Make Time for the Lord
After receiving this speaking assignment, and I heard the assigned topic was “Make Time for the Lord”, which was the title of President Russell Nelson’s final message at the October 2021 General Conference, there came into my mind a hymn that immediately stuck like Velcro to my brain.
Now for me, I find that I often feel the presence of the Holy Spirit when I am listening, singing, or performing beautiful music. For some reason, my spirit resonates with the melodies and harmonies, and I am easily moved to tears. Especially when I attempt to play the organ in our meetings — of course that would bring anyone to tears.
In writing to the Turkish people of Colossae (ko-lo-say), the apostle Paul teaches us that we should teach and admonish each other with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” With that in mind, I have chosen to use a particular hymn as I talk about some of President Nelson’s teachings. This hymn isn’t in our hymnbooks — yet, but it is nevertheless as beautiful one.
Years ago, the Tabernacle Choir released a recording of this song. The lyrics came from Englishman William Dunn Longstaff (1822-1894) and John Longhurst, one of the Tabernacle Organists at the time, set the words to a delightful Irish folk tune called Slane. The song is called, “Take Time to Be Holy.” I’ll spare you my singing and simply read the words. Let me start with the first verse:
Take time to be holy; speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His word;
Make friends of God’s children; help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Now let’s talk about that verse for a moment. Take time to be holy. What does it mean to be holy? It means to be set apart or set aside from the world to do something sacred.
For example, the temple is a holy place — a place where the profane is shut out and barred from entering — a place where the sacred reigns.
Therefore, if we want to be holy, we will keep out everything that is profane or secular and allow in everything that is sacred. The more profane we are, the more we struggle in our hearts and minds, the more we feel inadequate, the more anxiety we experience, the more internal turmoil we experience until we choose to tune out the Light of Christ and become desensitized and past feeling.
Brothers and sisters, in my estimation the true purpose of life, the reason we’re going through this blind study that requires faith to pass, is to evolve from selfish sinners to selfless saints. To become holy — holy enough so that the voice of God can speak to our spirits and we can hear and recognize that voice and instantly obey it. We are here to see if we will do all that Father asks of us. It is that simple.
If there is one theme that presents itself repeatedly throughout the scriptures, is that we are to take everything that makes us who we are, and sacrifice our own selfish desires and ambitions, and give ourselves and our talents, skills, experiences, and resources to the Lord, to be used for his purposes.
In fact, that is why we took upon ourselves the name of Christ and became Christians. Because we want to do what He would do if He were here. That is also why we have the Priesthood, so that we have the authority to do what He would do. That is why we partook of the sacrament today — to become cleansed of sin so that the word of the Lord could direct us.
In Leviticus 20:7, the Lord said to the Israelites, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy.” Why? Because only through holiness can we become useful to the Lord. Only through holiness can we accomplish the blessing given to our progenitor Abraham and bless the nations of the earth.
The song tells us to “make friends of God’s children” and “help those who are weak” — well that is what we’ve been sent to this earth to do at this time, in this place, in this community — and we can’t forget it.
The only perfect person to walk the earth was the Savior, and everything he did — everything he taught — were not his own words, but Heavenly Father’s words. According to the Apostle John, the Savior said, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” (John 12:49). And further in that same Gospel, Jesus said, “The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”
If the Savior’s central mission was to do what the Father wanted done, and not his own will, then as his followers, what greater mission is there for us? In my opinion, there is no challenge that is greater than doing what God wants you to do — regardless of what you want to do.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus commanded us to pray always — not sometimes; not every once in a while; not like bookends where we pray first thing in the morning and before we go to sleep, or before we eat a meal — but always.
Speaking of food, he also commanded us to feast on His word — not nibble, not graze, not sample, not pick out our favorite foods and avoid the lima beans entirely, but feast with gusto.
These two things — praying and studying the words of Christ and his prophets — give us access to the Spirit which tells us what we should do. Then if we do those things, such as helping those who are weak, just like the Savior did, then that helps us be holy — if we take the time.
The second verse seems to support that notion. Here is the second verse:
Take time to be holy; the world rushes on.
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone;
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
As expressed in the beginning of the second verse, “the world rushes on,” our lives are certainly hectic and fast-paced. They are filled with good activities that will consume every waking hour. As James, the half-brother of Christ said, our lives are but a vapor “that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:13-14). One day, probably sooner than we would prefer, our time will have slipped by completely.
