As a ship plies waters in cold climes, it sometimes accumulates ice alongside its hull. The ice sticks to the ship's skin, much like ice or frost sticks to our fingers when we touch an ice cube tray in a freezer. With the added weight of the ice on its hull, the ship is beset, unable to move forward.
In such a situation, specially designed ships called icebreakers come to the rescue. Sometimes it takes two days to free a stranded ship; at other times a vessel is set free within a matter of hours. The captain of the Neah Bay, a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, described the rescue procedure: "When a ship becomes stranded, its captain calls us and lets us know their position. We do circles around the stranded ship and create relief cracks between our vessel and the beset vessel so the ice comes off from around the hull and permits the ship to go forward again. This procedure is called giving direct assistance."Routinely, icebreakers do preventive maintenance. "We prevent ships from becoming stranded," the captain explained. "Before a vessel transits the area, we try to work the ice back and forth, creating a broken trail for the ship to follow. We try to maintain that track in the channel so other vessels also can follow. Ships usually can get through the broken pieces, but they can't get through if they hit a solid chunk of ice."
If ships were unable to get through ice-clogged shipping lanes, financial losses would be staggering. For example, had icebreakers not cleared tracks in the Great Lakes this past winter, steel companies would have been forced to shut down at costs soaring into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Keeping channels open is important. When we speak of channels in our personal lives, we usually refer to channels of communication between us and our families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The most important channel of communication, however, is between us and our Heavenly Father. We must ever strive to keep this channel clear.
Just as ice blocks a shipping lane, sin or bad habits prohibit us from progressing in our onward journey. And sometimes we encounter or pick them up when we least expect. As with ice building up on a ship's hull, they usually come upon us gradually, in bits and pieces. At first, we may not even be aware of their presence or the danger they bring, but eventually we feel their drag and are beset, halted in our forward progress. Repeated efforts might be required to break us free from their restraining hold. The cost could be high.
When our forward progress is halted, we lose precious time and miss wonderful opportunities. While repentance allows us to resume our journey, we are better off if we live in such a manner that we do not have to go through that process.
President Ezra Taft Benson said: "What increases our favor with God? One of the purposes of life is to be proved to see if we `will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our GodT shall command [usT.' (Abr. 3:25.) In short, we are to learn the will of the Lord and do it. We are to follow the model of Jesus Christ and be like Him.
"God's will for you can be determined from three sources: The scriptures - particularly the Book of Mormon. Inspired words from the Lord's anointed - counsel from prophets, seers, and revelators. Local Church leaders likewise are also entitled to give inspired direction for those over whom they preside. The Spirit of the Lord. The people of the world have the Light of Christ to help guide them, but we are entitled to the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the Holy Ghost to be fully operative in our lives, we must keep the channels clear of sin. The clearer our channels, the easier it is for us to receive God's message. And the more of His promptings we receive and follow, the greater will be our joy." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 343.)
Our own efforts to keep the channels clear might be regarded as preventive maintenance, which includes studying and pondering the scriptures, heeding the counsel of the Lord's chosen servants, and relying upon the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
As we follow the first two sources President Benson listed, we place ourselves in a position to receive direct assistance from the Holy Ghost, the third source of assistance. By breaking the ice or clearing the path, so to speak, the Holy Ghost helps us keep on course during the return voyage to our eternal home.