A spiritual hunger seems to be covering the earth, but many people who profess a belief in God appear confused about where to look to find Him. In many nations today, the spiritual search seems to be heading more and more away from "traditional" religion and toward "the inner self" or other forms of meditation.
A recent World Values Survey conducted in 60 countries by the University of Michigan found the United States leads all developed countries in church attendance. Forty-four percent of U.S. respondents said they attend church service once a week. That compares with 38 percent in Canada, 27 percent in Great Britain, 21 percent in France, but just 4 percent in Sweden and 2 percent in Russia. (Washington Post Weekly National Edition, Jan. 12, 1998, p. 37.)If the United States fared well among developed nations it ranks far down the list when countries from the Third World are included. Nigeria tops the list with 89 percent weekly church attendance; in the Philippines, 68 percent are weekly churchgoers as are 56 percent in South Africa. In fact, the survey notes that churches in Latin America are now sending missionaries to northern Europe to "save the souls of their former colonizers," according to the summary.
But what is distressing is that in developed countries, a majority, it seems, have dropped weekly church attendance as a way for spiritual renewal. Latter-day Saints know well that weekly sacrament meeting attendance can help replenish our spiritual reserves.
"And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day." (D&C 59:9.)
Many people choose to ignore the value of Sabbath worship. They appear content to commune with nature, and say they feel the Spirit there. Others find what they believe to be the Spirit in a poem or a song or in some other undefined "religious" activity. But for Latter-day Saints, if we truly wish to feel the Spirit - to truly commune with God - we must give ourselves to Him and conduct our lives in such a manner that we remain open to "the still small voice" when it speaks. Church attendance in the company of other believers enhances the experience.
But mere attendance at church is not good enough. With attendance must come an increased spirituality.
Speaking of spirituality, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "If I were a bishop or stake president today, . . . I would try to put my major efforts on building the spirituality of the people. I would work as hard as I knew how to work in building their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in God our Eternal Father, in the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of this work and what it all means and what it is all about. I would encourage my people to read the scriptures, to read the Book of Mormon, to read the New Testament. I would urge them with all the capacity I have to read quietly and thoughtfully and introspectively." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 608.)
Sometimes obtaining the Spirit takes concerted effort, such as hours of prayer and fasting. Other times the Spirit arrives with seemingly little effort - as in an answer to a prayer or in the choked tears of a testimony-bearer.
Latter-day Saints know the Lord has harsh words for those who choose to ignore Him:
"They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy." (D&C 101:7-9.)
As individuals become more familiar with things of the Spirit, they become teachable, humble, more interested in the things of God and less concerned with life's distractions. The worldly desire to accumulate things is replaced with a godly desire to gain spirituality and help others attain it.
We testify to others that there is a divine purpose to our existence, a divine message waiting for each of us, if we will but yield to the enticings of the Spirit. Attendance at our sacrament meetings should be a central part of our spiritual quest.