Intentional Discipleship

In one of the classes I teach at University there is an assessment attached where beginning teachers review a lesson that they have taught. They talk me through the lesson they designed and their planned learning for the students and how effective that was. They also reflect on the unintended learning that has taken place within the classroom. Sometimes these are very positive, in which case we discuss how they could have made these aspects of learning intentional in the planning. Sometimes, the unintended learning is problematic and we discuss how we can guard against it in the future. It is not just teachers that have these experiences- last month I spoke in Stockport about the way we can find peace through coming to the Saviour and abiding in Him; the only thing Martha, my fourteen year old daughter, can remember is that I began the talk with the phrase ‘This last year has been bonkers’- it has been thrown around in conversation over the last couple of weeks.

Why do I share this? I think that in our lives we have moments that are intentional and moments that are unintentional. This is especially so in the living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our drawing closer to Him. Sister Joy D. Jones in General Conference referenced this in terms of our Gospel teaching in relation to our children, she said:

We cannot wait for conversion to simply happen to our children. Accidental conversion is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Becoming like our Saviour will not happen randomly. Being intentional in loving, teaching, and testifying can help children begin at a young age to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is essential to our children’s testimony of and conversion to Jesus Christ; we desire them to “always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them.”

Consider the value of family conversations about the gospel of Jesus Christ, essential conversations, that can invite the Spirit. When we have such conversations with our children, we help them create a foundation, “which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if [they] build they cannot fall.” When we strengthen a child, we strengthen the family.

The phrase she uses is being intentional in loving, teaching and testifying. I would like to extend this to every aspect of our lives, and recognise the importance of being intentional in our discipleship of the Saviour Jesus Christ. One of my favourite passages about intentional discipleship comes from Spencer W. Kimball:

Then as I was out alone, milking the cows, or putting up the hay, I had time to think. I mulled it over in my mind and made this decision: ‘I, Spencer Kimball, will never taste any form of liquor. I, Spencer Kimball, will never touch tobacco. I will never drink coffee, nor will I ever touch tea—not because I can explain why I shouldn’t, except that the Lord said not to.’ He said those things were an abomination. There are many other things that are, too, that are not in the Word of Wisdom. But I made up my mind. THAT’S THE POINT I am trying to make I made up my mind then, as a little boy: ‘I will never touch those things.’ And so, having made up my mind, it was easy to follow it, and I did not yield. There were many temptations that came along, but I did not even analyse it; I did not stop and measure it and say, ‘Well, shall I or shall I not?’ I always said to myself: ‘But I made up my mind I would not. Therefore, I do not. ‘I’m A little older than any of you here tonight, and I want to just say that I will soon go into another year and that I have never tasted tea, nor coffee, nor tobacco, nor liquor of any kind, nor drugs. Now that may sound very presumptuous and boasting to you, but I am only trying to make this point: that if every boy and girl—as he or she begins to grow a little more mature and becomes a little more independent of his friends and his family and all—if every boy and girl would make up his or her mind, I will not yield; then no matter what the temptation is: ‘I made up my mind. That’s settled.’ (General Conference Report Oct 1975 p16).

You may think this is an oversimplification and glosses over the difficulty that some people feel comes with a living of the Gospel. However, this is my experience of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ; I joined the Church when I was about 15 and there were a number of things that I needed to change and some of my priorities were not established or out of kilter. As I became more involved in Gospel living and closer to the Saviour, I began to recognise some of the decisions that I needed to make. As the Gospel became more a part of who I was, and I was able to recognise the blessings of the Gospel in the lives of people I knew and loved I was able to become more intentional in my discipleship and my relationship with the Saviour. I remember making certain decisions that made life easier over the ensuing years. These included:

  • To serve a mission
  • To be married in the Temple
  • To remain active in developing my relationship with the Saviour

Some were less earth shattering, such as:

  • To never watch an 18 film
  • To not work on the Sabbath

I have to admit that the last one was borne out of justifying a lack of revision or homework on a Sunday, but it has lasted over the course of my study and work life of the last thirty years. Why do I share these? It is because making these decisions as a teenager has enabled my living of the Gospel far more straightforward and sometimes easier. This process intentional discipleship is best illustrated in The Book of Mormon following King Benjamin’s discourse. The people who heard this last sermon went through the sanctification process; they humbled themselves and prayed the atoning blood of Christ would take effect in their lives. The Holy Ghost came upon them and filled them with joy; they experienced a change of heart and had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). 

