My wife and I love talking to each other about what Zion looks like. Not what the buildings, layout, or geography will look like, but what the more fundamental concepts of what it means to be a Zion-type person how that would look like when applied in our lives. For more than 10 years, we have had many, many wonderful discussions about Zion with each other and with close friends. Through these we have also discussed the many fascinating differences between a Zion society and how it is completely different compared to how the world currently operates.
Since this is one of our favorite topics, we also look for many resources and search out many scriptures and talks from the prophets on the topic. One of our favorite resources that we always suggest to people is a short primer written by Elder Neal A. Maxwell entitled The Enoch Letters that takes the same basic format as C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters — except Maxwell’s book takes the position of letters written between a man who has listened to the prophet Enoch speak and who has entered the Zion-society and his outside friend in another land. It is a wonderful book that carefully, yet very subtly, shows how every world philosophy is incomplete and eventually incompatible when compared to the completeness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a true and pure system of thought. More on that book here.
There are countless blessings that have come to our family from our desires and thoughts of Zion. As much as we’ve let the vision of Zion entertain and garnish our thoughts, we have found greater peace in our home, more assurance and confidence in the Lord, and a greater love for the Lord, our family, and our fellowmen. The blessings are often subtle, and, in many cases, they have to be actively searched for, but they are present.
I have noticed that identifying the guiding hand of the Lord in my own life is a matter of my own choosing. This is to say that I have to choose to believe an occurrence was the hand of the Lord. Then, after several occasions of choosing to see things a certain way in the small things, I begin to see more clearly, distinctly, and powerfully the patterns of the divine in my life in larger and more pronounced ways. My testimony grows. As Elder Bednar once said,
A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.
By accepting and choosing to see the Lord’s timing amidst the confusion of the world’s theories of coincidence, my faith has grown to know, identify, discern, and more consistently enjoy the blessings of the Spirit and of the Lord’s dealings in my personal life, in my family life, at church, and in my community. Also, by choosing to see the hand of the Lord in my life in small matters, the Lord has laid the foundation for me to perceive his hand in large matters so that as long as I maintain my worthiness, consistency, and focus on the Lord and His gospel I always have the ready assurance of his constant love and regard for me. This is empowering.
A few weeks ago my wife and I had a discussion after she asked what more we had to do to be a Zion people (speaking of us personally in our home and as a community at large). Over the next several days while thinking about her question I had asked myself a separate question concerning why I love serving in the youth programs of the Church so much. In the last few wards that I have lived in, I have had the distinct blessing in my life to serve with the young men. In each of the wards that I have had this privilege I have witnessed the realization of God’s words that he has, indeed, reserved some of his finest and choicest spirits for the latter days. The youth of our Church are amazing in every way, and their testimonies and their abilities to live the gospel with tenacity in the face of so much evil around them every day is amazing to me. I have an unspeakable amount of love, respect, and admiration for everything that they are.
On one particular day, I suddenly realized perhaps the strongest undercurrent of my love for and desire to serve the youth of the church, and it came down to this: I believe with all of my heart that, in any given time, we are only one generation away from becoming a Zion-type people. Every Sunday and mid-week activity I get to see the spiritual persistence and resolution of the rising generation of church leaders — and in their eyes, and in their testimonies, and in their resolve I see the potential of Zion in their lifetime.
Each generation has the possibility of Zion. In the early days of the Church, the Lord rebuked his Church for their unwillingness to follow him. Passionately, the Lord told his people directly that he had given them absolutely everything necessary and that they would need to build Zion — but they would not.
There is even now already in store sufficient, yea, even and abundance, to redeem Zion, and establish her waste places, no more to be thrown down, were the churches, who call themselves after my name, willing to hearken to my voice (D&C 101:75).
President Benson spoke to this same reality when he said,
Now we are assured that the Church will remain on the earth until the lord comes again — but at what price? The Saints in the early days were assured that Zion would be established in Jackson County, but look at what their unfaithfulness cost them in bloodshed and delay.
I do not believe that it is important to focus on the nuanced details of what the early Saints did that kept and postponed them from building Zion — especially since the Lord already said he had everything in line for them and that they would not “hearken to [his] voice.” These Saints’ postponed the reality of enjoying the blessings of Zion fully realized in their life, a reality that had already been established twice on this earth before: (1) Enoch’s Zion, and (2) the condition of the Book of Mormon people after Christ came (read: 4 Nephi).
Zion is a possibility in our lifetime. It is the potential that I see in our youth today. It is not something that will be established only after the Savior comes. Christ will not return because it is so bad that he must (although conditions will be very bad indeed), but he will return because he has a Zion-type people to return to. While the full enjoyment of a brick-and-mortar city of New Jerusalem may not be fully enjoyed until after the Savior returns — Zion is a reality for us today. As Brigham Young said,
The length of time required ‘to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion’ is strictly up to us and how we live, for creating Zion commences in the heart of each person (Journal of Discourses, 9:283).
