Mountaintops and Valleys

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 7, 2012

The scriptures contain inspiring accounts of prophets receiving grand, expansive visions. Generally these visions were received away from the noise, distractions, and challenges of everyday life in the tops of mountains. For instance, “when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, and he saw God face to face,” he “beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.

“And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore” (Moses 1:1–2, 27–28).

The brother of Jared had a similar experience: “And when the Lord had said these words, he showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth” (Ether 3:25).

Abraham also talked with the Lord face to face. His account includes the following: “And he said unto me: My son, my son. … And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof” (Abraham 3:12).

And Enoch recorded:

“And it came to pass that I turned and went up on the mount; and as I stood upon the mount, I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory. …

“And the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world; and he saw the day of the righteous, the hour of their redemption, and received a fulness of joy” (Moses 7:3, 67).

Nephi was also “caught away … into an exceedingly high mountain” (1 Nephi 11:1) and saw in vision the history of the Nephites and Lamanites, the coming of the Savior, the arrival of the Gentiles on the American continent, even all things to the end of the world as John the Beloved later saw and recorded (see 1 Nephi 14:24; see also 1 Nephi 11–14).

These visions gave the prophets a glimpse of the grandeur and purposes of God and revealed to them some of His majesty and character. As Lehi expressed, “I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God” (1 Nephi 5:4). These magnificent, expansive visions not only taught about the creations, designs, and deep love our Father in Heaven has for His children, but they also prepared these prophets for their future responsibilities and challenges and helped them see these experiences in the broad context of the eternities.

Many of the Saints in Kirtland at the time of the temple dedication were privileged to see beyond the routines of their everyday life. They received a marvelous outpouring of the Spirit, including appearances of Deity, visions of angels, the gift of prophecy, and the gift of tongues. It was such a remarkable time that some even wondered if the Millennium had arrived.

We too have times when we are lifted above our everyday lives and are spiritually privileged to see beyond our present understanding and circumstances, when through revelation or inspiration our understanding deepens and our view of the Lord’s work takes on new dimensions. We see with more clarity what can happen in a classroom where the Spirit is strongly manifest and the scriptures come alive and where students are anxiously engaged in the search for gospel truths. We sense to a greater degree the transforming power of those truths in the lives of our students and our family members. And we take to heart more deeply the lofty expression of President J. Reuben Clark when he taught, “As teachers you stand upon the highest peak in education, for what teaching can compare in priceless value and in far-reaching effect with that which deals with man as he was in the eternity of yesterday, as he is in the mortality of today, and as he will be in the forever of tomorrow” (The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. [1994], 9).

We may have such experiences at general conference, “An Evening with a General Authority,” or an inservice meeting. At times these experiences come as part of our private worship as we retire to places removed from the clamor and cares of the world, such as the sacred serenity of holy temples; moments of personal prayer, pondering, and meditation; or quiet time spent personally studying the scriptures or preparing a lesson.

The words of one of my favorite hymns invite us to a more expansive view of existence:

If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?
Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers,
“No man has found ‘pure space,’
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place.”
The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race.
… … … … … … …
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

(Hymns, no. 284.)

As we glimpse the broad picture painted on the canvas of eternity and recognize that a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient Father in Heaven has a plan for our lives, we understand with increased clarity the potential of each of our students and children in the aeons to come. We are often filled with a sense of awe, a sense of gratitude, a sense of enthusiasm, and a zest for life. Our time on the mountaintop gives us strength and hope, even anticipation for what lies ahead. There comes a desire and determination to align ourselves more closely with the power and purposes of God and to be anxiously engaged in the great cause that permeates the universe—that of assisting in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

Our moments on the mountaintop can help us understand and remember why our efforts with our students and families are so important. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in the last general conference, taught:

“We need to be constantly reminded of the eternal reasons behind the things we are commanded to do. …

“… The why inspires our souls.

