Characteristics of Discipleship
All of you, being students, will appreciate this introductory quote by Elder Alexander B. Morrison. He said that a short pencil is a lot better than a long memory. So, if there is anything that I say today that may have some impact on you, you may want to take just a couple of notes. As I was preparing to share some thoughts with you, I thought you needed to know that I need a lot more time to study and develop this particular quality in my own life. So this is a work in progress. I just will share some thoughts with you and then I will let you go and do some pondering and studying of you own.
Elder Marlin Jensen of the Seventy also said, “You can tell what a person is working on by what they talk about.” So, hopefully you will get some insight into my personality and my character as we talk about this. The subject that I decided to share with you today is about discipleship. Discipleship takes some effort and energy. I’d like to maybe begin by giving you a negative example and then go through some positive things.
I don’t know how many of you enjoy cowboy poetry. I understand there are one or two folks here from Wyoming, so you might appreciate it. But this is a bit of cowboy poetry.
Old Jake the cowhand went one day
to fix a distant fence.
Black clouds rolled down the mountains,
while the wind grew more intense.
Now old Jake knew that mountain
and he knew he’d better get,
but there was one more wire to stretch
and one more post to set.
By the time his fence was mended
and he grabbed his tools to go,
the temperature plummeted
and the snow began to blow.
He reached his pickup truck alright
but felt the sense of dread.
He tried in vain to start her
but the battery was dead.
He kicked and cussed and called that truck
almost every name he knew,
but she was dead and there just weren’t
a thing that he could do.
He yelled and spit and cursed
but she just sat right there.
At last in desperation
old Jake bowed his head in prayer,
then turned the key for one last time
but he was out of luck.
They found him three weeks later,
frozen stiff in that old truck.
Now he’d been round for many years
he’d done his share of roamin',
still heaven was an awful shock,
it looks just like Wyomin'.
Oh, sure there were some differences,
but just some minor things.
Flowers and trees grew everywhere
for miles around Rock Springs.
The BLM was just shut down;
there were no grazing fees.
The wind that crosses around Cheyenne
was now just a gentle breeze.
Old Jake, he sort of liked the place,
so he thought he’d settle down.
He bought a thousand acres
’bout ten miles southwest of town.
Then one day up in Cody
while Jake was sittin’ in a bar,
up rides a bearded stranger
looking like he’d ridden far.
He takes the stool right next to Jake
and orders up root beer
and says: My name is St. Peter, pal!
So, how do you like it here?
Old Jake came near to chokin’
on the swirl he was a drinkin',
but Peter patted him on the back
and asked what he was thinkin’.
So, Jake starts asking questions
about conditions how they be,
and so they passed the afternoon
because time in heaven is free.
I am curious, Pete, I’ve always heard
that God would answer prayers.
But when I asked a little help
it seems he wasn’t there.
Was he away or napping
when I flat ran out of luck?
I only asked one tiny thing,
to start my old green truck.
Was it too much to ask of him,
ain’t I his poor lost lamb?
I’m here to state it just ain’t fair,
I’m hurt, I really am.
Now Pete, I ain’t actin’ smart,
it’s how I truly feel.
So, speak up, friend, and help me out.
Now what the heck’s the deal?
Saint Peter listened patiently
and when old Jake was done
a smile stole across his face
and he said, Oh, you are the one!
That was your truck that wouldn’t start
and you sent prayers a flyin'.
My boy, you gave us all a start,
with hundreds of us tryin’.
A thousand angels rushed to check
the status of your file.
But Jake, you know we hadn’t heard
from you for quite awhile.
And knowin’ you was freezin’
we worked overtime,
but Jake without a forwarding address
we made a small mistake.
We strained to try to figure out
just what you was a yellin’
and ended up just guessing
’cause there was no really tellin’.
And I can only apologize,
as sorry as I am;
we thought you were in a ditch
or stranded near a dam,
and though God answers every prayer
without regard or quota,
not recognizing your voice
we cranked some truck in South Dakota.
Now, that’s a negative example of discipleship. By definition, a disciple is either a pupil or a learner, someone who emulates the teacher or, most importantly, a follower of Christ. Now there are three very specific characteristic that I think go with a disciple of Christ that I would like to explain a little bit this morning. One is, you have a submissive attitude; two, you have to have steady actions; and, three, you have to develop spiritual attributes.
First of all, submissive attitude. There are several examples in the scriptures but just a couple I would like to share with you. First of all, Adam, being the first man on the face of the earth, was, as you know, expelled from the Garden of Eden and he and his wife, Eve, were tilling the land and taking care of their needs. It says in Moses 5:5-9, “And Adam was obedient unto the commandment of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam saying: Why doest thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.” And then it says that “in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam.”
