danny replied that he had only read it five times. You would have received a far different response to the same question from me and most of my generation at that age.
I can remember my embarrassment when I went to the old Mission home in Salt Lake City for a week prior to going to Central America to serve a 2 1/2 year mission. I would try to sit in a corner so no one could see me prying the pages of my scriptures apart which were stuck together by the gold edging -- evidence that the books had never been read. It was only in my first assignment in the Mayan Indian village of Totonicapan, located in the high mountains of Guatemala, that I finally discovered the beauty and power of "canonized scripture." Totonicapan was the coldest place in the mission. I will never forget one early morning at 5 a.m. in November of 1958, dressed in pajamas, suit, sweater, overcoat, and a hat, trying to capture what heat I could from a vintage 1957 electric space heater, reading the Sermon on the Mount out of Matthew for the first time in my life. I was absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the elegant beauty and power of what I was reading that morning. I could scarcely believe that the Scriptures contained such marvelous, understandable, and applicable teachings. That morning I fell in love with "canonized scripture" and that love affair has persisted for the last 50 years of my life.
The Scriptures are wonderful in that they never change, but we do. They are the "standard" we can use to measure all of or thoughts and actions. Because of experiences we are having in life, challenges, or specific needs we are feeling at any given time, we can read scriptures we have read for years and yet discover new truths and eternal principles we have never noticed before.
I discovered a new insight last week that is significant to me, in a chapter in the Book of Mormon I have read hundreds of times I am sure. It is an Alma chapter 22 where Aaron teaches the great king of the Lamanites, Lamoni's father, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The great king had been prepared to be taught the Gospel because of an encounter he had with Ammon, Aaron's brother. He readily received Aaron into his presence and was eager to be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After Aaron had taught him about the Atonement and the Plan of Happiness we read the following: Alma 22:15 "... the king said: aWhat shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? ... Behold, said he, I will give up dall that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy." And then the insight came that I had never noticed before. Giving up all that he possessed and even forsaking his kingdom was not enough. That kind of sacrifice would not bring him the joy of eternal life. Aaron said to the king: "... If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt abow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the bhope which thou desirest." [Alma 22:16] And then the great king offered, not his wealth or his kingdom, but his heart as he "... did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily saying: 18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day I'll...." [Alma 22:17-18]
Giving away his wealth, his kingdom, and his status in society would not win for him the gift of eternal life. It would only come to him as he was willing to give his heart and soul to God and give away all of his sins. This account reminded me of Elder Maxwell's comments regarding the only true sacrifice any of us can ever make to "come to know God."
"Our personal possessions and our material blessings are really not ours, so what we sometimes regard as a sacrifice was given to us, anyway. President Young understood this: "How long have we got to live before we find out that we have nothing to consecrate to the Lord—that all belongs to the Father in heaven; that these mountains are His; the valleys, the timber, the water, the soil; in fine, the earth and its fulness?" (Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe, 1-7)
He also beautifully reiterated this great truth when he wrote: "The submission of one's will is placing on God's altar the only uniquely personal thing one has to place there. The many other things we "give" are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 54)
I am grateful to have had this truth leap out at me from the pages of Scripture read many times, but only now registering with me. Everything we have does belong to God except our agency, and when we freely lay it on the altar by giving of our time and strict obedience to the will of the Father then this is an acceptable sacrifice.
Let's keep searching the Scriptures and in doing so we will continually discover hidden treasures of truth that will bless our lives as nothing else can.