“… The why transforms. …

“… Understanding the why … will help us to see the divine purpose of all of this. It will give us motivation and strength to do the right things, even when they are hard” (“The Why of Priesthood Service,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 58–59, 61).

Part of the “why” for seminaries and institutes is expressed beautifully by our objective, which states:

“Our purpose is to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven” (Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion [2012], x).

To accomplish this we are to live, teach, and administer as disciples of Jesus Christ (see Gospel Teaching and Learning, x).

René Daumal, a French writer, made the following observation about one benefit of experiences on the mountaintops:

“You cannot stay on the summit for ever; you have to come down again. … So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. …

“One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know” (Mount Analogue: An Authentic Narrative, trans. Roger Shattuck [1959], 103).

What we say and think and do in the valley of day-to-day experience should be a reflection of what we have seen or heard or felt on the mountaintop. Such experiences encourage us as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and strive for the companionship of the Spirit. What we have seen “higher up” should lead us to conduct our lives and relationships in an exemplary manner in the home, in the classroom, and in the community. And it will motivate us to improve our performance, knowledge, attitude, and character.

As we come to see more clearly the significance of each individual student and each member of our family, we will increase in our desire to teach them the doctrines and principles of the gospel as found in the scriptures and the words of the prophets in a way that leads to understanding and edification.

Sometimes, especially in the midst of a discouraging season of adversity and struggle, we long to remain on the mountain, free from disturbances, irritations, and the expectations of others. But, as much as we may treasure these moments on the mountaintop, the time comes to descend and rejoin everyday life. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained that “extended spiritual reveries … might induce in us a regrettable forgetfulness of others in deep need” (“Enduring Well,” Ensign, Apr. 1997, 7).

The Lord wants us to return from the mountaintops to the valley so that we may bless and strengthen others. Among other things, He expects us to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) and to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). We cannot accomplish those things isolated on a mountaintop. As it was once expressed to me, “We shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good.”

Moses had to come down from the mountain only to find the children of Israel in idolatrous revelry and then needed the strength to lead an often–hardheaded and hard-hearted group to the promised land (see Exodus 32).

Abraham needed the faith to wait years upon years for a promised son and then make the soul-wrenching journey to Mount Moriah anticipating the sacrifice of that very son (see Genesis 18; 21–22).

The brother of Jared had to construct barges, then, driven by a “furious wind” (Ether 6:5), make the journey of 344 days upon and through the waters of the great deep and establish a new colony in the wilderness (see Ether 2; 6).

The Kirtland Saints soon found the Millennium had not arrived, and they needed the memory of their Pentecostal outpouring as they had to endure persecution, survive the swirling winds of apostasy, and experience the heartache of leaving their homes only to have that repeated again in Nauvoo—all this as a prelude to their arduous journey across the plains.

After our personal experiences on the mountaintop, we still have to return to life in the valley with its joys, satisfactions, sorrows, disappointments, and challenges all woven together. There are lessons to prepare (some of which don’t turn out the way we had hoped), rolls to take, reports to fill out—all while we continually balance our professional, family, Church, and personal lives. At such times the counsel to “be not weary in well-doing” (D&C 64:33) can seem much easier said than done.

In the valley, our students or our children sometimes struggle with finding their specific direction in life—marriage may not come as quickly to them as they or we had hoped, there may be seasons of illness, self-doubt, and spiritual drift. In times like these it is helpful to return to the mountaintop for reassurance and to catch a more eternal glimpse of who they are in the eyes of the Lord and what they can become.

Some of the most sacred experiences Lloya and I have shared as parents have been sitting in a small room in a home where the Spirit of the Lord is obvious, listening to a faithful patriarch pronounce blessings and counsel and encouragement upon the heads of our children. The recollection of such moments brings a renewal of faith, hope, and peace; dispels the encroaching myopia of mortality; and opens the window on eternity.

