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And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach. (D&C 42:14)
In his characteristic mix of sound doctrine and inspiring stories, Elder Gene R. Cook suggests ways to answer the question, how can we more effectively and consistently teach by the Spirit? “Since we all are teachers,” Elder Cook writes, “and since teaching is so important, then it makes sense that we would seek to learn to do our teaching in the Lord's way. And what is the Lord's way? He has admonished us to do our teaching by the power of his Spirit, both in the home and in the Church. As we do, we will lift and bless others as we can in no other way.”
In this book, Elder Cook shares principles to help us better teach by the Spirit in
- Family settings
- The classroom
- Home and visiting teaching
- One-on-one encounters
Whether you are a first-time teacher or a seasoned veteran, Teaching by the Spirit offers valuable scriptural insights into truly becoming a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2), along with tender spiritual stories and practical teaching techniques that will invite the Spirit more fully into all your teaching.
Also included in this book are many stories, examples, and teaching techniques that will enlighten and encourage anyone who desires to teach more by the Spirit of the Lord. Elder Cook treats such key teaching issues of our time as:
- How to overcome the fear of teaching
- How to speak by the Spirit &ldqou;in the very moment,” when you are called upon without notice
- How to best prepare yourself to teach with the Spirit of the Lord
- How to help prepare the listener
- How to teach with greater feeling
- How to discern the needs of the people you have the responsibility to teach
- How to determine your current effectiveness as a teacher
- How to improve your overall effectiveness in teaching by the Spirit with your family, in the classroom, as home and visiting teachers, in working with less-active members, and so forth.
About the Author
Elder Gene R. Cook, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has served in various Church capacities, including area presidencies, as a regional representative, as a mission president in Uruguay and Paraguay, and as a member of the First Council of the Seventy.
He graduated in business management and earned an MBA from Arizona State University. He has been an insurance consultant and an insurance agency manager, as well as a management consultant for various business firms.
Elder Cook and his wife Janelle are parents of eight children and have fourteen grandchildren.
The Role of the Spirit in Teaching
Several years ago I had the opportunity to tour one of our South American missions under the direction of the mission president. (I’ll call him President Jones.) This particular mission had been having tremendous success in terms of baptisms, with some five hundred or six hundred per month. The president was anxious to progress and do even better.
When I had a preliminary visit with President Jones a few months earlier, I learned that he was a very positive individual. He had read quite a number of positive-thinking books and was particularly focusing on that kind of material with his missionaries. At that time I confirmed that one can indeed get results by using the positive-thinking techniques of the world. But I tried to teach him that those approaches must be totally founded in spiritual concepts, or the experience will not develop the long-term faith of the missionary. I think he only partially understood what I was trying to say.
When we were ready to begin the tour, I asked him if he would be willing for us to teach the missionaries that it was time to move up another level in our approach. We were going to replace the teachings of the positive-thinking gurus with the teachings of the Lord as found in the scriptures, thus basing our work on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not on the philosophies of men, even if they contain truths. I suggested that instead of following the approach of a man (even though he may be a good and wise man), we should follow the counsel of the Lord: to teach by the Spirit. He indicated that he was willing, but he wasn’t sure we could have success with that approach.
I had him write on a piece of paper the five major premises or principles taught by the author of his favorite positive-thinking book. Some of the concepts that these men have developed are true because they learned them from the Lord, even if they aren’t aware of it. However, the Lord speaks through his prophets in a deeper and truer sense than man can speak. Thus, I wanted us to see what the scriptures taught about each of the principles President Jones had been using.
I think he had doubts about whether or not these principles could be effectively illustrated from the scriptures. We looked at the first principle, which was having a healthy self-image, and we talked about Moses, Saul, and Joseph Smith. We took the second concept, about the power of faith, and illustrated it from the scriptures. Before we had spent much time on it, he realized that the scriptures teach truth much more powerfully than man can ever teach it.
As we proceeded with the conferences, President Jones indicated to all of the missionaries that it was time for a change. I underscored the same idea in my own teaching, never mentioning the particular author the mission president had emphasized but testifying of the power of the Lord and of the need for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The entire tour was a powerful experience for both of us, and it gave President Jones a new vision. When he reported to me some time later, he said that the mission’s baptisms had not gone down—and the missionaries seemed to be increasing in their spirituality.
At the conclusion of the tour, Sister Jones, who is very learned in religious study, said, “I’ve never been more humbled in all my life. I feel like a failure. I need to start all over again and teach true spiritual things, not the academic spiritual things.” I think she began to sense more than ever the great power of the Lord. And she seemed to be feeling that, at least in one sense, they had lost much in the previous 2 1/2 years by not using that power more effectively.
