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Faithful heed prophet's message

"The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent."

These words were spoken by our prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, in his opening address of the first general conference over which he presided as president of the Church. (April 1986 general conference.) The message has become a constant theme that faithful members everywhere associate with our beloved leader. Each of us would do well to evaluate where we are today: Has the Book of Mormon yet become the center of our personal study, family teaching, and missionary work?As we launch into a year of studying the Book of Mormon in Sunday School Gospel Doctrine classes, we might each resolve to make this "keystone" volume of scripture the center of all we do. Thus we will be carrying out that which the Lord, through our prophet, has commanded us to do.

Since President Benson has given such a clear call to study the Book of Mormon, let's review just a few of the many admonitions he has made in general conference addresses, admonitions that will remind us of the power and inspiration of such a call:

After reminding the young men of the Church that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion," President Benson made the following promise: "Young men, the Book of Mormon will change your life. It will fortify you against the evils of our day. It will bring a spirituality into your life that no other book will. It will be the most important book you will read in preparation for a mission and for life. A young man who knows and loves the Book of Mormon, who has read it several times, who has an abiding testimony of its truthfulness, and who applies its teachings will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil and will be a mighty tool in the hands of the Lord." (April 1986 general conference.)

Not too long ago, a young man came to see his stake president with the intent of going on a mission. Upon inquiry it was learned that the prospective missionary had never read the Book of Mormon. He was challenged to do so and then return to take up the mission call interview. Five weeks later the young man returned and bore testimony that before studying the Book of Mormon he had wanted to go on a mission for all the wrong reasons. He now knew for himself the truthfulness of the word of which he would go out and testify. As President Benson taught, the Book of Mormon changed this young man's life and made him a mighty tool in the hands of the Lord.

In a day when misinformed individuals challenge our status as Christians, President Benson reminds us: "The major mission of the Book of Mormon, as recorded on its title page, is `to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.' "

Additionally: "Over one-half of all verses in the Book of Mormon refer to our Lord. Some form of Christ's name is mentioned more frequently per verse in the Book of Mormon than even in the New Testament." (October 1987 general conference.)

A recent convert to the Church testified that she had consented to read the Book of Mormon because she had been convinced by family members and friends that "Mormons were not Christians," and she wanted to prove it to herself. She told a congregation of members at stake conference, shortly after her baptism, that her sincere desire to prove us not Christians had resulted in her unquestionable testimony that Jesus is the Christ and that the Church connected with this scripture had to be the Lord's.

"The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon. . . . We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need. The time is now!" (October 1988 general conference.)

One family took this call to heart and the following Christmas purchased a case of copies of the Book of Mormon to give as gifts during the next year. The family tells of wonderful experiences as each member was able to share copies of this sacred book to significant friends and associates. One family member, an early morning seminary student, decided to carry a copy of the Book of Mormon around with him, along with his regular school books. It led to several questions being posed out of curiosity, and he was able to place several copies with school friends and teachers.

In his address to the children of the Church, President Benson expressed how touched he was as he received letters from the children, telling how they were following his admonition to read the Book of Mormon. He said, "It makes me weep for joy when I hear this." He went on to say: "How pleased I am to hear of your love for the Book of Mormon. I love it, too, and Heavenly Father wants you to continue to learn from the Book of Mormon every day. It's Heavenly Father's special gift to you. By following its teachings, you will learn to do the will of our Father in Heaven." (April 1989 general conference.)

A young elementary school girl was noted by her teacher as improving significantly in her reading skills. When she told the mother of the obvious improvement, the mother silently attributed the improvement to the family's consistent daily reading of the Book of Mormon. It is her feeling that the Spirit that is present when they read faithfully is the single most positive influence on her daughter's improved reading skills.

President Benson reminded us that the Prophet Joseph Smith said, " . . . a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its [the Book of Mormon'sT precepts, than by any other book." President Benson then said: "Is there not something deep in our hearts that longs to draw nearer to God, to be more like Him in our daily walk, to feel His presence with us constantly? If so, then the Book of Mormon will help us do so more than any other book.

"It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path . . . and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance." (October 1986 general conference.)

A couple had come to their bishop to tell how their marriage and family life had slowly deteriorated to the point that they were not sure they even wanted to work on it any more. There was a number of things that each could point to as to where the marriage had gone wrong. They were quite surprised when the bishop suggested that they pick up the practice of daily studying the Book of Mormon individually as well as together. It was a practice that had been so special to them in the early part of their relationship, but had been put on the back burner over the many years of "more pressing things." The couple faithfully followed the counsel and sought to have the same spiritual experience they had had earlier in their lives. It is true that they had to work on many things in the relationship, but both the husband and wife attribute their daily study of the Book of Mormon as the catalyst causing them to seek again for, and find, the abundant life.

Without question, a serious and consistent study of the Book of Mormon is a practice that will draw us nearer to the Lord than the study of any other book. Here are just a few suggestions that may assist us in this special quest:

Without fail, study from the pages of the Book of Mormon daily. The number of pages, chapters or minutes is not the critical thing. It is the doing of it consistently and sincerely that makes the difference.

Have an ongoing family study of this "keystone" scripture. Let each member participate. Even the small ones who cannot yet read feel the Spirit as older siblings or parents quietly read the words for them to repeat aloud.

Share with a significant friend or family member your study goals and ask for his or her encouragement and helpful reminders. Also, discuss and share insights and feelings you and this significant other person have found and felt.

Use sacred individual time on Sunday to study the reading assignment for the next week's Sunday School lesson. Be prepared to contribute from your study and receive additional enlightenment from others' study during the class presentation and discussion.

Open and close each individual study session with sincere and honest prayer. Ask the Lord to open your mind and spirit that you may be instructed by His Spirit.

As prompted by the Spirit, bear testimony of the things of which the Spirit has borne witness to you. It is especially sweet to bear testimony in family settings, such as during the time of family Book of Mormon study when we can help each other identify the Spirit of the Lord there present.

Each of us is thankful for a prophet. Let us all heed the profound counsel of President Benson, today's prophet of clear vision. Let's make the Book of Mormon the very center of all our individual study, family teaching, preaching and missionary work.

Robert L. Mitchell is a regional coordinator for the Church Educational System in Rapid City and president of the Rapid City South Dakota Stake.

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