In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are familiar with the phrase "my errand from the Lord" but what exactly is that errand? In the verse just quoted Jacob links his errand with being consecrated as a priest and a teacher of his people. Does that mean God's errand relates just to the priesthood or does He give errands to people who do not hold the priesthood?
An "errand" is a task, duty, chore, or job that someone is asked to perform. Therefore, an errand from the Lord means that the Lord assigns us a task, duty or job that He wants us to accomplish. But what kind of tasks would they be?
The answer to this question cannot be summed up in one word or phrase because the Lord has many jobs that need to be performed in different ways, at different times, and by many different people, but these errands can be broadly divided into two categories - general and specific.
God's work is all about bringing to pass the salvation of all His children. When we are baptized we make a covenant or a promise to help build up the kingdom of God, and the reason why God requires that commitment on our part is because God uses mortal men to bring about the salvation of all mankind.
To a Latter-day Saint, true salvation means becoming exalted in the highest degree of heaven, and God's plan for His children is not designed to help us achieve second best. God's goal is to help all of His children inherit all that He has, and anything less than this doesn't fit God's definition of salvation.
But salvation is not obtained in one moment or simply by partaking of certain ordinances. Rather it is a journey that each of us must complete for ourselves. The first step in that journey is to accept Christ. That's why we are commanded to preach the gospel and help bring people to Christ.
However, having someone understand the principles of faith, repentance and baptism only puts them at the beginning of the road that leads to salvation. From that starting point a person needs to be guided, helped, cared for, motivated, and encouraged to move forward to their final and full reward. This includes going to the temple to take upon ourselves essential covenants that are required to become exalted and then enduring to the end in keeping those covenants. We refer to this process as perfecting the saints.
However, there are untold millions of people who have died without ever hearing the gospel of Christ while living on earth therefore God has provided a way for them to hear about it in the spirit world. But without a physical body they can't fully partake of the ordinances necessary to be fully saved. Therefore, we the living, must perform the saving ordinances for them. We refer to this as redeeming the dead.
Therefore, the errand or duty that every baptized person has is to help and assist the Lord in building up His kingdom and we do that by preaching the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming the dead. Those are not three separate, independent activities but rather are three parts of one universal plan designed to save all of God's children. All three are necessary and where any one of these parts is missing, salvation is incomplete.
The kingdom of God is meant to be eternal but right now it is only in the construction phase. Right now we are merely building the kingdom of God. We are preparing the groundwork, setting the foundation, and erecting the super structure, but it won't be until after the resurrection that the building will be fully completed. However, this kingdom is not made of brick and mortar but with the hearts and souls of men. The kingdom of God isn't held together with nails and screws but with the righteousness of its inhabitants. So the errand of every member who has accepted Christ by entering into the waters of baptism is to help Christ build His kingdom in every way possible.
Those who have had the priesthood conferred upon them have also received another errand from the Lord. The priesthood is the power and authority to act in the name of God. For that very reason, the priesthood is not a passive noun but an action verb. It is not something we possess but something we use. As such, all who receive the priesthood have an errand from the Lord to perform certain general tasks.
All priesthood holders have a duty "to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church. And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking." This duty isn't dependant on us being specifically called to teach in Sunday School or in a priesthood class. All priesthood holders are called to be teachers of the gospel, but that doesn't mean we are to stand before an audience and give a lecture. Priesthood holders are representatives of Christ and Christ taught the gospel everywhere He went and in everything He did. As we study the life of our Master we learn that there are many different ways to teach and most of the time our teaching will happen in informal settings and at unexpected times, and in many cases the most powerful sermons we will preach will take place without the use of words.
Priesthood holders are also to "visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties, and also to assist other priesthood holders whenever necessary" (see D&C 20). We refer to this as home teaching and it is an errand that the Lord has given to every Melchizedek priesthood holder. The phrase "to watch over the Church" can more accurately be understood as saying "to care for the members of the church by watching over them in order to make sure they are progressing spiritually."
