I’d like to ask you, on your exponential list of things to improve on this year, how many items involve your relationship with Christ? Perhaps you have listed, “Read my scriptures every day” or “Pray evening and night” or “Pray every day with my family”. How about, “Invite others to church” or “Serve my neighbors”.
In preparation for this talk, I have been asked to speak on the topic of becoming a better disciple of Christ in this new year, with the reference to the talk “What Thinks Christ of Me” written by Elder Neil L. Anderson. As I speak, I hope you can feel the Spirit prompting you specifically to things you might need to be reminded of in becoming a better disciple this next year.
What does it meant to be a disciple of Christ? In the Bible Dictionary it states that a disciple is a pupil or learner. It is a name used to denote the original twelve Apostles, but also to all followers of Jesus Christ, like you and I.
Elder Anderson said, “Discipleship is believing Him in seasons of peace and believing Him in seasons of difficulty, when our pain and fear are calmed only by the conviction that He loves us and keeps His promises.”
To be a follower of Jesus Christ means that we follow him – we strive to be like him and to do the things that he would do. From the scriptures we learn that he was like a child, meek, submissive, humble, patient, full of love, easy to be entreated, temperate, diligent, full of faith, hope, charity, knowledge, brotherly kindness, godliness; he was honest, true, chaste, benevolent, just, pure. (I’m not sure about you, but this list makes me nervous) He loved all of us greatly. We are not perfect, but we try and do things like this, as we strive to become disciples of Christ. We listen as Christ beckons to us - Come and follow me.
Elder Anderson reminded us: “His invitation is a call to daily duty. Jesus said: 'If ye love me, keep my commandments.' “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” We may not be at our very best every day, but if we are trying, Jesus’s bidding is full of encouragement and hope: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'”
One of the most beautiful things about the gospel is that we are encouraged often to progress. The gospel is about repentance, or in other words, change, and we are encouraged to use our agency to do everything we can in this life to progress. With the start of the New Year, we have the hopes and dreams of doing better, but how often do these resolutions last? My dad showed me a statistic the other day that only 1 out of 10 people keep their fitness resolutions for the New Year. Which percentage are you in? The 10%, or the 90%? Don’t feel bad if you’re in the 90% because... 90% of us are. But it’s good to recognize the areas in which we can improve.
We can have all the hopes and dreams in the world that this year will absolutely be the best one yet, but there is no way it can get that way without our choosing it to be so.
“Agency is the power to think, choose, and act for ourselves”, as Sister Larsen said in her talk from the October 1999 GC. In this talk she also said: “Lehi teaches us that if there was no opposition, there would be no righteousness nor wickedness, neither good nor bad. We can’t act for ourselves if there is no choice (see 2 Ne. 2:11, 16). To become a committed follower of Christ, we must have the option to reject Him. So Satan is permitted to exercise his power, and yielding our will to God can sometimes become difficult. Yet it is in this exercise of acting for ourselves that we grow. And it is critical to the plan of happiness.” Also critical is the Atonement, which goes with agency hand in hand. We don’t always do what Christ would have us do. We all sin in this life. We don’t always keep our New Years resolutions. But through the Atonement that was made by Jesus Christ, we can repent and start new at any time. Boyd K Packer said, in a talk from April 1988 GC:
“The cost of the Atonement was borne by the Lord without compulsion, for agency is a sovereign principle. According to the plan, agency must be honored. It was so from the beginning, from Eden. Moses 7:32 says “'he Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency.'
“An atonement was made. Ever and always it offers amnesty from transgression and from death if we will but repent. Repentance is the escape clause in it all. Repentance is the key with which we can unlock the prison from inside. We hold that key within our hands, and agency is ours to use it. How supernally precious freedom is; how consummately valuable is the agency of man.”
These feelings we have at the beginning of a new year are similar to those we have as we repent and come again to Christ. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? To know that you are correcting your mistakes and making the changes in your life that will put you on a greater path.
Genesis 19:17 references the story of Lot and his wife. When they were commanded to leave the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, God commanded them to “look not behind thee”. Many of you have seen the Mormon message video about the people in the restaurant who are asked about Lot and Lots wife, and what it meant that she “looked not behind her”. As they pondered on this principle, and on the new year, they gave incredible answers. I’d like to tell you some of their answers:
“She probably didn’t give it consideration that the future could be better than her past.”
“You can’t go back, right? So you might as well live forward – in the best way you can.”
“Anybody can choose to leave the past behind and move forward. That’s what faith is.”
“This is all about the Atonement and what Christ did. He made this sacrifice so that we CAN look forward.”
“Move on. Forgive and forget. Every day is the beginning of a new year. It is literally the first day of the rest of your life.”
Elder Anderson said, “Wherever you now find yourself on the road of discipleship, you are on the right road, the road toward eternal life. Together we can lift and strengthen one another in the great and important days ahead. Whatever the difficulties confronting us, the weaknesses confining us, or the impossibilities surrounding us, let us have faith in the Son of God, who declared, 'All things are possible to him that believeth.'”
I hope that you all have a greater desire, in this year, to trust in God. Trust in the Lord and rely on your faith and your hope to see that you can all become better disciples of Christ. “Look not behind thee.” Rely on the Atonement to overcome your past and present challenges, and never forget that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is ready and willing to help you as soon as you are ready – but you must choose it.
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Alma 32. After Alma compares the word of God unto a seed, he says in verse 32: “Oh then, is this not real?” He is asking us, are these things, these feelings that we have, the Holy Ghost... are they not all real? He says “Yea, because it is light, and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good.” I believe that these desires we have at the New Year are God given. The desires to change and to become better are God given – they are full of light and they are good. They are real. So whether you begin to fulfill your new years resolutions January 1, or any day after, remember that you can make every day the start of the rest of your life.
I have been called to serve in an absolutely beautiful part of the world. Although I was willing to go wherever the Lord would call me to go, I would often pray, "But please send me to Europe!" The Lord knows us and knows where we can best be used to move his work forward, and I feel my mission call is a testament to that. I know God lives. I know that He, in His infinite power and glory, loves each and every one of us, no matter where we are in life. I know that Christ suffered for each of us, so that we could return to our Father again. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and I am grateful to him and his sacrifices so that this gospel could be restored to the earth. I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, and that the prophets and the Apostles on the earth today are divinely guided to lead us through this treacherous and frightening world. I know that this church is true.
I would like to share with you my favorite scripture from the Book of Mormon. It is a scripture that is often overlooked, but it seems to catch my eye every time.
Alma 5:45-46 "And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true, for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit."
I have never seen God with my mortal eyes. I was not alive when Christ ministered on the Earth. I did not personally hear the testimony of Joseph Smith. But I know these things are true by the Holy Ghost which is in me, which has testified to me of this gospel's truth. This is my testimony. I know these things are true. I cannot deny it. I leave these things with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.