On June 9th I gave my farewell address in church as I prepare to head out as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was a story I had to skip for time reasons which I wanted my family to hear, and my grandma suggested I put my whole talk up. So, here it is! The parts I skipped are in orange.
Last October conference, Elder Hales outlined the basic beliefs of a Christian. He described them as having faith in Jesus Christ, and his atonement. They are those who are baptized in his name. They also know that throughout the ages, God has sent prophets to the earth to share his gospel and fulfill his work. We know that prophet today to be Thomas S. Monson, who received his authority through a line of priesthood that began with Christ himself.
But being a Christian isn’t just about what you know, it’s about what you do and how you live out your mortal existence. "Good better best, never let it rest, till your good is better, and your better best." I learned from my mother this simple saying that has such an important message. This rhyme reminds me that my work is never finished. It is important to be good, but it is more important to be improving. And there are many ways that we can work toward being better followers of Christ.
A good Christian is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. A better Christian takes seriously the commitment they have made through baptism to take upon his name as his representative.
President George Albert Smith told the story of a dream he had as a young man in which he conversed with his Grandfather whom he was named after. In his words:
He looked at me earnestly and said: “I would like to know what you have done with my name.”
Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen… I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said: “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.”
When we enter into the waters of baptism, we willingly take upon us the name of Christ. From that time forward our actions not only reflect upon ourselves, but our Savior whom we represent. And there is no turning back. We are no longer expected to do what is right, but are obligated to do so. The blessings of baptism are immeasurable, and where much is given, much is required.
King Benjamin declared, “I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you
As a missionary I will be privileged to wear his name over my heart. But more importantly, each of us must etch the name of Christ within our hearts. Always remembering him, that at the great and last day we can stand before him and say, as President Smith said to his grandfather, “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.”
After all, as King Benjamin continues: “how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?”
Let us become better Christians by taking seriously the promise we’ve made to take upon his name and always remember him.
A good Christian follows the Disciples of Christ. A better Christian is a disciple of Christ.
After the Savior’s death, his own disciples and closest friends found that without His step-by-step instructions, they were at a loss for what to do next. They had followed diligently in the master’s footsteps and had performed their roles well, but didn’t fully understand their responsibility to continue the Lord’s work.
And so, having been beaten and scorned, mocked and mistreated, betrayed and crucified, and obviously misunderstood, the Lord must return to the fishing shores, re-collect his apostles, and explain to them in simple and direct terms, exactly what it is he needs from them.
In Elder Holland’s envisioned description of the scene he describes: with relentless scrutiny He [The Savior] asks for the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”
To which Jesus responded perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world.
Brothers and sisters, let us not wait for the Lord to come and collect us. After he has sacrificed so much, suffered incomprehensible pain on our behalf, is it really so much to ask that we go to him?
The Lord declared: “it is not meet that I should command in all things, for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant… verily I say men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause.”
Elder Hales said: “As Christians today, we have the opportunity to act straightway, immediately, and decisively, just as Peter and Andrew did: “they forsook their nets, and followed him.” We too are called upon to leave our nets, to reject worldly habits, customs, and traditions.” Elder Hales goes on to say: “This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: “Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep””
The first thought that comes to my mind, and I’m sure many of yours, when I hear the command, “feed my sheep” is missionary work. This job is not to be left to the full-time missionaries alone, but is to be shared by every member. In the New Testament and D&C, the Lord declares that missionary work is the responsibility of all who follow Him. Elder Holland said “missionary work isn’t the only thing we need to do in this big, wide, wonderful Church. But almost everything else we need to do depends on people first hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and coming into the faith.”
To those of us who live in a place where most or nearly all of our friends and acquaintances are members of the church, we may feel that this call is not necessarily for us. We share the gospel where we can, but the opportunities may not often arise. Elder Hales explains the ways that even those in our predicament can ‘feed His sheep’.
“We feed His lambs in our homes by how we live the gospel: keeping the commandments, praying, studying the scriptures, and emulating His love. We feed His sheep in the Church as we serve in priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations. And we feed His sheep throughout the world by being good Christian neighbors, practicing the pure religion of visiting and serving the widows, the fatherless, the poor, and all who are in need.”
So, instead of wishing we had this or that, why not serve someone else and provide something they lack? Instead of focusing on our own insecurities, why not ask the Lord to guide us in lifting up others? Instead of planning our schedules around work, meetings and parties, why not plan them around family activities, scripture study, and prayer? Instead of lamenting our lack of gifts or privileges, why not give thanks for and cultivate the talents we do have in an effort to build the kingdom?
So, now we know what the Lord has asked us to do. And a good Christian is a hearer of the word, but a better Christian is a doer of the word also.