Using Our Time in Holier Ways
How much of our time are we spending learning about Jesus, looking for his influence, admiring his teachings, listening to his counsel, and walking in his footsteps? Is it much time or just a couple of hours each Sunday? Do we fill our time with things we want to do, or things he wants us to do?
President Nelson, in his concluding remarks at the October 2021 General Conference, in an address called “Make Time for the Lord,” said this:
Okay, so the Lord’s ordained representative is clearly saying that besides our Sunday worship meetings, we also need to make time for the Lord on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, for as long as we live. And, might I add, for as long as we live in the hereafter. That’s an incredibly long stretch of time — an eternity if you will. So, we might as well get used to it now.
But, what does that time look like? Let’s hear what the prophet has to say about that.
I don’t know about you, but the Babylonians have invaded our land, and are playing concerts just about everywhere. Boy howdy, their music is loud. I can even sing their top 10 tunes and dance to them, and I’m not a dancer. To drown out their voices, I must regularly put on noise-cancelling headphones just to find some peace.
Now how much time you spend every day in prayer and gospel study is entirely up to you and the Lord. Through the specific inspiration of the Holy Ghost, you will know what is right for you and your changing circumstances. All I know, is we shouldn’t run faster than we have strength, and that we should find a healthy balance between our spiritual, physical, social, economic, familial, and intellectual needs.
We call that the Goldlock’s zone, where it isn’t too big or too small, too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft — but just right. And your Goldilock’s zone is likely to be very different from my zone, and I’m not about to tell you what you should do, I can barely tell myself what to do, and even then, I’m more wrong than I’m right, just ask my wife.
How do you know when you’re putting in sufficient time and effort? Well, the lyrics of the song contain the answer:
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
When our friends look at us, and observe our behaviors, they will see that more often than not we are trying to be like Jesus. They can tell from a glance that we are trying our best because we will have His image in our countenances.
If I want to see a good example of someone who makes time to do the holy, right, and best things, I look to my wife, Kristin. We got married in 1989, and throughout that time, she has sacrificed so much for me, for our children, and our grandchildren. Her needs and interests, and certainly her wants, always come after those of her family.
Though she would never admit it, she is truly like the Savior in this regard. She does what He did, loving God’s children unconditionally, seeking to help those that need help, showing compassion and charity, working on her responsibilities even though she has doubts and fears, being a kind neighbor and a good friend.
For example, this week we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. My wife has already invited three young single adults to join us because their families aren’t around or don’t celebrate like we do. While I do the cooking, she does the relationships; I’m Martha, she’s Mary. If our children want to see what it means to be a Christian, all they need to do is take a good hard look at Kristin.
Fortunately, in our stake, our neighborhoods are filled to the brim with people who have the image of Christ in their countenances. I could name names of all the good people in our stake. In fact, you are all reasonably good examples except for one or two people, and you know who you are Matt Johnson. No, honestly, truly, you really are wonderful people, especially Matt, and I am very glad my family can live among you.
That is why my wife and I moved here from Arizona, away from our families. Wait, that didn’t quite come our right. That is why we moved here, leaving our good parents and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins and nephews and nieces, more than 200 of them, in fact, to live here with you. Here we also find good people who have covenanted to live as the Savior lived, to teach what he would teach, to say what he would say, to be who he would have us become.
The Power of Holiness and Following God
Here is the third verse:
Take time to be holy; let Him by thy guide,
And run not before Him, whatever betide;
In joy or in sorrow, still follow thy Lord,
And looking to Jesus, still trust in His word.
Because we can’t see God with our eyes, we forget that he is always there, leading us down the straight and narrow path He built specifically for our salvation. Sometimes, we think we can tell which way to go and might be tempted to sprint ahead of him and his prophets, or take a few scenic side trips to see interesting-looking distractions, but that would be a mistake on our part.
In good times as well as bad, our mission is to cling to the iron rod, the Word of God, and not let go. We are the followers here, not the leaders. God will lead us to a much better place than we could ever lead ourselves. It is extremely arrogant to think we can make it safely to our destination without his help. If we ignore him, we will eventually arrive at where we want to be, but it will be a far less glorious and magnificent place than what he had in mind for us.
