On whatever you are writing on may I invite you to write the following: “As a disciple of Jesus Christ I will…” Then throughout our time together listen to the still small voice and perhaps today or at a later time, you will feel inspired to write some responses to that statement. Don’t force it. Let it come under the direction of the spirit.
I have noticed that often as members of the Church we are hypercritical of ourselves. We unrighteously judge ourselves. We can become convinced that, although I may have done a few notable things in life, for the most part I am not quite Celestial material. There are precious few times where we truly feel like the Lord is pleased with our efforts, especially as we compare them to those who we feel are more Celestial than us. These individuals, we are convinced, read the scriptures more than us and understand them better, have better family scripture study and family home evenings than us, attend the temple more frequently than we do, are better home and visiting teachers, better missionaries, have better children and a better marriage! The list is endless. Often these feelings are coupled with the notion that we are not fully forgiven of past or current sins and mistakes. Quite a load to carry, and a stark contrast to “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:30).
The Savior wants our hope, faith and self-esteem to be kept alive! I testify that a daily studying of the scriptures can be like a bank account of hope in which we can make unlimited withdrawals.
The scriptures contain many wonderful verses that will keep our hope burning brightly if we reflect on them and allow the Spirit to testify of their truths. For example, hows this for hopeful? In Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43 the Lord said to Joseph Smith, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” Can you imagine? He remembers them no more. But, what about us?
It is a natural man tendency, and sometimes a temptation from the Father of all Lies, to focus on failures and weaknesses instead of on the victories and good deeds of our lives. It is imperative that we learn to see ourselves not at our worst moments but as a child fully engaged in the developmental process of mortality. Perfection is messy.
With that perspective in mind, we might visualize a conversation with our Eternal Judge. It is not suggested that the following dialogue is an accurate image of the Judgment, or an attempt to be, yet it is doctrinally correct to state that the Lord faithfully records all our righteous thoughts, words and deeds and that His mercy consists in focusing on the good actions of our lives. In that context then, imagine you are seated in a comfortable chair next to your Eternal Judge, who will interview you about your efforts in life. At first you are somewhat apprehensive. Perhaps one of the questions you are asked is, “What kind of missionary were you?” Think for just a moment how you might respond…With some anxiety perhaps you respond with, “I tried.” He answers, “Let us see.” A scene is then opened up before you like an IMAX 3D movie which keeps changing as you witness experiences from your life. You are shown everything you have ever done to share the gospel. You see efforts with your friends, full-time missions, stake and ward missionary efforts. You are shown certain individuals you knew and with whom you shared the gospel or engaged in gospel conversations. You see many acts of kindness and fellowship with people from your neighborhoods or places of employment. Every tiny detail of your life is recorded that has anything to do with proclaiming the gospel.
When he is finished, the Judge turns to you and asks: “Did you share the gospel?”
You look at him, still in rather a tentative manner, not quite sure of yourself, and answer, “Yes?” You probably follow that hesitant yes by asking, “But what about all my failures?”
“Tell me about your failures,” he replies.
You recount to him all the times you felt you had failed to share the gospel correctly or often enough. You can remember those aspects of your nature perfectly. He listens patiently and then, smiling, assures you, “I don’t remember that.” You look up at him in surprise. How could he remember all your efforts and yet forget your failures?
Without giving you more time to think, he may then ask, “What kind of disciple were you?” A similar conversation will occur. Then he might ask you another question, “Were you obedient to my commandments?” And another conversation ensues. Each time you review your past successes, you explain in detail your failures, and he patiently replies, “I don’t remember that.”
The interview continues through many other questions, perhaps including such questions as, “Were you a good wife or husband? Were you a good mother or father? Were you a good son or daughter to your parents and a good brother or sister to the other children in your family? Did you follow the counsel of the prophets?” Each time you answer, “I tried,” he shows you the positive things you have done in each area. When you tell him your failures, he continues to respond, “I don’t remember that.” Every time he repeats those simple words, hope burns more brightly in your heart, and you more deeply understand the many descriptions of his character recorded in the scriptures as a Redeemer, Deliverer, Savior and Mediator. “Behold, He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
As we continually repent and seek His grace, the Savior of us all is far more interested in the positive parts of our lives than in the negative parts. When we feel and understand that about our own relationship with the Lord, we will be constantly encouraged to do better as His disciples.