If missionaries want to read such positive-thinking authors when they get home, they may receive some helpful insights. But the Spirit of the Lord is the true source of power in our lives. It is that source that we should seek in our teaching, our learning, and our practice of the gospel from day to day.
Once I attended a Gospel Doctrine class that seemed to be the opposite of that which the Lord describes. The teacher brought in a stack of books with him to the class, and referred to many of them as he taught—but he didn’t use even one scripture. The class seemed to be centered on the teacher. Some doctrine was presented, but it was definitely not being taught by the Spirit.
As the lesson proceeded I sat and agonized, because I could see and feel some real needs in the hearts of at least four people who sat near me. I sensed they were carrying real burdens. They had come to the class to be refreshed and to have the Spirit touch their hearts; they had come seeking some answers to life’s problems. But the teacher was too busy conveying information to recognize those spiritual needs. Unfortunately, we sometimes get in the mode of “unloading” information rather than seeking to bless and change hearts.
When we get ourselves into a pattern of teaching or learning that does not involve the Spirit, it can be difficult to get out. I think sometimes of this little poem:
The sermon ended,
The priest descended.
Delighted were they,
But preferred the old way.
We all have a tendency to stick with “the old way.” But if we have not truly been teaching by the Spirit, I would challenge each of us to resolve to change now, as the mission president in this example humbly did. That is the path of blessing both for ourselves and for those we teach.“UNTO WHAT WERE YE ORDAINED?”
The Lord has spoken through his latter-day prophets to tell us how he would have us teach: “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?” When we think of our callings as teacher, priesthood leader, or parent, what were we ordained to do? The Lord gives the answer: “To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:13–14).
Who will assist us in our efforts to preach the gospel? The Spirit. And who was sent forth to actually do the teaching? The Comforter. The Lord is the One who knows the needs of those being taught. He is the One who can impress someone’s heart and cause him or her to change. We are instruments, helpers—not the primary teacher. The major role of a teacher is to prepare the way so that the people will have a spiritual experience with the Lord.
We must make sure we don’t begin to think we are the “true teacher.” That is a serious mistake. Yes, we are part of the process. But ultimately all true gospel teaching is done by the Holy Ghost. He is the teacher, not us. We must be careful not to get in the way.
Doctrine and Covenants 50 continues:
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God. (D&C 50:17–18; emphasis added.)
What is the it in that sentence? The word of truth. We must teach the word of truth by the Spirit, and if we teach the word of truth some other way, even if it is true, it is not of God. Some teachers fall into a trap of thinking that just because they’ve taught truth, their lesson was acceptable. But the Lord says that if you do not preach the truth with the Spirit, what you are doing is not of God.
This truth also applies to learning:
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God. (D&C 50:19–20.)
The Spirit is a key element in both teaching and learning—and if the Spirit is not present, the sharing even of truth is not of God.
Other scriptures emphasize this role of the Spirit:
The elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel . . . as they shall be directed by the Spirit. And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach. (D&C 42:12–14; emphasis added.)
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26; emphasis added.)
Let my [servants] . . . proclaim the things which I have commanded them—Calling on the name of the Lord for the Comforter, which shall teach them all things that are expedient for them. (D&C 75:9–10; emphasis added.)
I will send upon him the Comforter, which shall teach him the truth and the way whither he shall go. (D&C 79:2; emphasis added.)
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5; emphasis added.)
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. (James 1:5; emphasis added.)
Joseph Fielding Smith explained why the Spirit is such a key element in teaching: “The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56], 1:47–48).
President Spencer W. Kimball once encouraged us: “I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or a meeting, and they then return home having been largely [uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time . . . of stress, temptation, or crisis [in their lives]. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 524; emphasis added).THE TEACHER’S TRUE ROLE
When we understand correctly, then, we see that our role is to prepare ourselves to be worthy, to prepare the environment, and to present certain material in a teaching setting—and then the Holy Ghost will do the teaching. Certainly we can learn things from other people; another man or woman can teach us things we need to know. But if we want permanent change, the Holy Ghost must be involved.
This concept of the role of the Spirit in teaching is reflected in the Church’s current approach to lesson manuals. In years past, the Church provided long and detailed lesson plans for each Sunday class that was taught. Now, the many pages per lesson have been cut down to just a few.
