[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, April 2018]
We have two great commandments—or opportunities—before us. And we have agency to choose the extent to which we will embrace or reject them. We are to love God—and to enjoy the richness of knowing Him and knowing that our lives are generally aligned with His will. And we are to love our neighbors, beginning but not ending with, our families—and including the different aspects of the Work of Salvation.
To succeed, we’re going to have to exercise principles of leadership in our own individuals lives—whether you are old or young, married or single—and also in our families. I would like to touch today on three principles of leadership that will help us succeed in filling the two great commandments and receiving the attendant blessings. Those three principles are: 1st – Acting in faith; 2nd — Defining ourselves; 3rd – Organizing and simplifying.
1st – Acting in Faith
In the Grand Council in Heaven before we came to earth, the Savior presented to us Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness and well-being. Fundamental to the plan is freedom to exercise our agency and, given a set of circumstances, to choose our thoughts, intentions, and actions.
Agency is a gift for us to both treasure and to exercise. Having agency would be an entirely terrifying experience were it not for the safety and protection of the Atonement. Nevertheless, if we are not careful, we will fail to exercise our agency and will suffer from that.
When we don’t exercise our agency, we end up being “acted upon” and victimized by the world, by people, by circumstances, and by the Adversary. We can end up “tossed to and fro… carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.”
When we do not choose, indecision becomes decision (and often not a good one) with the passing of time as someone or something eventually takes advantage of our paralysis and acts upon us.
The correct exercising of agency requires faith. Agency and faith go together. Faith is a principle of action. I cannot exercise faith without choosing how to act. Meanwhile, I must often make many choices without a perfect knowledge of what the consequences will be or even if I’m making the best decision. Therefore, I make them with faith.
Increasingly, I worry about a phrase that I seem to hear over and over again from people, particularly young people. It is this: “God has a plan for me.” Well. That is a very nice sentiment. It’s also true. But what seems to be overlooked is that God’s plan involves us using our agency, making choices in faith, and acting in faith. We are not puppets on strings and we are not pawns on a chessboard. He wants us to look to Him, pray to Him, counsel with Him, seek direction from the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and then choose and act. He does not want us to be paralyzed while we labor and struggle about whether we know His exact will with each mildly significant decision we make. We are to be “anxiously engaged” in God’s good cause “and do many things of [our] own free will.” “It is not meet that [He] should command in all things.”
Nor is true that every thing that happens to us in life happened because God orchestrated it like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. It is true, however, that we can learn from all of life’s experiences and that God will help us learn and grow from our experiences as we go. God will do much to help us learn from a minor or major tragedy, but that doesn’t mean he orchestrated that tragedy because he is the great puppeteer.
In saying we should exercise our agency and act in faith, I am not minimizing personal revelation or the role of the Holy Ghost. We should earnestly seek for revelation and inspiration. We should pause in our prayers to hear God’s answers; we should find quiet times and places to ponder and meditate; and we should constantly strive to know God’s will. But we just must not let go of the fact that God’s will is often that you and I will exercise our agency and act in faith according to our best, though imperfect, understanding of His will.
2nd – Defining Ourselves (and our families)
Understanding the supreme importance of agency, each of us must choose for ourselves—and parents should choose for their families from the earliest possible time of their marriage—who we will be. Who am I? Who are we? What do I want myself to become? What matters most? Where is our family headed? Where should we be headed?
Elijah asked the question, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Joshua admonished his people, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Jesus invited people to come and follow him. On one occasion he asked, “Will ye also go away?” Each of these was an invitation to people to use their agency to decide who they’re going to be.
There are three ways we can respond. We can not choose a direction. That’s no good. We can choose God’s way. That’s the best choice. Or we can choose some other way that isn’t God’s way—which might be motivated by worldliness, materiality, pride, selfishness, sensuality, or a misunderstanding of what God is asking us to do. It is, of course, best to choose God’s way even though some other ways can become awfully tempting.
It takes conviction and commitment to say that while I would like to be a good tennis player or pianist or dancer or author or businessman or academic or designer or fitness instructor—or before I put all my family’s energy into helping our son or daughter become one of those things—I’m going to first and foremost be a dedicated disciple of the Savior and servant of God, putting his desires first. Then, secondarily, I will be good at my personal dreams.
