As Actors and Spectators
Brothers and sisters, what a pleasure it is for Sister Kimber and I to be with you today, to be gathered together in this historic hall, but most importantly, to be with you. I have a great deal of confidence that when Abraham had his vision of the pre-earth life and he saw many of the noble and great ones[i], he saw your faces. I am confident in that because I have seen your actions and taken note of your behavior. I also know that you have been reserved to come forth in the final dispensation of the fullness of times, where you would need to counteract and fight against the evil that surrounds us. And I am most grateful to be with you today. As I look at your smiling faces and know of your good countenances, I feel that I am among friends, and for that I thank you.
As I begin my remarks today, I’d like to start by expressing my sincere desire for you and me to more fully understand our divine roles so that we may act accordingly before God. As I attempt to convey something of worth to you this morning, I am less concerned about the words you will hear me speak and more concerned about the impressions you will feel. And I am most concerned about what you will commit yourself to do as a result of any spiritual promptings you might be privileged to receive. For in doing the will of the Father, we come to know the truthfulness of His doctrine;[ii] we enjoy the divinely appointed blessings associated with our obedience;[iii] and most importantly, we demonstrate our love to Him and His Son.[iv] I pray for the influence of the Holy Ghost to be with us during our brief time together this morning, and I humbly invite you to pray for me and for you, that the Spirit of the Lord may be with us that we may understand one another and be edified.[v]
When I was about nine or ten years old, my parents bought season tickets to Abravanel Hall, which is a concert hall just across the street from where we are today. I think my parents were trying to expose me to a form of entertainment outside of video games and movies. I certainly had my reservations at first, but I actually ended up enjoying most of the performances—most of them. We saw symphonies, musicals, a ballet, and even a magic show. I learned that there is something special about watching live performers on a stage rather than on a screen. I especially enjoy it when there is a good moral to the story—one with a powerful message that prompts me to apply positive changes in my life.
President Boyd K. Packer has observed that theatrical productions serve as a good metaphor for life. In a 1995 fireside for young adults, he said the following:
The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled “Premortal Life.” The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26–28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, is the “Second Estate.” And Act III, “Life After Death or Eternal Life.”[vi]
According to President Packer, we are now experiencing Act 2 of this grand three-act play, which is our mortal probation. I’d like to explore this metaphor further as we compare our current state of existence to the second act of a three-act play.
The Prophet Lehi observed that there are “both things to act and things to be acted upon.”[vii] Applied to our metaphor, we could say that there are either actors or spectators in this great play of life—in other words, those who act and those who are acted upon.
Now, I would like to assume that all of us here today rarely if ever play the part of a spectator. However, I think it is beneficial to identify the characteristics of a spectator so that we don’t find ourselves slipping into this role.
The spectator attends a play with the expectation of being entertained. In some cases, the spectator might also attend a play to be seen by others. Attending an upscale production can be seen as a chance to socialize and to mingle with others who see themselves as extraordinary members of an elite society. When the play ends the spectators blissfully return to their homes, never to apply the lessons taught by what they observed on stage. While spectators like this might seem to be a result of modern society, they have been around for thousands of years.
Over two thousand years ago, a handful of Nephite missionaries led by Alma the Younger set out to cry repentance to the people of Zoram. Now, please keep in mind the characteristics of a spectator as we examine the behavior of the Zoramites. “Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them. But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes.”[viii] In other words, the Zoramites had retired from acting in order to assume the idle practice of spectating. Alma and his missionary companions observed that “the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord.”[ix] Yet, the Zoramites made feeble attempts to worship God by offering up vain, repetitive prayers on a tower known as the Rameumptom. Like the hypocritical Pharisees of Christ’s time, the Zoramites “[loved] to pray standing in the synagogues . . . that they [might] be seen of men.”[x] After offering their superficial prayers, the Zoramites would then “[return] to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again.”[xi]
What was it about the Zoramites that changed them from actors to spectators? As it pertains to how they worshiped, they had an expectation of being entertained rather than an inclination to be inspired. They attended their worship services to be seen of men—to assume only the appearance but not the substance of true discipleship. While they may have spoken about godly things on the Sabbath, they neglected to remember their God and keep His commandments. Perhaps the Savior would have defined the Zoramites for us by saying that “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”[xii]
I think it would be beneficial for us to reflect on how we worship our Redeemer on the Sabbath day and throughout the week. Please consider the following questions:
· Do I ever find myself wishing that the speakers or teachers at Church were more entertaining?Ninety percent of you are wishing this right now. And I think the other ten percent are probably asleep.