How did making these decisions make discipleship more intentional and easier? If I look at the decision to marry in the Temple it made the decision of who to date (not that I had many options as a teenager!) and the standards I would live more straightforward. In a similar way the decision to never watch an 18 has made it easier for me to avoid films with an immoral message or aspects that would detract from the Spirit.

Dredd - Wikipedia

This doesn’t mean, I haven’t struggled with decisions- two films that stand out are The Passion of Christ and Dredd. Slightly opposite ends of the spectrum! Judge Dredd is one of my favourite comic book characters- but whatever justification I came up with I reminded myself of the decision I made as a teenager and so in the end the decision was easier (not necessarily easy).

My decision to remain active in developing my relationship with the Saviour has formed the backbone of everything I do and who I am. A number of years ago after a period of problems in our ward as some members were active in their dislike of one another, I was approached by a member not involved in this, but was certainly affected by it as most of us were. She said words to the effect “I don’t know how you stay positive and active at Church. All of this that is happening is making me question whether I should come to Church. There’s just so much bad feeling.” I replied that the most important relationship I have in life is with our Saviour Jesus Christ, I don’t come to Church primarily to be with other people (though that is a bonus), I come here to develop my relationship with the Saviour. This was made easier by the decision I made as a teenager. Again, I’m not saying some things were not a struggle, or even that they were easy, just that they were easier.

Returning to the people of King Benjamin; for a number of years I was overawed by this scripture. I looked at their response to King Benjamin’s teaching where they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). I imagined up in my mind that these people did nothing wrong again, but on deeper reflection this is not what the scripture says- it says they had no more disposition. It wasn’t part of their character to want to do wrong, but occasionally they would. That’s an ideal I can try and live up to. If we change our way of thinking and being to intentionally to try and be like Christ then we are on the right path. We are all making progress “line upon line” and our life is a learning process where we can become more like Him. We need to ensure that my conscious intention every day is to try and draw closer to the Saviour. We do that in many different ways- through the prayers that we offer, through the study we undertake, through the way that we serve, by the way that we speak to others, the way that we fulfil my work responsibilities. All of these things help me become closer to Him as I strive to be more like Him.

I once wrote an article about how my faith affected me as a teacher. I began by sharing a passage from Howard W. Hunter who and echoed the teaching of Jesus to “Come, follow me” (Luke 18: 22):

I would invite all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed. I pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness (Hunter, 1994, p. 14).

If I explore what lies behind this invitation I am led to the experiences of the life of Jesus; whether it is him being moved with compassion to raise the son of the Widow of Nain, when he blessed the little children, or when he bore the pains and humiliation of the cross with grace and love for all people. This teaching builds on the belief that every person is a child of God. As such, I should treat every person or every child in my classroom in the way that Jesus would. He would not turn any away because of the way that they looked (the woman anointing his feet with oil), what they have done in the past (the woman caught in adultery), or how they treated him (he died for all of humanity even those who nailed him to the cross). Am I fulfilling the command to “strengthen [everyone] in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (D&C  108:7).  I must build up every child whom I teach in every aspect of my dealings with them, I must not lose patience when they stretch it to breaking point, I must offer time and understanding. Every year as I address a new group of trainee teachers I offer my philosophy of teaching which is “To be the kind of teacher I want my children to have” which is only a slightly disguised plagiarism of the Golden Rule. For me, as a Latter-day Saint, I must follow Jesus’ example in every aspect of my life. The command to follow him was not a part time opportunity.

I have painted an overly utopian ideal of my teaching practice. I do not mean to suggest that I always remember that every child is a child of God. Nor that my patience is not driven to, and beyond, breaking point with various whinges and bad behaviours. I have not even mentioned my personal penchant for sarcastic retorts that seem out of tune with following the Saviour. Rather, I am grateful for the belief I have in repentance that enables to pick myself up and try again. 