Joseph Smith made a statement that many Latter-day Saints have felt and can totally relate to when he said, “I often felt condemned for my weaknesses and imperfections” (Joseph Smith-History 1:29).
The greatest fear for many of us is the fear of spiritual failure-not of massive failure, but of not quite measuring up to the standard established by our Father in Heaven. We’re afraid we’ll miss heaven by inches, not yards.
We often see ourselves as B+ disciples. We are not bad people, but we experience sufficient unease about our personal discipleship to feel the constant pressure of the weight of our shortcomings or sins. We try hard, but our efforts often fall short.
There may be low days in our lives where we think we can imagine the Lord saying, “You made a great effort, and your work is good. I cannot give you an A, but you are a solid B+, and I have a lovely little kingdom for B+ people.” In our worst moments of fear or doubt, the B+ slips into the C and D range, or worse, and we falter.
During these times, we can and must receive great comfort from the words of the Lord as written by ancient prophets like Isaiah: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . .For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10,13). Or in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says, “Fear not to do good. . . . fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Behold, I do not condemn you. . . .perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:33-36).
In spite of our weaknesses the Savior still personally invites all of us to be His disciples. Knowing perfectly our weaknesses and sins the Savior still extends the invitation to: “Come follow me.” In its simplest sense, a disciple of Christ is one who has accepted that invitation to follow Him and has, by covenant, placed himself on that strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life. Following Christ along that path, however, is not like auditing a class in college. Lets be honest, it does require great effort on our part. For example, the Savior said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This, I believe, was a prophetic reference to Christ’s future trudge up Calvary carrying the instrument of his own death on his own back, a burden so difficult that even he collapsed under its weight. Of course, he was God. He who blessed the people of Alma with such strength to bear their burdens “that even [they could not] feel them on [their] backs” (Mosiah 24:14) had the power to lighten the burden of his own cross and even to stop his crucifixion at any time. Yet he surrendered his will to that of his Father and submitted to all things that his persecutors heaped upon him, so that the atonement could be accomplished. Likewise, taking up our cross and following the Savior requires surrendering our wills to his and “submit[ting] to all things that the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19) As difficult as that may be, the reward is infinitely greater than the price we pay, for by so doing we qualify for the Savior’s infinite atonement.
Moroni described the process and conditions of qualifying for that atonement this way:
Yeah, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if you shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; ...
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, by the shedding of the blood of Christ… that ye become holy, without spot.
(Moroni 10: 32-33)
Will you think for just a moment…How are you denying yourself of all ungodliness? How did you do that this morning? How will you do it the rest of the day? True disciples learn how to do this every day.
Obviously if we are to deny ourselves of all ungodliness we would need to remove from our lives those unholy and impure practices, desires, appetites and passions that prevent us from having the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Immorality and pornography are obvious examples today, but there are less pernicious personal pleasures that fall into that category. For example Elder Christofferson taught something in general conference that might resonate with some of you when he said:
Music, literature, art, dance, drama, athletics – all can provide entertainment to enrich one’s life and further consecrate it. At the same time, it hardly needs to be said that much of what passes for entertainment today is coarse, degrading, violent, mind-numbing and time wasting. Ironically, it sometimes takes hard work to find wholesome leisure. When entertainment turns from virtue to vice, it becomes a destroyer of the consecrated life.
(“Reflections on a Consecrated Life,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, p. 16)
Will you think for just a moment about the music you have on your phone or electronic device…How about the photos….How about the movies or tv shows you watch…or the video games you play…can any of them be described as “coarse, degrading, violent, mind numbing or time wasting?” If the answer is yes, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, what are you willing to delete? Today?
What about loving God with all our might, mind and strength – What does that kind of love actually look like? Think about someone on Earth that you love or would like to love. If you loved that person with all your might, mind and strength, how would you behave? Certainly you would praise that person regularly and spend as much time as you could with him or her. If we were to love God with all our might, mind and strength, our behavior would include not just “saying prayers” but heartfelt communication from a child to a loving Heavenly Father; we would not just “watch a couple of general conference sessions in our pajamas lying on the couch”, but we would feast upon the messages of Christ given through prophets, seers and revelators constantly looking for personal application; we would do more than just attend sacrament meeting-instead we would see the bread and water as emblems of the Saviors body and blood and partake reverently with a hunger to repent and remember Him always; we would do more than attend a session at the temple but instead we would participate in sacred ordinances thirsting after the living water found therein; we would express gratitude more frequently, and look for those around us whose hands hang down and whose knees are feeble and weak.