· Do I attend Church meetings hoping that others will take notice of my pious devotion?
· Do I ever engage in socializing when I should be listening to spiritual guidance and instruction?
· Do I attend my Sunday meetings only to fall into a state of spiritual idleness during the rest of the week?
If you find yourself answering “yes” to any of these questions, perhaps you also felt a prompting to improve. I declare that through the grace of Christ, you and I can improve. We must improve. Attending our Sunday meetings is important, yet we need to remember that even the idle spectator makes the effort to attend the performance. We cannot afford to play the role of a spectator on this great stage of life. We must be actors—those who take righteous action. But becoming an actor takes desire and effort.
An actor must first know the role that he or she plays. Then, the actor must know the script from beginning to end. Knowing the entire script will help put the individual actor’s role into proper context. Every play has leading roles and supporting roles. A good actor will develop a relationship of unity and trust with all the other actors. An actor must also be willing to follow the instructions given by the director. The best actors have learned how to truly become the characters that they were cast to be.
Now let’s examine—with a spiritual lens—the individual principles that make for an effective actor. First, an actor must become intimately familiar with the role or roles which he or she will play. The roles that we play will differ from day to day. For example, in any given day, you might be called upon to act as a friend, a son or daughter, a parent, an employee, a spouse, a student, or a leader. Regardless of what roles we play, we need to be familiar with how our roles should be played. The Lord revealed the importance of this principle to the Prophet Joseph Smith as follows: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.”[xiii] Men and women alike should learn their roles and responsibilities and then act accordingly.
Sometimes, I think it becomes difficult to magnify a particular role when we view that role as small or insignificant. When I was in high school, I had a supporting role in a musical production. One of my peers mentioned to the director that he was not happy with the “small role” that he had been given. He wanted to have a leading role where he would enjoy more of the spotlight. Our wise director kindly yet firmly responded, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” That simple phrase has stuck with me, and I have tried to apply it to the many different roles and assignments that I am asked to fill. I testify that each and every one of us plays an important role to play in life’s grand play.
The Apostle Paul taught this same principle when he said:
For the body is not one member, but many.
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.[xiv]
Some members of the body are more visible—and yes, even perhaps more vital than others—but all are needed. President David O. McKay lived by an old Scottish motto that states: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” We would do well to recognize the importance of this principle and then act accordingly.
Next, an actor must know the script in its entirety. The script will help the actor know what to say and what to do on stage. In fact, one definition of the word script is “a plan of action.” All of us here should be studying the same script. I think you know what I am alluding to. The words scripture and script come from the same Latin root word. The scriptures do indeed reveal a plan of action for our existence. This plan, or script, is a plan of happiness, redemption, and salvation. Beginning with the first man, Adam, God has called holy prophets to teach us this great plan. Never before in the history of the world has any generation had more access to the scriptures than we have. Yet, despite this unprecedented access to holy writ, the Savior has warned: “Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine; and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them.”[xv] If we are unclear about the plan that God has for us while here in mortality, we will undoubtedly make costly mistakes.