After we had reduced the Gospel Doctrine manuals to many fewer pages (I was on the committee that helped determine the new approach), a friend said to me, “Elder Cook, I can’t believe that you would agree to that. You teach with many stories and illustrations, but now you’ve stripped them all out of the manual.” I responded by saying, “For years we have found or created great stories about tithing or answers to prayer and have distributed them all over the world. But think about it: right in your own class you’ve got forty or fifty people who have had experience with that principle just in the last week. They could stand up and bear witness of how the Lord has changed their life in the last week, and do it with the Spirit.”
Teachers need to learn how to draw stories and experiences out of the people so that the Spirit of the Lord can teach both the teacher and the learner. Then both will be “edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).
The most important thing a teacher can do is to help the student feel the Spirit of the Lord. If the Spirit is there, true teaching and true learning will take place, and lives will begin to be changed.
I become a little worried sometimes that many teachers are not concerned enough about trying to have the Spirit of the Lord with them all the time while they are teaching. Again, if you don’t, you shall not teach—at least not the Lord’s way.TRUSTING THE SPIRIT TO TEACH
I suspect we sometimes think that if we don’t convey all the information we have on a subject, those we teach won’t learn what they need to know. But I would suggest a different
perspective. As we develop greater trust in the Lord, we will know that if we can bring the Spirit into a teaching situation, that Spirit will help the other person to learn and know what is most essential.
I am familiar with a true story that illustrates this. Once President Spencer W. Kimball telephoned a man (I’ll call him Brother Smith) and told him that the Lord wanted him to serve as a temple president. Brother Smith was stunned, feeling both unworthy and unprepared. But President Kimball assured him that the call had indeed been confirmed by the Lord and that it was right. “I’m going to be visiting your city next month,” President Kimball said. “I’d like to meet with you at the temple to set you apart and bestow on you the sealing power.”
President Kimball met with Brother Smith at the appointed time. As was his custom, President Kimball threw his arms around Brother Smith and loved him and told him that the Lord would help him and bless him. They visited for a few minutes; then President Kimball placed his hands on Brother Smith’s head and set him apart as a temple president and gave him the sealing power. When he was finished, President Kimball said, “Brother Smith, the Lord will bless you.” And President Kimball turned and started to leave.
Brother Smith said, “But President, I don’t know anything about being a temple president. What shall I do?” President Kimball simply said, “Well, the Lord will bless you, my friend,” and he walked down the corridor of the temple.
Brother Smith followed him. “Wait, President, wait! I’ve never been anything but a temple patron. What if the cafeteria workers quit or the temple veil rips? What will I do?”
“Well, just call the Temple Department; they’ll help you on things like that.” President Kimball walked out into the parking lot and began to get into his car. Brother Smith said, almost begging, “President, please, won’t you give me one piece of counsel?” And President Kimball turned and, with a big smile and a sparkle in his eye, said, “Well, President Smith, it wouldn’t hurt you to lose about thirty pounds.” He again expressed his love to him, got into his car, and drove off.
Was President Kimball being insensitive to the man’s need? No, he wanted to teach the man to turn to the Lord, where he would be taught by the Spirit. President Kimball was doing the best thing any teacher can do: turning the learning to the Master Teacher himself.
Let me add to that story a personal experience. When I was called to be a mission president I had been a General Authority for a year already. Shortly before we were to leave President Kimball called and said, “Elder Cook, we really need to set you apart as a mission president. Why don’t you come by my office and bring your wife and your children, if you like?” We took our two oldest boys, who were maybe six or seven at the time, and went to President Kimball’s office. On the way I said to my wife, “Here, we’re going to serve among the Lamanites. Who in all the world knows more about the Lamanites than President Kimball? Nobody does. What a unique opportunity. After he sets me apart, I’ll ask him for a little counsel.” (I didn’t know about Brother Smith’s experience at the time!)
President Kimball set me apart, loved our family, and committed my wife and the children in their roles in our calling. As things were winding down, I said, “Well, President, as you know we’re called to serve in Uruguay and Paraguay. We’d be delighted if you had any counsel you could give us about serving among the Lamanites.” I thought it was a good request. President Kimball paused and then said, “Well, let’s see now, Gene, do you hold the Melchizedek Priesthood?” I knew I was in trouble then. I had to say, “Yes.” “And you’ve been set apart as a General Authority, and as a mission president now?” “Yes.” Then he said, “Adios.” And that was it. We left without a word of instruction.
