Skips to main content

Michael J. Christensen

Anchors In a 20,000-day Journey

Michael Christensen
Michael J. Christensen 2
CES Commissioner's Office

Michael J. Christensen has been the Director of Budgets and Administration in the CES Commissioner’s Office for six years. A Church employee since 1989, he worked previously at both the Church’s distribution and printing centers, the investment securities department, and his time in CES also includes two-years at BYU–Hawaii. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA, both from Weber State University.

Brother Christensen currently serves as the bishop of his home ward. Other Church service includes high councilor, bishop’s counselor, stake and ward Young Men president, high priests group leader, and elders quorum president.

Brother Christensen grew up in California and Idaho. He met Annette Jane Smith while they were both serving as missionaries in the Australia Perth Mission. They were married in the Sydney Australia Temple in 1989, are the parents of five children and two grandchildren, and currently reside in Layton, Utah.




Anchors In a 20,000-day Journey

Good morning. I am really grateful for that beautiful music, Brother Decker and the choir and for the way it calmed some of the things I’m feeling in my heart today. I’m also grateful for the beautiful prayer that Madison shared and congratulations to Derek and his new bride. It’s just a joy for us to be with you today and be able to take a few minutes to share some thoughts that I’ve had as I’ve thought about you over the past few months. I guess in some way, the invitation to be here today was a little bit of a Christmas present from the college so that’s how long I’ve been thinking about you and this opportunity today. As President mentioned, part of our experience in the Church Educational System includes two years our family was at BYU–Hawaii, which began 10 years ago this summer, with 3 of our 5 children, including Sarah Jane who is with us today, were there with us. Although already familiar with the traditional greeting as meetings and talks begin, it became even more natural very quickly upon our arrival in late July. In fact, I don’t know that I realized just how natural, until a few months later when President Henry B. Eyring stood to open the first session of October General Conference and the greeting was notably absent. So, as we gather in this historic building during the waning days of winter along the Wasatch Front and feel the privilege of being with you at another institutional gem of CES, I hope you won’t mind if I invoke that tradition and engage your participation, which for me represents warmth and sunshine and peace as I greet you by saying, brothers and sisters, aloha! Very well done. We don’t even have to do it again a second time. Along with the privilege of sharing this time with each of you, we are blessed to be with President and Sister Kusch, whom we love. With the nature of my own assignment in CES, I can attest to the love, admiration, and respect felt for them by those who serve as the Ensign College Board of Trustees, which as you know, includes prophets, seers, and revelators.

Brothers and sisters, although I would much prefer a chance for us to be in small groups to converse more directly together, let us begin our consideration of some thoughts this morning with this idea….have you ever noticed characteristics or traits which seem quite regular or normal in your own experience, but which you eventually come to somehow realize are not the same for everyone else? This doesn’t necessarily have to mean it’s all that unique to us, or even that we excel beyond normal expectations. It’s more just the realization of how wonderful it is that, as the scriptures say, we are each blessed with gifts, “given by the Spirit of God…that all may be profited thereby.”1 Let me describe an area like this in my own life.

Although I didn’t realize it until later–which may often be the case–but since I was young, I seemed to have an affinity not only for observing seemingly small details, but also for working with numbers and remembering things. Here are a couple of examples, some of which will age me, so please be patient with an old man who may just be recalling days gone by:

  • First, I have always loved sports but was particularly drawn to baseball as a young boy. We lived in the Bay Area of California, where the Oakland A’s were the toast of the baseball world as they won three consecutive world series championships from 1972 to 1974. They were followed by the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati, who won the world series in 1975 and 1976. I was probably just a bandwagon fan, going with whomever was best at the time, but I loved to collect baseball cards and could quote career statistics of nearly any player.
  • Once, as my parents and I left an evening lecture sponsored by the Church, I noticed the license plate on our car had changed. We later found that someone had swapped the plates on our car with some they had stolen. My parents were surprised I had noticed the difference.
  • Next, some of my high school friends would often jokingly ask me, in the presence of others, what they had eaten for breakfast on a given date in their life, since I had apparently overly shared a plethora of useless information with them during the time they had known me.
  • Finally, while in the Australia Perth Mission, I was a walking missionary transfer board throughout my service. I not only knew who had served with whom and in what area, but also the dates each companionship was together. You’re starting to see the burden of what this is like for me to live, right? I don’t know if our mission president knew this about me or not, but as President Kusch and others in your administration may attest, this information could be helpful at times. So, this may have been a reason our president thought it was worth having me around to serve with him as an Assistant.