Home teaching is not just about getting into the home of each of our assigned families and visiting them. Real home teaching is all about caring for those we are assigned to watch over. We can think of home teachers as doctors who visit their patients once a month in order to take their spiritual pulse to make sure they are spiritually healthy, and they do this out of love and concern for those they visit.
Another errand priesthood holders have from the Lord is to preside over their homes in righteousness. That means they are required to treat their wives as the queens they may someday become and to raise up their children to love the Lord and help them gain salvation. It has been said that men are the kings of their homes. If that is true then our families are the kingdom we preside over now and hope to preside over after the resurrection. But if we want that kingdom to last forever then we need to learn how to preside as God does over His children because if we don't we may find that we won't have a kingdom to rule over in the eternities.
These are general errands that all men accept when they receive the priesthood but there are also other errands that are specific to each individual member of the church.
When we left our eternal home to come to earth we did so for the purpose of learning how to become spiritually ready and prepared to enter into our exaltation. However, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the only way to improve ourselves is by helping to improve others. This is what Jesus meant when He said "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25).
If we came here to prepare ourselves for exaltation, and exaltation is achieved by helping others, then it is certain that each of us came to earth with a specific mission to accomplish pertaining to the plan of salvation. We know that Joseph Smith's mission was to usher in the restoration of the gospel and when he had completed that assignment, which was His errand from the Lord, he was called home and Brigham Young then began to fulfill his life's mission. It is no accident of fate that each of the presidents of the Church lived to occupy that position. They came to earth with the mission to lead Christ's church at a particular point in time.
That general errand was specific to each of them individually but if the way to perfection is through service to others, and each of us came to earth to learn how to become perfected, then there can be no doubt that each of us were also given a life's mission, which we accepted as our errand from the Lord, before coming to earth.
That mission doesn't necessarily involve performing some grand or spectacular accomplishment. The most important unit of the Church and in the eternal kingdom of God is the family. To raise children to be worthy and capable of becoming exalted is not an insignificant errand. Rather, it is one of the most noble of all the errands from the Lord.
But, in order for someone to fulfill their life's mission, there are certain things that must be done to prepare them to succeed. Even though Joseph Smith was assigned in his pre-mortal life to be the prophet of the restoration, there were certain specific things he had to do on earth to qualify himself to complete his life's work. His first specific errand was to ask God which church was the right one. Had he not performed that one, simple task, the restoration might not have happened when it did.
Then came the specific errand to go to the hill Cumorah each year for three years and receive instructions from the angel Moroni. Next he was given a specific errand to translate and then publish the Book of Mormon. All throughout his life, the Lord kept giving Joseph specific errands for him to perform that, when taken together as a whole, helped him accomplish his life's mission.
Whenever anyone receives a calling in the Church, it comes from someone in authority who has received inspiration from the Lord to extend a particular calling to a particular person. Since all callings, in one way or another, are opportunities to serve others, therefore each calling we receive is an errand from the Lord given specifically to us to perform at a particular point in time. And the way we magnify our callings is by truly loving those whom we serve, and the way we serve them is by helping and assisting them along their journey to full salvation.
But there are other, more personal errands that the Lord gives us from time to time that come to us individually through inspiration. This can be illustrated by a true story. An LDS man had concluded a meeting at the church late one night and headed home as he had done many, many times before but on this particular night he had the impression to stop at a store and pick up a gallon of milk. His first reaction to this thought was that his family didn't need any milk but when the impression continued, he stopped at a convenience store along his way and bought a gallon of milk.
As he continued homeward along his regular route, he was impressed to turn down a street he had never gone before. Dismissing the thought he went past the street but the impression came back so strongly that he turned his car around and went on the street where he felt inspired to go. While traveling through an unknown neighborhood late at night he suddenly "heard" something telling him to stop immediately and park his car. The impression came to him so strongly that the man quickly pulled off the road and parked his car.