Why did President Kimball send a mission president off to a foreign land without any special instruction? Why did he call a temple president without giving him any counsel? Here are at least two reasons: First, he knew that we would be instructed through the proper channels. (President Kimball did believe in training.) Second, he knew that the Lord would give us the guidance we needed, through his Spirit. President Kimball set the stage by his expressions of love and by his inspired words in setting us apart. And then he turned us over to the Lord and trusted the Spirit to continue our instruction.TURN THE LISTENER TO THE LORD
President Kimball teaches another valuable lesson in these stories. One of the best things the teacher can do is to turn his listener to the Lord. Elder Richard G. Scott suggested this principle when he said, “If you accomplish nothing else in your relationship with your students than to help them recognize and follow the promptings of the Spirit, you will bless their lives immeasurably and eternally” (Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led, address to religious educators, 11 Aug. 1998, 3).
President Kimball truly believed that Church callings come from the Lord. And since the Lord had called the temple president and mission president in those stories, He also had an interest in helping them to become prepared and qualified for their service.
Certainly as the President of the Church, President Kimball could have kept the temple president there for an hour and told him all he knew about temple work. President Kimball could have kept him there for a day or a week. He could have done the same with me in giving me instruction about the Lamanites when I was called as a mission president. So why didn’t he? Because his approach taught us to turn to the Lord for help and instruction.
That is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can give to his or her students—to turn them to the Lord for answers. President Kimball could have given us good advice. But instead he gave us something far greater—the gift of seeking and yearning for a closer relationship with the Lord.
These stories also teach us that we should be careful not to answer every question that is put to us as teachers. Sometimes we can perform a much greater service by choosing not to answer, by inviting students to think things through themselves, to send them back to the Lord for instructions. This counsel applies to children as well as to adults. When we are asked a tough question, perhaps the answer might be, “Well, what do you think, John?” Or, “John, why don’t you carefully pray about that and let’s talk about it tomorrow. Let me know what you think the Lord says you ought to do.”
Nephi did that, teaching his brothers principles that he hoped would cause them to want to turn to the Lord. As we read in 1 Nephi:
For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. (1 Nephi 15:3.)
Nephi “was grieved” (1 Nephi 15:4) because his brothers would not ask of the Lord. They did not want to be taught by the Spirit. When they came to him and said they could not understand some of his teachings, he asked them pointedly, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 15:8). That is a good question for us to ask of ourselves, often—and it is a question we should seek to guide others to ask as well, that they may more thoroughly be taught by the Spirit of the Lord.FOLLOWING JESUS, THE MODEL TEACHER
When we read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus was a master teacher. In fact, he was the master teacher. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, he was “the greatest Teacher ever to grace the earth, . . . the Master Teacher whose message and methods would set the perfect standard for all apostles, all prophets, all preachers of righteousness, all teachers, of all ages” (The Promised Messiah [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 510).
As the master teacher, Jesus always knew exactly what to say, how to say it, and when. We can have the same blessing if we truly seek and follow the Spirit in our lives and in our teaching.
On one occasion when Jesus was teaching, one of his listeners stood and asked, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Rather than answer the man directly, Jesus responded with another question: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”
The man answered by saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
“Thou hast answered right,” Jesus said; “this do, and thou shalt live.”
But the man was not satisfied and questioned further, asking, “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus answered the man’s second question by telling him a short story with a setting and circumstance that the man would recognize:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
After telling the parable, Jesus asked another question: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” The questioner said, “He that shewed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:25–37).
Without question and beyond all comparison, Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. We can improve our own teaching of gospel truths as we follow the perfect pattern shown in Jesus’ teaching.JESUS TAUGHT FROM THE SCRIPTURES
After Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness,
the tempter came to him [and] said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4:3–10; emphasis added.)
In each instance of dealing with Satan’s challenges Jesus responded by quoting the scriptures. Jesus used the same approach on other occasions. For example, once Jesus’ disciples plucked some ears of corn as they walked through a field on the Sabbath. The Pharisees interpreted that as a violation of the law of Moses.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do [the disciples] on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:24–28; emphasis added.)JESUS TAUGHT BY ASKING QUESTIONS
As we saw above, Jesus was a master at teaching by asking questions. Here are a few additional examples:
And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to
heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. (Matthew 12:10–13 emphasis added.)
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. (Matthew 15:1–6; emphasis added.)
And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matthew 15:10–20; emphasis added.)
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:11–14; emphasis added.)
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23–27; emphasis added.)JESUS TAUGHT BY USING ANALOGIES
By reviewing the thirteenth chapter of Matthew alone we can see several excellent examples of Jesus teaching by use of analogies:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. . . .
