There are many analogies used to describe the straight and narrow path. One that really helps me understand the need to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of another is to picture it as running up an escalator the wrong way. It requires effort, and if we stop for a moment we lose the momentum we have garnered, and we begin to move back. This is a truth that is taught within the scriptures. Nephi teaches us:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Nephi 28:30).
This helps us understand that there is no such thing as standing still in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re either progressing or regressing, there isn’t a plateau where we can just coast for a while. We need to pay attention to the deliberate and intentional living of the Gospel every day of our lives. This understanding of the straight and narrow path was alluded to in General Conference earlier this month where President Nelson gave us five suggestions to keep this momentum going. He suggested:
First: Get on the covenant path and stay there.
Second: Discover the joy of daily repentance.
Third: Learn about God and how He works.
Fourth: Seek and expect miracles.
Fifth: End conflict in your personal life.
First: Get on the covenant path and stay there.
The term ‘covenant path’ is fairly new term; the earliest reference to it I can find in General Conference is 2009. The terminology may be relatively recent, but the truths it encapsulates are eternal. Elder D. Todd Christofferson asked the question:
What is the covenant path? It is the one path that leads to the celestial kingdom of God. We embark upon the path at the gate of baptism and then “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men [the two great commandments] … to the end.” In the course of the covenant path (which, by the way, extends beyond mortality), we receive all the ordinances and covenants pertaining to salvation and exaltation.
Each of us is on the covenant path because we have received the ordinance of baptism. This is the path where we need to keep moving. We must always be pressing forward following the example of the Saviour, and at certain points in our lives making covenants with the Lord, and throughout our lives keeping those covenants as an expression of the love that we have for the Saviour. As we are found safely in His embrace, we are able to live our covenants more easily. There may be a temptation to live outside of the safety of the Saviour’s embrace as we test the boundaries of the covenants; but every aspect of our life must be an expression of our covenant relationship with the Lord.
There are many covenants that we have made. Each of them requires us to live as a disciple of Christ. Aspects of our covenants may seem restrictive to those who don’t understand the blessings that they bring to our lives. This, on occasion, may be our view. We must quickly realise the problems that this view could bring to our relationship with the Lord. This leads to the second suggestion of President Nelson.
Second: Discover the joy of daily repentance.
The Book of Mormon teaches:
And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved (Mosiah 2:36).
I love this scripture in that it inverts our usual understanding of sin. We think it is the spirit that leaves us, but this verse helps us understand that it is our choices that mean that we withdraw ourselves from the Holy Spirit. The Saviour promised his disciples before he died:
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you (John 14: 18).
He was able to promise this because he had just explained
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (John 14:16-17).
If we desire to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and receive the blessings of his atonement in our lives we must draw close to the Holy Ghost and have an ongoing relationship with him. This comes through our covenants, as they are channels of the atonement and the Holy Spirit. We will fail at different points and in different points and that is why the blessing of daily repentance is available to us. The Book of Mormon teaches us:
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you (Alma 34:17).
Repentance is an expression of the love that we have for the Saviour; and a testimony that we believe the Saviour is able to forgive us and that we are able to receive his grace. In my time serving as a Bishop I met many people who had a testimony of the Saviour and his atonement… when it came to other people. They knew and taught that the atonement of the Saviour brought grace and forgiveness to others, but when it came to their sins, they struggled to see a way through, and that they were worthy of his grace. The beauty of the atonement is that everyone can be forgiven. Daily repentance enables us to maintain a relationship with the Saviour and a closeness to the Holy Ghost. On occasion my repentance has not been as heartfelt as it could be; at the end of the day I have sometimes given a cover all repentance- ‘please forgive me for anything that I have done wrong’. I have found that being more specific enables me to reflect more on my discipleship as well as what I am grateful for, and how I can make specific changes in my life with the Lord’s help.
President Nelson’s third suggestion is: Learn about God and how He works.
Joseph Smith once taught that “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another” (TPJS, p. 345). The character and nature of God is something we learn about from our earliest experiences with the Gospel. We sing ‘I am a child of God’, in Young Women’s the theme beings ‘We are daughters of Heavenly Parents’, and the Aaronic Priesthood theme begins ‘I am a beloved son of God, and He has a work for me to do.’ These are the basis of the truth about God as we strive to understand him. What benefits does knowing our relationship to God bring to our lives? President Nelson uses the experience of Moses to illustrate this. Let me expand on his example.
In Moses 1 we read of the Lord’s interaction with Moses that highlights Moses’ identity:
And, behold, thou art my son… (Moses 1:4)
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Saviour… (Moses 1:6).
And now, behold, this one thing I show unto thee, Moses, my son… (Moses 1:7).
We learn of our identity through the scriptures, through the hymns we sing, and in the Temple of the Lord. We know we are each individual children of God. We are also able to know of our nothingness in comparison to Him, but also know that we are everything to Him. This is exemplified in the effects of the time spent with the Lord on Moses:
And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed (Moses 1:9-10).