The Role of the Holy Ghost
When we take time to be holy, the Holy Ghost will be our guide. President Nelson has warned us that we won’t be able to stand in the last days without the influence of the Holy Ghost. The last days aren’t far off in the future, those days are our todays and our tomorrows.
As we know, the mission of the Holy Ghost is to convey the words of God to our immortal spirits. To have a spirit-to-spirit conversation since we cannot, because of our telestial natures, have a face-to-face conversation with God.
The Holy Ghost, just like the Father and the Son, cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. He cannot not dwell in unholy places. His perfectly mild and calming voice cannot be heard by people who will not listen. It is soft and subtle. Not very often does the Spirit take a two by four and whack you on the side of the head.
The Path to Holiness: Scriptural Insights and Lessons
Here is a scripture written more than three thousand years ago that seems extra meaningful and extra poignant at this time in our nation’s timeline:
Isn’t that marvelous? It God can heal a land, or heal a nation, surely he can heal you and me. However, the Holy Ghost cannot refine out your imperfections if your life is too busy, too noisy, too crowded, too scheduled, too filled with good things to do.
Holiness just doesn’t happen. It must be pursued, like it says in Hebrews 12 (verse 14). It is the fruit of service to God, like it says in Romans 6 (verse 22). It must be perfected, like it says in Colossians 7 (verse 1). It must be earned through works and faith like it says in D&C 20 (verse 69).
The Call for Holiness from Our Prophet
Our current prophet has said:
That word, “always” doesn’t leave any wiggle room for substitutes like often, sometimes, regularly, occasionally, seldom, or rarely. Always requires intentional, consistent, and deliberate effort on our part.
Brothers and sisters, if we are not careful, our time to develop holiness will be gone. We can’t put off the day of our repentance for too long. Disease or accident may take some of us much, much earlier than others. Today is the only day that counts, for there may be no tomorrow.
Holiness Through the Lens of the Holy Ghost
Here is the last verse:
Take time to be holy; be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control;
Thus led by His spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shall be fitted for service above.
If we take time to be holy, we can all receive one of the greatest gifts we could ever be given, the peaceful and calming companionship of the Holy Ghost. If we are faithful, the Holy Spirit will speak peace to our heart and minds, and let us know what we should do, what we should say, how we should say it. Everything and anything we need to know in life can be taught faster and better and have more lasting impact if we learn it through the Spirit.
Listening to the Holy Ghost is a skill that we learn line upon line, precept upon precept. But the sooner we learn how to do it, the more useful we’ll be to our Heavenly Father. And deep down inside, don’t you just yearn for the opportunity to do that? To be a profitable servant? To have the Lord say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt 25:23).
Of course, we aren’t doing it for the reward. We aren’t doing it out of duty. We aren’t doing it for the joy it brings us. We’re doing it because that is what God wants done. His paths have become our paths. His voice becomes our voice. His mind has become our mind. We have become one with the household of God.
The Path to Righteousness and Our Collective Role
I’m not much of an example of righteousness. But I know those who are. They are you. You are them. While you may not be perfect in every gospel principle, each of you probably is perfect or nearly perfect in at least one gospel principle.
Some of you may be perfect at fasting for two meals on Fast Sunday. Some of you may be perfect at arriving at your meetings prepared and on time. Some of you may be perfect in paying your tithes and offerings. Some of you may be perfect at ministering — wait, that’s not true. Some of you sisters may be perfect at ministering. Some of you may be perfect at doing whatever you are called upon to do. Some of you may be perfect in doing something whether or not you are called to do it.
Collectively, we can learn from each other what we need to know. All we need to do is take time to let that happen.
The Journey Towards Eternal Bliss
Then one day, perhaps we will be permitted to return — with honor — to our heavenly home and spend our eternities with our celestial companions, worshipping our almighty God the Father, his glorious Son the Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the Testator, who has and will continue to reveal to us the mind and will of the Gods and lead us on paths of righteousness.
I testify of the goodness of God. I have experienced his unboundless love in my own life. I have felt his hand bless me even though I don’t deserve it.
May I close with one more scripture and one more quote from our prophet. First, from Psalms 100:
And here’s what President Nelson said:
It is my earnest desire, that we will all live up to our divine natures, unleash the spark of godliness within us, and, while we still have time, take the time to be holy, and make time for the Lord.