More and more today we hear things like, 'I want that now, I want to DO that later'. We find it easier to be acted upon than to act. We ask the Lord for blessings, sometimes not caring to ask ourselves whether we have earned them.
Laziness is not just a state of doing nothing. You can be the busiest, hardest working person around and still be lazy in the work of the gospel.
We may rationalize by telling ourselves that as one person, there is not much that we can do. I have enough on my plate as it is. Surely someone else, someone less busy, can pick up the slack. No one will notice the absence of one person. But the Lord does notice.
A few years ago I was sitting next to my dad during the sacrament. As the tray of water came to me, I took a little paper cup from it. I looked down into the cup and saw only the tiniest amount of water at the bottom. Usually the cup was nearly full and I wasn’t sure if such a tiny amount would be sufficient. After staring at it for a second I looked up at my dad and gestured to the cup. As if he had read my mind, he looked back and said, “One drop is enough.” Reassured, I drank the single drop and placed the empty cup back into the tray.
For the rest of the meeting I pondered the meaning of what my dad had said. “One drop is enough” I thought about my savior and the sacrifice he made to atone for my sins. How powerful that sacrifice must have been to give a single drop of a symbol of his blood, the power to cleanse me of sin.
The way the Lord’s power works within us is often subtle and we may worry that we do not have enough. It is important to remember that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. At times it may seem like, that as one person, I can’t have a great effect on the world I live in. I am just one soldier in God’s army, one drop in the bucket. But, as my dad so wisely reminded me, one drop is enough.
Elder Richard G. Scott said, "Anywhere you are in the world, with prayer, faith, determination, diligence, and some sacrifice, you can make a powerful contribution. Begin now. I promise you that the Lord will help you find a way. And it will make you feel wonderful."
There is work to be done everywhere and anywhere. Elder Neal A. Maxwell told the story of a group of marines during World War II who found themselves trapped and surrounded by Japanese troops on an island in the Pacific. When word reached the general, one of the most decorated of the war, his reply was: “At last we have the enemy just where we want him. We are surrounded and we can fire in every direction and not miss!”
Elder Maxwell then compared that incident to the Church. He said: “At last The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the world just where we want it—we can serve in every direction and not miss!”
D&C 80:3Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.” Where we serve is not nearly as important as that and how we serve.
But this doesn’t mean that we have to do this work alone. I’ve heard it said that God does not give anyone a trial that they cannot overcome. I don’t believe this to be true. If it were, no one would lose their faith, no one would give up, and no one would fail. I do believe, however, that God does not give anyone a trial that they cannot overcome with his help.
I am inspired by David who wrote: Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Because of his faith, and righteous living, he was able to conquer the giant goliath with the Lord on his side. Sometimes we face challenges that seem to be over six cubits high, and we may not even know how to begin to face them. The key is turning to the Lord and following his instructions.
Which leads me to my next thought, that a good Christian seeks to do the will of the Lord, but a better Christian seeks to understand what the Lord’s will is for them individually.
Personal revelation is a tricky thing. I myself am trying hard but still sometimes struggle to know what the Lord would have me do. Sister Barbara Thompson said in a general conference address: “The way to receive personal revelation is really quite clear. We need to desire to receive revelation, we must not harden our hearts, and then we need to ask in faith, truly believe that we will receive an answer, and then diligently keep the commandments of God.
Following this pattern does not mean that every time we ask a question of God, the answer will immediately appear with every detail of what to do. However, it does mean that if we diligently keep the commandments and ask in faith, answers will come in the Lord’s own way and in His time.”
Though this pattern to receiving personal revelation is clear, the revelations themselves might not always be. I have studied, prayed, fasted and inquired of the Lord many times and yet, do not often receive direct answers. I thought perhaps I was not listening hard enough, or in the right way, but I am starting to learn that maybe the Lord has a different method for directing my path. As I have faced difficult life decisions over the past few years, I often felt as if I was blindly making choices that I had no idea whether or not were the right ones. Finally I made a decision that apparently wasn’t the right one. It wasn’t bad in the sense that it was wicked, I guess it just wasn’t the right one for me. As I set my mind upon this decision, I began to feel a distinct impression that it was not right. I tried to ignore it at first, but after having this strong feeling for a few days I finally decided to act upon it. It was a really hard thing to do, but I was blessed with the feeling that I had done the right thing, and have never regretted it.
Since then I have acted more quickly when receiving the impression that something wasn’t right, and have been able to recognize this feeling in even not so life-changing decisions. I have deduced that the reason the Lord has not told me everything I should do is because there are many paths in this life that could lead to eternal happiness. Sometimes I would like a roadmap with directions, but it is comforting to know the Lord will never let me go down a path that is certainly the wrong one.
