Improving by doing

We can fairly assume that, when writing his biblical epistle, James wasn't necessarily thinking about the likes of a New Year's resolution.

But his counsel couldn't have been better:

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. . . ." (James 1:22.)

Simple and straightforward, the advice is sound for, among others, those thinking about using a new year to improve themselves.

"Thinking," of course, being the operative word.

Human nature, it seems, is given to fits and starts — and stops and restarts — when humans venture into the difficult, yet necessary, arena of change. Thinking and planning, while virtually essential to success, are too often the culmination of our efforts — while execution and implementation are left, unfortunately, unused.

Having that understanding, James told us to be doers. President Spencer W. Kimball was even more direct in his now-well-known exhortation: "Do it."

But sometimes a major stumbling block to doing something is the size of what needs to be done. In other words, the entire task is more that we can chew. But, taken in bite-sized chunks, the task becomes, oddly enough, do-able.

Alma taught that idea to his son, Helaman.

" . . . but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; . . . and by very small means the Lord . . . bringeth about the salvation of many souls." (Alma 37:6-7.)

The following two stories, while perhaps routine among faithful Latter-day Saints, illustrate the reality of the blessings that come from practicing what we preach. While the events may seem small and simple, their faith-building effect is undeniable and leads to great things.

A father, realizing that his son and daughter returning home from an out-of-town college were overdue, was prompted to stop his household tasks and pray. He was, at first, inclined to casually pray in his heart so that he wouldn't interrupt his tasks. But, quickly realizing that his tasks weren't that pressing, he stopped, went to the quiet of his bedroom and knelt and prayed.

As he expressed his concern to Heavenly Father, he was blessed with the distinct feeling that the two had stopped to shop, something they intended to do after they first came home.

The father arose from his knees and went about his business, calm because of the prayer-inspired feelings.

About 10 minutes later the phone rang. It was his traveling son. The two had, in fact, changed their plans and stopped to shop — and the son was sorry that he hadn't called earlier. He called now because he just felt he should.

Instead of just thinking about praying, the father prayed. His blessing was immediate.

In a sacrament meeting in an English-speaking ward, a native French-speaking missionary was giving a talk. Having arrived in this new land only a short time before, she struggled still with the language.

In her best broken English and with the sweet humility of a struggling Saint, she taught ward members about helping each other and suggested that we really can't become Christlike without serving others.

Then she stumbled, just a bit, as she tried to relate a story. Though she knew what she wanted to say, she couldn't find the right English words to say it. After just a short pause — which likely seemed like an eternity to her — her English-speaking companion stepped forward and gently whispered to her a key word or two. The grateful — and relieved missionary — continued.

But the fact that two sermons had just been taught was not lost on the congregation. The kind companion practiced what the speaker had preached.

Changing and improving — along the path to perfection — is at least a lifelong process. When being a doer rather than just a hearer is a consistent part of that process, the Lord promises much righteousness and great rewards.

"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

"For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward." (D&C 58:27-28.)