Reading regularly from the scriptures not only gives us doctrinal understanding and enlightenment, but we will also be protected and fortified against the evils around us. When Laman and Lemuel questioned their brother Nephi about the interpretation of their father’s dream, Nephi exhorted them in this manner: “And I said unto them that [the rod of iron] was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”[xvi] I would like to add my personal witness that reading the scriptures can give us guidance and inspiration. I have received such guidance many times as I have pondered and read the scriptures. These blessings come to all who study the scriptures with a sincere desire to discover the Lord’s will. I echo the words of the prophet Nephi who invited us to “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold,” said he, “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”[xvii]
In addition to learning the script, an actor must also learn how to interact with the other cast members. Good actors foster a sense of unity and mutual respect. Think about all of the different people that you interact with on any given day. There are some really good people in the world.; you and I have the opportunity to serve alongside “many of the noble and great ones.”[xviii] In the callings and assignments that I have been given over the years, I have served with many faithful and stalwart Latter-day Saints. Working at LDS Business College has been no exception to that. I feel that the people I work with here at the College are some of the most elect individuals on the planet. We are united and blessed as we have sincere desires for you as the students, and as we build the kingdom of God on the earth. There is great power that comes to a group of humble servants when they unanimously act together. This power comes from the influence of Deity. Our Savior has taught, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.”[xix]
This principle became clear to me as a young man. At the end of my junior year in high school, I was asked to serve on the seminary council. Our first assignment as a council that summer was to come up with a scriptural theme for the upcoming school year. We were scheduled to be studying the Old Testament that year, and so that’s the volume of scripture that we had to select a theme from. We took a few weeks to study the Old Testament, pray, and fast about what our theme should be. When we met together to discuss that theme, I expected to hear a myriad of proposed references. As the president of the council, my plan was to make a list of every different reference and then have a vote to see which one would be our theme. Yet, to my great surprise, no vote was necessary. As we went around the table, one by one, each member of our council repeated the same scriptural reference along with their own unique experience of how they were led to this singular verse of scripture. Just think about the odds of that for a moment—twelve very unique teenagers had independently been led to a singular verse of scripture. We had over 31,000 verses of scripture to choose from. This was not a case of mere happenstance. We had no doubt what our scriptural theme would be. Our decision was unanimous, and the Spirit of the Lord ratified that decision. I testify that miracles such as this happen in the councils of the Church and in righteous families all over the world. Elder M. Russell Ballard has witnessed, “I know we can accomplish [God’s] work better through unity and love as we sit in council one with another.”[xx]
Perhaps more important than an actor’s relationship with his or her co-stars is an actor’s relationship with the director. An actor must be submissive enough to take counsel and guidance from the director. Our director happens to be an omniscient and omnipotent being who knows our divine potentials. We call Him Father, and He knows us as His sons and daughters. It is critical to our salvation that we come to know the Father and develop a strong relationship with Him. Jesus Christ taught: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”[xxi] The way in which we come to know God is by following the example of Jesus Christ. We know that the Beloved Son is perfectly obedient to His Father. We must strive to do the same. We are the literal spirit children of our Father in Heaven and must therefore “becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.”[xxii] I love my Father in Heaven. He has blessed me in immeasurable ways. The Apostle John has declared: “We love him, because he first loved us.”[xxiii] I aim to prove my love to Him by being obedient to His commandments.[xxiv] I bear witness that God Almighty is the Father of our spirits.[xxv] I pray that each of us can cultivate a personal relationship with our Father and then act accordingly to deepen that divine relationship.
The best actors have learned how to truly become the characters that they were cast to be. They relinquish their own natural qualities and image to assume the qualities and image of another. The character that each of us should strive to become like is none other than our Savior, Jesus Christ. Indeed, our Redeemer invites us to be like Him. He said, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”[xxvi] Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and I can become new creatures.[xxvii] I love the soul-searching questions posed by the prophet Alma:
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?[xxviii]
As you and I strive to portray the image of Christ through our thoughts, words, and actions, we will be prepared to inherit the role which all of us were destined to play.[xxix]
Now, let’s review the pattern for acting more effectively as disciples of Christ:
· First, “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.”Remember, in the Lord’s kingdom every member matters. Regardless of how big or small you think your role is, the Lord can use you to bring about His purposes. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most of the Lord’s work is accomplished through small and simple means.[xxx]
· Second, study the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets.Studying from and pondering on the scriptures will help you discover your personal plan of action. “The words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”[xxxi]
· Third, act in unison with those you labor with.There is great power that comes from a group of individuals acting as one in order to achieve a common purpose. This will require great humility and love.