A teacher who has seen beyond the shackles of the present will pray and work and teach with greater faith and diligence. And because of that, lives will be touched and changed forever, as the following account from a CES missionary couple illustrates:

“A young woman with purple hair and earrings in her nose and eyebrows was investigating the Church. The full-time elders brought her to our Wednesday night institute class and also to the young single adult ward. She heard my wife speak about her conversion. … After institute class she would often ask my wife’s advice. She accepted the gospel. She changed both spiritually and physically. Her hair is a nice brown color, the earrings are gone, and she glows.”

As in this instance, we are sometimes privileged to see the results of our faith and teaching and be reminded of what can be. Perhaps it comes as a thank-you note from what we thought was an inattentive student, a call from a young man who struggled with attendance to tell us of his mission call, or the sight of a former student with his or her spouse in the temple, happily married. Such moments can serve as reminders of the Lord’s love and tender care and that His Atonement is always available to strengthen, heal, and sustain us. They carry us beyond times of doubt and disappointment and give added luster to our times of joy and rejoicing.

As we make our way from the mountaintop to the valley, we would be wise to consider the counsel of King Benjamin: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent” (Mosiah 4:27).

The Lord taught the same principle to Joseph Smith in 1828 when He told the prophet, “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means … ; but be diligent unto the end” (D&C 10:4).

How grateful I am that prophets recorded their experiences and left an account of what they were privileged to see. It is a blessing for us to read and contemplate these great visions. Likewise, it is important that we record our experiences, thoughts, and feelings received on the mountaintops. This makes it easier to remember and relive them. And as we do, it can reinvigorate us spiritually and reignite our fires of faith, leading to renewed effort in our work, in our families, in our Church callings, and in our own personal strivings for discipleship.

As you are certainly aware, it takes effort—sometimes great effort—to get to the mountaintop, and there is much in the world that hinders our ascent: Plans to attend the temple are often met with last-minute conflicts of schedule, prayers and scripture study are interrupted, or we allow the cares and distractions of the world to weigh too heavily on our minds, and these pressing concerns and anxieties of the moment overcome our focus on spiritual things. If too much of our time is spent gazing at even the good things of the world—its entertainments and enticements—we may miss the heavenly view the Lord intended that we see.

We are reminded in sacred places how the adversary is constantly looking for ways to step between us and communication from the heavens. Joseph Smith’s experience in the Sacred Grove is a sobering reminder that there are times the adversary will seek to prevent our getting to the mountaintop (see Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16).

We should not be surprised that, even after we are successful in having such experiences, the adversary will attempt to diminish their influence for good by sowing doubt, as he did after the signs and wonders of the Savior’s birth had occurred and “there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe” (3 Nephi 1:22).

Elder Maxwell cautioned, “Spiritual exhilaration may be quickly followed by a vexation or temptation” (“Enduring Well,” 7). And you’ll remember that on the mountain, after the presence of God withdrew from Moses, the adversary arrived demanding that Moses worship him, trying to divert the prophet’s attention from the true source of light and glory (see Moses 1:9–22). So it may be with us after our spiritual experiences—the adversary will often seek to distract us, enticing us and even demanding that we worship something less than the God of Heaven.

As fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, teachers and leaders in seminaries and institutes, we can be nourished and sustained by those moments when eternity and its glorious possibilities for our students and our families stretch out before us, filling us with hope and determination. It is our blessing and heritage to have such experiences. The Lord is always inviting us to come to Him, to see beyond the present circumstance, and to trust His invitation to “come, follow me” (Luke 18:22), for He will lead us to His rest, “which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24).

May the Lord bless us with the wisdom, desire, and strength to go frequently to the mountaintops, and while there may we open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our hearts that we may understand, and our minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to our view (see Mosiah 2:9). And may the vision, inspiration, and direction we receive on the mountaintop sustain us in our day-to-day efforts in the valley to assist in the Lord’s work, both personally and professionally—all to the blessing of our students and our families and to the glory of His holy name. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

© 2012 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/12. Mountaintops and Valleys. English. PD50043158 000