“Reverence,” Ensign, July 2003, 60–65
I have fond memories of working with my father on our family farm. I admit I didn’t enjoy digging ditches or checking the irrigation at two o’clock in the morning, but I loved being with my father and working with the animals and plants. I believe the farm helped me learn reverence for God’s creations and for God Himself.
I remember going out with Dad to examine our fields after the early spring planting. He would locate a seed with his fingers and carefully push away the soil, looking to see if germination was occurring. “See,” he would say to me, “this is the stem starting to emerge that will seek sunlight, and note the primal root that will sink down into the soil for moisture and nutrients. It’s alive, Keith.” Then, almost as if he were tucking a child into bed, he would gently place the soil around the seed again.
I also developed reverential respect for God’s handiwork as I worked on our dry farm in the low hills above Lehi, Utah. From my perch on the tractor I could see Utah Lake, Mount Timpanogos, and the western mountains. I enjoyed the company of hawks and other wildlife. As I gazed at the brilliant sunsets, I would marvel at the beauty God has provided for us during our journey on earth.
Experiences such as these were so indelibly implanted on my mind that when the prophet of my youth spoke on reverence, I could relate. In April 1967 President David O. McKay (1873–1970) said: “Reverence is profound respect mingled with love. It is a ‘complex emotion made up of mingled feelings of the soul.’ … Reverence embraces regard, deference, honor, and esteem. … Reverence is the fundamental virtue in religion. It is one of the signs of strength; irreverence, one of the surest indications of weakness. ‘No man will rise high,’ says one man, ‘who jeers at sacred things.’”1
Reverence is more than being quiet. It encompasses being in awe of our Father in Heaven and all with which He has blessed us. Our regard for sacred things, our behavior in the home and at church, and our attitude toward those who hold the priesthood all serve as measures of our reverence.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) explained that when we have true reverence for God, we regard with reverence everything associated with Him: “his laws, his gospel, his covenants, his prophets, his ordinances, his temples, his priesthood, and all the things he has revealed and given for the salvation and blessing of his children.”2
The way we use our scriptures indicates our feelings of reverence for God. During King Josiah’s struggle to return Israel to God, he cried, “Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of [the scriptures]” (2 Kgs. 22:13). What about us? Do we hearken to the words of the scriptures? How often and how carefully do we study them? Do we seek inspiration from their pages, and do we conduct our lives in accordance with what we have read?
When we reverence the words of the scriptures, we treat with reverence these holy books themselves. We do not carelessly toss them about as we might other books. I think of how tenderly I have cared for my old missionary scriptures. Sacred memories flow from their yellowing pages—memories of a young missionary’s testimony being strengthened by particular passages, memories of the faces of the beautiful Native American children I taught during my missionary days in Arizona and New Mexico. Although I use a current edition of the scriptures for my teaching and much of my personal study, each night my wife and I read from my missionary scriptures, with their many markings and special references.
Another way we indicate our reverence for God is the manner in which we use His sacred name. We are cautioned not to overuse it,3 and we are particularly warned not to take it in vain (see Ex. 20:7). President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) said, “How tragic it is, and how deeply we are pained, that the name of the Savior of mankind has become one of the most common and most ill-used of profanities.”4 Elder LeGrand Richards (1886–1983) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “Profanity is incompatible with reverence.”5
We also show reverence for God by using appropriate language in our prayers. We address Heavenly Father humbly and respectfully, using the words Thou, Thee, Thy, and Thine. Our attitude should be like that of the ancients and of the prophets of this dispensation, who prayed earnestly and with great faith (see Enos 1:4; Alma 46:13; 3 Ne. 11:12; D&C 5:24).
Within the walls of our homes, the gospel is studied, personal and family prayers are said, and eternal family relationships are nurtured. Prophets throughout the years have counseled the Saints to maintain an attitude of reverence in the home, one of the most sacred places on earth.
