[Given by Kyle Du Moulin in April 2019 Stake Conference.]
For my talk today, I have felt inspired to speak on the topic of obeying the commandments of God and how this can be possible for all of us. Obedience to God’s commandments is a subject of importance to all of God’s children. In order to obey the commandments, we must understand what sin is and from what source we can obtain power to overcome it. Perhaps you are presently struggling with a sin or many sins, which, through your best efforts you have not been able to overcome. Today I will address what we must do to keep all of God’s commandments and overcome sin and even addictions.
There is perhaps no counsel more frequently given in the scriptures than that associated with obeying the commandments. Our obedience to the laws that God has implemented is critical to obtaining eternal life. As a consequence of the Fall, all of mankind was placed in a condition where we can know good from evil, and, through our agency, be given the chance to choose between them. Because of our fallen state, a conflict wages within each one of us who seeks to obey the commandments. This conflict is between the natural man or woman and our better self—our spirit—which desires to do God’s will.
One of the great challenges of mortality is learning to yield the desires of our natural state to the will of God. In order for our will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father, we must experience a mighty change of heart. As we experience this change of heart, the conflict between our natural state and our desires to obey God’s commandments will be resolved. In the process of time, we will be able to obey the commandments and our desires to commit sin will diminish and ultimately be overcome. In order to remove the turmoil and suffering caused to those who struggle to obey the commandments, the desire to commit sin must die within us.
Our desire to commit sin is a symptom of a deeper problem. This problem is a heart that is not yet fully converted unto the Lord. When seeking to overcome sin in our own lives, we must treat the sinner, not the sin. In order to alter a behavior that is contrary to God’s will, we must get to the root of the problem. When the true problem—in this case an individual’s heart—has been truly changed and fixed, then the corresponding destructive behaviors will cease on their own. The process of being changed from our natural state is called being “born again.” In the third chapter of the Gospel of John (verse five), Jesus teaches: “… Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Your ability to overcome temptation is directly linked to the health and condition of your spirit. The health and condition of your spirit is determined by the amount of light you bring into your life. The presence of the Holy Ghost is a source of spiritual light and has the power to overcome darkness and evil. Anything that reduces our light will weaken our ability to overcome evil. Perhaps you may find there is an absence of light in your own life. To illustrate the relationship between darkness and light, I use an analogy: if I were to walk into a dark room and turn on the light, there would never be an occasion where light would fail to overcome darkness.
Our need to be under the constant influence and direction of the Holy Ghost is greater than ever. President Russell M. Nelson has stated: “The assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially, in intensity and variety.” In the most recent conference, the prophet also stated, “The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord.” If the adversary is quadrupling his efforts, then we must at least quadruple ours. Anything that diminishes our ability to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will likewise diminish our capacity to obey the commandments and bear our temptations. Even small things which slowly erode our spiritual strength can, over time, have dramatic effects and eternal consequences.
The presence of the Holy Ghost is a blessing from heaven bestowed upon us because of our desires toward change and right action. We increase in our light as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. This light is received line upon line, precept upon precept. For it is by small means that great change is brought to pass. Some of the things which will allow you to bring the Holy Ghost into your life include: diligently seeking and hungering after the word of God as found in the scriptures and teachings of modern day prophets; meaningful prayers filled with faith; real effort to align our lives with God’s will; and regularly attending the temple, for it is in the ordinances of the temple that the powers of Godliness are manifest. President Russell M. Nelson said in the 2018 General Conference: “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
We must experience the cumulative effect of regularly and consistently doing those things which bring greater light into our lives. Our righteous desires and correct actions will invite God’s spirit which will enter into our hearts and sanctify us. Through this sanctifying process, we will be made into a new creature. But this change is dependent on the condition and desires of our heart. Just as hard and dry clay cannot be molded into new forms, likewise a hardened heart cannot be altered. Before a mighty change can be wrought in us, we must offer for a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Jesus Christ spoke of this shortly before His appearance to the Nephites. He said:
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
It is by the grace of Jesus Christ that the will of the flesh will be overcome as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. I call the effects of this process, “living in a constant state of grace.” Another term for this is, “taking Christ’s yoke upon us.” For without the sustaining grace of Jesus Christ, we have no power to overcome the effects of the Fall.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the power we can access in Christ, which will allow the will of our spirit to overcome the will of our flesh:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9-10)
In the Parable of the True Vine, Jesus Christ teaches us that without Him we have no power to do good works. He said:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
As we seek a daily portion of God’s spirit to abide with us, and offer for a sacrifice to the Lord a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in the process of time we will be blessed with a new heart. As this change occurs within us, our actions, our words, our thoughts, and the desires of our heart will be brought into alignment with God’s will. And the day will come when we can say, as did the Nephites when King Benjamin gave his address, that because of the Spirit of the Lord, a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts, and we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, October 2016.]
