How to understand ordinances, blessings

The word ordinance has two meanings in the scriptures. Sometimes it refers to the laws and commandments of God. Other times it refers to the rites and ceremonies by which we formalize sacred covenants with God.

What can we do to better understand the ordinances and the blessings that flow from them?First, it is important to realize that gospel ordinances are not haphazard, changeable, optional or negotiable. They were designed in "the councils of heaven . . . instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world . . . for the salvation of men [and] are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. . . . All men who become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fulness of the ordinances of His kingdom; and those who will not receive all of the ordinances will come short of the fulness of that glory, if they do not lose the whole." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 308-309.)

Once we are alert to the source and importance of gospel ordinances, we can be led to search for deeper understanding. Some suggestions follow:

  • Search the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets for insights into the symbolism involved in ordinances. For example, baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the death and burial of the old man of sin and raising up to a newness of life (Romans 6:3-11); birth into the kingdom of God (Moses 6:59); and the washing away of sin (D&C 39:10). Rich symbolism similarly attends all gospel ordinances, bringing meaning and motivation to hungering souls.
  • Use sacred quiet time - at home, during the sacrament, in the temple - to ponder about the ordinances and covenants associated with them. "The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 137.)
  • Ask the Lord for understanding. The things of God can only be understood through the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11-15), and we obtain that Spirit by the prayer of faith (D&C 42:14, 46:7).
  • Be humble. Seek not to counsel the Lord. (Jacob 4:10, D&C 22:4, 112:10.) Indeed, one of the purposes of ordinances is to test one's willingness to openly submit to the will of God. The Savior demonstrated His humility through being baptized. (2 Ne. 31:5-10.)

"Clearly, attaining eternal life is not a matter of goodness only. That is one of the two important elements, but one must practice righteousness and receive the ordinances." (Teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball, page 50.) - Larry Dahl, BYU associate professor of Church history and doctrine, Provo, Utah

How we did it:

Two levels involved

Ordinances are part of the "laws of God." "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law [ordinance] upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:21.)

Two levels of understanding must be achieved for gospel ordinances. For example, one of the blessings of baptism is that if we are faithful, we will always have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to be with us. The impact of this promise, however, can only be realized by having the enlightening power of that Spirit guiding us daily. If we will consciously seek the blessings associated with each of the ordinances we have received, through obedience and faithfulness, our spiritual understanding will blossom. - Scott Spencer, Algonquin, Ill.

Blessing affected all

A priesthood ordiance is an earthly act symbolizing a covenant or an agreement with the Lord. Nearly always it is an act in anticipation of a blessing from heaven.

My grandson Seth was only six hours old when doctors' opinions, supported by a CAT scan, indicated serious complications. These problems were so serious that the doctors didn't expect him to live longer than six months. During a priesthood blessing given to Seth, two grandfathers and an uncle laid their hands upon the boy's head and communicated between heaven and earth, made commitments and expected blessings.

Three days later, the doctors' opinions, supported by a second CAT scan, changed their diagnosis for Seth's life expectancy. When the miracle boy was brought to Church three weeks later, the testimonies of our ward members were strengthened, and love for the Savior and the gospel increased. We now have an 8-year-old boy, baptized and going strong. - Carroll Davis, Seattle, Wash.

Prepared for ordinances

Weeks in advance of the event, my 8-year-old son had the ordinance of baptism explained to him by his parents and Primary teacher.

We emphasized the significance of the ordinance, and this was underscored by his brother traveling 500 miles just to be there. We arranged for an atmosphere conducive to the Spirit by making the physical arrangements well in advance, by ensuring that those who spoke, offered prayers and provided music were well-prepared. Caring home teachers and friends also were invited and present. The Spirit was there in great abundance, and the meaning and importance of this ordinance settled upon him. The Spirit, after all, is the greatest teacher of all. - Ray Clayton, Regina, Saskatchewan

Relation to Atonement

In understanding gospel ordinances and their blessings, we should develop our understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ, because the Atonement is the principle around which all gospel ordinances revolve. We also should participate often in all ordinances in which we are worthy to take part. As we do so, we should ponder the ordinance and its relation to the Atonement. Even the ordinance of the sacrament is replete with symbolism.

We should ponder the blessings of these ordinances. We should search the scriptures to understand the blessings predicated upon ordinances promised therein. As we do these things, we will conclude that our every righteous thought, word and action is an ordinance to Christ, and we will more fully understand the blessings of gospel ordinances. - Elder Ernest Woodford, Salem, Mo.

Manual: a big help

I find the Relief Society manuals are excellent sources of information on the purposes of ordinances and how we can receive blessings from them.

The 1988 manual has lessons on baptism, the sacrament and temple work. These lessons are well done with scriptural references, clear explanations and examples from people's lives that help me understand what I can do to prepare myself to more fully appreciate these ordinances.

For example, the spiritual living lesson - "Born of God" - explains why the ordinance of baptism is necessary, but more is required. We must strive for greater spiritual growth and, as we do, we are blessed with greater understanding love and joy. - Susan Tonini, East Stroudsburg, Pa.

How to checklist:

1 Seek blessings of ordinance by being obedient, faithful.

2 Learn how ordinance relates to Savior's Atonement.

3 Search scriptures and teachings of modern prophets.

4 Ponder on blessings, and pray for understanding.


June 25 "How to explain death to children."

July 2 "How to bring about positive changes in your community."

July 9 "How to be a gospel ambassador when you're the only Latter-day Saint in your family."

July 16 "How to be a better neighbor."

July 23 "How to overcome the negative aspects of jealousy."

July 30 "How to keep your career from dominating your life."

Aug. 6 "How to keep children from quarreling."

Aug. 13 "How to care for aged parents."

Aug. 20 "How to make the dinner hour a family time."

Aug. 27 "How to encourage and increase reverence in Church meetings."

Have you had good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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