I remember several years ago being impressed by the requirements of true Christian discipleship as they were described in the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 103:27-28 reads:
27) Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again;
28) And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.
These verses set a very high standard for any person aspiring to be one of the Savior's truest disciples. As I've measured my own life against this standard, I find that I fall significantly short of that degree of consecration. However, like each of us, I'm striving toward becoming fully dedicated to what the gospel teaches us is the primary purpose of our mortal existence: to gain experience, to learn true principles, and to use our agency wisely, choosing to become like our Father.
Today I would like to discuss the topic of consecration. Latter-day Saints understand that there are things required of us that the rest of the world largely ignores. As we consciously grow in testimony and understanding, we realize that we are expected to dedicate our lives to our spiritual development. We make covenants to contribute our time and talents to building up the kingdom of God on earth. Consecration begins with our own personal development and extends to our family stewardships and outward again to our responsibilities in the Church and to society.
I'd like to suggest some things that I believe members of the Church can do to more fully consecrate our lives to the gospel and thereby make the most out of this probationary period of mortality.
Shortly after Nephi died, his brother Jacob addressed the Nephites regarding a problem he observed among them, explaining to them that he recognized that they were “beginning to labor in sin”. He then discussed two areas of weakness that he felt needed attention.
The first issue Jacob addressed was the unhealthy materialism among his people. He cautioned the Nephites against wearing stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of their apparel. He admonished them to seek first the kingdom of God before seeking riches, and he told them that the pursuit of riches should be done “to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
Today we can observe in our society a similar focus on worldly possessions, even among members of the Church, who often feel entitled to the best of everything the modern world has to offer, including homes, cars, technology, and other things that tend to transform themselves from wants into needs. I believe that we should have a more consecrated view of our temporal stewardship, including our attitude toward spending. Jacob's advice in 2nd Nephi is worth following.
2 Nephi 9:51: …do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.
We have seen the foundation of our nation weakened because political leaders and citizens have blatantly ignored this counsel. Our families can enjoy a greater sense of peace, and we can be more capable of contributing to the welfare of others if we learn to better govern our spending habits. Can you imagine how much faster the Church could accomplish the work that needs to be done prior to the Savior's return if each family lived modestly enough to have a financial reserve and was fully prepared temporally and spiritually to contribute to some of the many needs that exist in the Church? What if your family were called to serve a 2- or 3-year mission right now? Are you ready and willing to make that kind of sacrifice?
The second problem Jacob addressed was a growing trend toward unchastity among his people. The world that we live in today has almost entirely abandoned the notion that sexual relationships are sacred. Modesty is often neglected, even among Latter-day Saint women and girls. Television shows and commercials are filled with direct sexual suggestions and innuendo, and the mindset created by immoral writers often finds its way into conversations that take place among us.
Church leaders have recently published material that gives evidence of their great concern that religious freedom and the right to speak out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage among other moral issues are being lost to a culture of severe societal intolerance of those who maintain Christian standards. President Packer said last year that, “with the lowering of moral standards, you young people are being raised in enemy territory.”
Can I suggest that each of us create an individual and family plan specifically designed to reduce the influence in our homes of those who have created this “enemy territory”? Lisa and I recently made the decision to cancel our network television subscription, because we felt that it represented “spending money for that which is of no worth.” We have consciously decided not to eat at Carl's, Jr. or spend money on internet products from GoDaddy.com (even though they're cheaper than competitors) because those companies use pornography to advertise.
It would be worthwhile to assess how much of society's influence we allow into our homes and into the lives of our children. If we find we have the lyrics of popular culture songs memorized, but we still haven't mastered the Articles of Faith, I'd recommend making some deliberate adjustments in what we're doing with our time so that it is more focused on the spiritual reinforcement that is necessary to overcome a progressively secularly-minded society.
Latter-day Saints cannot blithely allow the influence of modern society to dominate our homes if we take our religion seriously. If we do not force these dangerous influences out of our lives, they will certainly damage our ability to live the gospel.
There seem to be two fundamental levels of change that I have observed that can be used to push back against worldly influences and help us be more consecrated.
Small Changes Each of us should be making incremental improvements to our lives on a daily basis. This could include the decision to stop watching a particular show or to start reading the scriptures with more regularity. We should be consistently evaluating our habits and looking for ways to make continuous progress. Lisa and I have found it useful to hold weekly and monthly planning meetings as a couple – accompanied by a whiteboard – to evaluate how our family is doing and to make adjustments. Family Home Evening is another great opportunity to analyze and adjust family habits. I have also found that the minutes I spend in personal prayer at the beginning of the day and as I report back at the end of the day are great opportunities to get feedback from Heavenly Father about how I'm doing and what changes I need to make personally and for my family.
Major Changes There may be circumstances that warrant making major overhauls in order to foster a Christ-centered lifestyle for ourselves and our families. These circumstances may require making changes that involve a job, a career, or even moving our residence. A visit to the bishop may even be required to get help with a major course change. This type of change acts like a big reset button. If you feel like you personally or someone in your family is consistently struggling, I'd invite you to consider whether it might not be time to make this kind of critical adjustment to your life.
More than 20 years ago my parents made this kind of move. Because of the difficulty their children were having, including me, living the gospel standards in the environment we experienced living in Tallahassee, Florida, my parents made the very difficult decision to uproot their family from friends, relatives, and sports teams and take us to Utah. Three weeks after they made that decision, our home was sold, our things were packed, and our friends were shaking their heads in disbelief at what they considered an irrational attraction Mormons have to living in Utah.
I'm grateful my parents had the tenacity to make that decision, and I'm confident that my siblings and I were blessed because of it. I believe that when Eve made the difficult decision to partake of the forbidden fruit, she set an example for her posterity and demonstrated that we can have the fortitude to make good decisions in a world was purposely designed to test our integrity and to allow us to consider alternatives and make the best choice.
One of the best ways I have found to make my own life more consecrated is to spend more time studying the lives of men and women who exemplify the lifestyle of a true disciple. One of those men is Ezra Taft Benson, whose example we appreciate enough that my wife and I named our youngest son after him. President Benson made a statement several years ago that I like to refer to when I think about the blessings of consecrating our lives to God. This is what he said:
“men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life. “
I sincerely believe that this statement from President Benson is true.