What does Zion look like? Over the years the most fundamental concept that I have discovered from all that has been written about Zion is that it is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Zion is the triumph of the spirit in our lives, the consuming of our reality with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the lost disposition to do evil but the gained disposition to do good continually, and the sanctification of heart. Zion is overcoming the things of this world, those who have been born again.
The universal sin of pride keeps us looking externally for the responsibility and accountability that we should turn inward for in seeking joyful repentance. As such, I have found that the temptation to say “Zion is a nice idea, but wait for the Church to make an official policy before making any advancements to being a Zion-type person” is a convincing and cunning device of the Adversary to keep me perpetually placing accountability and responsibility on the Church and its authorities in a way the Lord never intended. Through this, I place false reliance on the general authorities and the Church for a tomorrow that will never happen, and I do this at the expense of what I should have done today by repenting and changing the nature of my own soul. It is my pride that blinds me when I have said, “Wait for the Church leaders to speak about becoming Zion-like.” The Lord and his prophets have already spoken: All things necessary to build Zion and make it a reality are here! Now! Today! What is needed now is not more directive, but a willing heart — for as it was unwillingness in the early days of the Church that kept Zion from becoming a physical reality, so it is today.
Said President Benson:
Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded “in all things.” This attitude prepares men for godhood…
Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward.
Often, because of circumstances, the Lord, through revelation to his prophets or through inspired programs designed by faithful members which later become adopted on a church-wide basis, will give to all the membership a righteous means to help accomplish the objective; for instance, any member of the Church a century ago who studied church doctrine would have known that he had the prime responsibility to see that his children had spiritualized family recreation and were taught in the home lessons in character building and gospel principles. But some did not do it.
So what is left? What do we do? How do we become a Zion-type society? How do we instill the principles of Zion in our heart and leave the world behind?
I believe the answers to these questions are entirely personal. While there are a few general principles, the applications and nuanced decisions are left between us personally and directly with the Lord. We are all on a different journey with the Lord headed towards the same place, so while the destination and principles are the same many of the applications in the journey are different.
I do offer this one suggestion, as it is the title of the article itself, that comes from the scriptures. It is a story of a rich young man who was perfect in keeping the law of Moses and who approached Jesus Christ wanting to know what more there was for him to accomplish to have eternal life. The rich young man had mastered a checklist, but he had not given up the reliance of the arm of flesh and changed his heart and nature (what the scriptures call “having the law written on your heart”). He had not given up his ties to, associations with, and anchors to the things of this world. In his compliance to the law, he had mastered what he did but he had not changed who he was.
The young man saith unto him, All these things [the law of Moses] have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus Said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:20-22).
It wasn’t the possessions that made the young man unwilling or incapable of progressing. It was his heart and tie to those possessions and the things of this world that made him walk away from the Savior in sorrow.
So, in our lives, in our desires to build Zion and to see that become a reality in our personal lives and homes, the question we should all ask ourselves is the same that the rich young man asked — What lack I?
As I have experimented with and have proven in my life the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have noticed one of the single greatest barriers to my spiritual success is my unbelief and what has been called “yes, but” discipleship. “Yes, but” discipleship is where we approach the scriptures and our own discipleship, read the words of Christ and of his prophets, see a major area in our life to improve upon but that can quite literally scare us to live and apply, and to walk away from that principle saying “Yes, I believe what the Savior has taught here, but surely this was meant for someone other than me” or “Yes, I believe what the prophets and scriptures say, but surely this was meant only for the Apostles and won’t be instituted until after he comes — so it doesn’t apply to me.” The variations to this “yes, but” discipleship are innumerable, but the principle and point are the same. It is in our pride, as mentioned at the beginning, that we displace our responsibility and understanding onto something or someone else. It is this chosen unwillingness to submit to everything the Lord wants for us that has kept us and will continue (as long as we let it) to keep us from realizing Zion.
The most beautiful, sacred, empowering, and simple principles of the gospel in my life are those that came in a moment of fear when I wanted to shrink and shun the principle but I pressed forward in faith — waiting only for the Lord to catch me. And catch me he has. Every. Single. Time. The Lord has promised that he will not leave us comfortless and without a guide, and he has given us his Spirit to be able to endure these times of discomfort and fear to truly live his gospel.
My hope is that we all can more consistently and patiently ask of ourselves What lack I yet? and then prayerfully, humbly, and courageously act on whatever the Lord directs for us. My own ongoing journey has been full of failures and success stories of when I have approached the Lord in my own way and he has given me a truth and principle to discover and explore. I would like to say that I am always courageous and jump at every opportunity and every principle that I’ve been taught from the Spirit, but that is not true. I fail. A lot. But I have also experienced the love, patience, and good nature of the Savior (who I am convinced smiles far more often at our successes than cries at our failures) who is always there to help me start the journey, with resolve to follow him regardless of his answer, when I ask — What lack I yet?