There are two opposite principles that should guide us when we decide whom we’re going to serve and whether or not following the Savior will be our very highest priority.
The first is the covenants that we make in the Endowment and that men make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Men covenant to magnify their priesthood and to live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God—whether by his own voice or by the voice of his servants, it is the same. In the temple Endowment, we make a series of covenants. Taken together, these covenants comprise a complete commitment to place the Lord and the work of his kingdom first in our lives.
I sometimes hear members say that we’re not yet supposed to live the law of consecration. I never really understand what they mean, except perhaps that the Lord has not asked us to literally deed over to the Church all of our earthly possessions. But I don’t think that’s the key issue. The Lord wants right now our whole hearts, commitment, and willingness to give of our time and abilities to help move his work forward of saving his children. Each of us can and should live every day of our lives that way. That doesn’t mean that we live our lives like monks or nuns, fasting and reading our scriptures for 12 hours a day. It doesn’t mean that we don’t go to work and put gas in our cars, mow our lawns, and sometimes enjoy some recreation. It means simply that when we decide who we wanted to be, we decide that we want to be close to God and involved in his work above all else.
The second, opposite, principle is contained in D&C 121: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” I wonder if that might read, “Many are called, but few choose to fully respond.” “Why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.” We know that we are not choosing to put God first when we are motivated by appearances, worldly success, or worldly allures. We cannot serve God and Mammon.
We should define ourselves, first, as servants of God.
3rd – Organizing and Simplifying
In the world of Japanese manufacturing, there is a foundational principle for success referred to as “5S.” 5S has to do with being organized in as simple and straight-forward a way as possible. The first two S’s stand for Sort and Simplify.
Imagine that you want to make your home garage an effective work place. To “5S” your garage, the first thing you would do is take literally everything out of it. Then you would determine the things that are truly needed inside the garage to get your work done, bring them back in, and give each one a clearly marked place so that if it is missing or out of place, that will be evident.
Parents (and each of us) should use these principles in ordering the activities of our lives. After we have agreed to exercise our agency to take charge of our lives and after we have defined ourselves as true disciples, then we must remove everything from our lives and consciously choose to put only those things back in that matter most. One might start with personal prayer and decide when and where it will be. Shortly after that might come personal scripture study, family prayer, family home evening, time with family, serving others, and serving in our church callings. We put back in the right things in the right order and leave out the things for which there isn’t a place.
This requires us to choose between good, better, and best and to be willing to sacrifice good things for the sake of better things. I repeat that this does not mean becoming a monk or a nun. For greatest success and joy, however, it does require making space in our lives first for the things that matter most to God. He won’t mind if you occasionally go to a ball game or go hunting or to get a pedicure or to spend an evening with friends. But wherever you go, He will always want you to represent Him and to lift and encourage toward him the people you’re with.
When we choose best over better or better over good, we can do so without guilt, knowing that God approves of our choice. It is not requisite that a man or woman run faster than he or she has strength. God wants each of us to do our best and understand that He is good with that.
Each of us has the gift of agency and the opportunity to order our lives as closely to God’s will as we understand His will and to do the things that our circumstances will permit. We’ll have to say “no” to some things, including some things that we would like to do, but saying yes and no to the right things is what living after the manner of happiness means.
There is a way to live most happily. It requires that we exercise principles of leadership in our lives and as moms and dads, with or without a spouse.
Our assignment is to love God and to love our neighbor. When we do this, we find the truthfulness of the Savior’s statement that he who loses his life for his sake, finds it.
Don’t fall for the notion that love cannot be assigned. Love is a choice. It is the most important choice. And it was assigned to each of us from the very beginning.
Our prayer is that we may love God, serve Him, and feel His love. And also that we might participate in the Work of Salvation and love and minister to our neighbor—and in so doing, enjoy the blessings that come back to us. I testify that this is the Lord’s work. The Church represents His kingdom on the earth. And the promises of the Savior, of the Atonement, and of the Plan of Happiness are real. God bless each of us as we strive and do our best. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Preach My Gospel, written primarily for full-time missionaries, says a missionary’s purpose is to “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” Sounds good—and I agree. But I wonder if that is really the purpose of just missionaries or if it shouldn’t have much broader application. Isn’t that the purpose of a disciple?
