Robert C. Oakes, who served as a member of the Seventy (a high level position in the Mormon Church) for many years recently wrote about the subject of reverence, suggesting it is not just a topic for children. Reverence is an important part of worship for all followers of Christ.
When I teach young children, I often ask them what it means to be reverent. They normally respond, “Sit down and be quiet.” Teachers often tell children to be reverent when they really mean to tell them to behave, and so this is the definition most children have of the word. I follow up by asking them to listen to a story:
Susan is sitting in Primary (the children’s auxiliary in the Mormon Church) and is sitting very still. Her hands are in her lap, she isn’t talking, and she isn’t wiggling. She’s looking right at the teacher. Is she being reverent? The children say she is. Then I tell them there is more to the story. While she’s sitting still, not talking, not wiggling and looking at the teacher, she is thinking, “When I get home, I’m going to hit my brother. He was so mean to me this morning. I’m going to teach him a lesson.” I ask again, “Is Susan being reverent?” Even young children realize she is not being reverent, because although her body is doing the right thing, her mind is not.
I tell the children behavior is on the outside and reverence is on the inside. Then we sing a children’s song that emphasizes this message:
Rev’rence is more than just quietly sitting:
It’s thinking of Father above,
A feeling I get when I think of his blessings.
I’m rev’rent, for rev’rence is love. (Reverence is Love.)
Reverence is how we show our love for God and for Jesus Christ. Mormon churches have foyers meant for the inevitable socialization among a people who consider their congregation their second family. Once they enter the chapel or a classroom, they’re asked to stop socializing and to sit quietly, listening to the prelude music. Of course, that doesn’t always happen, but it’s the goal.
During the meeting, members remain quiet, listening to the speakers and doing whatever is needed to keep small children happy. In a Mormon church, even the tiniest child remains with his family during the main worship service, known as Sacrament Meeting. This allows children to be trained by their parents to be both reverent and well-behaved, and includes them in the spiritual life of the congregation.
True reverence, as mentioned above, is not just about sitting still and being quiet. While it’s certainly easier to feel the spirit when we’re well-behaved, our minds must also be focused on things of the spirit. As we walk through the chapel doors, we leave behind us the cares and thoughts of the world, and turn our full attention to God. In the quiet moments that are ours, we think of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, and during the time people are speaking, we listen carefully and stay alert for promptings from the Holy Ghost as to how the speaker’s message can apply to us in our own lives.
This three hour focus each Sunday on the things of the spirit helps Mormons to move into the outside world renewed and ready to face the moral and secular challenges of everyday life. We feel ready to tackle life and the gospel with renewed strength and energy.
Of course, Church isn’t the only place reverence is needed. We can feel the spirit every moment of our lives if we work hard to do so. As we go about our weekday chores and tasks, we can surround ourselves with things that will help us keep the Holy Ghost near. Playing spiritual music, thinking about the gospel and how to apply it to each aspect of our lives, and reading appropriate books ensure the spirit will be present. Mormons are taught that when the Spirit flees, they must flee also, and the Spirit cannot be where there is sin. Mormons work to create an appropriate environment for themselves whenever possible, decorating their homes with spiritual things among the secular ones, playing appropriate music, interacting kindly to family members, and engaging in service and other appropriate activities.
They try to bring the gospel into their homes as much as possible. Each morning they have prayer and scripture study. They have a spiritually based family night once a week. They select other gospel-centered activities to do throughout the week, ensuring that their religion is not a three-hours-on-Sunday religion, but an all day, every day religion that impacts every moment of their lives.
There are times, of course, when we cannot control our environments, such as at work or school. However, we can choose how we interact with that environment. We do not need to participate in gossip or gripe sessions. When inappropriate music is playing, we can move to another room, encourage a change of music, or put on headphones where allowed. If all else fails, we can tune out or ask to be placed in a less offensive environment.
While we can’t always control the music or the language around us, we are always in full control of our own thoughts. We can fill our minds with religious music, spiritually uplifting thoughts, and a pleasant attitude. It’s what we do with what we can control that determines the presence of the spirit.
Elder Oaks explained, “As we study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and gain an appreciation of the remarkable impact—both mortal and eternal—of His Atonement on our lives, we naturally experience the emotional responses of respect, love, and honor. Gospel obedience and Christian service then flow as appropriate expressions of these emotions. But without reverence, the expressions of respect, love, and honor are incomplete.
As we develop reverence for Jesus Christ, we are better able to pattern our lives after His perfect example. There are many facets to such reverence: faith that He lives, trust in His promised blessings, and obedience to gospel standards. But one of the most important facets is the feeling of our heart—the respect, love, and honor we feel toward Deity. We who respect, love, and honor the Lord will never take His name in vain and will be uncomfortable with demeaning or trivializing jokes about Him. Rather, we praise and revere our Heavenly Father and Him whom we worship as our Lord and our Savior.
The Lord gives clear direction regarding His expectation for reverence in Leviticus 19:30, where He states, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.” The respect we show for His temples and chapels is a reflection of the reverence for Him we feel in our hearts. Our degree of respect, love, and honor for the Lord is directly reflected in our reverence, as shown by our attitudes as well as by our decorum.” Robert C. Oaks, “Worship through Reverence,” Ensign, Dec 2009, 20–23
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.