Editor's Note: One of the goals in the Africa Southeast Area Plan is for us to Improve Sabbath Day Observance in the Home and at Church. During 2019 we will direct attention to how to make the Sabbath more spiritual, more sacred, and more meaningful in our lives. We begin this 2019 series, 'Choose a Meaningful Sabbath' with a piece written by Elder Carl B. Cook in 2016, while he was serving as President of the Africa Southeast Area.
I mourn the loss of President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015), former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but I rejoice in all that I learned from him. Many lessons he taught are indelibly written in my mind and heart. He helped me understand that even small things influence the Spirit in our lives.
I was preparing for my first assignment to preside at a stake conference as a new area seventy when President Packer called me. He asked if it would be convenient if he attended the conference with me, and I readily accepted. When we arrived for the meetings, President Packer said to the stake president, “You are probably wondering why I am here.” He then pointed to me and said, “I am here to whip him into shape.” It wasn’t long before I realized that he meant what he said.
Reverence Invites Revelation
Following our planning meeting with the stake presidency, President Packer suggested we take our seats on the stand. It was 20 minutes before the leadership meeting was to begin. Nearly everyone was in their seats, and I leaned over to compliment the stake president. Suddenly I received an elbow in my side, and President Packer said firmly, “No talking.”
I was shocked to receive a reprimand from an apostle, and it took me a moment to recover. As I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that he was writing some notes on a fresh notepad, including a few scriptures that he planned to share. I was filled with the Spirit as I realized that President Packer was receiving revelation for what the Lord would have him teach. President Packer’s previous General Conference address came to mind, “Reverence Invites Revelation” (Ensign, Nov. 1991). It was imperative that I keep quiet so as not to interrupt the whisperings of the Spirit.
A few moments later President Packer leaned over and asked me to have the stake president request that the organist play the prelude more reverently. She had been playing energetically, and perhaps with some added fanfare. I prayed in my heart that she would not be hurt by the request, and I passed the word on. The stake president somewhat hesitatingly spoke to the sister and almost immediately the volume, tempo, and spirit of the music changed. As I listened to the prelude, I was reminded that reverent, worshipful music adds immeasurably to the spirit of a meeting.
As the congregation began singing the opening hymn, President Packer whispered to me, “Not everyone is singing. Please have the stake president stop the hymn and invite everyone to sing the hymn ‘thoughtfully’ as suggested in the hymn book. This hymn communicates an important message that we will be learning about today.” Once again I passed the message on to the stake president. The spirit of the meeting changed as the entire congregation participated in singing.
Our meetings that weekend were reverent. There was a spirit of worship. Many of us received personal revelation and communed with God. I learned that reverence truly does invite revelation. I also learned that sometimes the difference between a mediocre meeting and a powerful meeting is in the planning and in the details.
Sabbath Day Worship
We recently received similar counsel and instruction regarding reverence and Sabbath day worship from our current leaders. We are encouraged to apply these principles in our Church meetings (particularly sacrament meeting) and in our homes. As we follow their counsel, we can receive the promised blessings of spiritual and physical renewal, joy and rejoicing, increased love for God, and the blessings of the earth (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 2015, 129-130).
Since I accepted the invitation to improve my Sabbath day observance, my faith has increased, and I feel closer to my Father in Heaven. The Sabbath truly has been a delight. I am also benefitting from the efforts of others who are striving to improve, particularly during Church meetings.
Recently, local priesthood leaders were encouraged to make the Sabbath and sacrament meeting a more spiritual experience by planning ahead for meetings and reducing administrative matters. They were also encouraged to hold sacrament meeting first in the three-hour Sabbath meeting schedule.
Shortly after this counsel was given, I attended sacrament meeting. Fifteen minutes before the meeting began the chapel was nearly full. The organist was playing a beautiful prelude of hymns. Priesthood leaders were seated reverently on the stand. The sacrament was in place and ready. Members sat quietly, including the children. I felt the Spirit. I was filled with joy as I united with my brothers and sisters and enjoyed the fruits of following the counsel of our prophets. I felt unity with them and with God.
I invite you to consider how you might more fully keep the Sabbath day holy, both at home and at church, both personally and as a family, and reap the associated blessings. Following are a few suggestions:
• Prayerfully consider what you can do differently in your personal worship.
• Counsel together as a family regarding possible improvements to Sabbath observance.
• Organize and prepare food, clothing, and other necessities prior to Sunday.
• Leave digital devices at home or turned off at Church.
• Arrive early for meetings in a spirit of reverence.
• Assist children in the family to be reverent without toys or food that distracts.
• Counsel together as leaders in the church. Seek inspiration and plan well in advance for meetings that will invite the Spirit.
• When participating in meetings, focus on the foundational doctrines of the gospel and bear pure testimony.
I know as we appropriately observe the Sabbath, our faith can increase. We can be strengthened to endure challenges. We can receive help in solving our problems. We can feel our Father in Heaven’s love for us. We can draw closer to Him and receive His blessings.