The Savior was speaking to twelve special disciples when he admonished them to continue to minister to people who were struggling. He said, “unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”
This scripture indicates a special relationship between these disciples and Jesus—but perhaps that same relationship extends—or should extend—to all disciples. Disciples are to minister to individuals in a way that help them come to the Savior. He is clearly the one who will—and the only one who truly can—heal them. Nevertheless, disciples may “be the means” of bringing the patients to the physician.
Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, Nephi addresses a similar topic. Speaking of the Savior, he says, “Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”
“His people” are to “persuade” others—all others, in fact—to come partake of the “free” salvation he offers. Note that persuasion is cited as an important attribute for exercising priesthood power. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;…” Note also that the invitation, or rather, commandment, to persuade others toward the Savior is intended for “his people,” a reference that seems to encompass more than just full-time missionaries or special disciples.
On a related note, we also learn from Preach My Gospel how to measure success. “Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.” Or in other words, your success is measured, not by the choices other people make, but by the commitment you and I have (and, I’m sure, exhibit) toward pursuing our purpose of inviting others to come to the Savior.
Encouraging people to come to the Savior is the goal. Our level of sincere commitment and resulting effort to so doing is the measure of our success. Influence should be sought and exercised—in the Savior’s kind, loving, respectful way, of course. Like wealth, influence is a good thing if used the right way, but unlike wealth, we are specifically commanded to acquire and use it.
To what extent are followers of Christ obligated to not just follow but to lead? Must all followers of Christ lead? Can that leadership be passive? Can I get away with leading “merely” by example? Or must I lead with active intent?
What did the Savior say? Certainly his instruction to “let your light so shine” (on a conspicuous candlestick, no less) was aimed at all of His followers. Likewise his identification of disciples as “the salt of the earth” seems like an admonition to all. To Peter, he said, “strengthen thy brethren” and “feed my sheep.” Can we excuse ourselves from doing the same by thinking he was speaking exclusively to a priesthood leader? I don’t think so.
In a talk given in 2001, Sherry Dew described righteous women who inherit eternal life as enjoying “eternal increase in… influence”—as well as wisdom, joy, and posterity—all things we desire in this life and not merely the next. Influence is a desirable and worthy possession. We should strive to both acquire it and exercise it as best we can – for the purpose of leading others to Christ.
How do we acquire influence? We care. We accept. We love. We offer real encouragement (not nagging or riding). We make it personal. We get involved with others and build friendships. Introverts may need to overcome some things – though being the life of the party isn’t a requirement.
The Savior acquired influence by spending time with people. He reached out to those who particularly needed reaching out to. He walked and talked with people, asked them questions, and provided relief. He certainly set an unwavering example of devotion to His Father in Heaven and to principles of love and commitment. His consistent example provided authority for his words.
You and I must set an example, but we must also strive to do more. We should be with people providing sincere love, acceptance, support, and encouragement. We should even dare to teach in the right ways. We should strive to influence for good and be intentional about it. It isn’t enough to set an example and hope somebody catches on – though whatever example we set, good or bad, others will most certainly “catch on.” We must seek to acquire and exercise influence for good.
According to Church Handbook 2, “being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.” Further, it says there are four specific things we can do:
- Remember names and become acquainted with people. (Moroni 6:4)
- Love without judging. (John 13:34-35)
- Strengthen individuals “one by one.” (3 Nephi 11:15 and 17:21)
- Build friendships and visit with people. (D&C 20:47)
Those are things we can do!
The challenge: Increase our own discipleship, but don’t wait to be perfect before reaching out to others. Identify the people we can influence and develop sincere love, interest, and caring for them. Strengthen relationships and in our relationships provide encouragement toward greater discipleship of the Savior. Be sincere enough in our efforts that these relationships will endure beyond the unwillingness of others to more fully embrace the Savior. We can do this. Doing so brings great rewards to all of us.