We then read of Satan’s attempts to tempt Moses, and how knowing his divine identity means that Moses is able to withstand anything that is thrown at him:
Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me (Moses 1:12).
Satan tries to reduce Moses to a mere man; but armed with a knowledge of who he is Moses responds:
And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?… Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten (Moses 1:13, 16).
This choice is repeated throughout the scriptures and throughout our lives. When asked who the crowd thought he should release, Pilate presented Jesus (the Son of God) and Barabbas (the son of a father/man). The crowd chose the mundane over the sacred. We are faced with this same choice as we are faced with the temptations of life; do we trust in the arm of flesh or in the arm of the Lord? It is only by building on a sure foundation, rather than the sand that we can allow God to prevail in our lives, and thus prevail ourselves.
President Nelson’s fourth suggestion is to Seek and expect miracles. The Book of Mormon teaches that in light of the Saviour’s sacrifice:
And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay;… wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain (Moroni 7:29, 37).
It is interesting to me that there are, in Thomas Aquinas’ view, three meanings of the term miracle. He begins by defining miracles as “Those things done by divine power apart from the order usually followed in things”. The three understandings are:
- Those things that God does that nature cannot do.
- Those things that God does but also that nature could do.
- Those things that God does that nature could also do but without using the forces of nature.
We tend to focus on the first definition, but the second two are probably far more common and enables us to recognise the hand of the Lord more in our lives. The Catholic theologian Paul Tillich suggests:
A genuine miracle is first of all an event which is astonishing, unusual shaking, without contradicting the rational structure of reality. In the second place, it is an event which points to the mystery of being, expressing in relation to us in a definite way. In the third place, it is an occurrence which is received as a sign event in an ecstatic experience.
When the Lord suggests that if miracles of ceased it is because of a lack of belief or faith, I believe he is suggesting two things. Miracles follow faith; we learn this from the Saviour’s ministry, and so if we are not experiencing miracles then we must examine our belief. Alongside this, however, in line with Tillich’s definition, it may be that because of our lack of belief we are not seeing the miracles that are happening every day in our lives. When we look for the hand of the Lord we will find it, when we don’t we may ascribe events to coincidence or the natural order of things. He performs miracles in each of our lives.
I can think of many miracles I have experienced throughout life; the healing of people, the transformation of lives and so on. One particular experience I remember is on having an operation on my blind eye at the age of 17 I was given a 90% chance of losing my eye. I received a blessing that all would go well and there would be no lasting harm. It is possible to ascribe the continued existence of my eye to the 10%, or I can choose to recognise the hand of the Lord in this miracle.
Not the least of the miracles he performs is the birth of each of us as a new creature. 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. 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.
President Nelson’s fifth suggestion is to End conflict in your personal life. He suggested:
I repeat my call to end the conflicts in your life. Exercise the humility, courage, and strength required both to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
In this we find echoes of the Lord’s prayer where we are promised that our sins are forgiven only as we forgive those who sin against us. As I read this invitation from the Lord I am minded that ending conflict in our personal life is not just about ending feuds. It is certainly about that and we can recall the words of the Saviour to the Nephites
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away (3 Nephi 11:29-30).
I think the absence of contention in our personal relationships with others is only part of the Saviour’s injunction to us; ending conflict in our personal lives and eliminating contention is more about a character trait. The Saviour explained to his disciples:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).
Over the years I have reflected on the phrase that he gives us peace ‘not as the world giveth’. Maybe peace as the world giveth means an absence of arguments or conflict. But, peace can be a part of who we are. AS we eliminate conflict from our lives we are to replace it with peace. That means that we are filled with the Holy Ghost, and have an equanimity of mind and heart as we live our lives. What does it mean to have peace in our heart, to be peacemakers and to live peaceably? Peter suggests a couple of things:
…even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price… [Be] ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it (1 Peter 3:5, 8-11).
The peace that we find in the living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is evidenced in all of our interactions with others, whether they are in person or online. A further area of personal conflict that we need to reconcile is any conflict between what we believe and what we do. This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the Gospel- or maybe that’s just me. I don’t have enemies, but if I get in a mood I tend to be a bit stroppy. My conversation with others is an outward expression of my inner wellbeing. I need to seek peace in Christ, and then my interactions with others would be more consistently a reflection of my discipleship.
Each of these suggestions from the Prophet are worthy of a talk in themselves. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on each of them and how I can apply them in my lives. A call to the covenant path is a call to discipleship. A place and path on which we follow the Lord’s example. The Lord will provide us with the strength and the miracles to keep us on the covenant path, but only if we turn to him.
I am grateful for my Saviour. I love Him. He is my Saviour, my Redeemer, my Exemplar and my anchor. He sustains me each day. I know that I have a loving Heavenly Father, a Saviour who redeems and strengthens me, and the Holy Ghost through whom I receive all the blessings of the Lord and his atonement.