A Defense and a Refuge
By DeeAnn Cheatham
There are two significant examples in the scriptures where a people of Zion existed. One occurred when Christ came to the Americas and taught his gospel to the Nephites and the Lamanites. He then selected twelve apostles, who organized his church and continued to teach the people. After a few years, every person had converted to the Lord, creating a community where there was no contention because “the love of God did dwell in the hearts of all the people and every man dealt justly with each other” (4 Ne 1:2). “Surely there could not be a happier people” (4 Ne 1:16). This state of Zion lasted for almost two hundred years.
The city of Enoch is another example of a Zion community. Enoch was instructed by the Lord to preach repentance to the people. He did this for many years and eventually gathered the righteous and established a City of Holiness. They were surrounded by people who were described by the Lord as the most wicked of his creations (Moses 7:36). And yet, in the midst of all this sin, they were able to create a refuge and attain such a level of righteousness that eventually the entire city was taken up to heaven.
A refuge is a place of shelter, protection, or safety We are similarly surrounded by chaos and sin and need a refuge, a place of safety. Within our homes, wards, stakes, and communities, we can work to creates “pockets of refuge”. In D & C 115:5-6, the Lord stated:
Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.
Jesus Christ is the light and the standard that we are to hold up. Our lives can testify of Christ so that others can see him through us.
Characteristics of People of Zion
As mentioned earlier, lack of contention is one characteristic of people of Zion. This past General Conference we were reminded that contention is not of the Lord. Elder Dale G. Renlund stated:
When the Savior visited the Nephites, He taught, “There shall be no disputations among you. … He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” When we contend with each other in anger, Satan laughs and the God of heaven weeps. (Elder Dale G. Renlund, “The Peace of Christ Abolishes Enmity,” October 2021 General Conference)
There is so much contention in the world right now. We can ask ourselves “What can I do to foster love and solidarity rather than contention and division?”
Related characteristics of a Zion people include unity, holiness, and caring for the poor and needy, which Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught about in 2008:
Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens. Remember, “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard. It will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen.
To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon. (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light , 47). (D. Todd Christofferson, “Come to Zion,” General Conference, October 2008).
The Lord has said, “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.) When you can come to a unity of purpose, the Lord magnifies your efforts, making obstacles surmountable.
We become a holy people by being wholly focused on the Lord and by submitting our will to His. As we focus more on the Lord, and not our own desires, He can direct us to those things we need to do to build Zion. Elder Craig C. Christiansen spoke about this sanctification process:
Through the gift of the Holy Ghost, we receive added capacity and spiritual gifts, increased revelation and protection, steady guidance and direction, and the promised blessings of sanctification and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. All of these blessings are given as a result of our personal desire to receive them and come as we align our lives with the will of God and seek His constant direction. (Craig C. Christensen, An Unspeakable Gift from God, October 2012 General Conference)
And Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught this about the sanctification process:
The temptations and tribulations we experience, plus any testing that the Lord sees fit to impose, can lead to our full conversion and healing. But this happens if, and only if, we do not harden our hearts or stiffen our necks against Him. If we remain firm and steadfast, come what may, we achieve the conversion the Savior intended when He said to Peter, ‘When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,’ a conversion so complete that it cannot be undone. The promised healing is the cleansing and sanctification of our sin-wounded souls, making us holy.
I am reminded of our mothers’ counsel: “Eat your vegetables; it will do you good.” Our mothers are right, and in the context of steadfastness in the faith, “eating your vegetables” is to pray constantly, to feast on the scriptures daily, to serve and worship in the Church, to worthily take the sacrament each week, to love your neighbor, and to take up your cross in obedience to God each day.” (D. Todd Christofferson, Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ, October 2018 General Conference)
The idea that we can eliminate poverty seems overwhelming and unattainable. The church has many programs designed to provide for immediate needs as well as to help people lift themselves out of poverty. We can help by increasing our fast offerings and donations to the church humanitarian fund, and by supporting and sharing information about church employment, educational and self-reliance programs. In addition, there are many ways we can fight poverty in our community with other people and organizations.
As with anything, we can seek inspiration on how much time we can contribute outside the home.
As we create places of refuge, we are likewise preparing the earth for the Lord’s second coming. He can’t come until we are prepared to receive him. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
Crucial for the Lord’s return, is the presence on the earth of a people prepared to receive Him at His coming. He has stated that those who remain upon the earth in that day, ‘from the least [to] the greatest, … shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song, saying: The Lord hath brought again Zion. … The Lord hath gathered all things in one. The Lord hath brought down Zion from above. The Lord hath brought up Zion from beneath.’
In ancient times, God took the righteous city of Zion to Himself. By contrast, in the last days a new Zion will receive the Lord at His return. Zion is the pure in heart, a people of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness with no poor among them. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, ‘We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.’ We build up Zion in our homes, wards, branches, and stakes through unity, godliness, and charity.
This great and last dispensation is building steadily to its climax—Zion on earth being joined with Zion from above at the Savior’s glorious return. The Church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to prepare—and is preparing—the world for that day. (Elder D. Todd Christofferson “Preparing For The Lord’s Return,” April 2019 General Conference)
We are living in times of great sin and chaos. We can look to how we can hold up the standard of Christ in the communities in which we live. Each of us can pray for guidance on how we can share Christ’s light. Each of us can do our part in building places of refuge not only in our homes, wards, and stakes but also in the in our communities and help prepare the earth for the Lord’s Second Coming.
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DeeAnn Cheatham has been involved with FAIR for close to 20 years. She’s a homeschooling mom of two (one graduated and getting ready to serve a mission to Paris, France, and one almost there!) who enjoys continuing to learn, studying the gospel, and spending time with family. She’s been a stay at home mom for 19 years and has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and a Master’s in Public Administration from BYU. She served a mission from 1990-1992 in Warsaw, Poland. She lives in Burleson, Texas with her husband Dale, and two kids.