This is the fourth in a series by our writers and guests regarding spiritual gifts. We hope you enjoy our take on giving and receiving spiritually this Christmas season.
This time of year is all about gifts. Retailers wish we would never cease thinking about gifts, especially those we should buy. Instead, this year I’m thinking about gifts from my Heavenly Father. This kind of holiday thinking includes Thanksgiving, as I appreciate gifts that Heavenly Father has bounteously given me. In recognizing what God has given me, I take a step forward in my discipleship if I think about the giver of the gift and His purposes.
God always has a purpose; His gifts are multifaceted and progressive. While there are a multitude of heavenly gifts, I specifically pondered tangible gifts, the ones that He could have wrapped in a box with a fluffy red bow and set under the evergreen tree, which symbolizes His undying love and the eternal nature of His son’s sacrifice. What effect can these physical gifts have on my soul?
It wasn’t Christmas when Joseph Smith opened a stone box on the hill Cumorah, yet it contained great gifts. In 1827 the prophet was entrusted with items of sacred significance; the greatest of these were the gold plates. The Urim and Thummim stones were also in that stone box; they were tools given to Joseph Smith to enable translation and revelation. (For more information see Joseph Smith History, Bible Dictionary, and FAIR Wiki)
While the translation and distribution of the Book of Mormon was God’s ultimate goal, and so the gold plates are often a focus, I wonder about those little stones set in a metal framework and secured for generations. When Joseph was new to the work of translation and revelation, he required the Urim and Thummim often. As the prophet progressed in experience, proved his trustworthiness to the Lord, and received greater knowledge, he required the physical tools of translation less often. It’s like the Urim and Thummim, and other seer stones, were spiritual training wheels for a new prophet. These small gifts from our Heavenly Father were returned to Moroni when the prophet no longer needed them.
This leads me to think about other Godly gifts that we are given to do things which we couldn’t accomplish any other way, but whose function is temporary: the children of Israel received a daily gift of manna while living in the wilderness, a new mother receives the gift of milk to nourish her newborn child, and temples are a bridge between this world and the next, bringing generations of families together, without which the whole world would be wasted (Malachi 4:5-6 , D&C 138:48).
Each of these gifts are needed by the children of man, but at some point they will no longer be needed. The children of Israel made their way out of the wilderness, a newborn child grows to eat solid food, and at some point all of the families of the earth will be joined together and the work of temples will be completed (although I can imagine God has many more purposes for his house in the eternities to come). These are great tangible spiritual gifts mercifully bestowed by our loving Father in a time of need, touchable manifestations of the work of God, but they also require something of the receiver.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith generalized: “All knowledge and skill are obtained by consistent and determined study and practice, and so the Prophet found it to be the case in the translating of the Book of Mormon.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3: 216, via By The Gift and Power of God, Richard L. Anderson)
Joseph Smith was only able to effectively use the Urim and Thummim if he was in the right spiritual state and prepared to do the work. In a similar way the children of Israel were given strict rules about the handling of manna for their health and well-being. Any couple who has struggled through the first days of living with a newborn infant knows that both the mother and the child must learn how to breastfeed. So it is with the great gift of temples; to enter we must learn and prepare spiritually and physically. We gain a testimony and work to keep it alive, we keep the Word of Wisdom, we dress modestly and prepare white clothing to wear while in the temple, and we pay an honest tithe. It is also necessary for us to study the scriptures, the words of living prophets, and to ponder while in the temple if we are to fully utilize those sacred structures that act as a large Liahona, leading us in the direction of salvation.
There are times that we are tempted to make the pursuit of eternal life a purely ethereal one, disdaining tangible spiritual gifts and blessings. It is clear to me that while earth life is a spiritual adventure, it very much involves tangible, temporal things. God ministers to us in our need, even our temporal needs. While often we think of food and shelter as our temporal needs, there are spiritual temporal needs also. A few are mentioned in this post, but there are many more that abundantly flow from our great Father who is a spiritual temporal being, and created us in His image. We use the bodies he has blessed us with to touch the delicately soft skin of a newborn baby, to break manna-like bread in abundance with those we love, and to open the beautiful, strong doors of His temple to complete covenants, which require a body of flesh and bones, for ourselves and those who have gone before us. Like the Urim and Thummim for the prophet Joseph, all of these great gifts touch our bodies and our spirits: our souls.
One day we will have the opportunity to touch and feel the greatest of God’s spiritual temporal gifts – His son Jesus Christ. I imagine that day will be much like his visit to the Nephites, when one by one the people felt the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. When God gives us any gift its ultimate purpose is not in and of itself, but to bring us closer to this great and saving gift so that one day we will hear His voice calling us:
“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.” (3 Ne 11:14)
- What tangible sprititual gifts do you see in the scriptures and church history?
- What tangible spiritual gifts have you touched in your life?