Tonight I am going to talk about the challenge or the cost of discipleship. It is an aspect of discipleship that we might gloss over or might be blasé about. This challenge of discipleship is alluded to in The Book of Mormon:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Nephi 25:26).
And then, further, at the waters of Mormon:
Yea, and are willing to … stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death… (Mosiah 18:9).
If we read them quickly we might miss the cost that is being asked of us as we are called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. A call to follow Christ is not a part time responsibility; it is an every moment of every day covenant that we make with the Lord. It places him at the beginning, centre and end of every part of our lives. This is what our religion is; it is a placing on the altar every aspect of ourselves so that the Lord can make us what we are intended to be. This is not an easy option, this isn’t something that might we do without an element of faith and sacrifice. Joseph Smith taught of what is expected of us:
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.
In our discipleship with Christ we place everything upon the altar. What sacrifices are we making to live in this relationship with Christ that places him foremost in our lives?
One so called, sacrifice, is our relationships. We place them into His hands. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Who should we love above everything else in the world? … The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Love him more than we do our own lives, or our own fathers and mothers or children; … because without his blessings we would have nothing (Take Heed to Yourselves, p. 296).
How is that possible? Surely it is impossible to love anybody more than we love our spouse and children. I remember pondering on the quote, and praying that I could have an understanding of such an instruction. I then heard wonderful instruction, that as we love the Saviour, our capacity to love other people grows so much more. Loving Jesus first enables me to have a deeper and more abiding love for all those people around me. At a very basic level, I am able to love my family longer (for eternity) as I place the Saviour in the forefront on my life. However, the quality and expression of my love becomes so much more sincere and deeper as I focus on the Saviour. This love is not just limited to our families, our ability to love others and show that love is enhanced. Elder Bruce C. Hafen has explained how this sacrificial aspect of marriage is that which strengthens and expands:
I was about to seal a young couple. As I invited them to the altar and the groom took his bride by the hand, I realised that they were about to place upon that altar of sacrifice their own broken hearts and contrite spirits—a selfless offering of themselves to each other and to God in emulation of Christ’s sacrifice for them. And for what purpose? So that through a lifetime of sacrificing for each other—that is, trying to live as He did—they might become ever more as He is. By living that way every day, they would each come closer to God, which would also bring them closer to each other. Thus, living the covenants of the sealing ordinance would sanctify not only their marriage but also their hearts and their very lives.
When I have performed marriages over the years, I have often shared the imagery of marriage as a triangle- with the Lord at the top, and the husband and wife at each corner. This imagery could be replicated for any relationship that we have. The extension of this image is that as the husband and wife draw closer to the Saviour they quite naturally draw closer to each other.
I recognise in exploring the more expansive nature of love that is available to us as we put the Saviour first, that putting Him first in our relationships is not actually a sacrifice but a blessing. This is the same for the so called ‘sacrifices’ that we make in our lives for the Saviour. They enable us to ‘lose our lives’ in Him, but in so doing ‘find our lives’ and who we can be. Christ is the ultimate alchemist- he takes that which is base- meaning everything that we have and are and turns them into gold. He makes so much more of us than we can make of ourselves.
In placing our lives, our relationships and everything we are into his hands we ‘let Him prevail’. An early Church father Irenaeus in trying to make sense of the challenges we face in this life, put together an explanation that describes our life on earth as a ‘vale of soul-making’. I like the analogy of a rough pebble that is being smoothed and burnished- we might not recognise the shape being made but we will recognise the Lord’s plan as we step back and see what He is making of us.
How do we put Christ first in our relationships on a day to day basis? We make those relationships a focus of prayer; but in essence the way that we put Christ first is to be Christlike. In all of our thoughts and words and deeds. We emulate Him. Through doing so we reflect the grace we have received and invite the power and strength of the atonement and the Holy Ghost into our lives. Sometimes we think that the atonement is only about the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross; but it expands to every aspect of His life and example. We are drawn into a relationship with Him, His Father and the Holy Spirit because of each action of the Saviour during mortality. As we read the description of His atonement in Alma 7 we can recognise this fact:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people (v11).
We are all familiar with the pains of Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, but as we look throughout his life we see the pain of friends turning away from Him; the loss of a beloved friend; temptations of all kinds; the harsh words of critics. Indeed, it would seem that one of the only things he didn’t experience in his day to day life was sin and its consequences which caused him to be ‘sore amazed’ in the garden (Mark 14:33). Recognising the Saviour’s strength for each one us in mortality enables us to find joy in each aspect of our journey.
I think that might be the approach that we take for everything that we place on the altar in putting the Saviour at the forefront of our lives. Our love for Him, and our emulation of Him should be evident in all we do and say. It might seem to be a trite car sticker slogan but ‘What would Jesus do?’ should be uppermost in all we do.
Sometimes we are tempted to separate the aspects of our lives into silos- there’s Church James; home James; work James; hobbies James- and in some ways that separation does highlight the different responsibilities that we have. But through all of this there should be a golden thread that weaves through every moment of every day- and that is our discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ. This might be termed the covenant path; but that again, might use an image that conjures up separateness. The golden thread of discipleship suggests how woven into the fabric of our being our relationship with the Lord is. As we love Him, Hear Him and follow Him each day we allow Him to transform us, and all we do, into the best version of ourselves and our actions.
There are many identities I have in my life: I am a child of God, I am a disciple of Christ, and I am a University Professor. In what order do I place them in my life? I am not a University Professor who happens to be a disciple of Christ; I am a disciple of Christ who happens to be a University Professor. Why does this matter? In some ways it identifies the priorities that we have in our lives. If I am defined by my job, then everything I do will be influenced by how I fill that role. If I am defined by my place as a child of God and as a disciple of Christ, then everything, including my role as a University Professor is defined by that.
It is interesting for me to reflect on the last thirty years as a student, cinema usher, a teacher, and a Professor. I have tried throughout that time to live by the words of the Saviour recorded in The Book of Mormon:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (3 Nephi 13:33).
In every situation we are aware of, and are, living our discipleship. We are first and foremost in a relationship with Christ, and this enables us to be better in our chosen careers, because we are not pretending to be something we’re not. We have placed everything we are on his altar. We are living a fully cohesive and consecrated life. As we live our faith, our colleagues are able to see the influence of Christ in our lives and we are able to help others feel of His love. We do this, by Gospel living just becoming a natural part of who we are and how we act. What this means in your career and in your relationships in ‘the world’ will be very personal. I was once asked about how my faith affected me as a teacher. I am very clear that as a teacher it is inappropriate to preach to students, there are boundaries that I have established so as not to overstep the mark. I am very conscious to 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/ men caught in hypocrisy), 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 [my] conversation, in all [my] prayers, in all [my] exhortations, and in all [my] doings” (D&C 108:7). I must build up every person 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. In my writing I must allow his influence to be seen so that others may “glorify [my] Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This does not mean that everything will be smooth sailing- my discipleship has restricted some of the opportunities that I have applied for- but I trust in a loving Lord who is willing to take of my offering and make it into what He wants and what is best for me. Just as he touched the stones in the story of the Jaredites and made them shine, he can touch our lives and make them shine like a city that is set on a hill, reflecting his glory to the world.
Your life is different to mine but common to all of us is that In all things we are called to ensure the golden thread of discipleship enhances every thought, word and deed. We recognise that everything we do is a reflection of our relationship with Him. My prayer for each of us is that we will place Christ at the heart of our lives so that we can find life and love in greater abundance.
He is the source of that life and love through His atonement. I know He lived, He died, and lives again for each of us. Now it is our responsibility to live for Him.