Now, with these few examples, I would hasten to add that I have told people, and only somewhat jokingly in recent years, that I have been consciously trying to forget things. I do think there is some measure of truth to this, since sometimes this whole “adulting” thing has lots for us to remember and do, coupled with me having completed more trips around the sun!
So, this affinity with numbers and details is something I just presumed everyone else also experienced. Of course, over time, I found that not to be the case. But being a bit of a numbers guy, some time ago, probably during the pandemic, since it gave me a chance to think about something besides quarantine and the lack of toilet paper at the store, I somehow got wondering how many days I had been alive. With the ease of Google, I found that 2 months ago, on January 5th, my march through mortality was marked by the completion of 20,000 days (Now, I realize you are also wondering what date I had lived more days with Annette J than I had without her, following our sealing in the Sydney Australia Temple– that was October 26th, 2011.) As a result, and although it may feel a little like a hobbit departing the shire given our chance to be together today, I thought I would share a few things I have felt or learned during this journey of 20,000 days. Let’s do this in the spirit of a wonderful scripture from Moroni’s counsel on faith, found in Ether, chapter 12, verse 4:

….whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.2

I love the imagery and fortitude of an anchor, providing the strength to hold something firmly and riveted in place–particularly when we think of that helping us become sure and steadfast so we can always abound in good works. So, in a few minutes, let’s consider how we might anchor our souls.

However, before jumping into that, let me share an experience I had several years ago, while serving as bishop of our ward. I had been serving about a year and had realized the truth of what President Eyring has taught that “when you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right about half the time.”3 As a ward council, we were considering ways to support and strengthen the members. I started to realize that the ideal that is sometimes presented as we work to become disciples of Jesus Christ was not complete.

One Sunday, as I sat looking around at these wonderful ward council members, it occurred to me that we had one president who had been widowed as a very young mother, another in her late 40s that had never been married, another that was previously divorced, along with relatively normal health, employment, and family challenges, among the individual circumstances of the group.

Though some of these circumstances were certainly among the “serious troubles” President Eyring spoke of, I primarily realized the ideal which sometimes is held up as being so common had perhaps shifted. Shortly after this, we had a 5th Sunday combined adult meeting where we asked how they, as a group, would define the “perfect” Latter-day Saint family. The answers started in much the way you might anticipate – defining the “ideal” – but also with some measure of what I will call heaviness, or even anxiety, in the room. We then tried to reframe the issue and ask if there really is such thing as the “perfect” Latter-day Saint family and what we could, or might do, to de-mystify the idea of a such a family or person. The energy, fun, and insightful discussion which followed remains one of my favorite experiences of the years of service in that calling.

Now, why do I share this experience today? As I think about your lives, to which I might add the fact that our own family has three college-aged young adults, one of which graduated from this institution a few years ago, along with Sarah Jane as I mentioned, you face many confusing voices and sometimes deafening challenges to your ability to belong and to feel accepted. Naturally, we do not come from the same backgrounds, nor do we have the same life, or even gospel, experiences. Yet we can all find commonality, hope, peace, conversion, and belonging in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In talks such as the one President Russell M. Nelson gave at BYU4 a few years ago, or which Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave in the recent General Conference,5 I have loved how they each taught about the divine or perfect love the Savior has for each of us.

As Elder Christofferson noted, sometimes we may not fully represent or properly identify the Savior’s love when it’s talked about as being unconditional – where the world would say “anything goes.” Yes, the Savior will still love us if, or when, our “anything goes” choices don’t incline our hearts to Him, but in doing so we may either consciously or inadvertently move ourselves further from His promises and blessings! So, please don’t allow yourselves to be moved away from the Savior when perhaps the perfect or ideal Latter-day Saint is created in your hearts or considered in your experience. Or said another way, don’t give in to the belief or narrative that there is an ideal and that you don’t fit it. Let us always strive to both be patient and kind with ourselves and be patient and kind with those around us. A feeling I have had for several years as we interact with others is that we should always avoid being holier than thou, but we should never avoid being holy.

You will remember that as the Savior was led away to be crucified, they laid hold upon a man named Simon. On him they laid the Savior’s cross that he might bear it after Jesus.6 In our lives, do we ever feel like we must be as Simon – laying, or taking, the cross of Jesus upon ourselves? Do we ever feel that we must first “fix” ourselves – then–after we have overcome our shortcomings–the Savior’s atonement can finally work in our lives?

In another 5th Sunday discussion, this past October, I asked the adults what things worry them the most. This is a picture of some of the responses they shared. A week later, I led a similar discussion with the youth of our ward. After they had listed the things on their hearts, I showed them these responses from their parents and other adults. I hoped they might realize at least two things: 1) that their parents have worries as well and 2) that they aren’t all that different than their own worries. One of the young women, with a solemn and anxious tone in her voice asked, “does this mean that life is actually going to get harder?” I told them I thought life may get more complex and have a broader range of issue or things to worry about, but that the Lord had blessed us with tools and resources to help us navigate each of those.

With that in mind then, let’s now finally move to considering how we might anchor our souls, with initial focus on how we often hear and relate the timeless counsel Helaman shared with his sons in chapter 5, verse 12….

