I have for some time. It is a key element of my testimony of the restored gospel and my understanding of my relationship to my Father in Heaven and to my Redeemer.
As I contemplate teaching seminary this year, I’ve been preparing lessons in advance of our actual start of classes next week. (My goal is to have four weeks of lessons “in the can” – if I can get two and a half more lessons done this weekend, I’ll meet that goal; then I can figure out how to continue to prepare lessons in advance while reviewing lessons just prior to giving them. I feel like I’m on a bit of a tightrope at this point.)
As I’ve reviewed the vision of the Tree of Life, I realize that in a few chapters, we get the basics three times. On my mission, I heard Elder Theodore M. Burton teach us that we should pay attention when the Lord repeats himself in the scriptures, and here I find in the first 15 chapters of the Book of Mormon, three recitations of the Tree of Life vision. (Oh, and repetitions of the vision of the Savior’s role as Redeemer, too!)
It occurs to me that there are plenty of repeat messages in 1 Nephi. Not only do we learn of those visions and of the Savior’s role in God’s plan (and our eternal happiness), but we also have repeated models of how to gain a testimony, or at least of how Nephi gained his. We’re reminded more than once of the value of approaching gospel learning with an open mind and an open heart – a desire to believe. We’re reminded of the Lord’s willingness to answer our prayers (and His disappointment when we believe He won’t answer us). And we’re reminded of the consistency of His message to prophets. Some details might shift slightly (like Nephi’s noticing the filthiness of water that Lehi didn’t pick up), but major story arcs (like the importance of the fruit of the tree) do not change.
As I think about my role as a seminary teacher, I understand that I’m there to open the scriptures to my students and to invite them to feel the spirit as they discover what the scriptures teach about the Savior. I need to get out of the way and allow the scriptures and the spirit to do the teaching and converting. I need to invite, encourage, entice.
The stakes are high for seminary teachers. Lots of studies show that seminary teachers have the opportunity to have significant influence on our youth, and it’s no surprise. Seminary teachers get 50 minutes a day, five days a week, with regular attenders. It would be easy to use that time as a platform to promote my views, or even to set myself up as some great guy. But the last thing I need is to generate a group of Paul-ites. Hopefully what I can do is to offer my students a place where they can safely explore spiritual questions and seek spiritual answers. Hopefully I can help them to feel safe enough to trust what the spirit whispers to their minds and hearts.
In our recent seminary fireside, I mentioned to the students and their parents that as seminary teachers we can offer activities. We can entertain them. We can review scripture mastery verses and play games. But they need to actually read the book. They need to seek the testimony. And if they’re willing to do that, the rewards can be great.
I don’t think I’ll spend my whole year blogging about seminary. But I might share a little from time to time. In the meantime, I extend the same invitation to you: if you read the book, if you open your heart and your mind, if you ask, the Lord can provide you the same great blessings He promises my seminary students.