This approach to discipleship means that it is always intentional- being a disciple of Jesus Christ is who we are; those intentional acts become part of who are we on a daily basis. Key to all of this is the Holy Ghost; when we have his companionship we are better and more Christlike. Sometimes we see the Holy Ghost and his role in our sanctification as being the purging of all of the bad things. But he does much more than that; if we allow Him then through the atonement of Jesus Christ the Holy Ghost fills us with positive aspects. He makes ‘weak things become strong’ (Ether 12:27); he changes our anger to patience. Parley P. Pratt explains it better than I, the Holy Ghost:

…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. [He] inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. [He] inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. [He] develops beauty of person, form, and features. [He] tends to health, vigour, animation, and social feeling. [He] invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. [He] strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, [he] is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology , 61).

The intentional living of the Gospel and closeness to the Holy Ghost and the Saviour enables this intentionality to be a part of who we are. This discipleship enables us to don the armour of God. Each of these pieces of armour are related to the Holy Ghost and the power that we find through Him. We are promised that in donning this armour and living with faith, a hope of salvation, prepare for each day through study and prayer, keeping ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, and following the promptings of the Lord in living a righteous life that we will have the Holy Ghost poured down upon us. My faith is an integral part of who I am. As a disciple of Christ my discipleship should infuse every aspect of my life. I strive to keep the armour of God moulded to me- I view it more as Wolverine’s adamantium rather than Iron Man’s suit- it is not a bolt on and off accessory. Again, the way to do this is to live as everyday disciples living close to the Holy Ghost in our everyday lives through the things that we do and the relationships we develop.

If we are so prepared to be intentional in our discipleship then we can become intentional in the way that we teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, we teach through our actions, but we are also called to teach the Gospel in our homes. The First Presidency in 1833 received a chastisement that in their efforts to build the Church, they were neglecting their responsibility to teach their children:

But verily I say unto you, my servant Frederick G. Williams, you have continued under this condemnation; You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction. And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house (D&C 93: 41-43).

As Sister Jones mentions in her talk the teaching of children does not happen by accident; “We cannot wait for conversion to simply happen to our children. Accidental conversion is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ”. From the earliest age we have a responsibility to ensure that the intentional teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ permeates our homes and our conversations. What this has meant for us as we have striven to teach the Gospel to our four children is that we pray together as a family, we study the Book of Mormon each morning. We ensure that Gospel conversations take place- there is no topic that is off the table in our home. We have tried to foster an environment where the children are able to ask us anything and talk about the issues that worry them. Each of these conversations have sometimes been intense, some have been hilarious, but we have always been able to talk comfortably and confidently about Gospel Principles and how they can be applied in our lives. It is a part of the fabric of our home.

An intentional Gospel conversation can be one where we know beforehand the things that we would like to talk about with our children. Some of these may be very formal. I remember when each of our children was about to turn twelve I was either Bishop or on the Stake Presidency so I had the Temple Recommend questions memorised. I sat down with each child and ensured that they knew what each question meant and if they had any questions about any aspect of what was being asked. Not every conversation is that formal, most took place around the dinner table or lounging on the floor. There were some that we didn’t plan for; this doesn’t mean they weren’t intentional- because of the nature of the way that we tried to live we were prepared for any question and our responses could be intentional as we were guided by the Spirit. We can hope that these intentional teaching moments can have the impact that we see in the lives of people like Enos and Alma the Younger in The Book of Mormon. Enos records:

How Did Enos Liken the Scriptures to His Own Life? | Book of Mormon Central

Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it— And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him… (Enos 1:1-4).

We can hope that our teaching can last beyond the immediate moment in which we teach them.

Again, I may have painted an idealistic view of conversations in our home. I guess the message I would like you to take away is that no matter our age or circumstance, or how we feel we’ve done up until now, we can decide that our intentional discipleship and conversations are going to be better today than they were yesterday, and they’re better tomorrow than they were today. The choices we make can be a reflection of the grace that we have received from Jesus Christ. If we think, I haven’t got any young children, or even any children at all, how does this intentionality in conversation and teaching relate to me? There are people all around us whom we love that we can be intentional with. There are people we serve as ministering brothers and sisters, there are people we serve in our callings, there are other members of our families. My patriarchal blessing tells me:

Show love to your parents and take counsel from them, and if counsel is needed be prepared to give that counsel in wisdom.

My father passed away over forty years ago, but my mum is still around but unfortunately not fully active in the Gospel. Although I’ve had a couple of ‘intentional’ conversations with her over the years, I realise I can be much more so. We can all think of how we can be more focussed in our efforts to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


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