So if we are submissive in our attitudes, then we can have that great blessing. Another one that is very familiar and comfortable to all of us is Nephi when his father asked him to go back and get the brass plates. Listen to Nephi’s submissive attitude. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Then in chapter four, verse six Nephi says, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
I think perhaps the most poignant example of submission of our will to the will of the Lord is that of the Savior, Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as he bowed in that intercessory prayer and said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” As we go through the process of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ I would hope that we emulate some of those attitudes, particularly those of the Savior.
Now the second item: steady actions. At the end of 2 Nephi – one of the things you will find when you read in the scriptures, particularly in the Book of Mormon, that at the end of every prophet’s life as they look back about the things that they have learned from a prophetic point of view, you hear words like “and thus we see” or “we can see that,” and it goes on and talks about the things that they have learned. But at the end of their writings they always want to put down the most important things that they have experienced, to help us understand the most critical things of life, and this is right towards the end of Nephi’s tenure as prophet. In 2 Nephi 31:19 it says, “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask you if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” As you think about “you have not come this far, except by the word of Christ”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “We believe because of the word, but we behave because we believe.” So, as you think about steady actions, if you will focus on understanding the word of God and then live in accordance with the things you believe, then you can become a disciple of Christ Going on in verse 20,
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ having perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father; Ye shall have eternal life.” Another great example of those who are steady in their actions in spite of adversity and in spite of challenge are the people in the Book of Alma. In Alma 1:25 the people were in bondage. It says: “Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.” So regardless of our circumstances, we still have to be steady and obedient in aligning our lives with the will of our Heavenly Father. As we do that, we develop certain spiritual attributes.
In Doctrine and Covenants 121 it talks about some of those specific attributes that we all have to have. First of all, I am going to start in verse 41: “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; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” Then in verse 45: "Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” Also, once again as Alma was teaching in chapter 5, it talks about some of those spiritual attributes. He says, “There was a mighty change wrought in their hearts and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God.” Then he goes on in verse 14, “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?” Then in verse 26,
“If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”
One of the greatest examples of establishing spiritual attributes was the Prophet Joseph Smith. As you study the life of the prophet Joseph, you know that he was falsely condemned and put in jail a number of times. One of his prison companions frequently was Parley P. Pratt. Parley P. Pratt wrote a verbal description or painting, if you will, of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He described his height and his appearance and some characteristics about him. One of the things he said that really impressed me about the Prophet Joseph was, regardless of his circumstances, Joseph always had an unconscious smile on his face. One of the reasons for that is because Joseph knew who he was and where he stood with the Lord and nothing else really mattered.
Now, life isn’t always easy. President Woodhouse mentioned you haven’t taken your first test yet. My guess is that you had a number of tests to this point in this life, you just haven't had your first academic test of this semester yet. But the testing process in becoming a disciple of Christ is an important part of that development. In the book of Abraham where the Lord talks about our pre-mortal existence, in Abraham 3:25 He says, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all the things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” So, we knew, all of us who are here, knew in our pre-mortal experience that we would have tests and trials. Now, knowing a little bit about you – you have heard for years and years that this is a chosen generation, that you were saved to come forth in the last days – my guess is because of the valiant spirits that you are, when our Heavenly Father laid out the plan, the Savior said He would go down and be the Redeemer, to perform the Atonement and redeem all of mankind, my guess is that every single person in this room ran to the front of the line and said, “Send me. I will be happy to go. Let’s go down and get this thing started.” And our Heavenly Father, knowing you and your talents and your abilities, very lovingly said, “Thank you so much. I appreciate everything that you would like to do. But what I want you to do is go to the end of the line and wait about 5,975 years and then you will get your chance to go to earth.” So being obedient, you went to the end of the line and waited and waited and waited and then finally your time came. But unfortunately now that you’re here, there are a lot of influences in your life that are trying to entice you to let go of the iron rod and go off into the mists of darkness. In fact, they’re may be some of you who are at the point in your life where you’re thinking, “You know, I’m ready to change sides. The other side looks a whole lot more exciting than the side I’m living on because I can’t do this and I can’t do that,” and you have a whole list of “thou shalt nots.”
If you want to become a disciple of Christ you have to go through a testing and trial process. Doctrine and Covenants 136:31 says, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.” Let me jump into one other verse, then I want to talk a little bit about that. It is in Section 95:1: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you.”