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.7

Over the last several years, I have become more aware of the inspired language Helaman uses in this well-known verse. In our mortal journey, it is not a case of if we shall face mighty winds or feel that all hail and mighty storms are beating upon us. The reality is that when these difficult experiences come our way….how will we respond? Gratefully, Helaman opened this verse with the solution – that we must build our foundation on the rock of our Redeemer. When these storms rage, we then learn that these difficulties will have no power over us to drag us down to misery and endless wo. If we build upon this foundation, we cannot fail. You are familiar with this oft-repeated counsel from President Nelson:

My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.8

In a similar vein, with an earlier prophet also counseling one of his sons, we learn a marvelous truth as Helaman’s grandfather, Alma, teaches his son, who, as you know, was also named Helaman:

And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.9

I again love the simplicity and power that Alma teaches here. That is the truth that gospel-centered living does not imply that all will go perfectly well in our lives all the time. What trusting in the Lord does assure us is that we can and will be supported in our trials, troubles, and afflictions. I also love the truth in the following chapter, where Alma teaches us “that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass…”10 I have found that often when life gets challenging and the storms rage around us, we may quickly let go of the things that can and will help us the most to stay close to the Savior.

So, my first simple observation of truth, learned over my 20,000-day mortal journey is the essential need to anchor our soul to the Savior.

Let’s turn to another important area, where I would invite you to think of what comes to your mind when the words covenants, or ordinances, are expressed? Perhaps like me, you have often heard a covenant described as a two-way promise, or even a contractual agreement, between two parties. While this has its element of truth, I love the reminder found on the Church website that a covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person, or group of people.11 The website information continues by reminding us that all the saving ordinances of the priesthood are accompanied by covenants.

Each of you know that from the very moments of beginning of his service as our Prophet, President Nelson has invited us to be on, or return if needed, the covenant path. Have you and I taken time to ponder what that actually means for us each day? Among other things in recent years, I have often felt that one of the greatest blessings we have as Church members is the privilege of partaking of the sacrament each Sunday. Yet, I have also felt at times that one of the greatest challenges we may have as Church members is the privilege of partaking of the sacrament each Sunday. I hope that we won’t let the relative frequency of that sacred ordinance diminish the power and blessings which exist for us to actively claim. You are familiar with the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants which reminds us that the priesthood administereth the gospel and holds the keys of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Another truth follows, that in the ordinances of the priesthood, the power of godliness is manifest.12

We often hear the importance of being bound, or anchored, to the Savior through our covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants invites us to be sanctified by that which we have received, so that we may bind, or anchor, ourselves to act in all holiness before God.13 In last month’s edition of the For the Strength of Youth publication, Elder David A. Bednar shared four principles to highlight “some of the promises and blessings that come from worthily entering into and faithfully keeping covenants with God.”14

  • Covenants Help Us Know Who We Really Are
  • Covenants Help Bring Us Closer to the Savior
  • Covenants Help Take His Yoke Upon You
  • Covenants Help Affirm You Are Never Alone

Returning to my natural inclination towards numbers, when we returned from Hawaii, I was called to serve as Stake Young Men President. As I engaged with the youth of our Stake, I felt the pull the world wanted to have on them, particularly when compared to the time we may get access to them on Sundays or during weekly activities. As I considered the 168 hours in a week, then removed time for sleeping and school, let alone meal, social, and activity times, I more fully realized we might hope to access them about an hour on Sunday beyond sacrament meeting and maybe up to 1½ hours during the week. That 2½ hours we might have direct access with them each week – less than 1.5% of their time – also included having to compete with other forces pulling on their time and focus from other things, such as entertainment. These numbers also reflect how crucial it is for us to make time for the Lord in our lives, since so relatively little of it can feel it’s devoted directly to Him. Yet, it was in the context of addressing the importance of having, or keeping, the law of Moses, that Jacob stated its purpose was to point souls to the Savior.15 We can find many ways to point our souls to Him throughout each day–and remember, by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

Again, from Elder Christofferson’s October Conference talk, he addressed the way of the world being anti-Christ, or “anything but Christ.”16 He stated the difficulty the “anything but Christ” or “anything but repentance” crowd can have in drawing us away from sin, or from the power of ordinances and covenants, those things which will bless and support us in our trials, our troubles, and our afflictions.17

You may feel the same at times now in your busy college years as you try to balance all that is going on. What you can always have with you is the covenants and ordinances in your lives and the resulting blessings which so can richly flow to your hearts and souls.