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down,
and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. . . .
Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. (Matthew 13:31–33, 44–49, 52; emphasis added.)JESUS TAUGHT BY USING REASON
The Savior was inspired in using the force of his intellect in his teaching. For instance, the Pharisees once accused Jesus of casting out devils by the power of Satan, saying,
This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matthew 12:24–29; emphasis added.)
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day. (Luke 5:21–26; emphasis added.)JESUS TAUGHT BY USING PARABLES
Parables are one of the most commonly known teaching methods used by our Lord in mortality:
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. . . .
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. . . .
All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 13:3–9; 18–30, 34–35; emphasis added.)
In our teaching, perhaps we can seek to instruct the way Jesus did through his parables. We can say, “A certain man by the name of Smith . . .” and then tell the story, whether it be a story of lack of fidelity, a story of faith, or some other principle. Then we can end the story either by making a clear declaration of the principle involved or by asking the question, “Which of these two men went to the Lord justified?”JESUS TAUGHT USING TANGIBLE EXAMPLES
When Jesus taught he often used tangible examples that could readily be seen around him. For example, the disciples once came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Before answering their question, “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them.” Then he said,
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:1–6; emphasis added.)
On another occasion, the Pharisees “took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Jesus saw through their trickery, and said,
Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. (Matthew 22:15–22; emphasis added.)
The non-Mormon scholar Frederic William Farrar, often quoted by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in The Mortal Messiah, gave this insight into the teaching of Jesus:
“How exquisitely and freshly simple is the actual language of Christ compared with all other teaching that has ever gained the ear of the world! . . . All is short, clear, precise, full of holiness, full of the common images of daily life.
“There is scarcely a scene or object familiar to the Galilee of that day, which Jesus did not use as a moral illustration of some glorious promise or moral law. He spoke of green fields, and springing flowers, and the budding of the vernal trees; of the red or lowering sky; of sunrise and sunset; of wind and rain; of night and storm; of clouds and lightning; of stream and river; of stars and lamps; of honey and salt; of quivering bulrushes and burning weeds; of rent garments and bursting wine-skins; of eggs and serpents; of pearls and pieces of money; of nets and fish. Wine and wheat, corn and oil, stewards and gardeners, laborers and employers, kings and shepherds, travellers and fathers of families, courtiers in soft clothing and brides in nuptial robes—all these are found in His discourses. He knew all life, and had gazed on it with a kindly as well as a kingly glance. He could sympathize with its joys no less than He could heal its sorrows, and the eyes that were so often suffused with tears as they saw the sufferings of earth’s mourners beside the bed of death, had shone also with a kindlier glow as they watched the games of earth’s happy little ones in the green fields and busy streets” (Farrar, Life of Christ, 204–5; quoted in McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979–81], 2:180–81).JESUS TAUGHT TO THE PEOPLE’S
LEVEL OF READINESS
Jesus knew all things, but he shared only that which was appropriate to his listener’s level of understanding. In other words, he shared with people that which would lead them a step higher, but in no case did he try to unload all that he knew. Sometimes he must have wished that the people might be prepared to receive more—but never did he cross the line in teaching that which they were not ready to receive.
A good example of this principle can be found in his use of parables. After Jesus taught the parable of the sower and the seeds (Matthew 13:3–9), his disciples asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Matthew 13:10–17.)
Then, because they were ready, Jesus interpreted for them the meaning of the parable of the sower.JESUS TAUGHT BY THE SPIRIT
It is helpful to see the variety of approaches Jesus used in his teaching. In all that he did he acted to perfection, and we can learn much from his style of teaching. But underlying all his teaching was this truth: He always taught by the Spirit.
Near the beginning of the Savior’s mortal ministry, he visited the synagogue in Nazareth and took a turn at preaching to the people. Reading from the book of Isaiah, he bore testimony of himself by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel” (see Luke 4:18; see also Isaiah 61:1). Elsewhere, the Lord spoke through Isaiah of the mortal Messiah to say, “I have put my spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1; see also Matthew 12:18).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie bore testimony of this truth when he said: “Being without sin—being clean and pure and spotless—he was entitled to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit. . . . He enjoyed, at all times, the fulness of that light and guidance and power which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost to the faithful” (Mortal Messiah, 1:369–70).
“Never man spake as we have just heard the Lord Jesus speak [in Matthew 7:28–29]. . . . ‘He taught them as one having authority from God, and not as having authority from the scribes.’ His . . . words, spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost, were the words of his Father” (Mortal Messiah, 2:177).