Sitting alone in the dark, the man felt bewildered and wondered why he was having these strange impressions but as he sat there thinking and looking around the neighborhood, he saw a house directly across the street from him and had the distinct impression to take the gallon of milk he had just bought to that house. At first the man thought this was a silly thing to do but when the impression continued he hesitantly got out of his car with the gallon of milk, walked across the street to a particular house, and timidly knocked on the door, hoping that no one would answer.
He waited a short moment and when no one answered his knock he felt relieved but as he turned to leave the door opened and he heard a stern voice say, "What do you want?" When he turned around he saw a young man standing in the doorway, wearing a dirty T-shirt and a crumpled looking pair of pants. His hair was messy and he looked unkempt. Sheepishly the LDS man held up the gallon of milk and said, "Would you like to have this?"
The young man in the doorway stared at the man in front of him for what seemed a long time as though looking at a lunatic, then, without closing the door, he turned around and hurried inside the house. The man outside stood frozen in place, not knowing what to do. Then, a short time later the young man returned to the front door but this time he had his wife with him and in her arms was a small child.
"Why are you giving us this milk?" the young man asked. The LDS member shrugged and sheepishly said "I felt impressed to do it. Do you want it or not?" Then a tear started to run down the face of the young man as he explained, "We're out of money and have no food in the house but our baby needs milk. We had just been praying to God to help us find a way to get some when you knocked on our door."
Even though not all errands from the Lord are this dramatic (although this story is far from unique) the Lord often calls on us to perform unexpected tasks at unusual times that are designed to bring aid, comfort, or help to others. As illustrated by the previous story, many times we don't know why we are being prompted by the Spirit to do certain things and it is not unusual for us to never know the good we may have done after completing such a divine errand.
The question then becomes: How do we know when a prompting is from the Lord or from our own imagination and therefore whether or not we should act on it? The Lord answered that question when He said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
In order to recognize the voice of the Lord when He speaks, a person needs to know the Lord on a personal level, and the closer we align our thoughts and our behavior to His, the easier it becomes for us to distinguish His voice from all the other voices calling out to us, including our own thoughts. But even when we are not sure why we feel prompted to do something, as long as we have a heart willing to follow the Lord, He will continue to prompt us until we listen. And as we feel that continued prompting, we will find ourselves following the Spirit even when we don't consciously know why.
By way of contrast, those who don't have a heart that is willing to assist the Lord in His work will often find themselves ignoring the promptings of the Spirit, rationalizing it away and resisting the impulse to follow its direction. Yet, afterwards, many of these people will regretfully tell themselves, "I should have listen to that thought."
If we want to draw closer to the Lord and better understand what the Lord wants us to do, there is no better place to go than the temple. The temple is a house of revelation as well as a house of prayer. It is a place where we can go to find answers, to seek for guidance, to receive inspiration, to draw closer to God, and be spiritually strengthened. The Lord beckons us to come visit Him at His house so He can bless us in more ways than we can imagine.
Since it is certain that nearly all of us came to earth to fulfill some kind of a general mission, it is fairly common for people to wonder what it is they are supposed to do. Their fear is that if they don't know what their mission is then they might not accomplish it. However, such fears are unfounded because if God wanted us to remember our life's mission He wouldn't have placed a veil of forgetfulness over our minds. Since we can't remember what we are supposed to do in this life - which is by divine design - then it becomes God's responsibility to guide and assist us in fulfilling it.
It is quite rare that the Lord tells us ahead of time why or for what purpose He is prompting us to act but that's okay because we don't need to know what the Lord is doing or what role we play in His plan. The only thing that should be important to us is following the Lord when He calls or prompts us to act.
In 1820 when fourteen year old Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees on his father's farm to vocally ask God in prayer which church was true, he had no idea that he was about to become the prophet of the restoration. In fact, nearly ten years later, after translating and publishing the Book of Mormon, he still had no idea of where his life was headed. But, it didn't matter because as long as he was willing to follow each prompting he received from the Lord at the time when it came, he was eventually able to complete his mission to its fullest.
When we are willing to follow the Savior and are open to heeding the promptings of the Spirit, we never need to worry if we are fulfilling our errand from the Lord