When parents realize the significance of the responsibilities with which they have been entrusted, they find it easier to approach their responsibilities with reverence. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has said, “When you covenant in marriage and are free to act in the creation of life, when you stand at the threshold of parenthood, know that you stand on holy ground.”6
More than any other place, including church, the home is where children are taught to be reverent. Such understanding does not come automatically. President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) said, “By and large, children in their early years and most of them in later years will be just about as reverent as they are trained to be, and no more.”7 Example is always the best teacher, and children learn reverence by observing the behavior of their parents. They also learn reverence by participating in regular family prayer and gospel study.
Music can add much to the reverence and spirituality of the home, especially during family home evenings. My family has been blessed with a love of music, and hymns are an essential part of our family worship. Together we all are edified as we “sing forth the honour of his name” (see Ps. 66:2).
We attend church to renew our covenants and to worship God, but our worship is genuine and meaningful only if we do it with an attitude of reverence. Such an attitude can also impact others who attend meetings with us. President Packer said, “Our sacrament and other meetings need renewed attention to assure that they are truly worship services in which members may be spiritually nourished and have their testimonies replenished and in which investigators may feel the inspiration essential to spiritual conversion.”8
Feelings of reverence ought to be maintained at all times while at church, but particularly during the sacrament. Respectful, contemplative silence should be the norm. Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the Seventy commented: “We must prepare and then partake with a broken heart and contrite spirit. The spiritual preparation we make to partake of the sacrament is essential to receiving a remission of our sins.”9
Priesthood holders who participate in this sacred ordinance should be especially mindful of the need to be reverent. I remember with a smile an incident from my youth when my father demonstrated his belief in this principle. I was a priest at the sacrament table, and my brother Marvin, a deacon, was sitting on the front row directly in front of me. As the bishop began the meeting by sharing the announcements, Marvin and another deacon continued to carry on an intense conversation. Suddenly, my father rose from his bench in the middle of the chapel, made his way to the aisle, and strode toward the front of the chapel. Poor Bishop Powell stopped speaking as my father walked to the front row and firmly took hold of my brother’s arm, stood him up, and escorted him back to the bench where our family was sitting. The bishop then continued with the announcements. I remember a very quiet congregation after that—particularly the row of deacons in front of me. From that time forth, my brother sat quietly in sacrament meeting and was especially reverent when performing his sacramental responsibilities.
As in our homes, sacred music can contribute significantly to a reverential atmosphere in our church meetings. The Lord has said, “My soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:12).
I remember vividly how my parents taught us to respect the priesthood. When the ward teachers (now home teachers) would come to visit, all distractions would be eliminated. The radio or television would be turned off, and all of us children would sit by the fireplace in our living room with our arms folded. We knew better than to be disruptive when these priesthood holders came into our home to teach us.
I also recall watching general conference on television as a young boy. “Listen and learn” was the word from Dad. Silence and attention were expected when the prophets and apostles spoke. In our living room of long ago, I learned to have reverence and respect for God’s spokesmen. On more than one occasion when President McKay spoke, I remember tears welling in my mother’s eyes. Oh, how she loved the prophet! I didn’t fully understand why she wept until years later when I had occasion to read those inspired talks of President McKay’s again. How blessed we are to be influenced and guided by the power of the priesthood.
Elder Richard L. Evans (1906–71) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said regarding reverence: “Certainly there are many times and places when high-minded humor and lighthearted talk and heartily informal fellowship are a permissible and important part of life. But there are also sacred places, sacred hours, sacred subjects that should be reverently respected—and he who is insensitive to them is sometimes suspected of lacking some essential training or some essential qualities of character. We commend these words from the seventeenth century: ‘Let thy speeches be seriously reverent when thou speakest of God or His attributes; for to jest or utter thyself lightly in matters divine is an unhappy impiety, provoking Heaven to justice, and urging all men to suspect thy belief.’ ‘Always and in everything let there be reverence.’”10
We are children of our Heavenly Father, children of promise possessing greater insight. Because of this revealed knowledge, we can—we must—be a reverent people.
Before discussing this article, invite a feeling of reverence by singing a hymn, saying a prayer, or reading a scripture verse. Ask family members to describe how their feelings change as a result of these types of activities.
Ask family members to suggest topics or ideas that inspire them to be reverent. What topics are mentioned by Elder Smith, and what does he suggest we do to show greater reverence?
Share an experience when being reverent made a significant difference in your life.