If Jesus, the greatest of all, needed to teach by the Spirit, how much more do we in our weakness need that heavenly help?
I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (John 8:28.)
For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. (John 12:49)
The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. (John 14:10.)
As we seek to teach in the model given us by the Savior, let us follow his example in teaching by the Spirit, never relying only upon our own wisdom or knowledge or ability, but always, to the best of our ability, also letting the Father teach us, speak through us, and do his mighty work through us.TESTIMONIES OF TEACHING BY THE SPIRIT
As we conclude this discussion, I would like to share two testimonies of latter-day apostles, Elder Bruce R. McConkie and Elder Dallin H. Oaks.
Bruce R. McConkie:
“Every teacher in every teaching situation might well reason along this line:
“If the Lord Jesus were here, what he would say in this situation would be perfect.
“But he is not here. Instead he has sent me to represent him.
“I should say what he would say if he were here; I should say what he wants said.
“The only way I can do this is to have him tell me what to say.
“This revealed direction can come to me only by the power of his Spirit.
“Therefore I must be guided by the Spirit if I am to teach in my capacity as an agent of the Lord. . . .
“Let us make this clear. Even though what we teach is true, it is not of God unless it is taught by the power of the Spirit. There is no conversion, no spiritual experience, unless the Spirit of the Lord is involved” (“The Teacher’s Divine Commission,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 23–24; emphasis added).
“If you teach the word of truth—now note, you’re saying what is true, every thing you say is accurate and right—by some other way than the Spirit, it is not of God. Now what is the other way to teach than by the Spirit? Well, obviously, it is by the power of the intellect.
“Suppose I came here tonight and delivered a great message on teaching, and I did it by the power of the intellect without any of the Spirit of God attending. Suppose that every word that I said was true, no error whatever, but it was an intellectual presentation. This revelation says: ‘If it be by some other way it is not of God’ (D&C 50:18).
“That is, God did not present the message through me because I used the power of the intellect instead of the power of the Spirit. Intellectual things—reason and logic—can do some good, and they can prepare the way, and they can get the mind ready to receive the Spirit under certain circumstances. But conversion comes and the truth sinks into the hearts of people only when it is taught by the power of the Spirit” (The Foolishness of Teaching, pamphlet [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981], 9).
Dallin H. Oaks:
“If we teach in the manner the Lord has prescribed, he can send his Spirit to edify and enlighten those whom we teach. If we do not teach in his way—if we teach according to our own knowledge and according to our own intellect, and if we slavishly tie ourselves to our own preparation or to someone else’s wisdom or text—our teaching ‘is not of God.’ . . .
“If we rely on debate techniques or sales methods or group psychology, we are preaching the gospel in some other way, and it is not of God. . . .
“Intellectual things—reason and logic—can prepare the way, and they can help us in our preparation. But if we are tied to them instead of to the Spirit of the Lord, we are not teaching the gospel in the Lord’s way.
“The Lord stressed that truth when he said: ‘Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit’ (D&C 11:12).
“This is the way we must teach the gospel” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 8–9).
AWESOME, AWESOME, AWESOME book!!
by Sam - reviewed on January 28, 2003
As stake leaders we were asked to read this book and passed around stake copies. I can't wait to get my own copy and read it again and mark it up and read it again and again. So inspired, and so needed by everyone.
I loved this lesson!!
by Cathy - reviewed on March 19, 2007
This is a talk that I will listen to many times! Elder Cook is such a good, humble man and a master teacher. I teach Gospel Doctrine and this has made me totally re-examine how I teach. I hope I will be able to strive more to teach with the Spirit as Elder Cook teaches. I am going to buy the book also. I highly recommend this CD!
by Rachel - reviewed on December 21, 2011
I read this right before I gave a talk, and I had to use faith (and much prayer!) in order to do so as taught by Elder Cook, but the result was wonderful - I have rarely had such immediate and overwhelming confirmation that I had chosen correctly while trying to follow the Spirit. Very inspiring!
To those members that I love this book is my gift of choice.
by Earl H. - reviewed on February 14, 2012
5 years ago my beautiful wife gave this book to me for my birthday. I had already borrowed a copy and read it 3 times. After it was my own book I read it again several more times, and portions of it over again many times. It has changed completely and permanently the way I teach and the way I give talks. Inside the book Elder Cook shows that the principles inside are not just for grownups either. To those stalwart members of the Church that I love, this book is my gift of choice. Earl H. Roberts, Noble Oklahoma