Exemplifying this happy reality are the doctrinal teachings concerning desire, which relates so directly to our moral agency and our individuality. Whether in their conception or expression, our desires profoundly affect the use of our moral agency. Desires thus become real determinants, even when, with pitiful naivete, we do not really want the consequences of our desires. Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability. Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.
Embrace voluntary, wholehearted obedience as part of your life. Acknowledge that you cannot love God without also loving His commandments. The Savior’s standard is clear and simple: “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Selective obedience brings selective blessings, and choosing something bad over something worse is still choosing wrong. You can’t watch a bad movie and expect to feel virtuous because you did not watch a very bad one. Faithful observance of some commandments doesn’t justify neglecting others. Abraham Lincoln rightly said, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad”. Also, do the right things for the right reasons. The Lord, who “requireth the heart and a willing mind” and who “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”, knows why you go to church—whether you are present in body only or truly worshipping. You can’t sing on Sunday, “O Babylon, O Babylon, [I] bid thee farewell” and then seek or tolerate its company again moments later. Remember that casualness in spiritual matters never was happiness. Make the Church and the restored gospel your whole life, not just a part of your outward or social life. Choosing this day whom you will serve is lip service only—until you actually live accordingly. Spiritual confidence increases when you are truly striving, for the right reasons, to live a consecrated life in spite of your imperfections!
President James E. Faust taught: “When obedience becomes our goal, it is no longer an irritation; instead of a stumbling block, it becomes a building block. … “… Obedience leads to true freedom. The more we obey revealed truth, the more we become liberated.” Last week I met a 92-year-old man who had been involved in many of the major campaigns of World War II. He had survived three injuries, one of which was a land-mine blast to the jeep in which he was traveling, which killed the driver. He learned that to survive in a minefield, you must follow exactly in the tracks of the vehicle moving ahead of you. Any deviation to the right or left could—and indeed did—prove fatal. Our prophets and apostles, leaders and parents continually point out the track we must follow if we would avoid a destructive blast to our souls. They know the path that has been safely cleared of mines (or indeed scorpions), and they tirelessly invite us to follow behind them. There are so many devastating traps to entice us from the track. Straying into drugs, alcohol, pornography, or immoral behavior over the Internet or on a video game will head us straight toward an explosion. Deviating to the right or the left of the safe track ahead of us, whether because of laziness or rebelliousness, can prove fatal to our spiritual lives. There are no exceptions to this rule. If we have strayed from the track, we can change, we can return, and we can recapture our joy and our inner peace. We will discover that returning to the track from which the land mines have been removed brings enormous relief.
President Kimball, for the past several months, I have been carrying your message of love and greeting to Church members across the sea; and now here this morning I bring to you the sincere affection and continuing loyalty of more than 100,000 members of the Church in the South Pacific area. They are anxiously counting the days until your arrival next February to conduct the most ambitious and widespread series of Church conferences ever undertaken. . . Such is the schedule of a man who has challenged a people to “lengthen their stride.” Such is the schedule of a man who declares not only, “Do as I say,” but more importantly, “Do as I do.” It is so much easier to respond when the trump gives us that certain sound of example. Prominently displayed on President Kimball’s desk is a slogan which reads simply, “DO IT.” With this inspired leader, personal convenience comes second. Everything is done to meet the Lords convenience. His example for work has become legend and establishes an example for us all to follow. . . Now is that time, and a prophet who knows how to work is leading the way. But one fact is certain—this latter-day work requires thousands of us who are willing to match stride with the prophet. A prophet who walks alone can do little more than mark time. Every dispensation has had the crying need for hard-working, qualified disciples. President Kimball is calling for the greatest army of hard workers in the history of the Church on earth. May we consider together these three objectives as a starting point in our preparation to match stride with the prophet: First, we must be better informed about the doctrine; second, we must be more willing to just DO IT; and third, we must be more readily available to the gifts of the Spirit.
President Lee spoke to a group of missionaries in England, and in answer to the question “What is the most important of all the commandments?” said, “The most important commandment is the one you’re having the greatest difficulty living.” You can see why. If a person would be true to the whispering of that still, small voice regarding some of those matters that you and I just heard, other things would happen. Many people who want to have answers to big decisions or intellectual dilemmas in their minds, but who are not really open and receptive to the whisperings of the Spirit in their hearts, will continue to remain confused in their minds. The principle is this: If you’re confused about a matter, be true to that which you know is right, and in the Lord’s time and according to his purposes you will be given enlightenment and understanding regarding the matter you were confused about. It may be a big decision or it may be an intellectual problem that you have on your mind.