President Uchtdorf said the following in a general conference address:
It is not enough merely to speak of Jesus Christ or proclaim that we are His disciples. It is not enough to surround ourselves with the symbols of our religion. Discipleship is not a spectator sport. We cannot expect to experience the blessings of faith by standing inactive on the sidelines any more than we can experience the benefits of health by sitting on the sofa watching sporting events on television and giving advice to the athletes. And yet for some, “spectator discipleship” is a preferred if not a primary way of worshipping.
(“The Way of the Disciple,” Ensign, May 2009, p. 75)
In the end, true discipleship is an all-or-nothing proposition. It will not be enough that we were good, decent, honorable people who loved our families and fellow men and were somewhat holy, with perhaps only a few stains of sin on our soul. We must be completely cleansed by the atoning power Christ and become holy, without spot. Some of my favorite words in the scriptures are the “less” words. Spot-less. Guilt-less. Sin-less. Blame-less. It will not be sufficient for us to deny ourselves of most ungodliness or to love God with most of our might, mind and strength.
Please remember that discipleship is a process. It takes time. Because of our fallen natures, “we all have sinned [and will sin] and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It is precisely because of that fact that the great and eternal plan of redemption provided for the atonement. Yet we cannot deliberately sin, believing perhaps that “God will justify in committing a little sin; . . . [that] if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Ne. 28:8)
Even our love for our spouses and children should be subordinate to our love of God. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37) Because I was blessed with 5 children, I quickly learned that if I attended every sporting event, school play, musical or similar event in the lives of my children I would be of little use in God’s kingdom. Gone are the days when God asked fathers to leave their young families for months or years to serve missions in far away lands, yet those missionary calls were emblematic of His priorities and the priorities that He expects us still to have today. Certainly, my wife and children need to know that I love them. But just as important, they need to know that I love God before them, and that as a family we are willing to make sacrifices to put Him first and to further his “work and glory, [which is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of all of his children, not just those under our roof or in our family. (Moses 1:39)
Now, to the natural man and woman these things sound hard. Maybe too hard. The natural man and woman will always take the path of least resistance. Yet if you and I put off the natural man and with faith engage the power of the atonement, miraculously, it will be easier then we may think. Christ said, “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” His yoke is easy because He is actually yoked with us. All we have to do is step into the yoke with Him, and go where He takes us. With Christ as our companion, we simply cannot fail.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once wrote that: “…the taking of Jesus’ yoke upon us constitutes serious discipleship. There is no greater calling, no greater challenge, and no greater source of joy … than that which is found in the process of discipleship.” (“Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, June 1996, p. 12.)
I testify that true discipleship does bring joy. Joy beyond what you can possibly imagine. And not just in the next life but in this one. Like many of you, I have consecrated my life to the Savior; yet I fall short. Nevertheless, to the extent that I have been able to model true discipleship in my life, I have been blessed with great joy.
I further testify that Jesus Christ bought—purchased our sins, not with money, but with blood. Through, pain, anguish, sorrow and sickness in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary.
He didn’t endure that pain symbolically checking his watch knowing it would only last another hour or two.
He didn’t try to push out the pain of the atonement—mind over matter.
He wanted to feel every second, for me, for you, for as long as it took without ever thinking about when it might be over.
Jesus didn’t suffer the atonement because it was his job, and “well, someone’s got to do it”.
I testify there was no backup plan in the event Christ failed! He wouldn’t! He was it. He knew that and God knew that. All mankind in every universe you can imagine, were dependent upon his success. And he did it. He did it!
I testify that Jesus was atone with every relationship he had with anyone.
Even when rebuking or calling to repentance it was to bring them at-one with him, to see, to hear, to feel as He did.
And when people were past feeling or not interested in being at-one with him, he still remained at-one by not allowing anger, hatred, or offense to enter his heart, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The Savior of us all will do and is doing all that He can to help us succeed as His disciples.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.