The building up of Zion is our peculiar and distinctive cause. No one else in the world today has been tasked by God to create a people and a place that can rightly be called Zion. The pure in heart are the only ones who can accomplish this feat. The privilege, obligation, and opportunity for us to make ourselves fit for living in Zion is what we will talk about today.
I don’t generally pay much attention to the opening activity the manual suggests for the lessons. But the more I have thought about the introductory activity for this lesson the more relevant I feel it is. The manual asks that the teacher have each member of the class consider their goals and write down five important things they would like to accomplish in life. I invite you to pause here and consider the top one or two items you would write down for your loftiest and most important goals in this life.
The more I thought about what I would have written down, the more uncomfortable I became. I don’t know about you, but when I am asked to list goals, my spiritual life, that which is eternal in nature, is never even considered. I would always write down material goals, like get a job that pays more money or something else that would involve elevating my own status in mortality, being a better provider, or being able to become rich or famous in some way. I am embarrassed that what is most important to my eternal welfare wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. What about you?
What did Joseph Smith teach?
Joseph Smith said the following:
“We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object. … The time is soon coming, when no man will have any peace but in Zion and her stakes” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 160–61).
Is Zion, and being able to qualify as a person who is pure in heart, at the top of our goal list? Probably not. The part that disturbs me about the quote just given is the warning that the day is coming when “no man will have any peace but in Zion and her stakes.” With all the commotion and increasing violence in the world today, my need to be qualified for a Zionlike society is increasing rapidly. The last thing I need is to be one of the proverbial unwise virgins and not be prepared in the day when I need that preparation the most.
Here are three separate comments Joseph Smith made about the importance of Zion and being ready for participating in Zion.
Any place where the Saints gather is Zion, which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children.
The gospel net gathers up every kind.
We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.
Let’s consider the merits of these comments in reverse order. Joseph Smith said that Zion, and the building and preparing for the same, should be “our greatest object.” I suppose that means that my personal preparation as a Zion person (being pure of heart), and the building of the Lord’s kingdom should be more important than any other earthly pursuit.
The middle comment about the gospel net gathering every kind of people is not random, but significant to our discussion. To become a Zion people we have to learn to live with every kind of person under the sun. That is no small task. This kind of needed forgiveness, forbearance, tenderness, and tolerance takes a concerted effort to achieve. This is something we have to pray for and work towards, for it will not come without personal trial and discomfort. Yes, it will not come without personal trials. Only distress can teach us these lessons, distress that will drive us to our knees and to the Lord, but these are lessons that will bring us closer to thinking, feeling, and acting more like Christ. These lessons will make us more Christlike in every aspect of our lives.
The first quote ends by saying: “… every righteous man will build up [Zion] for a place of safety for his children.” He didn’t say that it would be a good idea for righteous people to build Zion for the safety of their children. He said that if you are righteous then, for the sake and safety of your children, you will seek to build Zion. We can argue semantics all day long here, but this is the intent of his words.
If we follow the logic of his quote then righteous people actively work to build Zion for the safety of their children, while those who are not righteous do not. Can we really be righteous and have no interest in preparing ourselves to be a Zion people? That would be a contradiction in terms. This begs the question, “What does it take to prepare myself to be a person worthy of the Zion name?”
What is required to be pure in heart?
We sometimes think that the need to be pure in heart is someone else’s job. At least we think we shouldn’t have to work on it. We may have thought that our children, or their children will be that kind of person, but we don’t need to worry about the effort it would take to become that kind of person in the here and now. Becoming pure in heart means we have to be put through the refiner’s fire to have all the impurities burned out of our souls.
Are there special trials that qualify us as pure in heart? Are there trials that come to us in life that are unnecessary and not needed for our complete inner cleansing?
“There is not a single condition of life that is entirely unnecessary; there is not one hour’s experience but what is beneficial to all those who make it their study, and aim to improve upon the experience they gain. What becomes a trial to one person is not noticed by another. Among these two thousand persons I am now addressing there cannot be found two that are organized alike, yet we all belong to the one great human family, have sprung from one source, and are organized to inherit eternal life. There are no two faces alike, no two persons tempered alike; we have come from different nations of the world, and have been raised in different climates, educated and traditioned in different and, in many instances, in opposite directions, hence we are tried with each other, and large drafts are made upon our patience, forbearance, charity, and good will—in short, upon all the higher and godlike qualities of our nature—for we are required by our holy religion to be one in our faith, feelings, and sentiments pertaining to things of time and eternity, and in all our earthly pursuits and works to keep in view the building up of the kingdom of God in the last days. Our work is to bring forth Zion, and produce the Kingdom of God in its perfection and beauty upon the earth.” – Brigham Young, ‘Journal of Discourses,’ 26 vols., 9:293
Whole sermons could be written about this one paragraph alone. I will focus only on Brigham Young’s comment that “there is not one hour’s experience but what is beneficial to all those who make it their study, and aim to improve upon the experience they gain.” What a blessing! Every hour of every day can be a learning experience that will change us into a better person, if only we see to it that we learn the lessons each of those hours offer us.