Not only have I had to learn that revelation comes in the Lord’s way, but also in the Lord’s time. The most difficult of these timing issues for me to accept was the missionary age change. While every under-21-year-old girl was shouting for joy, I was crying in frustration. I felt it a great injustice that I wasn’t allowed to serve a mission at 19. By the time this conference had come, I would have been a returned missionary. I imagined that this course would have fit much better into the life plan that I had laid out for myself. I feel guilty now thinking of the complaints I lamented to my heavenly father as my little sister chatted loudly and excitedly about her mission plans. My brother, seeing my sorrow, wrote me this note:
After reading his words I realized that this wonderful announcement was not meant to be about me, or my sister, or any other missionary affected by it. It is meant to about the Lord’s gospel, and the best way he sees fit to spread it. I realized later that it was also my sister’s overwhelming excitement that gave me the last push I needed to complete my mission papers. So, here I am, at 21 and ½, leaving on a mission with my little sister to follow in just about 4 months. And I couldn’t be happier.
As long as we do as sister Thompson said, keeping a soft heart and obeying the commandments as we pray for revelation, it will come in the Lord’s time and in his way.
A good Christian knows and relies on the Lord’s power to bless. A better Christian understands that this power is within each of us who are worthy and can be used, through us, to bless others.
Once we know the influence we can have, the thought of sharing the gospel can be a scary thing. I personally have a lot of fears as I prepare to do this full time. What if people scoff or laugh at me when I stand up for what I believe? What if someone gets offended? What if I lose a friend because they think all I want to do is convert them? What if I say the wrong thing? What if my beliefs are challenged, and I don’t have solid answers to defend them? I am afraid of the sorrow I will feel when, after trying my hardest, the people I learn to love ultimately fail to accept this glad message that is so sacred and special to me. In summary, I am afraid that I am simply inadequate. This fear is one the adversary has been playing against me especially frequently in the last few months.
My mind has wandered often to a quote by Marianne Williamson in which she says, “You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”
In the book of Matthew we read a similar message: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
As children of God we have the opportunity to let the light that he has given us grow within. This light of Christ is meant to be a guide and protection to us throughout our lives. As we act in faith and diligently seek to do God’s will, this light will grow. In D&C 50 we read: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” The more we gain, the more we have to share, thus enabling us to use our light to help others discover this light within themselves. This light is what sets us apart from those who are lost and as my New Testament teacher said: if we are just like everyone else in the world, we won’t be able to make any difference in the world.
A wise wizard once said, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right”. May I suggest that these dark times do not lie ahead of us, but behind, right before, and all around us. The only way to find our way though this darkness is to use this light that God has given us. And we must help others cultivate their own light because, as the parable of the ten virgins teaches, each of us must prepare our own lamps to lead us to the kingdom.
But why must we take it upon ourselves to help others gain this light? I asked myself a similar question last week as I had the opportunity to babysit my niece and nephew We did all sorts of fun things and when the dreaded bedtime rolled around the second night, the kids and I were exhausted. And not the fall right to sleep kind of exhausted, but the screaming, crying, resistant kind. It was an intense battle of wills to get those kids ready for, and into their beds. When I finally got them down and turned on their CD of primary songs, I just laid on the floor and listened. I wondered why we love children so much. They’re good for a laugh and are stinkin cute, but for the most part, they are worry, work, and stress. As my thoughts wandered I looked up to see a picture of the Savior on the wall. Instantly I felt his love for those kids. Just then my nephew turned and saw me on the floor. He crawled up next to me, put his head on one arm and pulled my other arm around him. I felt then what the Lord must feel for all of us. So much love that, probably with the mixture of exhaustion, brought me to tears, one of which my cute nephew wiped from my face. We are all connected to each other by our common heavenly heritage. We love children because of the bond created by the eternal nature of families. It is in our nature to want to see those close to us be safe, taken care of and successful in every aspect of life. But we cannot help them get there unless we have prepared ourselves to give them the direction these worthy goals require.
That’s what being a follower of Christ is about. It is about caring enough to be our best, so that we can help others be their best.
We should think as the sons of Mosiah who were “desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.” Without our spirit brothers and sisters, without our posterity, without each other, this life, our very existence is meaningless. The Father’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Let us take up this cause as our work, and recognize that the salvation of man, of every man, is our glory as well.
The love I have for my family is incomparable to anything else in the world. I try every day to feel this love for all of God’s children so that I may be a positive influence in the world
I know that as we remember our baptismal covenants, become disciples of Christ, be doers of the word, seek personal revelation, and use our divine power for good, the Lord will be pleased with our work, and will recognize us in the next life as his own. Let us continually strive to make our good better, and our better best. Let us do as Nephi did when he said “we talk of Christ we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” not only with our words, but with our actions, and examples.