I was recently speaking to a friend who expressed concern for another of our friends. Her concern was for the disconnect between this person’s beliefs and behaviour. As I think about my membership of the Church over the last thirty or so years I have met many people for whom this description would fit, and recognise within myself times where my beliefs and behaviour may not marry up. I think we all have that tendency sometimes, as a teenager I remember someone whose favourite phrase was “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”. This, unsurprisingly, annoyed me and made me less likely to do what he said. President Howard W. Hunter once said that there would be many in life who would say the same; but there is only one person in history who, with no hint of hypocrisy, can say “Do as I do, and as I say”; and that is the Saviour Jesus Christ. It is to Him that we look for our example, and to Him that we stand as disciples, so that others can see the light that he emanates. We can be the type of disciple that the Apostle John speaks of when describing John the Baptist:
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:7-8).
Through our discipleship as we seek to align our beliefs and behaviour we are able to help people to see the light of the Saviour, and not become, as Alma describes, ‘stumbling blocks’ to those outside of the Church. As we reflect on our lives, it is important to reflect on whether we are providing a window through which others can experience and see the Saviour, or a door which blocks their view.
Whenever I think of people seeing Christ in our lives, I am reminded of Alma chapter 5, where Alma asks the question:
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? (Alma 5:14-15).
Hopefully we can all say yes, but the far more telling question comes later in the chapter:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? (Alma 5:26-27).
Our conversion to, and acceptance of, the Saviour is not a one time event. It is something that in an ongoing process within our lives that we develop and recapture every day of our lives. We are called to be everyday disciples of the Saviour, rather than what, Neal A Maxwell calls, ‘weekend warriors’. Every day we must evaluate our discipleship and how we are drawing close to the Saviour, and make any corrections that may be necessary. This process is described in great detail by the Saviour when he tells the parable of the Ten Virgins. When he speaks of them he outlines that “the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” and the five foolish were left without oil when the bridegroom called. I have one of these oil lamps on my office shelf, the hole through which oil is put into the lamp is small and oil can only be added one drop at a time. Sometimes as members of the Church we look for big and flashy spiritual experiences that can add ladles of oil to our lamps. The secret is, that even with big flashy experiences, there can only be small drops of spiritually prepared oil that can be added to our lamps. The effort to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be a rollercoaster, but should be a consistent expression of our devotion to the Saviour. We have heard many times before how we can add oil to our lamps, Spencer W. Kimball suggested:
In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures–each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity–these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps (President Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 256).
As we think about the covenants that we make and the daily acts of discipleship, we recognise that the actions we perform are outward expressions of an inner commitment to follow the Saviour Jesus Christ. We have to ensure that our behaviour is in harmony with our beliefs; only then can we be prepared for the tumults that this life will throw at us. It is the grace of Jesus Christ that will calm the storms of our lives, but we need to ensure that we are in the boat with Him, and have a relationship with Him so that we are not afraid to wake Him.
One of the phrases that I hear a lot is ‘make time for the Lord”. The intention behind this invitation is laudable, and I have heard it suggested by prophets. But, if I’m honest, it’s not a phrase that I particularly like, or find helpful. Let me explain why. In striving to understand my relationship with God, I recognise that in any aspect of my life I am nothing without my Saviour Jesus Christ. When I ‘make time for the Lord’ I imagine that I am carving out some time for Him in my daily schedule, like I would allot time to eating, or reading, or any other activity. In this view of my life, the Lord becomes one of many competing demands and activities. I prefer to view every moment of my life as living in a relationship with Him, and allowing Him to prevail in every moment of every day. Thus, when I am home the type of husband and father I am, is an act of devotion and a reflection of my discipleship. When I am at work, everything I do expresses the covenants that I have made. I am not making time for the Lord; the Lord is my time to which everything else is merely an outworking. This may seem overly utopian, and I am not suggesting that it always works, but placing the Saviour at the heart of all that we are and all that we do, we are able to find life in greater and greater abundance.
Returning to my conversation with my friend who was worried about someone else’s disconnect between beliefs and behaviour, this is something that we need to be aware of as we seek to live every day of our lives as disciples of Christ. In 2015 Elder Wilford W. Andersen of the Seventy gave a talk that described a conversation between a doctor and a native American gentleman. The older gentleman asked the young man if he danced?
“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?” The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music.”
Elder Anderson’s extension of this analogy has caused me much reflection over the intervening years. Elder Anderson continues:
In section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord taught Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (verse 2). We learn the dance steps with our minds, but we hear the music with our hearts. The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will be experienced only when we come to hear the music.
Maybe I can relate to this analogy because I can’t dance. I’m like the young man at the beginning of Footloose who can neither dance or feel the rhythm.
At certain points in my life I have learned a dance. I remember learning a dance to ‘Stayin Alive’ and performed as the ‘Big Gees’- I wouldn’t need the padding today! I learned the steps (others would suggest that I didn’t), but I learned the order of what I was supposed to do- there was no aligning the steps to the music- I couldn’t listen and move at the same time. I know what it’s like to dance the steps but not to the music! How does that relate to our living the Gospel and having the oil of preparation in our lives? Maybe, when we joined the Church we heard the music and danced the steps. It is possible that we learned the steps so well, that maybe we have tuned the music out yet we are able to continue with the dance. It means that we generally live the Gospel outwardly but that we’re not feeling or listening to the Spirit. We may even be able to teach others the dance steps and to listen for the music, but twe have long since stopped hearing the music.
For us to be disciples of Christ, we need to both hear the music and dance the steps. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between the two; and if we fluff a step now and again we can pick the beat back up. Having Christ and the Holy Ghost as the constant backing track to our lives becomes essential to our constant discipleship. Our relationship with Christ is not something we find time for, but something that influences and enhances every aspect of our lives.
Living this consecrated life, enables us to be prepared for all that will be placed in our way. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has suggested:
We need to make both temporal and spiritual preparation for the events prophesied at the time of the Second Coming. And the preparation most likely to be neglected is the one less visible and more difficult—the spiritual. A 72-hour kit of temporal supplies may prove valuable for earthly challenges, but, as the foolish virgins learned to their sorrow, a 24-hour kit of spiritual preparation is of greater and more enduring value.
It sounds terrible to say that I don’t give the Second Coming much thought, I am more concerned with the daily act of living and the experiences and challenges that we may face here. Those challenges may be physical and mental health, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or many other things that could seriously affect us. I know, that as we have faced challenges, a knowledge of the Saviour and our relationship with Him has provided an anchor that has enabled strength and patience. I wish I could say that it meant an immediate removal, but for most it meant the strength to endure.
I don’t know what your challenges may be, but I do know that a relationship with the Saviour will enable those to be brought into focus. When we place something at the centre of our vision, we can only focus on that one thing and everything else loses focus. When we place the Lord front and centre of all that we are and do, everything else comes into focus; he is the lens through which we can see the reality of life. We are promised in The Book of Mormon:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall (Helaman 5:12).
My constant prayer is that I can live a consecrated and cohesive life, where my beliefs and my behaviour are perfectly aligned. In so doing, I must ensure that the way that I live are a reflection of the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life, and the grace that I receive through the atonement of Christ. Only then can I hope to find eternal joy in this life and the life to come.
I am grateful for the many members in this ward who have influenced, and inspired me throughout the years of my discipleship. I have learned so much about my Saviour and how to be Christlike through the service that many of you have rendered to myself and my family. It is in no small part due to you, that I know my Saviour Jesus Christ. And what I know is that he is the Son of God, and through him we can find life in greater abundance.