Becoming a person who is free from all the taints of modern society, the conceits and vanities that surround us, is within our reach. The only thing that prevents us from obtaining such a state of purity is that we are not seeking and studying ways to rid ourselves of these taints each and every day. I like how Brigham Young refers to this process as a “study.” It does indeed require a concerted and conscientious effort on our part. We need to be aware that we are working on changing ourselves each and every day.
Years ago I remember my mother, a habitual speed demon on the road, saying to me that she was praying that morning and was asking the Lord to tell her what she needed to change next so she could become a better person. The answer came back in unmistakable language, ‘learn to obey the speed limit.’ She was devastated. It took her several years to learn to use the cruise control religiously so as to keep within the posted limits. For some that is not a test, but for her it was. Even today, in her mid 80s she acknowledges that she is still blind to most of the worldliness in her thinking, because it is all she has ever known. Only the Lord can reveal to her what needs to be changed next in order for her to become the person she is seeking to become. (Those were her words to me).
Our lives truly are a work in progress. We can choose to coast along, letting others make our decisions for us, or we can decide that we will take the opportunity we have been given to have the Holy Ghost be our tutor and let Him teach us how to be a better person.
Words of the Brethren
Following are three quotes from various Brethren about Zion. We need to keep in mind that Zion is as much a state of mind and soul as it is a place or a name. We are living in Zion, because everywhere the saints live is a piece of Zion. The city has not yet been built in the last days. And the people who will qualify as being a truly Zion people are still becoming, still developing into what the Lord defines as the pure in heart.
We shouldn’t get comfortable just because we already live in “Zion.” We are still a long way away from the kind of people who will be able to welcome Enoch’s city of Zion and feel one with them. They achieved a purity of heart and mind that is rare in today’s society. Our goal is to become the kind of people Enoch’s population will feel at home with when they return. They are the kind of people the Savior loves to walk among.
“Zion is characterized in scripture as a city in which the people ‘were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.’ (Moses 7:18.) Zion is ‘every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.’ (D&C 82:19.) This promised Zion always seems to be a little beyond our reach. We need to understand that as much virtue can be gained in progressing toward Zion as in dwelling there. It is a process as well as a destination. We approach or withdraw from Zion through the manner in which we conduct our daily dealings, how we live within our families, whether we pay an honest tithe and generous fast offering, how we seize opportunities to serve and do so diligently. Many are perfected upon the road to Zion who will never see the city in mortality.” – Robert D. Hales, “Welfare Principles to Guide Our Lives: An Eternal Plan for the Welfare of Men’s Souls,” Ensign (CR), May 1986, p.28
If the inhabitants of the earth will obey these commandments and, in addition, strive with full purpose of heart to comply with the words of Jesus to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37, 39) the predicted calamities can be prevented. But only in this manner can the closing of the tragic cycle in our day be averted.
That it will be so I do not say. I do know, and I say, that as there was a Zion in the days of Enoch in which those who complied with God’s laws were saved, so there shall be a Zion in this last dispensation in which all those who live God’s revealed laws will be saved. – Marion G. Romney, “The Tragic Cycle,” Ensign (CR) November 1977
We may think and feel that we are surrounded by difficulties, that we are enveloped by obstacles, and that our future prospects are most discouraging. But, says the Lord, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” He does remember Zion, and the promises he has made to Zion will be fulfilled, and there is no power on earth nor in hell that can prevent their fulfillment. – Brian H. Stuy, ed., “Collected Discourses,” 5 vols., George Q. Cannon, January 12, 1890
Zion will come, with or without us. It is our individual responsibility, our opportunity, and our commandment to seek to be someone who is pure in heart. This cannot happen haphazardly or by accident. It will only happen when we set goals, seek for guidance, exercise faith, and bravely face the trials that will surely come that will change our hearts and rid us of the impurities that separate us from Christ and our Father. The choice is ours. We can choose to be humble and seek the Lord’s guidance in our efforts to improve ourselves or He can chastise us to the point we are compelled to be humble. Which do you choose?