So on this day while I stood watching the thunderstorm, I felt—and I feel now—that this is a marvelous earth on which we find ourselves: and when I thought of our preparations for the United States Bicentennial celebration I felt a deep gratitude to the Lord for the choice land and the people and institutions of America. There is much that is good in this land, and much to love. Nevertheless, on this occasion of so many pleasant memories another impression assailed my thoughts. The dark and threatening clouds that hung so low over the valley seemed to force my mind back to a theme that the Brethren have concerned themselves with for many years now—indeed a theme that has often occupied the attention of the Lord’s chosen prophets since the world began. I am speaking of the general state of wickedness in which we seem to find the world in these perilous yet crucially momentous days; and thinking of this, I am reminded of the general principle that where much is given, much is expected. The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return. But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound. The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power. Evil seems about to engulf us like a great wave, and we feel that truly we are living in conditions similar to those in the days of Noah before the Flood.
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. The Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a Christian ife, not the end of it. It was this truth, this reality, that allowed a handful of Galilean fishermen-turned-again-Apostles without “a single synagogue or sword” to leave those nets a second time and go on to shape the history of the world in which we now live.
The great test of life is obedience to God. “We will prove them herewith,” said the Lord, “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it. The great commandment of life is to love the Lord. “Come unto Christ,” exhorts Moroni in his closing testimony, “… and love God with all your might, mind and strength”. This, then, is the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. It is the pure love of Christ, called charity, that the Book of Mormon testifies is the greatest of all—that never faileth, that endureth forever, that all men should have, and that without which they are nothing. “Wheefore, my beloved brethren,” pleads Moroni, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of [your] heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him”.
There are certain things you simply cannot do if you want to have the Holy Ghost with you. It is not possible to listen to vulgar lyrics, watch movies filled with sexual innuendo, tamper with pornography on the Internet (or anywhere else for that matter), take the name of the Lord in vain, wear revealing clothing, compromise in any way the law of chastity, or disregard the values of true manhood and womanhood and expect the Holy Ghost to remain with you. Whenever anyone participates in those kinds of activities, it should not be a surprise if feelings of loneliness, discouragement, and unworthiness follow. Do not make the choice to go it alone rather than have the Spirit of the Lord to guide, to protect, to prompt, to warn, and to fill you with peace. Repent if you need to so you can enjoy the companionship of the Spirit. Women and men who can hear the voice of the Lord, and who respond to those promptings, become invaluable instruments in His hands. I will never forget an experience I had following a stake conference. I was asked to participate in a blessing for a young woman your age who was suffering with cancer. The family were converts, and they had found peace through the promptings of the Spirit. Prior to our giving the blessing, this dear sister said to me: “Elder Ballard, I am not afraid to die, but I would like to live here with my family. I am prepared to accept the will of my Father in Heaven. Please bless me to find peace and to know that He will be with me.” What faith, insight, and courage the Spirit had blessed her with! A few months later the family advised me that Heavenly Father had called her home. She died in peace, and the family lived in peace because they were familiar with the Spirit. One of the sweetest messages the Spirit will relay is how the Lord feels about you. And that reassurance will strengthen you in a way that almost nothing else can.
The Lord has not left us alone in our quest to return to Him. Listen to His warning words alerting us to the dangers ahead: “Take … heed, watch and pray.” “Beware lest ye … be deceived.” “Be watchful and careful.” “Beware lest ye also … fall from your own stedfastness.” No one of us is immune from the influences of the world. The Lord’s counsel keeps us on guard. You will remember Jesus’s experience in Capernaum as disciples who had followed the Savior would not accept that He was the Son of God. The scripture reads, “From that time many of his disciples … walked no more with him.” Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” In my own mind I have answered that question many times: “Absolutely not! Not me! I will never leave Him! I am here forever!” I know you have answered the same way. But the question “Will ye also go away?” makes us think about our own vulnerability. Life is no spiritual picnic. The words of the Apostles from another setting come quietly into our mind: “Lord, is it I?” We enter the waters of baptism with joy and anticipation. The Savior beckons, “Come unto me,” and we respond, taking His name upon us. Not one of us wants this journey to be a brief flirtation with spirituality or even a notable but finite chapter. The road of discipleship is not for the spiritually faint of heart. Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” As we follow the Savior, without question there will be challenges that confront us. Approached with faith, these refining experiences bring a deeper conversion of the Savior’s reality. Approached in a worldly way, these same experiences cloud our view and weaken our resolve. Some we love and admire slip from the strait and narrow path and “[walk] no more with him.”
As we grow in the gospel, we learn the value of obedience to principles which will consistently align us with the teachings of our Savior and prophets. As we are obedient to their teachings, we then begin to understand what the Savior 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.” Since we each have periodic challenges of obedience, we can take heart in President Hinckley’s encouragement “that the Lord will not give us commandments beyond our power to observe. He will not ask us to do things for which we lack … capacity.” All of us, but especially you young people, would do well to remember the prophet’s counsel as you are tempted by the peer pressures of your everyday world. As we mature into young adults and beyond, setting priorities and managing pressures between work, Church, and family is a balancing act that requires continual reevaluation. Periodically one might well ask, “If I continue to travel the road I am currently following, where will it lead me and what will happen to my family?” Are we establishing the foundation for an eternal family, or are we focusing more on the pride of personal accomplishments and a collection of temporal trophies that are taking precedence over the things that should really matter most? Regardless of our age and stage in life, daily obedience to gospel principles is the only sure way to eternal happiness. President Ezra Taft Benson put it most poignantly when he said, “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.”