Good morning, brethren. Thank you for being here this morning. My Patriarchal Blessing reminds me to attend faithfully all the meetings at which I am expected. I have tried to do that and it has blessed my life. You are in the right place and I join you in looking forward to being taught by Elder Worthen in a few minutes.
Sometimes it seems to me that when women are spoken to in the Church, they are provided comfort and reassurance—whereas men are told to buck up, shape up, and get with the program.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a “healthy” way of approaching life and understanding ourselves, which allows us to see ways in which we need to improve without being discouraged or frustrated (or perhaps demoralized) by it. It is, I believe, Heavenly Father’s desire that we strive for improvement from a position of security in the assurance that while we are striving, faithful, and observing our covenants, we are acceptable to the Lord in spite of our various needs for improvement.
And I believe that describes the vast majority of the men here this morning—faithful to the Savior, observant of and committed to covenants, and striving to magnify callings at home and in the Church. It is my testimony that we may do so from a position of confidence and trust in the Lord.
I would like to speak to you this morning about what must surely be the very most foundational aspect of effective priesthood leadership: personal righteousness. I often shy away from the word “righteous.” I suppose I confuse it with “self-righteous” sometimes and I often think of the Savior’s comment, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” Nevertheless, in our healthy way of striving for improvement, personal righteousness is what we ought to be striving for.
Let me begin by quoting the first paragraph of Chapter 3 from the Church’s Handbook of Instructions (Book 2):
All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of … Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ….
Leaders can best teach others how to be “true followers” by their personal example. This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
I don’t think we talk about that pattern very much. Perhaps that’s because it seems so obvious. But I think we would do well to talk and teach about it more explicitly. When an Elders Quorum presidency, for example, calls a man as a quorum instructor, the discussion accompanying that call could include a discussion of this pattern: “You are being called, not to teach lessons, but to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ—and to be able to do that effectively, you will need to be a faithful disciple, yourself. What do you need to do and how can I help?”
Such a discussion would also be appropriate for bishopric members who are training young men to be leaders in Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidency meetings. And we ought to discuss this pattern in our own presidency meetings.
Let me mention five fundamental areas of personal righteousness we need to all attend to. I would invite you to take notes and teach these things to those you lead. All come straight from the Handbook.
We should keep in mind that all men who bear the priesthood are called to lead. Some may, at the moment, have formal callings of leadership within the Church, but all are called by virtue of the priesthood, itself, to lead others to Christ, beginning with those in our own homes. Principles of priesthood leadership apply to all priesthood holders.
First, effective leaders must keep the commandments. This is a broad notion with myriad associated specifics and applications. All the law and the prophets are summarized in the commands to love God and to love our neighbors. At the heart of our efforts to keep the commandments should be a conscious striving for expressions of love toward God, toward our families, and toward all people.
To keep the commandments, we must be honest in all aspects of our lives. We must be faithful to our wives and our children in every way. We must honor the Sabbath meaningfully. And, we cannot be “Sunday Mormons” or publicly one way and privately another. The integrity of our professed devotion must extend to moments both seen and unseen.
An excellent guide for all of us with regard to the commandments is the pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth.” In my family, our Family Home Evening lessons are often drawn from “For the Strength of Youth” which is certainly no less applicable to us than to our teenagers. It is full of good counsel and reminders, which, exactly as its title suggests, will strengthen us as we follow them.
Second, we should study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Studying the scriptures is, I believe, essential nutrition for our souls. Dietary nutrition makes for a good analogy. If I get a steady diet over the course of a week or a month of all the vitamins and nutrients my body needs, I may notice some fairly immediate effect, but the most important effects will be long-term. Conversely, if I eat a steady diet of junk food and empty calories for a week or a month, I may also notice some fairly immediate effects, but the most important effects of such a sustained diet will be long-term—only they won’t be that long term because I won’t live that long.
