(A letter written by a Stake President to his children in the Mission Field. This talk is also known as the “40-Day Missionary Fast talk. Take it as you wish.)
One day, a member informed us that he had an investigator that was ready to be taught and he volunteered to attend the first discussion. The discussion went along as usual. At the conclusion my companion and I bore witness of Joseph Smith and then turned to our friend. He paused for a moment, looked at the young lady and said, “I know that Joseph Smith was and is a Prophet of God.” The room was filled with an extraterrestrial force. The investigator started to cry.
As we walked home, I was baffled. That man said the exact same words that we had said, but the result was dramatically different. When he spoke, he had an influence that we did not have. There was no question that the influence was the Holy Ghost, but this man seemed to have it in a different way. There was still something to be learned. I had to find out what the secret was, so I returned to the scriptures. It seemed like we were so close to being effective and yet we just could not make it happen.
A Challenge to Purify
After several weeks of searching and praying, we attended a meeting and heard a well known Church leader. He spoke about the scriptures as a source of strength and about the process of spiritual influence. His words caused a burning in my soul. When he finished his address, I intentionally lingered behind. When I was finally alone with this man, I asked him for a few moments of his time. I explained my desire to be effective. I told him about the lesson I had learned. I told him that something was still missing. Finally, I asked him if he could tell me what it was.
He looked into my eyes and said nothing. Nearly a minute went by and I began to feel very uncomfortable. Finally he spoke. He said, “Elder, when those pretty young ladies pass you on the street, what do you think about?” Before I could answer, he asked, “Do you ever speak sarcastically to your junior companion?” “Do you get up at the designated time every morning?” “Do you keep every mission rule?”
His list of questions grew longer. Finally he said, “These are the things that keep the Holy Ghost from being your companion. If you want the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, then you must purify yourself. I will tell you how to do it. Go home and fast for a day. In the attitude of fasting and prayer, make a list of every behavior that pokes at your spirit. Once you have made your list, then go to the Lord. Covenant with the Lord that you will fast from the things on that list for 40 days. In other words, for 40 days, you will do nothing that appears on that list.
“You cannot just stop the old behavior and start the new ones. You need the help of the Lord. So each morning, go to the Lord and specifically promise Him that you will start each item on the list. Ask for His help so you can have extra strength and then, at night, go over your list with the Lord. If you failed on some items, figure out why. Tell the Lord. Ask for more strength the next day. Go through the process for 40 days. If you do, you will find that your most basic desires will change. Your spirit will flourish and the Holy Ghost will become your constant companion. You will become an effective tool in the hands of the Lord.”
The Process of Purification
We went home determined to make the concept work. We began to fast and we began to make a list. It proved much harder than we assumed it would be. I would pray and then I would feel impressed to write down some item. Then, arguing that there was nothing wrong with the particular thing, I would fight the impression. For example, I felt impressed to put golf on the list. My response was, “There is nothing wrong with golf. We only play on preparation day.” I ignored the fact that on the other six days, my mind continually dwelt upon how to play better. I wrestled with the Spirit and then finally wrote golf on the list. It is interesting that from the moment I wrote it on the list, I experienced the most intense desire to play golf. Everywhere I turned, there was some reminder, some temptation to break the commitment. So it was with each item on the list. Each day, I had to fight all my natural inclinations and turn to the Lord for the help necessary to overcome myself. Sometime between the 30th and 40th day, I suddenly realized that my desire for the things on the list had disappeared. It was as if a great anchor had been cut from me.
The Process of Surrender
The last morning, my companion and I knelt in prayer and then started out the door. I was impressed to go back and again pray. With unusual confidence, I addressed the Lord, “Father, these are thy children. We are now doing everything within our power to live the gospel. We turn the burden over to Thee. Please carry us the rest of the way.”
The Gifts of the Spirit
We went to our first appointment. Halfway through the discussion, our investigator began to make an excuse that he could not be baptized, because he did not believe that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. I interrupted him. “That is untrue. You do know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet. Your real fear is that your mother will disapprove if you join the Church. In the name of Jesus Christ, I promise you that your entire family will embrace the Gospel because of your courageous example. The Lord wants you to be baptized now and it is necessary that you comply.” I never before had done anything like that. In fact, I knew nothing about his mother. He had hardly mentioned her. While I could hardly believe what I had said, a familiar spirit filled the room. This brother began to weep. He committed to be baptized the following Saturday.
The experience repeated itself. At our very next meeting with each investigator, there was a celestial manifestation and everyone one of them was committed to baptism. In an eight-week period, sixteen people were baptized. It was an unusual number for our mission. While the number of baptisms was large, the truly impressive thing was the change in my companion and I. We were different people. Our most basic desires and motives had been altered. Credit and recognition were no longer of any consequence. For the first time in our lives, the things of God were more important than the “things of this world and honors of men.”
Our sensitivity deepened. We noticed how often we would cry. Several times a day we would be brought to tears by a prayer, a talk, a discussion, a scripture, or almost anything would deeply touch us. Our concern was continually focused upon others. For the first time, we could understand Nephi’s claim, “For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night” because of them. We could understand the statement because for the first time, we could understand Nephi’s motives.
The Holy Ghost became our constant companion because our motives had changed, because we had an eye single to the glory of God, the Lord could trust us and we experienced the power of the Priesthood and became effective tools in his hands.