In a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, in May of 1833, the Lord declared: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. … “The Spirit of truth is of God. … “And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” What a glorious promise! “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” There is no need for you or for me, in this enlightened age when the fulness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or to travel unmarked roads in search of truth. A loving Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing guide—even obedience. A knowledge of truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God. We learn obedience throughout our lives. Beginning when we are very young, those responsible for our care set forth guidelines and rules to ensure our safety. Life would be simpler for all of us if we would obey such rules completely. Many of us, however, learn through experience the wisdom of being obedient. . . As the Savior instructed His early Apostles, so He instructs you and me, “Follow thou me.” Are we willing to obey? The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lord’s commandments.
Today we find ourselves in another war. This is not a war of armaments. It is a war of thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a war with sin, and more than ever we need to be reminded of the commandments. Secularism is becoming the norm, and many of its beliefs and practices are in direct conflict with those that were instituted by the Lord Himself for the benefit of His children. In the little brown book, immediately after the letter from the First Presidency, there is a “Prefatory Note to Men in the Service,” titled “Obedience to Law Is Liberty.” The note draws a parallel between military law, which is “for the good of all who are in the service,” and divine law. It states, “In the universe, too, where God is in command, there is law—universal, eternal … law—with certain blessings and immutable penalties.” The final words of the note focus on obedience to God’s law: “If you wish to return to your loved ones with head erect, … if you would be a man and live abundantly—then observe God’s law. In so doing you can add to those priceless freedoms which you are struggling to preserve, another on which the others may well depend, freedom from sin; for truly ‘obedience to law is liberty.’” Why did the phrase “obedience to law is liberty” ring so true to me at the time? Why does it ring true to all of us now? Perhaps it is because we have a revealed knowledge of our premortal history. We recognize that when God the Eternal Father presented His plan to us at the beginning of time, Satan wanted to alter the plan. He said he would redeem all mankind. Not one soul would be lost, and Satan was confident he could deliver on his proposal. But there was an unacceptable cost—the destruction of man’s agency, which was and is a gift given by God. About this gift, President Harold B. Lee said, “Next to life itself, free agency is God’s greatest gift to mankind.”
It has ever been a source of surprise to me that there are so many members of the Church, more particularly those who hold the holy Priesthood, who profess to be Latter-day Saints, who testify to a knowledge of the Gospel and to the divinity of the work in which we are engaged, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and yet who, fail to keep the commandments of our heavenly Father, and to prove by their lives that they are in very deed Latter-day Saints. I am surprised at this, because I cannot understand how people with a knowledge of the Gospel and the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the true and living God, and that he has established on the earth, under the direction of our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus, the Gospel of everlasting life, and that it is in very deed the pearl of great price to each and every one of us–it is a surprise to me, I say, that men, holding the holy Priesthood and possessing this knowledge, should, year after year, neglect the duties and the obligations that rest upon them. The Savior told His followers that they were the salt of the earth, but that if the salt lost its savor, it was thenceforth good for nothing, but to be east out and trodden under the feet of men. He told them also that they were the light of the world, a city set upon a hill which could not be hid; he told them that men did not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it might give light to all that were in the room, and he admonished them to let their light so shine that men seeing their good deeds might glorify God.
We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance. . . God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit “the chosen” to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen.
The Spirit of the Lord can be our guide and will bless us with direction, instruction, and spiritual protection during our mortal journey. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives through meaningful personal and family prayer, feasting upon the words of Christ, diligent and exacting obedience, faithfulness and honoring of covenants, and through virtue, humility, and service. And we steadfastly should avoid things that are immodest, coarse, crude, sinful, or evil that cause us to withdraw ourselves from the Holy Ghost. We also invite the ongoing companionship of the Holy Ghost as we worthily partake of the sacrament each Sabbath day: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day”. Through the ordinance of the sacrament we renew our baptismal covenant and can receive and retain a remission of our sins. In addition, we are reminded on a weekly basis of the promise that we may always have His Spirit to be with us. As we then strive to keep ourselves clean and unspotted from the world, we become worthy vessels in whom the Spirit of the Lord can always dwell.
Needless to say, we were blessed of the Lord. Now in conclusion I wish to say that none of us ever need hesitate to speak up for this Church, for its doctrine, for its people, for its divine organization and divinely given responsibility. It is true. It is the work of God. The only things that can ever embarrass this work are acts of disobedience to its doctrine and standards by those of its membership. That places upon each of us a tremendous responsibility. This work will be judged by what the world sees of our behavior. God give us the will to walk with faith, the discipline to do what is right at all times and in all circumstances, the resolution to make of our lives a declaration of this cause before all who see us.