Similarly, I can study or not study scriptures and living prophets for a week or so and the short-term effects will be real but probably not staggering. A steady, consistent diet of God’s word, however—or the absence thereof—has tremendous mid- and long-term effects.
These days I find three other things particularly important about scripture study in addition to consistency.
One is a steady connection to the Book of Mormon. The purpose of Joseph Smith’s mission and the purpose of the Book of Mormon are to bring us to Christ. The Book of Mormon does do that. From my observation, members of the Church who grow skeptical of Joseph Smith, also grow skeptical of the Savior and sometimes lose their connection to Him. The critical effects of the Book of Mormon are therefore twofold: it brings us closer to the Savior in a direct way and it brings us closer to the Church, which also strengthens us in our relationship with the Savior.
Another is the importance of studying the words of living prophets. I recently began reviewing again conference talks that were given 12 and 18 and 24 months ago—and this time preserving in my own electronic document the words and messages from those conferences that particularly touch my spirit and my mind. Just as we ought not disconnect ourselves from Joseph Smith, we need to stay in touch with living prophets—all of which will help us come to the Savior.
Lastly, I have long believed that we need to be outstanding students of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There we learn so much about the Savior, about our Father in Heaven, and about their love for us.
Do you need to study scriptures for two hours every day? Not in my opinion. But meaningful time in them each day has critical short- and long-term effects on our spiritual well-being.
Third, to develop our own personal righteousness in order to be effective leaders, we must pray. Of course, there are prayers, and then there are prayers. Prayers should be meaningful and they should be bi-directional as much as possible. Prayers should include enough time to be still and listen to the thoughts and feelings we receive in return.
Prayers are best in my opinion when they are heavy on thanking and light on asking. We shouldn’t ask for things we’re not willing to do our part for. And sometimes we should pray for strength to endure challenges more than we pray for our challenges to be removed from us.
Prayers should be more than thanking and asking, though. They should include worship. Worship is personal and, in some ways, hard to define, but I believe it has a lot to do with the depth and sincerity of our gratitude and respect and of our recognition of God’s perfection and generosity toward us. We can feel those things when we pray—and feeling them benefits us.
Fourth, we should fast. We all know the scripture wherein the Savior taught that some problems are not solved except through prayer and fasting. Fasting shows devotion, earnestness, and submissiveness. This is true when we approach Fast Sunday purposefully—and also when we fast for special purposes outside of Fast Sunday. Fasting can help foster unity for families, wards, and quorums.
As with prayer, we might consider sometimes fasting without tying our fast to a request. We might fast purely as an expression of gratitude, an expression of humility, and an expression of worship.
Fasting connected to caring for the poor has many beautiful promises attached to it:
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:8-9)
Lastly, the Handbook mentions that if we are to lead effectively through our example, through personal righteousness, we should “humble ourselves before the Lord.” What does that mean?
Nearest I can tell, all significant blessings associated with salvation, other than the resurrection, are tied to our humility. In 2 Nephi we read:
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:7)
I am convinced that, other than our covenants, the one thing that will most enable the Savior to save and exalt us is the achievement of having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Such a heart reflects faith in the Savior. Such a heart moves us not to occasional repentance, but to constant repentance. Such a heart keeps me well within the bounds of my covenants and stops me from trying to test limits of obedience and submissiveness.
When the Savior encountered broken hearts during his earthly ministry, He responded with compassion and mercy. When he encountered proud or rebellious hearts, he responded with chastisement and justice. When I am sufficiently self-aware, I see that there is too much pride in my heart. It is in my moments of legitimate humility that I find myself most at peace with myself and with the Lord—and I find myself in a position of strength because it is His strength I am recognizing.
Brethren, let me say again: Holding the priesthood, and particularly the Melchizedek Priesthood, is a call to lead—to lead others to the Savior. The very term “priesthood leadership meeting” seems redundant. We who have come this morning have each been asked, though, to lead some specific people in some specific ways and our call to leadership is particularly clearly defined right now.
We will be most effective helping others come to the Savior when our own lives are in order, when our spirituality is healthy, and when we are striving for personal righteousness not just in our outward examples but in our very personal private lives.
That we may keep the commandments, study the word of God, pray, fast, humble ourselves, and do all other things that are necessary for our own spiritual strength is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.