· Fourth, develop a meaningful relationship with the Father and learn to trust His counsel.You never have to worry about Him lying to you or giving you bad advice. He will never betray your trust. Following His plan will lead to everlasting joy and peace.
· Fifth, assume the characteristics of Christ.Forsake your own natural tendencies and adopt the qualities and image of the Savior. Then, when He shall appear you shall be like Him and be pure even as He is pure.[xxxii]
Now my dear friends, it is my hope and prayer that we will put off the way of the spectator and assume our roles as actors. One of the main reasons the Church was organized was to teach us how we should act. Jesus Christ has said,
And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given.
And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.[xxxiii]
I love that phrase, “bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.”
As Latter-day Saints, I think that we are pretty effective at instructing one another on how we should act. Just think about how all the times that you’ve received instruction on gospel principles over the last month. There’s Sunday School, priesthood and Relief Society meetings, family home evening, Institute classes, sacrament meeting, and weekly devotionals here at the Business College.
You and I are routinely invited to apply principles of truth. Yet, I wonder how effective we are at committing ourselves to act upon the invitations we receive. I fear that too many of us receive instruction as though we were spectators. We may enjoy what is being taught, and we may even write it down. But then what? Do we follow the Lord’s pattern of binding ourselves to act on what we’ve been taught? My invitation for you today is to bind yourselves to act. If you feel inspired to write down a principle of truth, make sure you act on it. When we fail to act on what we know to be true, we are merely spectating. That is not the role that you and I were foreordained to play.
As you go forward with a renewed commitment to act upon the truth you receive, it would greatly enrich my life if you would share your experiences with me. I would love to hear about how you acted on a spiritual prompting or how you acted on an invitation from a Priesthood leader. Reading those experiences, for me, would be such a tremendous blessing.
My brothers and sisters, I hope you know that the Lord needs you to act. You and I must live to act. We must act in the name of Christ, in all that we do.[xxxiv] Our time on this great stage of life is limited. Every performance must end with the lowering of the curtains. “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”[xxxv] Let us bind ourselves to act in all holiness and forsake idleness. I know that God lives, that He loves us, and that He directs our lives in love and righteousness. I leave you my witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i]See Abraham 3:22
[ii]See John 7:17
[iii]See Doctrine & Covenants 130:20–21
[iv]See John 14:15
[v]See Doctrine & Covenants 50:22
[vi]Boyd K. Packer, “The Play and the Plan,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, May 7,1995
[vii]2 Nephi 2:14
[xii]Joseph Smith–History 1:19
[xiii]Doctrine & Covenants 107:99
[xiv]1 Corinthians 12:14,17–18
[xv]Doctrine & Covenants 10:63
[xvi]1 Nephi 15:24
[xvii]2 Nephi 32:3
[xix]Doctrine & Covenants 6:32
[xx]M. Russell Ballard, “Strength in Counsel,” Oct. 1993 General Conference
[xxiii]1 John 4:19
[xxiv]See John 14:15
[xxv]See Romans 8:16
[xxvi]3 Nephi 27:27
[xxvii]See 2 Corinthians 5:17
[xxix]See Mosiah 27:26
[xxx]See Alma 37:6
[xxxi]2 Nephi 32:3
[xxxii]See Moroni 7:48
[xxxiii]Doctrine & Covenants 43:8–9
[xxxiv]See Moses 5:8