As we gather here, in the midst of the marvelous strengthening of the Salt Lake Temple and its surrounding facilities occurring right outside these doors, consider the invitation from President Nelson that “should distance, health challenges, or other constraints prohibit your temple attendance for a season, I invite you to set a regular time to rehearse in your mind the covenants you have made.”18 He continues by reminding us of the physical safety these surroundings, including the temple, will have after the project’s completion, while also stating that “whenever any kind of upheaval occurs in your life, the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants!”19 President Nelson also stated that the Lord’s “essential ordinances bind us to Him through sacred priesthood covenants. Then, as we keep our covenants, He endows us with His healing, strengthening power. And oh, how we will need His power in the days ahead.20

So, my second simple observation of truth, learned over my 20,000-day mortal journey is the essential need to anchor our soul to our covenants and ordinances.

Over the last four years, we have been so blessed by the counsel and invitations extended by President Nelson. These have included, but are not limited to, seeking to follow the Savior, making time for the Lord each day, seeking refuge from the storms of life in the holy temples, finding joy in gospel living, and increasing our ability to Hear the voice of the Lord in our lives through personal revelation. Perhaps like you, Annette and I have been struck by how many times President Nelson uses specific words like exhort, invite, bless, or even plead:

  • “I plead with you to counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life–each and every day.”21
  • “I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”22
  • “If it were possible for me to speak one-on-one with every young adult, I would plead with you to seek a companion with whom you can be sealed in the temple. You may wonder what difference this will make in your life. I promise it will make all the difference!”23

Even if we just review some of the titles of messages President Nelson has shared in General Conference over the last four years, your heart may be touched with a memory, an invitation, a blessing, or a pleading. Here are a few:

  • Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives
  • Becoming Exemplary Latter-day Saints
  • We Can Do Better and Be Better
  • Spiritual Treasures
  • Embrace the Future with Faith
  • Hear Him
  • Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains
  • The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation

Of course, another of his well-known and oft-quoted talks is entitled, Let God Prevail. I would like to slightly modify the marvelous questions he raised during that message for our consideration today:

  • How am I letting God prevail in my life?
  • How am I letting God be the most important influence in my life?
  • How am I letting His words, His commandments, and His covenants influence what I do each day?
  • How am I letting His voice take priority over any other?
  • How am I letting whatever He wants me to do to take precedence over every other ambition?
  • How am I letting my will be swallowed up in His?24

So, my third simple observation of truth, learned over my 20,000-day mortal journey is the essential need to anchor our soul to the Lord’s Prophet.
My beloved brothers and sisters, particularly those of you whose mortal journey is likely in the range of 7 to 9,000 days, as we close today, I invite you to consider a question I think of often: “when was the last time I had a spiritual experience?” I also invite you to ponder another question, especially if your answer to the first question is that it’s been a while, “what can I do differently in my life”–or as President Nelson recently referred to–“what unprecedented things can I do in my life to have more, or better, spiritual experiences.” I would invite us each to consider how we can enlarge our capacity and deepen our discipleship through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

You’ll recall that 6 weeks ago at this very hour, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a marvelous BYU devotional, where he taught about how we can become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord. This includes how that becoming process and reliance on the Savior will see us through any challenge that may arise during the days of our mortal journey. This was followed by Elder Clark G. Gilbert in that same setting three weeks ago on finding Christ’s peace in perilous times. I would invite you to again study and ponder each of those messages.

Earlier we noted the scripture from Moroni in Ether, chapter 12 about making hope and faith an anchor to our souls. I close today with the great admonition he used to conclude that chapter:

And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.25

As I share my love with you, throughout each day of our mortal journey, I testify of the simple power that comes from exercising the first principle of the gospel – faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we strive to anchor our soul to the Savior, anchor our soul to covenants and ordinances, and anchor our soul to His Prophet, I testify we can feel Godly support and find greater strength, peace, hope, and faith –faith in His power, faith in His love, faith in His mercy, faith in His justice, faith in His timing, and faith in His forgiveness. Of these truths I testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] D&C 46:11-12
[2] Ether 12:4, italics added
[3] Henry B. Eyring, “Try, Try, Try,” October 2018 General Conference
[4] Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God,” BYU devotional, 17 September 2019
[5] D. Todd Christofferson, “The Love of God,” October 2021 General Conference
[6] Luke 23:26
[7] Helaman 5:12, italics added
[8] Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” October 2016 General Conference
[9] Alma 36:3, italics added
[10] Alma 37:6
[12] D&C 84:19-20
[13] D&C 43:9
[15] Jacob 4:5
[16] D. Todd Christofferson, “The Love of God,” October 2021 General Conference
[17] Alma 36:3
[18] Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” October 2021 General Conference
[19] Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” October 2021 General Conference
[20] Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” October 2021 General Conference
[21] Russell M. Nelson, “Make Time for the Lord,” October 2021 General Conference
[22] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” October 2020 General Conference
[23] Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” October 2021 General Conference
[24] Russell M. Nelson, "Let God Prevail," October 2020 General Conference
[25] Ether 12:41


Close Modal