We all must go through this testing, trial process and be chasten by the Lord. As you think about the Savior in the New Testament, He was pretty hard on some groups of people, particularly the Pharisees, referring to them as hypocrites on more than one occasion. But who do you think was the most chastened person in the New Testament? Who do you think? I heard somebody make a comment: Peter. Absolutely, because Peter was to become the president of the Church and the Savior was trying to tutor him and teach him and prepare him for the things that he needed to know. And so because he loved Peter so much, Peter was greatly chastised. I don’t know if any of you have any been to a refinery, either a steel refinery or copper refinery or if you know anything about how wrought iron is made. Wrought iron is ornamental iron that is used in decorative things. In order for wrought iron to get to the point where it’s usable, first of all it has to be heated it up, and then it’s pounded down and put under pressure. Then you heat it up, get the impurities towards the outside and you pound it down some more and hammer it down. It keeps going through that process until it becomes malleable and useable in the hands of those who are working with it. That’s not unlike life. As we go through this testing trial of the chastising period we are going to feel some heat, and you are going to feel some pressure, but it’s part of the refining process to take the impurities out of our souls and make us to the point where we are workable in the hands of the Lord. Now, I wish I knew who made this quote, I would like to give proper credit to it but I didn’t find the reference. It says, “In this life, trials are mandatory but misery is optional.” So as we are going through the testing and trying process our attitude determines a lot of what is going to become of us. Now Elder Maxwell, in his eloquent way, said that the Lord knows each one of us so well that we will have a customized curriculum in the testing process, so that the trials you may have may be different than your roommate’s, or your husband’s, or your wife’s, as the case maybe. But they are the trials that you particularly need in order to become refined and workable in the hands of the Lord.
Now, as we go through that trying process, some of us get discouraged and give up hope. I don’t know how many of you have ever put rocks in a rock tumbler and tried to make jewelry out of them. You put a bunch of rocks in this thing and it keeps going over and over and over and over and over, and it gets really dull and boring to hear the thing continuing. But when you open it up and take the rocks out, there are two very interesting things. Those that are gems that are strong, that are solid, are polished up. Those that have weaknesses or flaws in them, get ground down into sand. There is a scriptural reference to that I think is very profound. In the book of Alma, you know that these are the war chapters, years and years of wars and conflicts. Chapter 62:41 is very revealing when you think about this trying process and the length of time. It says, “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” The process is the same, the trials were basically the same. They were going through the same war period but because of the length of the war some were hardened and some were softened and humbled themselves before the Lord. As you think about how all those different principles may apply to us, personally, you remember that in 1 Nephi 17:41, it’s making reference to the children of Israel, and remember that the children of Israel were in the desert. They needed to be humble. The Lord sent flying, poisonous serpents to them and many were bitten by the serpents. Then the Lord gave Moses the cure. He said, “Take the symbol of the serpent hold it up on a stick and if the people would just look then they will be healed.” Nephi, in describing them, said, “And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they had hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”
If we want to become disciples of Christ, the way is really quite easy. We all know the pattern. You have heard it ever since you were in primary; you need to study the scriptures on a regular basis, you need to offer your prayers regularly, you need to keep all the commandments, you need to honor your covenants, you need to hold to the iron rod and you need to endure to the end. Elder Neal A. Maxwell in talking about enduring said, “Enduring is more than just pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstances. It means having faith, it means moving forward, doing the things that we need to do.” And then, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, know who you are and where you stand with the Lord. If you did not have the opportunity to hear Elder Nelson’s talk in the recent CES broadcast, I would encourage you to get a copy of that and study it. He talked about the importance of our identity, our priorities and our blessings; also in understanding who you are.
We had our stake conference this past weekend; it was a wonderful conference. One of our visiting authorities – we had a special session with a group of youth and he had a couple of them stand up and he said, “Tell me your name.” And this young women told her name, and he said, “Now I want you to do this.” He said, “From today on, every time to say your name, you don’t have to repeat this out loud but at least in your mind this an attachment to your name; her name happened to be Brittney Newman, daughter of God.” And he had the young man stand up, and he said, “What is your name?” and he was a quick learner; he said, “My name is Michael Aaron Johnson, a son of God.” And he said, “Great! Thank you.” So from now on, from today for the rest of your life, every time you say your name you don’t have to say that aloud, but you think that in your mind. I am, in my case, Roger Glenn Christensen, son of God. If you remember that, then every day of your life you’ll stay on that straight and narrow path.
Let’s go back to those three important points, as you develop these personal attributes in your life. Number one, if you’ll have a submissive attitude, even when you don’t know the end from the beginning. Sometimes we want to have the answers now so we can make the right decisions. Faith doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to have faith and have a submissive attitude to the will of the Lord.
Secondly, you’ve got to have steady actions, even when the length of the battle or trial is extensive. I would to share a quote from Elder Holland, paraphrasing CS Lewis: “The works of devils and of darkness are never more certain of defeat than when man and woman, not finding it easy or pleasant but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may sometimes seem every trace of divine help has vanished and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey.” If we have those kinds of attitudes, brothers and sisters, we will develop the characteristics that the Lord would have of us. Those spiritual attributes that are described in Moroni chapter 7: 48: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may purified even as he is pure.”
It is my testimony to you that every single one of us is a son or a daughter of God. He want us to become like Him. We have the capacity to become like Him. We have been foreordained to become like Him. Let us just follow faithfully on that path to have a submissive attitude, to have our actions steady in the course and to develop the attributes that will have us become like our Savior, it is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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